Reneé Konzelman – Elara Caring
Reneé Konzelman was a globetrotting human resources executive who had traveled to more than 30 different countries and lived in Singapore for nine months before a family medical crisis changed her plans. Today, she’s still a passionate HR leader, but after doctors diagnosed her father with early-onset Alzheimer’s, Konzelman, a self-described “daddy’s girl,” moved back home to take part in his care.
As she grew more involved in supporting her father, Konzelman transitioned from a vice president of global HR role at Honeywell to working for a mid-sized company whose mission really hit home with her.
“And here I am now, working for an organization that supports me professionally and personally, and will ultimately provide care for my dad in home health and, unfortunately, future hospice,” Konzelman says.
She’s now senior vice president of people talent and culture at Elara Caring, a home-based healthcare organization employing more than 32,000 caregivers across 17 states. At Elara, Konzelman is enjoying her newfound ability to move quickly from idea to implementation and to build a life-changing culture.
“I haven’t always been a big fan of ‘everything happens for a reason,’” Konzelman says. “But I think I am exactly where I need to be, helping create some impactful work at a pioneering organization in home health. I feel like I’m at the center of the action.”
Because Elara is a combination of three legacy companies and four service lines, Konzelman nurtures what she calls a “One Elara” culture and is helping rebrand the organization as a more cohesive whole.
Elara is currently undergoing a transformation to what industry insiders describe as “a value-based care approach,” which includes leveraging new technology and ensuring that every patient has access to all service lines.
For example, in the past, providers might have gone into a patient’s home merely to treat a wound and would then leave. Today, providers like Elara urge employees to offer other service lines, such as physical therapy or behavioral healthcare.
The company also empowers its caregivers with digital tools to monitor patients, so if a patient deteriorates, Elara receives an alert to intervene swiftly.
“This is different because it’s focused on outcomes,” Konzelman says.
Building HR infrastructure
Konzelman has also spent a lot of time setting up Elara’s HR infrastructure. A listening campaign led to a long list of processes to tighten and specific policies to put in place.
Prioritizing those has been a challenge, but Konzelman found that she could pick and choose based on what would have the most impact.
“I mapped out all the feedback on an effort and impact matrix,” she says, hearkening back to her grad school lessons. She also talked to leaders and asked, “What policy updates are going to make the biggest difference to caregivers?”
Similarly, simplifying processes was not always as simple as it sounds.
“Time and again, we have thought that we streamlined a policy, and then we get the feedback from leaders and find out it’s still complicated,” Konzelman says. “So, we have sometimes gone a little slower in order to eventually go fast.”
To aid that process, Konzelman researched benchmarks at other companies and deployed technology to streamline. For example, moving away from a survey administration tool to an employee experience platform, and launching a mobile engagement application called ElaraCare to communicate with employees.
She also worked with her team to standardize job titles. And she implemented performance management leader training, goal setting, talent assessments and reviews and performance-based rewards. Nearly 100 percent of employees have now received performance reviews, and 86 percent have set goals.
Reflecting on these accomplishments, Konzelman credits the full Elara HR team, led by Chief People Officer Laura Hamrick, who has created a department that approaches challenges from a place of “yes.”
Konzelman tries to live out the qualities she looks for when recruiting new employees. She wants people who know why they’re in home healthcare, who understand the opportunities and challenges that come with that and who have a gentleness about them.
“It takes a very special person to have the strength to work in home care,” Konzelman says. “The other piece that we look for is, I consider myself an operator. Get my hands dirty, no job too small and that works very nicely for this organization. There are not a ton of egos—less focus on your title and more focus on capabilities and creativity.”
Those qualities have enabled the organization to expand despite the COVID-19 pandemic; Elara’s caretakers go into other people’s homes every day, caring for the vulnerable.
For her part, Konzelman says she’s always been family-oriented even as she’s prioritized her career. And while the former quality did ultimately draw her home, the latter has informed who she is today.
“I think getting out of my comfort zone, living in places where I knew zero people… those were moments when I made a bet on myself,” she says. “That has set me up to be a really strong, practical leader.”
A graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Loyola University-Chicago (where she received her executive MBA certification) and the University of Minnesota (where she earned her master’s in human resources), Konzelman started her career at Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2004. She rose to HR manager there before moving to Publicis Groupe in 2011. In 2014, she joined Honeywell, and in 2021, she became senior vice president at Cushman & Wakefield. In May 2022, she joined Elara.
“I love that I can build upon my past experiences, pick the best practices and make those things happen here at Elara,” she says. “This feels like home, the team members treat each other like family and the services we offer are high-quality—I prefer them for my family. Does it get any better than that?”
View this feature in the Vol. IV 2023 Edition here.
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