For Julie Cummings, maintaining a people-first mentality comes naturally. She grew up in a home of elementary school educators—her mother taught third grade, and her father was an elementary school principal—where she had daily examples of putting others’ interests before oneself. “I was always surrounded by their passion and innovative ideas on how to enhance their students’ learning with high levels of success,” Cummings says.
She recalls instances where her mother created personalized learning plans, tailored to students’ unique abilities, for students with diverse skill sets rather than relying on standard lessons. “Everything she did was with her students in mind, and the same went for my father. He was always looking for opportunities to improve the student experience,” she says.
With such consistent, generous character influences, it is no surprise that Cummings has developed a personal affinity for human resources. “Between the influences of my parents and college classes, I was certain that HR was the path I wanted to go down. Twenty-plus years later, I couldn’t have been more right,” she says.
Now, as chief human resources officer at BKD CPAs & Advisors, Cummings is matching BKD’s people-first philosophy with her own. She is working to keep HR agile to meet the changing needs of the firm and improve the employee experience through personalization.
Since joining BKD more than ten years ago, Cummings has gone from a team of one to a department of more than seventy-five across four functional areas. Her main responsibilities are rooted in offering oversight and strategic direction to talent acquisition, total rewards, HR operations, and employee relations, but Cummings also serves as a “voice of the people.”
“In every major change or growth initiative the firm is taking on, our executive leadership team always asks the question: ‘How will this affect our people?’ This is one of the first questions that is brought forward in these types of meetings, and our executive team relies on me to be the voice of our people,” Cummings explains.
To serve as a voice for employees, Cummings focuses on making sure that employees’ own voices are, in fact, heard. “One of the best ways to engage our workforce is for them to feel as though they have ownership and influence in change,” she says. “We regularly hold engagement surveys and utilize other informal feedback programs to drive change based on what our employees are needing to be successful.”
“When we do enact change or start a new initiative,” she adds, “we often form task forces or lean on certain groups of employees to be the drivers of what that change will look like.”
To get an idea of what this looks like in action, Cummings offered some examples of actions that BKD took upon receiving feedback in these four categories: performance management, career mobility, professional development, and “dress for your client”—BKD’s dress policy. In each of these categories, BKD employees were given the autonomy to make decisions that would help them achieve their best work—providing flexibility in daily dress based on client interactions, giving employees the opportunity to choose how to upskill or develop, and offering mobility in employees’ career paths.
“What I have found in my experience is that when you give people the authority to make their own decisions, you can build a greater culture of trust between employees and leadership,” Cummings says.
“What I have found in my experience is that when you give people the authority to make their own decisions, you can build a greater culture of trust between employees and leadership.”
All these initiatives, including more recent ones like mandatory working from home and the implementation of an EVP task force, are powered not only by employees but also through agility. To Cummings, agility is key in both attracting and retaining top talent as well as allowing for seamless transitions in the workplace to accommodate shifting priorities. The EVP task force has been crucial to addressing employee feedback.
“In our meetings, we discuss specific culture and benefit strategies that could be implemented that would either help increase employee engagement or attract new talent to the firm,” Cummings explains. “This committee is tasked with being nimble regarding the priorities of our workforce and having an open mind when it comes to exploring new possibilities for our firm.”
This, of course, also includes any diversity and inclusion efforts. “Our goal is to promote diversity and inclusion in every aspect of our culture including career development, firm sustainability, recruiting, and innovation,” she says. “We want every one of our employees to feel as though they belong at BKD, regardless of their ethnicity, race, or gender, and we work to ensure that message is clear across the firm.”
As the HR team develops these areas for BKD, Cummings is clear about the joy and appreciation she has for her team and the company as a whole. “Over the past few months, I have been so proud of the way our department has delivered for BKD in supporting our people,” Cummings says. “All in all, we want our people to tell the story of our brand and bring visibility into why BKD is a great place to work. We want to showcase their talents and how they contribute to providing unmatched client service.”
Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Missouri is proud of our partnership with Julie Cummings and the BKD team. We join them in their mission to deliver solutions for success to clients and enrich the communities of those we serve. Thank you Julie for your continued innovation and partnership.