Doreen Barnhouse, EVP of Operations for the Partners Group
Doreen Barnhouse, Executive Vice President of Operations for the Partners Group, on Employee Communications During Uncertainty, building a resilient workforce and giving back to the community
For episode five of Think Beyond Space | The PDX Workplace Insider Podcast, host Blake St. Onge interviewed Doreen Barnhouse, Executive Vice President for The Partners Group, one of the top 100 largest insurance brokerage firms in the US, and a multiple award winning Portland stalwart for over two decades. As a founding member of The Partners Group, Doreen started with the firm in 1993 and has helped shape not only the trajectory for the company’s growth, but the culture of the organization as it nears 200 employees. In the episode, Doreen shared how the leadership team at The Partners Group has created an intentional culture that has fueled their growth.
Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization to Win Talent
For the past several years, The Partners Group has been recognized across their market offices as one of the fastest growing companies in their respective regions, as well as earning recognition as one of the best places to work. While they value these accomplishments, Doreen said they also value the opportunity to learn and improve, noting “we value the survey results, we take the feedback to understand more fully how we can improve our culture.”
The recognition for these awards flows from their core values of always serving customers at a high level and having deep empathy for employees. “We always take the high road- we don’t always go for the most profit to win, and we are going to do the right thing. That core cultural anchor of The Partners Group helps us hire the right people.” Doreen added that they also recognize the long-term benefit of this, saying “I always like to think of the long game. So say we build a culture and people that leave us, and potentially they come back. Or, they leave and build a company like ours that is built with the same great values in how they treat their employees that then we are giving back in a different way- it’s a longer play.”
The Future of their Physical Office
In December 2019, The Partners Group moved into a redesigned headquarters, which Doreen noted they haven’t been able to fully utilize yet. They are also designing a new office for their employees in Bellevue, Washington. Both spaces are designed to meet the needs of the five generations that are now in the workplace, and the specific needs of individual positions. They also put change management strategies in place to give tools to be versatile wherever they are.
For The Partners Group, Doreen also noted the private office is still very valuable for their industry. “It is very much needed and utilized here, so we kind of buck the current trend and added more private offices. We did scale down the size of the private offices, which still gives us the privacy of talking to customers about sensitive data.”
As we enter post-pandemic life, Doreen and The Partners Group leadership team have permanently offered up to two days of remote work per week. For the employees that choose this option, they would potentially lose having a dedicated space at the office, and Doreen anticipates about 50% of their employees will choose the remote option because having a dedicated space at the office is less important than having the flexibility.
Communication, Resilience and Giving Back: Leadership Lessons from the Pandemic
When asked by Blake about important leadership lessons learned from the pandemic, Doreen said, “for me, what I learned personally is that communication is huge. As a company, we upped our game on communication and that has been such a game changer for our employees, especially during times of uncertainty. That doesn’t mean you know the answers, but means you recognize the problems.”
Looking back on having to work remotely during the pandemic, Doreen doesn’t necessarily liked working from home as she enjoys the energy of being in the office and around colleagues. Though, with having a 15-year-old son at home, Doreen found the time invaluable, saying “it has strengthened our relationship, especially as a time that has been a struggle for him because he is very social. It’s been a real gift.”
Doreen also noticed how team members have adapted during the pandemic. “People change when they have to, they will adapt on a dime.” Doreen sees the future benefits of the resilience we all have had to build during this time.
The pandemic has also solidified The Partners Group’s foundation for its philanthropic activities. “From an organizational perspective, we are a purpose-driven, giving back firm. We have always been like that,” Doreen said. In 2020, they were able to hold their first fundraiser for The Partners Group Foundation where they raised $30,000 to donate to the American Red Cross for wildfire relief. Doreen added, “We do have a purpose, which is to make a difference in our communities through our work and inspire others to do the same. We realized what drove us every day, which is to be there for others.”