Published on January 6, 2017
1. Former Guam resident leading the way in organizational development Posted on November 28, 2016 Marianas Business Journal BY MAUREEN N. MARATITA Journal Staff Duenas Maintaining ties with Guam, family and friends despite a career in the mainland has led Joanna C. Duenas to visit the island regularly. At the same time, Duenas, who is president and principal consultant of Duenas Consulting Group LLC in Denver, is introducing a new approach to human resources management as a tool for organizational change through work with clients. A common underlying theme runs through the companies she has worked with, Duenas said. “They’re mission-driven organizations; their work is not just about the bottom line, but they’re into returning investments into the community whether it be [in Guam], in Colorado or internationally.” A sense of purpose in companies has always appealed to Duenas. “I found my way when I was an undergraduate at the University of Denver … and was very homesick. I was, in fact, finding my community on-campus, and a counselor advised me to go out into the greater community.” She connected with a number of nonprofits that focused on a variety of subjects. “That began the vocational side of my work,” she said. Coming from Guam and involvement in the Catholic church, as well as a family background of service, Duenas said the connection to community support was strong. “I’ve always kept that in place, regardless of where I went professionally.” Despite graduating with a bachelor’s in communication and the intent to enter journalism, Duenas said finding work in the industry in the 1980s was not easy. “I managed to get into technical communications in the telecom industry.”
2. If there was a pivotal position in her career, Duenas said it was working with the University of Denver on its inaugural community action program from 1990 to 1995, which she said married the sense of service and her skills in training and teaching. “It allowed me to become a pretty young administrator … and I took the organization from the ground up. I honed my skills as a college administrator, I used my organizing skills as a community organizer, I had to secure funding … but it was like an entrepreneurial venture. I was looking internally how to make the institution … perform better and to link common resources — people, departments, businesses and bring them together. It was about common purpose; it was about sources of support and funding and, most importantly, finding common ground relative to values that the organization and the institution shared.” Duenas then launched and managed an inaugural college-wide advocacy department for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, staff and faculty at the University of Colorado at Boulder for two years, followed by a period as director of communications for Equality Colorado, which she would also serve as board chairwoman and vice chairwoman while she worked with U.S. West Communications to support its merger-acquisition team as publications editor. Through additional positions by 2004 she had spent four years as interim dean of the Metropolitan State University of Denver. In her 11 years in higher education, she said, “I walked the line of being leader, managing professional staff but also being really like an internal consultant to my peers and boards … around how to improve performance and how to link that to culture.” Coming from Guam, she said, a focus on culture was automatic. She likens that sense of culture to large entities. “Organizations have the same needs to be aligned, to brand themselves to the markets that they serve.” Nonprofits have the same responsibilities to their stakeholders, clients and volunteers, Duenas said. Duenas went on to work as a trainer with Whole Foods Market for the metro region. Duenas had become accustomed to using her various skills. “Then a mentor gave language to what that was — this concept of organizational development.” Duenas holds a 2012 master’s in organizational development and training from the University of Denver. In 2012 she worked as senior organizational development consultant for Kaiser Permanente, a health care consortium, paid while she developed a case study for her master’s thesis. She followed that with a stint as leader of the creation of the Center of Expertise for Operational Performance at Kaiser, acting as an internal consultant on performance, culture, engagement and change. “I did my master’s work looking at Kaiser and health care during the time the Affordable Care Act was rolling out,” she said. “I was really focusing my organizational development work around change management.” At Kaiser, she said, she worked with different entities. “I cut my teeth on labor relations; I was able to do a lot of work with the physician’s group.” In April 2015, Duenas launched her consultancy. “I’d always harbored this dream to figure out a way to have my own business. I don’t have anything tangible to sell but my skills.” The trend today is to have HR involved as more of a strategic partner. “All the graduate programs are taking skills in that direction.” In that sense, Duenas said, organizational development “is really business partners that embed themselves in the business units and provide HR consulting to those business leaders but have the niche expertise around human resources. You have professionals who are also strategy partners; they are not just reacting but proactively anticipating workforce needs.” Her focus, she said, is around people and the impact of change, such as external or internal change, such as mergers and acquisitions and change in leadership at the top level, or a relocation of the corporation.
3. Guam has additional challenges, she said, because of its isolation when it comes to finding talent and retaining it. Work she has done for Guam companies has been varied. “It runs the gamut from setting up on-boarding programs for new employees and new leaders to assisting and coaching with leadership of a company.” As part of a network, Duenas can call on a team of independent consultants with varied specialties for the benefit of clients. “There are about 10 of us,” she said. For instance, Duenas said, if a company needs workforce planning, which she described as “anticipating what workforce needs are going to be in the future for that particular organization,” she would call on an expert in that area.” Start-ups she said can adapt to change quickly. “From start to execution time is much shorter and so they like the idea of an external consultant without having to carry a lot of overhead in HR.” Duenas has a lot of clients requesting strategy planning for growth. Organizational development work doesn’t only benefit big corporations, Duenas said. “It can equally aid mid- and small-sized businesses looking for ways to improve performance,” she said. “But managers and leaders have to want to do this and be ready to roll up their sleeves to implement process improvements in partnership with their employees. In such cases, I’ve seen transformational change happen in small businesses with even greater impact because the scale of the improvements were achieved through simple OD interventions and methods that weren’t hampered by layers of bureaucracy.” Independent consultancy is the direction of HR, Duenas said. She brings the perspective of other HR professionals who have worked in corporate America but want to find another lane. “Guam sounds like an opportunity to them to get cultural experience. For me, it’s personal.” Mbj