I had the pleasure to interview Rona Borre CEO of Instant Alliance. Rona stands out as one of the leading female entrepreneurs in Chicagoland. Since its founding in 2001, Instant Alliance has become a nationally recognized woman-owned business enterprise, consistently increasing revenue year over year. As a leader in the Chicago community, Rona sits on the board and holds leadership roles with the Economic Club of Chicago, the Young Presidents Organization and The Chicago Network. As a thought leader in the human capital industry Rona has been featured by CNBC, CBS 2 Chicago, USA Today, CNN, and Crain’s Chicago and has been honored as an Influential Woman in Business by The Business Ledger and the National Association of Women Business Owners. Rona was also acknowledged as the Enterprising Woman of the Year by Enterprising Women Magazine, in addition to the number of accolades awarded to her agency. She received her BS in Business from the University of Arizona. Rona is passionate about helping companies achieving their goals by pairing them with the absolute best talent.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I don’t think many people begin their career thinking that human capital and recruiting will be the career path for them. I started like many people do, as a fresh college graduate looking for a way to build business experience. I was actually on Wacker Dr. in Chicago and ended up sharing a cab with someone who was an executive recruiter. He offered to make an introduction for me to his boss and I ended up joining the recruiting industry shortly thereafter. What I found was that I had an incredible aptitude for building relationships with managers and quickly identifying relevant talent for their jobs. My success at my first job resulted in several promotions in a short timeframe and, eventually, led me to opt to start my own company out of the second bedroom of my condo.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Years and years ago, I had a meeting for what I thought was going to be a mid-sized permanent search engagement. What we left with was a request for proposal to hire more than 175 professionals on a full-time basis with an on-site team of more than 10 recruiters. We’d never done anything like that before but my executive team and I stayed in the office until 9 pm every night for what seemed like months to plan out resource allocation, timelines, and our ability to deliver effectively. I wanted to be absolutely sure that we’d be successful before we opted to even bid on the work. We ended up realizing that with some of our best resources dedicated full-time, we could help our client hit these goals. After just under a year on-site, we’d made 177 hires and continue to work on high-level roles for them today. It was something that I never even dreamed of doing and, with the help of my team, we were able to make the impossible happen. We still jokingly call ourselves “The Little Firm That Could.”
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are in the process of partnering with a premier SaaS organization in Chicagoland as they undergo a complete organizational transformation. They were growing at incredible numbers and required increased staff to support their growing business. By partnering closely with their executive leadership team, we determined how to best to bring their story to market and began pulling full-time talent out of strong, SaaS companies throughout Chicagoland. I believe that the right talent partner can make all the difference in supporting sustainable growth and my team has worked tirelessly over holidays and weekends to ensure they were able to connect with the very best talent available.
Ok, let’s jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
I think that people end up putting money ahead of their happiness. They end up targeting the roles that will pay them the most instead of finding opportunities that align with their career goals or their personal passions. My recommendation would be to spend spare time and personal time fostering skills and relationships that align more closely with things you’re personally passionate about. These relationships can help catapult you into an opportunity that you otherwise wouldn’t have found.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
There’s an old saying, “One bad apple spoils the bunch.” I’ve seen this play out firsthand. Negative or unhappy people impact the individuals around them and this has a large downward correlation to their productivity and their opportunity for growth. It may be difficult to recognize and acknowledge that an employee has become a detriment but, if they’re unhappy in your organization, it’s not good for them or for your company to stay. Obviously, negativity and stress can also have a huge impact on employee health as well. There’s quite a bit of research that shows that unhappy people have less robust immune systems and are more prone to infection. This alone can be a huge detractor from an employee’s productivity or ability to develop their own career.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- Listen to employees genuinely. Just listening isn’t enough. If you don’t implement their ideas or change course based on what they’ve shared, they’ll eventually stop sharing.
- Casual environments. Most companies have gone the route of business casual. It doesn’t cost a dime and studies actually show that it increases productivity for your employees to be comfortable.
- Establish a “Morale Committee” and run regular team bonding events. We have one at our office and they regularly set up holiday and happy hour events for our employees to spend time together.
- Celebrate your employee’s wins. We end each week recognizing all the employees with a win that week.
- Work/Life Balance. People should work to live, not the other way around. Understand that your employees are people and they may need flexibility from time-to-time for personal reasons. Be flexible in how and where your employees work.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
We have to keep listening to new ideas and truly understanding what our employees want. As the CEO, I am constantly on the lookout for creative ideas to improve our workplace culture. There is more competition than ever to retain the best talent and we, as leaders, must make an effort to connect with our employees on a personal level and foster growth and opportunity for them.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I’m a very hands-on leader. I run a small company, so it’s all-hands-on-deck. That means that I sell alongside my team, conduct searches, and even have them participate in update calls to better understand what each client is looking for.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My father. He has stood by me through every stage of my company. I watched him build and sell businesses my whole life, so I knew that he was someone I could turn to for advice on how to run a company. I was never a “numbers CEO” and he taught me about the importance of financials and how to trust myself to bring on the right people to augment my own strengths. It’s amazing to have someone at your side that you can always bounce ideas off of without worrying about judgment. I am just lucky that my mentor is also my father.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s not whether you get knocked down. It’s whether you get up. — Vince Lombardi
I’ve had my fair share of getting knocked down. I’ve had really good years and times where things just would not go my way. That’s the nature of the recruiting business. I always think to myself, tomorrow is a new day and I have the opportunity to do something different. Any morning is a chance to reset yourself and that often gives me the strength to move forward.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is something we’re missing a bit in our society. We need to learn to better empathize with people. I run my business by showing my clients and my employees respect above all else. Once you’ve better-understood someone’s personal position, it’s hard to treat anyone with anything other than respect.