McKissack & McKissack’s hires Alana Elston to oversee all aspects of human resources, from talent acquisition and DEI to building culture and employee development.
McKissack & McKissack, one of the nation’s leading Black- and women-owned architecture, engineering and program and construction management firms, has announced that Alana Elston has joined the company’s senior leadership team as chief people officer. She will oversee all aspects of McKissack’s human resources, including an effort to attract, retain and develop an innovative, talented and diverse team as the company expands nationally.
Last year, McKissack received Inc. magazine’s Best in Business Award for its work on iconic projects and leadership in workforce diversity. Given the company’s respected achievements, Elston is a strategic choice to lead human resources at McKissack as it enters its fourth decade of growth and assumes more roles as a prime. She has extensive experience in talent acquisition, team management, employee development and building strong and inclusive cultures.
“Alana’s career has always been about being energetic and focused on recruiting and developing highly skilled and diverse team players. Instead of sitting back and waiting for talent to come to her, she uses creative acquisition strategies to find candidates that are not only capable and accomplished but are also the right fit for an organization, regardless of race or gender,” President and CEO Deryl McKissack said.
“She has the ability to bring in excellent technical expertise to meet our clients’ needs and a unique mindset really works for our culture, which focuses our team members on being humble, hungry and smart. She epitomizes that philosophy herself and will help strengthen it in our employee development programs,” McKissack added.
Building a High-Performing, Cohesive and Diverse Team Takes Intentional Outreach
With its work for public and private clients in the civic, culture, energy, education, entertainment, healthcare, hospitality, housing, infrastructure, mixed-use and office sectors, McKissack has long made history as a MWBE that can deliver projects on time, on budget with excellence. “We’ve developed and managed major construction programs worth billions of dollars all over the country because we attract the type of projects that value a diverse workforce. But that calls for highly skilled, experienced employees,” McKissack said.
Earlier this year, McKissack made history again when it became the first Black woman-owned business to be selected as the top firm for capital projects in Dallas-Fort Worth. The achievement made McKissack more aware of the need to better build and diversify the company’s regional offices.
“My approach to building solid teams is not to wait for individuals to come to me. I reach out to my network. I cold source. I scour the web. I live and breathe LinkedIn. You can’t sit back and wait when you’re looking for talented leaders to enlist for key leadership roles,” Elston said.
“That means everyone is fair game—even people that may be sitting across the proverbial table from us in meetings,” she added. “The talent we want are already high performers at their jobs, and I leave no stone unturned when I’m trying to find the right person.”
“McKissack is practicing what it preaches,” Elston said. “By hiring me and thinking creatively and intentionally about recruiting efforts, McKissack is building an accomplished and inclusive team at the leadership level and beyond. It’s ensuring that every day we are living and breathing what we are saying about increasing opportunity and diversity. We are walking the walk.”
McKissack expects her company’s diversity and inclusion efforts to have a positive ripple effect on clients and the AEC industry, which is known for its homogeneity and current labor shortages. “We can’t afford to overlook and exclude anyone, regardless of race or gender, since they bring a wealth of experience and different perspectives to the industry,” she said.
“Research shows that diverse companies are more profitable. Being diverse and inclusive allows us to deliver the best possible services and solutions to our partners and clients and will have a meaningful impact on not only our productivity but also the caliber of our work,” she said.
Elston’s Experience Has Always Focused on Building Culture and Employee Satisfaction
Joining McKissack brings Elston back to the AEC industry, where she started her career. One of her previous positions includes serving as senior human resources director at FOX Architects in Washington D.C. where she oversaw all aspects of human resources including employee relations, retention, training and diversity.
“I’ve always been in the professional services world,” Elston said. “I thrive on it because I love creative environments, and architecture, engineering and construction can be wildly creative. I’ve come full circle as I return to AEC.”
Elston is intrigued by the changing nature of HR and how it can impact a company’s culture, especially when teams are truly diverse and inclusive. “A company’s culture impacts everything from morale and productivity to engagement and the caliber of a company’s work. And that culture evolves with changing demographics, working styles and industry standards,” Elston explained.
To keep culture cohesive, collaborative and supportive, “it’s critical to keep lines of communication open to address issues immediately if and when they arise,” Elston explains. “Listening to each other and offering effective feedback is key to keeping culture on-track and sustainable.”
Elston is a founding member of the Washington D.C. chapter of Chief, a nonprofit, private network built to drive women into more positions of power and keep them there. “Chief is an incredible group of women with great minds, infectious energy and unwavering drive to support women,” Elston says.
She also was Managing Director of Employee Experience at Advoc8, where she executed HR strategy for a fast-growing organization, taking charge of recruitment, retention, benefits administration and team leadership, and was a member of executive team at LGND where she built talent pipelines and created management structures and roles to enable employees to reach their optimal potential. Elston earned her undergraduate degree and her MBA in Business Administration from Frostburg State University in Maryland.