By Jessica Hartung and Jennifer Simpson
25 years ago, Integrated Work was born out of Jessica Hartung’s vision that work and life go together, that a more seamlessly integrated, humane way of leading organizations just might be possible. A lot has changed since 1998, and as we celebrate and reflect on this milestone year, we are struck that learning together along the journey has made it possible. Every step of the way.
Learning together has formed the foundation of our work with clients, partners, and within our own team. Recently, current owner and CEO, Jennifer Simpson, sat down with Jessica to reflect on the journey that has brought us here and what the road ahead holds. This is an excerpt from that conversation:
Jessica: Back in 1998, with a new baby and a recent move to Colorado, I wanted to deepen my learning about the science of management and leadership, and help others do the same. Yet I couldn’t find a workplace that actually practiced what it advised clients. Was it possible to build a learning lab to practice how humans work well together?
My hands hovered over the keys, “What could I name this new business to capture that essence?” I closed my eyes and felt guided to type “Integrated Work Strategies.” I sat back, and re-read it. Strategies for bringing who we really are into the workplace to make it better for everyone. Yes! Over the years we answered to Integrated Solutions, Integrated Work Systems, Integrated Works, and many more approximations. Shortening to “Integrated Work” made it much easier to remember.
Jennifer: And what drew you to this notion of “integrated” work?
Jessica: The meaning of “integrated” in our name originally came from bringing who we are — ourselves, as whole humans — to work. Personal growth and professional development can’t really be separated. Integrated is beyond blended or balanced; integrated is where the parts become a unit. As within, so throughout.
Integrated applied to many aspects of our work:
- Professional development became integrated into the real-world work lives of our clients, as partners, to help facilitate the desired results.
- Multiple modalities were integrated to serve what is needed — blending coaching, consulting, facilitation, and human development into a customized mix.
- Our values were woven into our work practices, in every corner of our approach with colleagues, and in our client engagements.
- And we integrate insights from multiple perspectives in order to move forward.
Jennifer: Yes, I remember how important that was to you from our earliest meetings, that we connect deeply with the heart of service and choose clients who already are focused on making the world better. I am so proud to have been able to lead that effort to fruition. As a student and scholar of leading and organizing, the B Corp movement has been on my radar for a long time. And the foundation you built really made the process easy. I spent some time in my first few years formalizing things that were already woven into our DNA, but ultimately the certification just makes who we have always been more formal and public.
Jessica: Each phase of the company’s growth really has been full of learning insights — from the startup, growth, succession, exit, and re-evolution.
I’m curious, Jen, how leading Integrated Work has shaped you. How have you grown from this experience so far?
Jennifer: I really do believe that what we’ve accomplished is unique, and remarkable. I looked up some statistics on Women-Owned Small Businesses recently, and they’re pretty sobering. Less than 40% of these companies survive beyond 11 years. After 25 years, the numbers are so low that there isn’t any meaningful data at all. Truthfully, no one was tracking the question back then because it was such a rarity. To be hitting the 25-year mark, and to have successfully transferred both leadership and ownership from one woman to the next, is a huge accomplishment worth celebrating.
Jessica: I’m delighted watch the many ways in which Integrated Work’s industry leadership continues to blossom, beautifully, in full, vibrant diversity. The innovative, thoughtful work you and the team are doing continues to carve new ground. And this compounded learning is the legacy of all the clients and partners who shaped us along the journey, learning alongside us, testing approaches, and building new models together. Watching is a joy, indeed.
Jennifer: Thank you. The foundation you built really has enabled us to push into new areas and expand our emphasis on Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and when my new book launches later this year, we’ll be expanding our systems transformation work even further. We’ve invested so much over the last few decades in developing conscious, authentic, mission-driven leaders but continued to send them back into systems poorly suited to maximizing their potential.
Jessica: I know we’ve talked about your KOAN approach as it has evolved over the last few years of practicing with the Integrated Work team. What are you most excited about as it comes into the world in a more concrete way?
Jennifer: The core premise underlying the KOAN method is that old ways of leading and organizing are poorly suited to producing the breakthroughs required to solve our most pressing problems and that building Kind, Open, Adaptive, Networks will foster the kind of flourishing future I think you may have had in mind when your hands first hovered over the keyboard all those years ago. I want to help people build human-first workplaces, rooted in transparency and trust, that are designed for resilience and embedded in networks of mutuality.
How are you keeping that same spirit alive as you write your own “next chapter?”
Jessica: Self-expression through work is a career philosophy that guides me still. After publishing The Conscious Professional, I’ve been facilitating developmental dialogue among groups online, and mentoring as they learn and build their leadership on the job, real-time. Mentoring itself is the next vista of learning for me. Another thing that hasn’t changed: I still love my rainbow bookshelf reference library of ideas. The bookshelf is graced by Frances Hesselbein. Many of you know I loved her as my mentor and guide to self-aware, ethical leadership.
Jennifer: Well, we could go on and on (as we often do!) about how magical this work is and what a gift it is to get to do it. Maybe one day we’ll write a more sobering piece on just how hard it can be too, because that is also true. For today, though, I’m reminded of the song we’ve adopted a bit as our “anthem.” The opening line of Faith Rivera’s “The Wild Ones” reminds me again and again that, “No matter where you stand, no matter where you fall, you gotta learn to land when you find yourself against it all.” Thank you, truly, for being willing to brave the Wild with me!
Jessica: The strength, wisdom, and wild side of leaders following the call to serve inspired me then, and it inspires me now! Let’s keep learning together along the journey.