About Jill Katz
Jill Katz, is the Chief Human Resources Officer at Assemble HR Consulting. She’s an influencer, Speaker, and Strategy Coach who is passionate about shifting the workplace to be more people-focused. Using her “3 Cs” approach, Candor, Courage, and Care, Jill helps leaders and teams build a WorkplaceThatWorks through Organizational Transformation, Candid Communication, Cultivation of Top Talent, and focus on Culture. We are happy to have someone of her stature on our interview series today.
We have the pleasure of welcoming Jill Katz today to our interview series. I’m Sumitha Mariyam from the peopleHum team. Before we begin, just a quick intro of PeopleHum - peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work.
We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.
Welcome, Jill. We’re thrilled to have you.
Thank you so much for having me. I'm so honored to be with you today.
It’s our pleasure. So going onto the questions ill The very first question.
Can you tell us a little bit about your work with Assemble HR Consulting? Your journey through the HR world?
Absolutely. Well, Sumitha, I like to tell people that I am a recovering head of Human Resources or Talent and then laugh and say that once you start to do this kind of work, you really can't ever recover.
I spent about 22 years leading the people strategy function in many organizations here in New York City where I’m located and I worked in technology, I worked in consumer packaged goods and then spent quite some time in the fashion retail space and I loved every minute of it. I had an amazing career working in organizations, and I had the opportunity to work in startups.
I was in some companies that were three or four people in someone's attic as well as some significant, big public companies of 180,000 people. So I had what some people now refer to as a portfolio career. Even before it was kind of cool. I led HR teams that included just myself where I got to kind of roll up my sleeves and be pretty scrappy and I also led HR teams of 40-50 people and we supported partner teams of 6000-7000 people.
I loved my career. I loved all the things I got to do. I ultimately landed in a ‘head of HR’ job or a ‘Head of talent job’, where I sat in New York City and a big corner office with a big desk, and I had an assistant that sat outside and my lunch was brought to me every day on china and I took a Parcel home every night, and I thought to myself, You know, my gosh, this is much fancier than who I really am inside and it was the pretty cushy situation, and that certainly would have paid for my kids to go to college, which is a nice financial path.
But it didn't really talk to my heart. And what speaks to my heart is helping people sign their best selves in the work that they do. And so ultimately the one thing I had never done in my life is run my own business, be an entrepreneur and I realized I had spent 20 years coaching other people to step outside of their own comfort zone and challenge themselves to be their best in their career and there was one person that I was ignoring. That is when I started ‘Assemble HR Consulting’. That was almost exactly two years ago.
That's a wonderful journey. Lots of learning and finally coming to Assemble HR. Can you elaborate a little bit more about the three C's approach that you have?
Absolutely. So, Assemble HR, somehow, as we started this business, everything around ‘assemble’ comes down to the letter C. The work that we do focuses around culture, communication, and conflict. We work with organizations in a strategic advisory capacity and so run off-sites, alignments, and development programs that are all customized to help our clients with the work that needs to be done.
I also do speaking engagements or used to before COVID-19. Now I don't do anything except sit in my house, but that's the work that we do. It's all built around my three C's approach, which I have trademarked and that is ‘candor’, ‘courage’, and ‘care’. And that really is the foundation of the leadership model that we believe in at Assemble HR Consulting.
And what do you think are the most crucial factors that would drive consistent and positive company cultures?
The three C's. I'm glad that you asked. People often ask me where did they come from. I was very fortunate early in my career when I became an early leader, I was sent to a development program and I flew down to this program here in the United States, and there were 20 leaders selected to attend and the whole first day was spent talking about our beliefs of leadership and what had mattered to us throughout our career.
And at the end of the first day, everybody was given a notebook and a homework assignment, and we were asked to go home that night to our hotel room and write down an essay around what our personal leadership mantra was.
And so Oh, my goodness, I went back to my hotel room and I thought, what am I going to write? And I sat there and I just thought about 20 years of experience and I picked up my pen and three words just showed up on my notebook and those words were candor, courage, and care and those words showed up because in all the work I had done coaching leaders of all levels throughout my career, I realized that those who had been the most successful over time were leaders who were consistently brave enough to always be honest and transparent, to be human, to show empathy and to be with people the way that other people want to be all the time and to not pull punches.
And when all three of those components were consistently present, those were the leaders that I saw continuing to flourish. And so I wrote these three words on the paper, and I stared at them for about two hours, and then I just went to bed. I came in the next morning, and my other colleagues had pages and pages of amazing mission statements and essays, and they were reading them. People stood up and read them and I got called on, and I just stood up and I said, My leadership mantra is candor, courage, and care, and it's been that ever since.
That's a wonderful story. And when you say something through a story, it remains in your mind. And I think the audience is going to keep it right there. So, as we talk about leadership, how do you think company culture is affected by how a leader behaves? Do you think a leader has the ultimate role in maintaining the organizational culture that we have?
I think the way that a leader behaves and acts and speaks has a tremendous impact on a company’s culture. I'll tell you, it reminds me of a story for when I was a little girl. I had a very, very close friend who lived up the street from me and I used to walk to her house to play after school, and her mother used to sneak into the garage to smoke cigarettes.
One day we opened up the garage door and the garage door opened and we found her mother in the garage hiding behind a car and her mother said to us, Do not ever, ever smoke cigarettes and I'll never forget that moment. I was probably 8 or nine years old, and I remember thinking that you're smoking a cigarette. Leaders come in all shapes and forms. Parents are leaders, executives are leaders. There are leaders in groups, there are leaders among friends.
But the things we do and the things we say set the culture even set the tone within our organizations, however, we defined organization, so writing it down or putting it down the wall means nothing if we're not willing to role model. What we say is important.
Yeah, I think leading by example is the ultimate thing that you can do.
So, where do you think the organizations of today are going wrong in being more people-centric?
I think there are many more organizations that need to be more people-centric. I think one of the things that have become more important and the situation we're in right now with COVID-19 has brought this very much into the spotlight. How critical it is to be people-centric. So some of the work I'm doing right now over the past six weeks, for example, is to help organizations realize that every human being on the planet, in every city, in every country is experiencing a crisis. We need our businesses to run.
Every business is struggling. There isn't a business that isn't struggling. Businesses are doing better than others because of the pandemic. But everyone is struggling and to be more people-centric, it is simply unconscionable.
At this point in time, just start any type of discussion. One on one, staff meeting, board meeting, town hall, any conversation at all without what we call a check-in. To be people-centric right now, we need to ask someone or the group an open-ended question to learn where people are emotional because what we know now is that there isn't anyone who you're talking to that hasn't been impacted, whether directly or indirectly. Whether that's just the change in a person's routine and how difficult it is to get food.
Whether that is a financial impact, someone's job, ability to work, or something much worse, like health or the loss of a loved one, and these are the types of things that we were used to just offering up. It's not as though I would jump on the phone with you, and you'd say, Hey, guess how many people I know that passed away?
That would be very socially awkward here, and I don't know you very well. But I bet you know someone that has passed away or someone you know knows someone that passed away, and that is heart-wrenching. And so for us to believe that everyone can just get down to business right now is simply unrealistic and unfair. And so when we talk about Being people-centric, to me is front and center.
That's a great answer. And I was thinking, we use a lot of technology right now, and especially when we're working remotely, we need these Zoom calls. We need our computers with us to communicate.
So how do you think technology plays a role in increasing the experience of employees in an organization? Let's look at the wide picture not just from remote working, but even if you're in your organization, how do you think other organizations can leverage technology to improve the experience?
Technology is a wonderful thing. You're in my view, technology is an enabler. And if you know, if you can articulate the culture you want to build and you are, as we talked about earlier role modeling it, you believe in it, everybody stands for it. You can be thoughtful and strategic about selecting technology that is an enabler. You can also be sloppy about it.
And so some people just go out there and pull technology off the shelves because it's cool and say, Hey, we're going to use this and we're going to use this and think that technology is going to either speed things up or help us save money. I think that's the technology choice of old. Today, I think the smarter companies are defining their cultural goals and then selecting technology applications or opportunities that will help support those frameworks. So that, to me, is the way technology is best used.
Zoom, I think, is a phenomenal example for me. I'm a big believer that if we can't be physically together, which you cannot be, the next best thing is to see faces. Most people hate being on camera. It stinks. We don't like that. The beautiful thing about being in person is we don't have to see ourselves when you're in a conference room or in someone's office.
On Zoom, unfortunately, you have to see yourself unless you fix the setting. I think Zoom is a wonderful enabler because I'm as close to being with you as possible and I can smile with you and see your body language and it feels like together. So that's a wonderful example of using technology to support the circumstances.
That's a great view. I think technology, if it is accessible to everyone, is the most beautiful thing that we can have, especially at this time of crisis. So the point is It has to be accessible with which it is right now. So, you know, moving onto the next question.
Let's shift our focus to the millennial workforce and we have a lot of them right now. And with the millennial workforce, the gig economy is also gaining a lot of momentum. So how do you think this is going to fit in the organizational set up that we already have? I mean, with the current financial crisis and more financial crises coming up, do you think it is here to stay the gig economy?
Well, the first thing is, I love millennials. I love them and I spend a lot of time talking about the millennials and the generations in the workforce. And I think that we've spent a lot of time on social media and other sort of giving the millennials a bad rap. And I don't think the millennials have done anything different than the Xers or the boomers.
The millennials happen to be born during a technological boom, and that's the only thing that they did differently. But if you truly study the behaviors of millennials, the Xers and the boomers did the same things with less technology around and the people who are distracted on their phones and multitasking are everyone.
The Xers also the Gen Zs. They actually have phones attached to their bodies, like an appendage. I have them in my house. I don't think you take a shower without their phones. The gig economy, in my view, is absolutely here to stay. I think it was on its way before this pandemic. I think many people were purposely living their lives like this, and there are very few positives that COVID has brought to our world. But if there are any silver linings, in my view, one is that it is the great equalizer.
The pandemic has certainly impacted some groups more than other groups, there's no doubt, but it is impacting everyone. The other thing is that organizations that have wanted to hide their head in the sand on certain topics are not able to do that anymore. So I know lots of companies to settle. I don't need any technology? I don't need to talk about remote work. Lots of those conversations have now been forced, and it will be even more interesting in my mind to see what happens when God willing, we beat this virus and people say I don't need to come back in.
I've been doing my job from my home, from my apartment for six months successfully. I'm not going to commute anymore. I don't want to do that anymore. I don't want to work those hours. I want to work these different flex hours and gig economy is really more about being able to make choices around the hours you work, the location from which you work from, the projects that you work on, being able to work in different types of groups on more challenging work and not being affiliated so specifically to one company, in one way with one boss? If anything, I think this is just going to accelerate it.
Yeah, that's an interesting take on it. And I totally agree with you. And I also think we are going to have a lot of people who are going to have a full-time job along with gig jobs, which they think you know, are their talents, and they need to explore. So that is a very interesting take on it and, you know, just to wrap up the whole interview, do you have any last soundbites that you would like your audience?
Well, I love what you just said, and I wanted to ask you a question about that, which is in some of the programming work I've been doing, there are people who during this time have found that it is a time to take on something new.
Whether it might be learning a new language or learning how to code or write a book, new or whatever. It might be and so I think you just made a really interesting point that people may take on something on the side that we don't want to give up, So curious to ask about you. Have you done anything new or special or has this time opened up a door for you?
Yeah. I've been trying to take a few courses on digital marketing now, and I think it's going pretty well.
That’s really cool. It's very interesting how in a dark time, with a dark cloud over our heads, the resilience of human beings does come through. And there are some things that we're going to learn about ourselves during this period of time, so I think this is a moment more than ever where we should be so thankful every morning that we wake up for every single thing that we have and everyone we know that is healthy and call the people we love and remember that the way we treat people is more important than anything else we have or anything else that we do.
I couldn't agree more to that. That is a wonderful last piece of advice for me and our audience especially. You have to come out of this with double the strength you had before this happened. So I think that's very important. And thank you so much for that.
And then I had a wonderful experience talking to you for the past 30 minutes or so. It was such an enriching experience, and I don't think you know any book can teach as much as talking to and experience professionals. So I'm very thankful. And I wish you all the success in your future endeavors and have a healthy and safe time ahead of you.
The same to you and your family and all of the people around you. Thank you. Goodbye.