Episode 14 – Kathleen Quinn Votaw – the power of leading with compassion, building a strong company culture, recruiting realities and smart scaling for today’s business environment

The Talent, Sales & Scale Podcast returns for Episode 14. Host Bryan Whittington is joined by Kathleen Quinn Votaw – Speaker, Author, and CEO to talk about scaling and finding the right talent in today’s “new normal”. Kathleen shares amazing insight on very important, but sometimes neglected aspects of building a strong team:

-being non-judgemental of your employees/potential employees decisions when it comes to their personal safety 

-leading with compassion when recruiting new talent, adapting to the new digital environment

-understanding that many, many people are struggling with mental health and leaning into being an ally for your team 

Talentrust’s website:

Kathleen’s Linkedin:

Kathleen’s Book:

Read Full Transcript

Bryan: Hey, everyone. This is Bryan Whittington with The Talent, Sales and Scale Show. I’ll tell you, I’ve been really looking forward to this conversation for a while. Today you can see her book here. She is a Vistage speaker, world-renowned, 17 years figuring this thing out, likely five, probably 17 years of everyone else in this virtual world. So we have Kathleen Quinn Votaw. Welcome to the show.
Kathleen: Thank you for having me, Bryan; I’m excited to be here with you today.
Bryan: I’ll tell you. So talent is the key, right? So our belief is that your competitive differentiator, your competitive advantage, is no longer technology because people can catch up. It is no longer pricing because I can cut you on price. It is no longer location or anything else. It really boils down to team and execution. And this is such a topical conversation right now with everything. So I’m really, really excited to jump in here.
So for those listening the topic for today is really virtual employees, engagement of those employees. We could talk hiring, we could talk recruiting; who knows where this goes? But that’s going to be the premise of the show.
So with that said as a backdrop, Kathleen, why in the world should people listen to you? I mean, what gives you your expertise around this area?
Kathleen: Well, I’ve been around the block for 54 years; it’s my 54th year. (Laughter) So I have a little bit of experience. I started in the recruitment industry in 1985 with Kelly Corporation. They hired me while I was in college. I learned so much from mentors there—Eileen Candles.
And then I went on to work for a small boutique firm in Boston and learned from people like Ronnie Moxton. Olsten Corporation was another great corporation that no longer exists that I worked with. And you know you’re getting a little old when companies you work for no longer exist.
And also I’ve been an employee and I’ve been an entrepreneur. So I’ve walked in both people’s shoes. And so with my journey I really enjoyed my years as an employee. But I was always a maverick, Bryan; I didn’t quite fit. I wanted to do things a certain way.
And companies have a lot of rules, regulations, guidelines. And we don’t tell each other the truth. Have you noticed that employers and employees don’t tell each other the truth about exactly what’s going on?
Bryan: Yeah. Whenever I’m interviewing people I always say, “Listen. I don’t want the interview answer. And I’m not going to give you the candidate answer, right? You know, you campaign one way. And then once you’re elected you realize who the true person is, so we don’t look to do that. So I couldn’t agree with you more. You see that all over the place.
Kathleen: Yes. I worked for Fortune 500 companies, I worked for small companies. I’ve been an employee, I’ve been an entrepreneur. In the last 17 years what I’ve learned—and I’ve evolved every year. And everyone who has worked for me, every client, has contributed to who I am today. I constantly challenge myself; I challenge the status quo. And I learn; I’m really a lifelong learner. So nothing is ever what you expect it to be; things change. We’ve learned that a lot in the last 17 weeks.
So I think people should listen to me, Bryan, because I’ve built a company. I’m one of 2% of all women who’ve broken through the million-dollar mark.
Bryan: Hey, congratulations!
Kathleen: Thanks. I’ve been recognized by Inside Thousand, which was really amazing two years in a row. We still have a thriving business even in the midst of some challenges in our country. And you know, I love people. It is my subject matter of expertise.
Bryan: Yes.
Kathleen: I love people. And our message to companies is that if you put people first, everything else will follow.
Bryan: So let’s get into that, right? So if we put people first, how does that work? I’m the business owner. I just want you (and I’m going to point my finger for the screen here), I just want you to show up and do your job, right? That’s what you hear all the time; the customer comes first. So you’re suggesting that people come first. And I’m guessing that by people you mean your team members, your employees.
Kathleen: All people, not just team members.
Bryan: Okay.
Kathleen: All people. It’s the relationships you have with people. So people representing your brand—the employees. If they are not engaged (which is an overused word), if they don’t even like you or like what you do, do you think they’re going to treat your customers well?
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: So I talk a lot virtually and in person. And you know, driving a truck is just driving a truck. You’re driving a truck, right? You have a lot of things in the back of the truck. You can’t change driving a truck.
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: But what you can change is the relationship between the hiring manager and the employee. What kind of equipment do they have? Do they have a clean work environment? It’s all a matter of respecting the human that is actually representing your brand to the world.
It’s also not tolerating customers who treat your employees with disrespect or disregard. It’s also not tolerating other employees who are mediocre. I have found in so many companies that people just kind of suffer in silence. Well, that’s just the way Bryan is. I can’t do anything about it because you know what, I just don’t have anybody to replace them.
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: What does that say to your employees about respecting the people who are coming in early, who are going above and beyond, who do love your brand? So it’s really not just about one audience; it’s all audiences. And Bryan, that’s why this is hard.
Bryan: I was just going to say that. So how do you do that? Because there’s friction on every single one of those, because you’re talking internal customer, external customer. You’re talking about process improvement. And now how do we trade team virtually?
So let’s break all of those up. So let’s talk first. And most people who keep relationship, or keep people first, don’t know accountability. But you said, “People first with accountability. People first with execution standards that will not be tolerated to be sub-standard.” So how do we balance those two?
Kathleen: So you’ve probably heard a lot lately about business continuity. That’s kind of a sexy phrase that’s out there right now.
Bryan: Yes.
Kathleen: Well I believe in people continuity. People continuity equals business continuity. So here’s how you can take some steps.
First and foremost, start listening to your most important customer, which is your employee. They will tell you who you are, whether you like it or you don’t, because they know your unwritten rules. They know when to talk to you, when not to talk to you. They know the non-negotiables of the organization; they know the clients. They know when they can do things and when they can’t do things. They know you. They’ll tell you who you are. And you might not like it at first. But then knowledge is power; you can do something about it.
And not for one minute do I suggest that we as owners—because I’m a business owner too,--we are not slaves to our employees. We do not have to build our company just for them. We have to build it for ourselves too.
So knowing your attitudes, your values, your beliefs, and making sure that people come into your organization that are in alignment with what you’re trying to achieve, it’s that alignment that is so important. It’s not just hiring the person who’s available. It’s going through the selection process, first for attitudes, beliefs, traditions that align with you, and then the skills.
Bryan: Okay. So—
Kathleen: Because when you let somebody go, Bryan, you probably don’t let him go for skills. You let him go for attitudes, beliefs and traditions that don’t align with yours. Go ahead, Bryan.
Bryan: Correct; that cultural fit exactly. So let’s hit on that, because you know, here we go. I’m the business owner; I’m listening to this. If I get another speech on vision, mission, value, purpose, I mean come on, already! I have the core values listed all over my walls! I’ve done this, I’ve done that! Yeah, great in theory. But what’s the practical execution of this? I hear this; I’ve read the books on it. You know, it’s been screamed from the mountaintops. How does that actually work in real life?
Kathleen: Well, most people have a mission vision value that they write on their walls or in their website, or they send it out in a memo. But they have no idea how to bring it to life.
Bryan: Yes!
Kathleen: So it’s really important to bring it to life. So some examples of bringing it to life are actually embedding critical intimate conversations with your employees weekly or monthly. I recommend this to my audiences all the time. Here are two questions you could just start asking if you’re not doing anything.
Why do you choose me? Why do you choose to come to work for me every day? And guess what! People choose people. People also quit people. So why do you choose to come to work for me every day, because I know you have choice; I know you’re talented.
And the second question, Bryan, is, Under what circumstances would you leave?
Bryan: Of course.
Kathleen: Or more simply put, why would you quit me?
Bryan: That’s so funny!
Kathleen: The first answer is never “money.” Everybody thinks it’s money. That’s the seventh reason people will leave you. The top two reasons people usually leave are these. “You don’t appreciate me; you don’t recognize me.” And the second reason is people; people quit people.
But the good news is that people also choose people. So even training or hiring managers are just embedding those intimate conversations into the relationships between hiring managers and employees. It will be a game changer; you’ve got to start somewhere.
So if you have an attitude or a belief that hey, Bryan, I come to work and I say to you, “You better just shut up and stand in line,” well, I don’t know how that’s working for you. But the world is changing. So you have a choice. You can change with it or you don’t have to change with it.
But what I will tell you is that 75% of the work force are millennials and Gen Z.’s And they are demanding intimacy with you. They want to know who you are. They want meaning. And oh, by the way, I’m not a Gen Z. or a millennial. But I want that too.
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: Our world has changed. It’s time to hit the reset button and start having these conversations so we know what people want.
Bryan: I was smiling at this, those intimate conversations. Why would you choose to come to work with me every day? And under what circumstances would you quit me? How many people right now are having a heart attack? “No way would I ever ask that! Uh-uh!”, right? So this is not easy stuff at all.
So for my software developers that are now founders of tech startups, if you don’t know the “soft skills” of interpersonal communication, you’re in trouble! We have to learn how to do these things. It’s my sense, but I’m going to lean on you. So what the audience doesn’t know is, Kathleen has been virtual for 17 years, right?
Kathleen: Yes.
Bryan: For 17 years she’s been virtual. So she’s kind of figured this out. So she went at this. And I’ll ask you to bring up what we talked about pre-hitting the record button. But she went at this whenever nobody else was. So now that we’ve all been thrust into it, let’s hear a little bit more about this. Where did you stub your toe? Where did this not go right? What lessons should we learn so that we hopefully and thankfully don’t have to repeat the same mistakes?
Kathleen: Absolutely. And it goes back to your company. It’s built on your attitudes, values and beliefs. So when I left my corporate gig (or was invited to leave, by the way in 2003),--
Bryan: Okay.
Kathleen: I wanted to work when I wanted to work, where I wanted to work, with whom I wanted to work. And I wanted freedom. Freedom was and is a big thing for me. I love this country. I think we all have choice.
So I’ve started from the very beginning working from my home. And then as I added people I indoctrinated them and screened them for their ability to be independent and disciplined in their work, because that’s a key factor. Not everybody is disciplined to get up every day, wash, make sure they do their hair, you know,--comb your hair if you’re a man, put on a nice shirt, put on a nice dress. Make sure that they are client-facing. A lot of people just lack that discipline. So that’s the most important thing to screen for with a work-from-home environment and a virtual environment.
And then you’re going to hit some speed bumps as you mentioned, Bryan. You’ve got to have the right technology; you have to have it. And 17 years ago this video technology didn’t work. I mean, we didn’t have it as robustly as we do now. So this is wonderful now. I mean, we’ve been using video technology probably for the past five to seven years. And we’ve used Zoom, we’ve used Microsoft Teams, we’ve used WebEx. We’ve used a lot of tools.
And two of the tools that really work best for us are Office 365, and their Microsoft Teams for internal work. And then Zoom works really well externally with clients. So one of the things is selection for that discipline that you’ll really have to watch for.
#2, you have to set expectations very clearly. So we are extremely transparent with each other in our organizations. Our calendars have personal things on them. And that’s okay.
So if I go at 4:00, which I did yesterday to get my nails done, my entire team knows that I’m going for a manicure/pedicure. Nothing is hidden.
So I talked to one of my staff members yesterday. And she was at the neighborhood pool on Zoom, watching her son because she’s trying to balance being a mom and working. And she had an internal Zoom call. Why shouldn’t she be at the pool? She’ self-disciplined; she brought her laptop. She was reading a document to prepare for a meeting. I called in and she didn’t have to hide the fact that she was at the pool.
Bryan: Yes.
Kathleen: So transparency is the key to success in a virtual environment, because in the absence of information people make up stories. And so I’ll share one about one of my clients who was thrust into the virtual reality and reluctantly, because he did not trust people to work from home.
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: He called me, very frustrated. And he said, “Hey! I called one of my sales reps. And do you know what he was doing, Kath? He was walking the dog.” (Laughter)
And I thought Jeff’s head was going to bop off. Well, I said, “Jeff, have you set up any guidelines? Are there any expectations? And why did that bother you so much?”
And so we had an hour-long conversation. We set up some guidelines on what his expectations are. And I also opened up the reality that when people are home they have different distractions than the workplace. They do have a dog, they do have a cat, they do have a goldfish. They might even have children and a significant other in there.
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: You know? So maybe he went to walk the dog to get away from the goldfish, the cat, the children and the significant other, so he could have a conversation in private.
Bryan: Right. Or a bad sales call, or having to fret mentally for a boss that’s giving him grief. (Laughter)
Kathleen: Exactly. So what happened is that the owner/leader/president of the organization jumped to the conclusion that the sales rep was being lazy walking the dog.
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: But there are so many other things that could have happened. Maybe he brought the dog out so he could have a conversation in private.
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: So we can’t make assumptions. We have to be very transparent. Transparency equals trust. And that’s hard for a lot of owners to share where they are. When was the last time you told people, “You put it on your calendar. I’m just going to go for a run,” or “I’m going to go get my haircut,” or “I’m going to have a beer with a buddy.” Everything in my world is calendared, and everybody has access to it.
Bryan: So let’s talk about those expectations, because everybody knows that they should have expectations pre-virtual. It’s even more important post-virtual. So let’s talk through any best practices that you’ve found in terms of tracking, because what gets measured, what gets done,--
Kathleen: Mm-hmm.
Bryan: That’s one side of the fence. The other side of the fence is laissez-faire management leadership style, where we just hire adults and we don’t look into anything. And then somewhere in between, actually even further to the left if you will is micro-management, which nobody wants.
Kathleen: No.
Bryan: So how have you figured out how to blend the approach of trackability/accountability with flexibility?
Kathleen: Mm-hmm. So it didn’t happen overnight; it takes time. We have some collateral damage over 17 years.
Bryan: Yes.
Kathleen: I didn’t do it right all the time. So allow yourself to fail in order to get better.
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: That was one of my best pieces of advice. And allow yourself to evolve. You’re going to get this wrong; you’re going to do something wrong. And it’s going to be okay. And guess what? Your employees are going to screw it up too.
Bryan: Yes.
Kathleen: And it’s okay. We’re not looking for perfection. If you’re looking for perfection you’re not in the right race. We’re the human race and we are inherently flawed, and working toward trying to be better every day.
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: So I think you really used some interesting words. It’s not trackability; it’s trust. It’s transparency to bring you to trust.
So over time when you are transparent, people trust you. I had one of my employees say to me during the current situation that we’re in at the very beginning, because I was worried about all of them as many owners were. And she said, “Kathleen, you’ve always been transparent with us. So I trust what you’re telling me now.”
So it will take time. You can’t just wake up tomorrow and start telling everybody the truth, because they’ll start talking to each other behind your back. (Laughter) Unclear) So with changing behavior you have to allow people to catch up to you.
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: And that’s what happens over time. I will tell you. I’ve had some great people work with me and for me on my team. And I probably blew it with a few of them by not trusting more, you know? So I’m a work in progress; so is every employee. And being patient with each other as we launch into whole new ways to work together is really the secret sauce—having some guidelines.
You know, I call them guard rails. Remember, Bryan? I call them a little bit of guard rails. You know, when you’re driving down the street and you see the guard rails, you’re not supposed to hit them. (Laughter)
Bryan: Right. Ideally, right.
Kathleen: You know, you’re not supposed to hit them. So just give people the target. So even when you’re throwing darts there’s a target. But you’re not going to hit a whole board. You’re not going to hit the bull’s-eye every time. So patience, transparency, practice, practice, practiced.
Bryan: So let me define what I mean by trackability.
Kathleen: Yes, please.
Bryan: So whenever you have expectations, to me that means that you should be able to track whether or not you’re on target or off target, like a score-card if you will, right?
Kathleen: Yes, absolutely.
Bryan: Because people are desperate to know if they’re winning or not, right?
Kathleen: Yeah.
Bryan: Because how many times have you seen a leader/manager say, “Hey, what does success look like, boss?”
“I don’t know. Just go out there and try your best,” right? “Go get ‘em, slugger!” And they have no idea how they’re doing. It’s kind of like what Ken Blanchard wrote, The One-Minute Manager, where you go out bowling and you cover up all the bowling pins and you cover up the score. And then once a year you let them know how they’re doing, right? That’s just ridiculous! Sales is easy; you can track behaviors. You can track calls and stuff like that. But any sense, any suggestions, any recommendations on non-sales, or maybe some of those other professions that are a little bit more difficult to track?
Kathleen: Absolutely.
Bryan: Yeah. What suggestions do you have there?
Kathleen: Yes, absolutely. So measuring what matters around human engagement and human interaction.
Bryan: Okay.
Kathleen: I’ve got three tools actually, Bryan.
Bryan: Wooh!
Kathleen: So I’m sorry I missed your question there. But—
Bryan: That’s all right; I didn’t ask it right.
Kathleen: The first tool I would recommend is a really low-cost tool.
Bryan: Okay.
Kathleen: All you have to do is go out to Google and Google The Q-12 from Gallup. And Gallup has a way for you to engage with them, to ask the twelve most important questions to measure engagement with your work force.
Bryan: Okay.
Kathleen: Great tool; low-cost. Not no-cost, but low-cost.
The second great tool is on Survey Monkey. It’s called The E-Net Promoter Score. The E stands for Employee Net Promoter Score. And the question that they pose is one question versus twelve questions on the Q-12. “How likely are you to refer a friend or colleague to work for our company on a scale of zero to ten?” It is low-cost, $70 a month, Survey Monkey. You ask the question on a monthly or quarterly basis. And then you can track trends over time. And Bryan, that’s what we want. We want to track trends over time.
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: Because sometimes you’re going to be up, sometimes you’re going to be down. And you want to know why and you want to know what’s going on. So that’s a really super cool tool; I love that.
And then the third is that there are a couple of engagement companies out there that have great tools; there are three of them. They’re more pricy than I like. But I’ll tell you the three, and I’m not endorsing any of these. And I don’t get paid by any of these by giving you their names; it’s just research I’ve done.
The one I like the most is Tiny Pulse. I actually use it in my company.
Bryan: Yes.
Kathleen: And every week we ask a critical question about engagement with our work, our customers internally, the world. And it is wonderful to get a pulse, a tiny pulse, on where everyone is, and how everybody is thinking about that particular question, because sometimes in a large group people won’t answer truthfully.
Sometimes directly, manager to manager, you’re like, “So Bryan, you like working for me, right?”
Bryan: “Of course I do!”
Kathleen: “Of course I do!” You might not get the truth. So all of these tools are collected in confidence so you can actually get to the meat of the matter and do something about it. And you want to get quality out of quantitative data so you can measure trends over time.
Bryan: Okay.
Kathleen: So Tiny Pulse is a really good tool. The next tool—
Bryan: If I can break in here one second, I’m going to go back to something that you said that is critically important for the listeners.
Kathleen: Yes.
Bryan: You said, “If I know what reality is I can do something about it.”
Kathleen: Absolutely.
Bryan: So oftentimes you’re going to get answers that are going to drive you nuts. You’re going to be the one who has to take the dog for a walk to cool off a little bit because you’re getting reality shoved right in your face.
Kathleen: Right.
Bryan: The beauty about that is that you can now do something about it. You said that earlier. And that’s a critical point that everybody needs to hear. So okay, Tiny Pulse. What was the second one?
Kathleen: So Tiny Pulse is the first tool. I use it; I love it; they’re a great firm. The second one I like is Amplify. It’s a little more pricy. I don’t love it as much because it’s more engineered by them versus managed by you. But it’s a good tool.
And then Corn Fairy just came out with a tool called QualTric. I haven’t used it; I haven’t seen it. But they have really good products, so I trust Corn Fairy and their tools, especially their assessment tools. So I think that is something to look into, too.
Bryan: Yes.
Kathleen: So those are ways you can measure things. You know, we as owners, Bryan, we measure ferociously—revenue, gross margin, profitability—weekly, monthly, sometimes daily.
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: Environments. It’s really important to measure where you are with the people who are representing your brand so you can effect change. Also it’s important to measure where you are with your people, because you might have something really amazing to celebrate.
Bryan: Yes.
Kathleen: And then you can use that in your messaging with your clients, because you know what? People buy from people they like. And buyers really pay attention to who you are as a company. And who you are as a company are the people you have working for you.
Bryan: So let’s hit on that, because you know, so many people are going to say, “That’s a bit too soft; that’s a little bit too fluffy.”
Kathleen: Mm-hmm.
Bryan: “I want to do branding. They’re going to be known for my branding. They’re going to be known for my message. They’re going to be known for the quality of my product or service,” right? That’s what a lot of people are going to push back hard on. So help me with my belief of that’s the truth, not that the people are really who my brand is.
Kathleen: You can have the best prize in the world. But if your people misrepresent it to your clients when you’re not looking, it’s going to die. So I don’t care what your service is, what your product is. If your people aren’t aligned with you and they’re saying, “Hey, you might want to buy our stuff, but I really hate working here. Do you have a job for me?” (Laughter) How is that working for you?
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: Because what happens is, we as owners think that people quit when they walk in the door at 4:00 on a Friday. They have already quit you emotionally 90 days or three months or six months prior.
Bryan: Yes.
Kathleen: So there is a lot of damage that happens in that three to six months with the customers, with other employees. If they have already emotionally quit you, Bryan, because you’re only paying attention to why people leave when they walk out the door, you’re doing a lot of damage to the relationship with your customers and the relationship with your other employees, and the relationship with vendors that you rely upon. And you don’t even know it’s happening.
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: It’s never just about a product or service. Did anybody hear of Siren Finnick?(Laughter) It’s why you do what you do, not what you do.
Bryan: Right. And the funny thing is—
Kathleen: It’s popular.
Bryan: Yeah, right. I think persons may have heard of him, or not.
Kathleen: Yes, somebody might have heard.
Bryan: Yes. And the hysterical thing to me is,--and it’s not hysterical; it’s actually sad in a way,--you just pointed out that they’re gone, mentally checked out, three, six months ahead of whenever they quit.
Kathleen: Absolutely.
Bryan: The other side of that is that it seems to me that the first time you think that you should let somebody go you’re likely three months behind anyway, because how many times have we as owners finally let somebody go because we lamented over the fact and whatever other reasons we gave to ourselves? There might be one sick one out there. But what owner really enjoys getting rid of people? Of course, that’s part of the job.
Kathleen: Yes, the hard part.
Bryan: Yes. But it seems like as soon as you let someone go, the employers are like, “Oh, thank heavens! I’ve been telling you that for three months, for goodness sakes!” (Laughter)
Kathleen: Yeah. And also, re-frame it. You’re not letting somebody go; you’re not doing a negative thing. You are counseling them out of the company so they can do their best work somewhere else.
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: And it’s likely that if you’re unhappy, Bryan, with the work they’re doing, they’re probably not happy with the work they’re doing, either.
Bryan: So let’s hit that, because that’s a really important point. Now you can try to talk me off of this. But I won’t let you, because even if this is a lie, it’s a lie I’m holding onto. My belief is that nobody shows up day one looking to do a bad job, looking to—
Kathleen: I totally agree with you.
Bryan: Yes. If I can be just a little bit crass here, no one’s looking to screw you over.
Kathleen: That’s right!
Bryan: You’d probably know this better than I. There are three things. Isn’t everybody looking for that autonomy? I just want to be able to be left to do my best. They want to feel that competency, that I just want to be the best at what I do. And then the third one is—and I forget that last one. It’s really that relevance or that what I do matters. But there’s that level of importance. Are those the three? I might be missing those three. But I think that—
Kathleen: No, there really good. They go in this order in my opinion, but it doesn’t really matter. (Laughter) People want appreciation and recognition.
Bryan: Uh-huh.
Kathleen: People want to be appreciated and recognized. That’s #1. People want to work with people they like and respect. And then 3, they want to believe in what they do. They want to be aligned with what they do and what you do. So when all of that lines up, you’ve got nirvana.
I just had a wonderful experience, Bryan, that I never thought I’d have in my career. June 23rd I had a team meeting. A lot of us met in person and we physically distanced and wore masks. Some of my team was virtual. It was wonderful. It’s the first time we got together in a while.
And in the middle of the meeting they broke the meeting. And my team wrote me a love letter.
Bryan: How nice!
Kathleen: Celebrating the culture we have, what we’ve done, how we’ve stayed together in good times and bad. And so everybody is pretty reflective right now. It was the most amazing gift I’ve ever gotten.
And Bryan, the themes were I trust them. I appreciate them. They’re very aligned with what we’re trying to do and where we’re going. And they love each other. And yes, I dare to say “love” in the workplace, because business is about people. And people want relationships that matter. And relationships are based on love and respect.
Bryan: And so I’ll throw this out here. You might think this is getting really soft, so I’ll bring it back. But, you know, love is intentional. It’s not a feeling; it’s intentional. It’s action, it’s activity. So I wholeheartedly agree with that.
So let’s take it to the business owner.
Kathleen: Sure.
Bryan: I’m getting through this whole entire government shut-down of the economy for this pandemic. I mean, we’re going through social turmoil right now. I don’t care what side of the fence you’re on; it’s not good. You know, I’m getting people that are human. They’re showing up and being human beings because they’re not human doings. And I’m worried about cash flow. I’m worried about the future. I’m having to do all of this change. And I’m just tired out. And I’m sick of putting all of this effort in, and my people just don’t seem to get it. You know, speak to that business owner.
Kathleen: If your people don’t get it then you’re not being transparent enough. So when I speak to audiences all over the country I have this one slide. I’ll send it to you, Bryan. It’s called “People Continuity Equals Business Continuity.” And the first ingredient is transparency. Do your teams trust you?
The second is outline the best and worst case scenarios. So what happens if we lose 50% of our revenue? What happens if we lose 75% of our revenue?
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: And when? What are we charting? The key to that goes to transparency. Or you telling them what’s happening, or are you going to hijack them at 4:00 on a Friday and say, “Sorry; I ran out of money.”
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: That’s not fair, either. And then make sure you really stay connected to your people. If I’m coming to a virtual environment to have the conversations and ask the questions, every Monday I jump on a call with my team. I say, “What are you worried about this week?”
Bryan: Yes.
Kathleen: “What did you see in the news? What are you worried about? What are you talking to your significant other or your goldfish about?” (Laughter) “Because I know you are.” And so being brave enough to really engage them in what are you scared about?, because in the absence of information people make up stories.
And they’re not happy stories. Have you noticed? (Laughter) They tend to be “Oh my gosh! Chicken Little! Everything is going to totally go to hell in a handbasket.” Excuse me, but—
Bryan: Yes.
Kathleen: It’s not. You know, we are in a period of history that is remarkable. And we can either choose to be the solution to what’s coming next, or we can choose to continue to be scared and stay in our homes. And I don’t know about you, Bryan, but I choose to go out there and engage. I love this country and I stand for this country.
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: And so I’m not going to be quiet about it. Let’s get back to work, America! Let’s start building our businesses again, employ people again, and get back to what we do best, which is the American dream.
Bryan: So let me get the right language here. You said a little bit earlier that (I had it in my notes and I can’t find it right now.) People quit people and it’s about relationships.
Kathleen: Mm-hmm.
Bryan: So really what I think you just said in that little segment there is “learn to put people first.” So what I think you said in that little segment there is that there’s no longer work/life balance. That is out the window. It’s work/life integration.
Kathleen: Mm-hmm.
Bryan: And how do we do life together? And we’re just doing it in the concept of business. It seems like that’s what you just said.
Kathleen: Exactly. Yes, I think you summarized it very well, Bryan. We’re all humans, trying to live the best life we can. I don’t care where you’re from. I don’t care what you believe. We’re all really trying to live our best life, whatever that is defined to you. And in our country we have the choice to live our best life.
Bryan: Yes.
Kathleen: So do it! Get up, wake up, be optimistic. Go get a job and live the American dream. My daddy did it. He came here with $20 in his pocket and a change of clothes.
Bryan: Yeah.
Kathleen: He had a sixth-grade education as well.
Bryan: Yeah.
Kathleen: And he did it. You can do it, too.
Bryan: Love it. Love it, love it, love it. All right. Boy, we talked about some of the biggest challenges and lessons learned there. I think you already covered this one. But any final thought on talent, sales, scaling the business? Any hack that you want to give to the group listening that they can put to use?
Kathleen: Well, I think your best foot forward right now is really from a marketing/sales perspective. And I love marketing and sales. I think your best foot forward is showing your clients and your perspective clients your real brand, which is how your team feels about you.
Have you watched all these commercials for Target and all these companies highlighting their people, and how these people are engaged with their mission?
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: From a marketing and sales perspective, people want to see you and your people alive and thriving. And then there’s a lot of good work still to be done out there. But be compassionate and listen. Lead as a human; don’t lead as a salesperson.
Bryan: So really—
Kathleen: So make sure that you ask people how they are, because people’s mental health right now is in peril. I think we have an emotional crisis.
Bryan: Yes.
Kathleen: That we don’t even know the depth of. So pause and say, “Bryan, how are you doing?”
Bryan: Yes. So let’s bring that to a business level. We unfortunately have had a couple of people on our team because we’re striving hard, right? Our mission is to be the best in the world. And that’s self-induced stress a lot of times because you’re looking to be the best in the world. So it’s never being satisfied with status quo, knowing that today you’re good and tomorrow you’re going to have to get even better. That’s the world in which we live.
Kathleen: Mm-hmm.
Bryan: And a lot of people in this environment, they’re just wrecked to the core.
Kathleen: It’s sad.
Bryan: They are struggling mentally. And let me just really encourage the business owner out there that says, “It’s not my deal. Suck it up; deal with it.” You’re not going to have the best organization. You’re not going to have the best performance if you don’t do life with them. You know, it’s different. And I hope that we’re getting that. It’s different. It’s what you’ve been saying; it’s what you’ve been proving out for 17 years. And the Gen Z.’s, the millennials, it’s not the same. And if we as business owners who have some gray hairs don’t get that, then you’re going to go by the way of Blockbuster. And it’s not our fault. (Laughter) It’s yours. So all right.
Kathleen: Yeah, I agree. Put people first and everything else follows, Bryan.
Bryan: Yep, absolutely. And by the way, I think that what you should absolutely get from this, (Kathleen is not saying it, nor am I.) To use the queen’s English, it ain’t easy. So deal with it and figure it out. And there are people like Kathleen and me and others who share best practices. Go to Vistage, go to EO. Go to whatever peer group you want. And get doing life with other members like that. Love it.
Okay. So really show your real brand; be authentic. Bring on clients who are going to appreciate that that and don’t worry about those that won’t, because they’re just going to suck your profit and your life and your energy out anyway. So yeah, all sales are not good sales. So I love that.
Resources that you would recommend other than Solve the People Puzzle. Other than that book, (a shameless plug there), other than that book, what books, podcasts, guides, hacks or tools would you recommend? Resources was the word I was looking for; sorry.
Kathleen: There are so many, so I’ll keep it to three.
Bryan: All right; love it.
Kathleen: So you mentioned it earlier. I’m a member of Vistage and I have been a member of Vistage since 2008. If you’re not a member it’s the best investment I’ve ever made in myself and my company’s future. So that’s #1.
Bryan: Okay.
Kathleen: #2, read a book a month. I don’t give a hoot what you read, but read! I read Harvard Business Review a lot. I read Forbes Magazine. I read books. I read all kinds of things.
And also get an operating system. Traction, EOS, are great tools for a process to follow. And guess what? Embedded into their business process is people. You can’t do it without people.
Bryan: Amen, sister.
Kathleen: So you know, I think, Bryan, that the summary really is that we’re all a work in progress. I don’t have all the answers. But I’m always looking for answers.
Bryan: Yes.
Kathleen: I trust people like Bryan. I trust people like Vistage. There’s an amazing speaker community at Vistage. There are 1100 speakers in the Vistage community. What a library of knowledge! So you don’t have to go it alone. There are so many great people out there. Get some peer help because you’re not alone; that’s the good news.
Bryan: Amen. So all right. Pull out your crystal ball. What does the future hold? What trends do we need to watch out for?? Or what are you watching out for? What are you planning for?
Kathleen: Well, I think that one of the big trends right now is that people are clearly uncertain. So I think there’s going to be a surge in contract staffing. Another word for contract staffing is temporary staffing. So watch out for that. And figure out how you can maybe bring people on an interim basis. If you’re not completely sure that you’re ready to bring somebody on board in an FTE spot look for partners who can do that for you. (Unclear) So you can plan the way you want to.
And flexibility is key. Make sure that you embrace work from home. And be very cautious about your conversations with employees returning to the work force. You must be very compassionate about their own belief systems, and not pass judgment if they don’t feel safe. So train your hiring managers on how to have those conversations.
Bryan: Yes.
Kathleen: Because people are scared right now. And we need to respect that they’re scared and not judge that they are scared. They’re scared for a lot of reasons. 1: there’s a virus that might kill them. 2: There’s rioting that might kill them. 3:The country is going to hell in a handbasket and nobody is stepping up to defend it. You know, there are a lot of things going on right now. And they don’t have money, and they have an older person at home who might be susceptible to illnesses. Or they might have a child at home who might be susceptible to illnesses.
Just be careful with respect, because it is the employer’s responsibility to make reasonable accommodations for employees. Now hear my words, Bryan,--reasonable accommodations.
Bryan: Right.
Kathleen: So you have to define that with your own employment attorney; I am not one. (Laughter) But know what it is! And be very consistent. So I think those are a couple of things to watch.
Bryan: So I would think that would probably come out of your mission/vision/values/purpose statement, right? Is that what’s reasonable to you?
Kathleen: Mm-hmm.
Bryan: It depends on your culture, right? So figure it out. If we haven’t proven that already, figure out your culture and how you’re going to be authentic in living that out together. Love it!
All right. So Kathleen Quinn Votaw, how should people reach out to you? Who should, and why should they reach out to you?
Kathleen: Anybody who is a business should reach out to me. (Laughter) And I can do a couple of different things for you. I’m a professional speaker, so I can come and even just have a conversation with your employees and your hiring managers. Buy my book. Work with my company, Talent Trust. I have twelve amazing people there ready to serve you from a recruitment perspective. And you can reach us at

Which is one t in the middle. You can also email me at:

One t in the middle. Or you can call me. I’m sure Bryan will add my contact information to this podcast.
Bryan: You’re not on LinkedIn or anything, are you?
Kathleen: Sure I am. Kathleen Quinn Votaw on LinkedIn.
Bryan: All right; perfect!
Kathleen: I’m on every social media channel known to mankind.
Bryan: All right. So we will have all of that info in the notes. And Kathleen, I can’t thank you enough. This is why I was looking forward to the conversation. Awesome time; I appreciate it. This is Bryan Whittington with The Talent, Sales and Scale Show, signing off.

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