Published on March 23, 2023 in Philanthropic Groups
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re talking to women who are lighting the way in their communities alongside United Way for Southeastern Michigan. We’re discussing their experiences, sharing their passions and motivations, and spotlighting the people who have inspired them along the way.
Below, we talk to Kristine Dunn, organizational change and learning director at DTE Energy – a United Way partner for decades – funding important initiatives like our utility assistance program. Kristine has been with DTE for more than 10 years, leading the organization through internal changes and external events while being a champion for employees and United Way.
Kristine, your reputation precedes you. When we were inquiring about women who are lighting the way, your name was repeatedly mentioned as someone committed to helping others and doing it with constant enthusiasm, energy, and positivity. Of course, not every day is good, so tell us how you maintain that overall positive demeanor.
I believe in sharing good energy. When you share good energy, it returns to you, and it just becomes this virtuous cycle of positivity. What helps me keep my positive energy is the positivity of others. My experience with helping others always has meaningful outcomes and I love bringing others along with me to experience the same.
Great advice and something we can all strive for. Tell us a bit about your role at DTE and how it evolved over time.
About a decade ago, I joined DTE on the Organizational Development team – working to develop our frontline leaders. From there, I had the opportunity to start a new team to support large-scale changes at our company. Then a few years into that role, I acquired our Leadership and Professional Development team. Being open to trying new things and taking on new work has allowed my role to grow over the years.
That sounds like an incredible opportunity – the excitement of a startup within the security of a well-established organization.
Absolutely. Starting a new team was an incredible opportunity. We’ve supported a lot of significant enterprise transformations over the past few years and brought tremendous value to the organization. It was about five years ago that I started our Organizational Change team. I’m proud that I grew that team from just myself and one consultant to a group of 15. Now, with the Leadership and Professional Development team also part of the fold, my broader organization not only delivers change management but also supports all 1900+ leaders at DTE with their professional development. All our work is in service of our culture and creating a positive employee experience.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into the importance of organizational culture and creating a space where everyone feels like they belong.
We’re only successful when our team feels included and can bring their whole self to work. When you are at your best and fully engaged, you can give more and serve your team, customers, and community in a new way. As leaders, we need to focus on creating opportunities for others to gain experiences, learn, and grow that are supported in a way that inspires and helps individuals step into a better version of themselves.
That’s a great observation. So, what tips do you have for people wanting to grow engagement within their organizations?
Start with the most straightforward thing – show up authentically with your team and be vulnerable so that they understand that you, too, are a person and a human being. Take time to get to know people as individuals – get to know what’s important to them. Don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do. Sometimes, you must be willing to get in the weeds with them and help them do the work. Be open and transparent. Let them know you support their aspirations.
Supporting aspirations sounds like a great idea, but it can be hard to let go. What advice do you have for embracing change?
There are certainly times when it would be easier for a leader to hold on to someone talented and not let them do what they’re aspiring to do. I’m always most proud when people are promoted to more prominent roles within the organization and can create that ripple effect of a culture with innovative leaders who deliver on their promises. Part of our leadership role is to be part of the talent pipeline.
One of my favorite quotes is, “Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up..” Many of us are just holding on to what we know and are comfortable with, so we put more weight into that than what could be. My advice is to think about the possibilities. Raise concerns along the way, but also help design the future. It is also OK to not be OK when things change – sometimes, that’s part of the process and at that same time we can.
You’ve obviously been at this for a long time. Even with all the responsibility of your role, you find time to support DTE’s annual United Way campaign, and you’re also involved with Women United – the affinity group that supports our early childhood and literacy efforts. Is there a particular area of the work that inspires you?
I first got involved with United Way through Emerging Philanthropists because of the focus on basic needs. At DTE, we serve a large population of low-income customers. One of the things that really impacted me was the cost-of-living simulation, which helps you appreciate the tough decisions that people must make and understand what United Way does to help them.
Now that I’m a mom, my interest in how I support United Way has shifted, and Women United’s work around early childhood education aligns with what my heart is moving toward to support our youth. I’ve been excited about the Little Free Libraries the Women United team has supported. In fact, I have a bag of books in my car right now to donate! Also, March is National Reading Month, and I am going to be a “celebrity reader” at a few schools across Metro Detroit, and I can’t wait to help these young people get excited about reading!
How fun! Those books will certainly be put to beneficial use as United Way installs even more Little Free Libraries across local book deserts. You also mentioned being a mom and how that has shifted your priorities. What are your hopes for your daughter and future generations of women?
Yes, my daughter Charlotte is five. She’s funny, kind, and caring, and I hope she maintains that throughout her life and influences others. My dream for every little girl is to grow up to be a confident, capable person that can do what her life’s calling is and pursue her passion. In the workplace – whether a formal leader or an informal leader – to positively influence others. I believe you can lead from anywhere.
Let’s switch gears a bit and talk about the people who have inspired you.
I was lucky to have a professor in my master’s program – Dr. Diana Wong. She became more than a professor; she became a mentor. She has made a strong impression on me about how one person can make a difference. She influenced all the things I work on today – 20 years later. What’s most remarkable about her is that she didn’t just do it for me. She maintains those mentor relationships with so many professionals across Southeast Michigan.
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and passion with us today. Any last thoughts to add?
I’m just proud to support United Way. If you are thinking about doing something in the community United Way can connect you with so many amazing organizations. No matter what your passion or interest you can find a way to support it through United Way. And you can make a difference. It’s a wonderful feeling when you can see and feel the impact immediately. I’m excited to do even more.