What Would Rhonda Do?

What Would Rhonda Do?

How do you build community? An homage to our colleague who did it best.
Tracey-Lauren Milne
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You feel it the moment you walk into our studio—a sense of community. People come before deadlines. When someone makes a request, you drop everything, no questions asked, and lend a hand. Ask anyone here to identify the source of that feeling and they would have immediately pointed at the front desk, where every day, Rhonda LeRocque welcomed you in with a smile that could melt a glacier. Rhonda was one of the concertgoers in Las Vegas who never made it back home. This post is a tribute to her and how she brought us together.

Knowing how to design community is a rare skill, and Rhonda did it better than anyone. She didn’t bring people together because it was her job. She did it because that’s who she was. Rhonda turned our studio into a home and coworkers into a family. Her creative acts of community-building were expressed through a million everyday things she did for us in the 10 years she worked at IDEO.

Over the last three weeks, we have been sharing stories of how we might be a little more Rhonda. Below are just a few:

Treat your coworkers as friends, not colleagues.

Jennifer Sarich-Harvey said that the moment she knew she was dealing with a special human being was when she received a care package from Rhonda while writing her thesis. Jenn had left IDEO as an intern the year before (not knowing that she would return a few years later).

Lindsey Turner told us of Rhonda’s detailed catering spreadsheet and how you could find little personalized notes therein: Graciella likes the Green Goddess with extra cashews, Noreen loves the almond cake, and no one ate the chicken tenders. Her thoughtfulness extended well beyond the confines of her job.

Treat everyone with dignity and respect.

Rhonda worked extraordinarily hard. She was always on her toes or running to tick something off her mental “to do” list. She even ate standing up. But no matter how busy she was, Michael Hendrix reminded us of how she never treated anyone as an inconvenience. Whatever she was doing, she would drop it in an instant to be truly present with you.

Make it special so people feel special.

Christina Abele chuckled warmly as she related the story of how Rhonda would always, always, re-plate the food—no matter if the caterer had already done so or she didn’t have the time. Rhonda knew that the way you made people feel special was through focusing on the smallest of moments, taking great care, and making them beautiful. This was her craft and how she showed her love in her own humble way. She would put “a little powdered sugar” on everything.

Make others successful.

No one brought this central IDEO value to life like Rhonda did. She was hospitality made manifest. She’d spend countless hours helping our design teams create an extraordinary experience for clients, of course, but she went above and beyond on a personal level too. Noreen Arora shared how Rhonda would sneak some food for her to take back to her new husband to make him fall even more in love with her.

Be the Rhocque.

“The Rhocque” was a nickname her best friends in the studio called her: Rhonda was unflappable, forever poised, and always put others well-being before her own. Nicole Howard recounted the time she was literally running through the studio, stressed before an event, holding paper in one hand and a binder in the other, with Rhonda right behind her. With a quick turn of the heel, they crashed into one another and, in a heroic move, Rhonda grabbed Niki and rubbed some calming lavender oil into her temples before scuttling off to stock the bar. Niki was dumbstruck. To this day, Niki keeps some lavender oil in her bag, just in case.

John Feole tells us how Rhonda once dropped a glass in the kitchen and, even though it broke, it didn’t shatter—it simply held itself together. And that, he remarked, was who Rhonda was: “You could be a little cracked, a little broken, but Rhonda helped you keep your form.”

Make memories, don't wait for them to make themselves.

Nicole Woods told us that Rhonda would intentionally create special moments between her and her daughter so that Ali would have memories for years to come—like recreating a scene from Frozen during the first snowfall. She did the same for us: Like that time she stood smiling as we “oohed” and “aahed” over how she had turned our studio into a woodland forest for an event.

Design random acts of kindness.

Rhonda had a gift. Design came naturally to her. She could anticipate our needs before we could, worked alongside us with our clients top of mind, and always made sure we left feeling better for it. From snow cones for an overworked team designing for snowboarders, rolling trolleys of hot chocolate on a chilly day with toppings only a child would dream of, cake pops in the hues of proposed brand identities and, Tom Kershaw confirmed, baby showers to rival the very best of weddings, she was “biologically incapable of not making things beautiful,” (thank you John Feole). She did so much for all of us and made it look effortless.

Many companies have their values plastered on the wall or policies on creating culture. We confess we have that, too. But, more importantly, we had the irreplaceable Rhonda.

Rhonda, we love you and we will miss you always. We hope to do you proud.

We collected a few suggestion from her friends and colleagues on how we can all be a little more like Rhonda. See their comments here.

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Tracey-Lauren Milne
Originally from South Africa, Tracey finds great hilarity in the blank stares she receives when calling traffic lights "robots" and sun showers "monkeys' weddings."
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