About Kathy Klotz Guest
Kathy Klotz-Guest, a former tech marketing executive with 23 years in marketing and comedy performing and writing. She founded “Keeping it Human” to help companies and teams solve big creativity, culture, and communication challenges with applied improv so employees and customers thrive. Kathy is also the author of “Stop Boring Me! Creating Kick-Ass Marketing Content, Products and Ideas Through the Power of Improv”
We have the pleasure of welcoming Kathy Klotz-Guest today to our interview series. I’m Mithila Kannan from the peopleHum team. Let’s begin with 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. Kathy, we’re thrilled to have you here.
Thanks for having me. I know the time difference is great. We made it work, so I'm happy to be here.
So the first question I had to you was could you tell us about your intention and what you aimed to rectify while writing your book ‘Stop Boring me’?
Yeah, it was interesting because I wrote the book before I wrote the title, and it's because I knew that businesses were grappling with content issues and storytelling issues and all these marketing challenges. And they were forgetting that the human being is at the center of all decision-making, and anything in marketing or sales.
There's a human being or a team of people making decisions. And I felt like what was happening is that marketing wasn't just that they were boring. I think boring is a clever way to kind of encapsulate a bigger problem. They were treating people as an afterthought, and I wanted people to think there's a better way. There's a different way. There's a way to get out of a transactional mindset, which is just pure money and dollars to a more transformational mindset, which is centered on people and helping people do bigger better things.
"I wanted people to think there's a way to get out of a transactional mindset, which is just pure money and dollars to a more transformational mindset, which is centered on people and helping people do bigger better things."
So I wanted a title like grabbed people and kind of wrote that after the book. So the book really is about how do we make marketing and sales and communication, all things that we have to do to sell and to market better and be more focused and more transformational if we thought about it differently and that was really the goal. So improv helps us get there.
Thank you for answering that.
So, you believe in creating a story around most concepts and believe in the ‘once upon a time’ model. What according to you are a few factors that modern business storytelling lacks today?
Emotional resonance. I think emotions. I think most business storytelling fails for a couple of reasons and the reason it lacks any kind of emotional stickiness is that we focus on the wrong stuff. We’re focused on selling when what we should be focusing on is on understanding the mindset of the people who will hear that story. If you know that the mindset of the people that you're trying to get in front of is ‘Gosh, I'm so afraid I might make a mistake. What happens if I spend all this money on the wrong solution?’ Then you can start to aim your story at reducing their fear.
We have a story we want to shove it out at the world. And what we should be doing is understanding the mindset. First, the mindset of the people of the audience. Number two, we spend so much time saying, you know the company did this, the company did that and that's a book report. That's not a story, there's no character. I don't know who that character is. That's not a character, that's a building, that's a brand name, that's a company, that's not a human being and we don't care about companies, we care about people.
So we come at storytelling in a very sanitized, corporate way, and we got to cut through all that stuff, all those layers and really get to understand the mind of the human audience, and we have to then place that through the lens of a human being, not through a corporation.
"We come at storytelling in a very sanitized, corporate way, and we got to cut through all that stuff, all those layers and really get to understand the mind of the human audience, and we have to then place that through the lens of a human being, not through a corporation."
There are many other things, but I think those are the two biggest things that I think keep storytelling in the business world from really, really being as good as I know it can be.
Agreed. I think, yeah, the connection is most important, right? If we're able to connect your audience, then I think you get the point through. That's true.
What according to you, are the changes that need to be made in current employee experience programs of organizations to improve the experience and increase engagement between employees?
Yeah, that's such a big question because there's so many things. And I think I'm glad we're having these conversations now because we can't improve customer experience if we don't make it better for employees. And we're so busy trying to make the customer experience better, and I think that's great and we should. But if we don't care about employees, how are we going to do that?
I think there's a lot of things we have to do. I think we have to look at how we're growing people, and I think too much leadership and management looks at what we get from people and not the way that we nurture and grow people. So we have to think about our employees as having means of their own for growth. How are we seeing them not as ends for our own needs, but how are we seeing them as people who want to grow, who want to be challenged, who want to do the right thing, who have all the human needs that we have?
"How are we seeing employees not as ends for our own needs, but how are we seeing them as people who want to grow, who want to be challenged, who want to do the right thing, who have all the human needs that we have?"
So when we start to look at, if we nurture them and their skills and their talents, will that ultimately be better for our customers? And the answer is yes. So we're gonna have to think about growing our employees first. And that's really I think, the biggest thing that we got to do differently.
Yeah, happy employees mean happy customers.
Absolutely. It is so funny because we instinctively know that, companies know this. This isn't rocket science and isn't it interesting how more money is spent on marketing than on employee development? We spend so much more on marketing than we do on our employees, way more.
And I think I'm fascinated by the logic there. If we have a high turnover, how are we going to keep our customers happy? If we have unhappy people if we have frustrated people if we have people that are walking away and not giving their best ideas.
I read a study recently and I'm not shocked by it. It was by the Society for Human Resources management. In the United States, we call it SHRM, and it talked about the fact that over almost 60% of all employees in the survey admitted that they hold back their best ideas. Think about that for a second. Have you done it? Yes.
If you're in an environment that is hostile, that doesn't care about you, that doesn't care what you think, that doesn't want to grow you, you are holding back your best ideas. Can that hurt the customer experience? 100%, because you're not giving the best ideas to make that better. So if we could really concentrate on that employee experience I think we would get better customer experience ideas, it is really important. Super, super important.
Yeah, Do you see a difference in the leadership style between the older generation and today's millennials like, What do you think has changed in terms of redefining the state of the school and inventing the future between both the generations?
Yeah, that's a really that's a big question because first I have to say, I don't believe in sort of everybody fitting in a monolith. So, I don't want to put all boomers in a bucket or all millennials in a bucket. I think that that's sort of a disservice. Generally speaking, however, there are generational differences and you’re 100% right.
More often than not, if I'm talking to a boomer executive and I'm talking about these ideas which come from the improv stage, we all build things together, we collaborate, that's very much a part of the improv experience. When I talk about that to a lot of boomers, they look at me and go, 'How would that work?'
And the difference is when I'm talking to Gen Xers or millennials, and I'm saying, 'Let's bring in some of these ideas into the workplace', they're more likely to say, 'Yeah, let's do it.' I think there's a willingness. I think the younger generations are more willing to try things. That's not to say that there aren't boomers out there that aren't open. There are, I just think that generally speaking, yes, younger leaders are more willing to look at old management techniques and say, 'That doesn't work anymore' and it's refreshing. I think we're going to see these changes because these generational attitudes are very different. So that's a really good thing.
That's true. I think we're moving to that shift anyway.
I think so, too. I think it's a great thing.
What role do you think technology plays in addition to the human touch in breaking down barriers and creating a collaborative work culture?
So I think technology is important, but it's never as important as people.
And I say that because having worked with companies and teams to work on things like digital transformation projects, for example, the number one reason that digital transformation projects fail isn't technology. It's poor leadership. It's poor expectations.
They didn't educate their team, they didn't get their team on board, they didn't explain properly. So many human factors. I think because technology is so pervasive and it has changed our world, we think, well, technology can fix that. But there's no amount of technology that's gonna fix really, really bad culture.
"Because technology is so pervasive and it has changed our world, we think, well, technology can fix that. But there's no amount of technology that's gonna fix really, really bad culture."
And there's no technology that fixes crappy culture. I'm just gonna say that again. I've never seen it, and there's a reason for that because people matter more than technology. So if we have the right intention and we put that in there with technology, yes, technology will play a big role in changing the way that we have the human touch.
But think about it this way. If we don't plan for unconscious bias in data and if we don't plan for the way that technology can either bring inclusiveness together or put up barriers to inclusivity, if we don't plan for that, we may mistakenly build in bias, and that's a human error. That's not a technology error. That is a human error.
So I think we always have to remember that ultimately, people need to define what human-centered experiences are. And if it doesn't work, then we need to fix the technology to go along with the human experience instead of throwing people out. We need to fix the technology to work better for people. So we always have to center the human in the human experience, not the technology.
“We always have to center the human in the human experience, not the technology.”
And if the technology doesn't help us get to a better human experience, why are we using it? I think technology will not solve every problem. It's not going to unless again, the human focus and intention are to solve a fundamentally human problem. And I think we're seeing it now in the United States. I know it's global, but we see it now.
Here's an example in the United States, with shelter in place and there's basically almost a shutdown of the American economy and really the global economy because we're all connected, we're all connected. What's happened is we're seeing more than ever, the digital divide. Schools closed down. Now, parents have to teach their kids at home. But what happens when you are in a community where a high percent of the population does not have access to a computer in the home? You get behind in education.
So we have to understand that technology also has to keep up with humanity and equity and all the human things that we need it to have.
Yeah. So technology is more like a support system to the existing human functionalities.
100%. And the only way we fix that is to care about people and say, 'You know what? We need to fix the digital divide so we can put technology in the right places to fix the human problem of inequity.'
I couldn’t agree more, Kathy. Thank you for that.
What would be two or three things that would characterize the ideal employee culture for an organization to be on the winning side in terms of the growth of the organization?
Yes, you’ve got such great questions here. You're thinking about the big stuff, which is great. So I think in a nutshell, it really always comes down to humans, which is why I made my company. I've been a business for 10 years. I named it keeping a human for a reason. I really think that if you center things through what people need, the rest is easy.
If you always remember what your customer needs, what your employees need, you'll make the change. If you get locked into a mindset of technology first or products first, the only way the product first mentality works is if you do everything you can to make sure your product solves a customer need, then it works.
So I think cultures need to always remember that they're there to serve people. The other thing is we have to be agile, and one of the things that happen on an improv stage is why we can create great stories and really fun, wonderful, transformative emotional experiences for people is because we work together, and if something changes, we accept it.
We change. COVID is proof that we need an improvisational approach to the way that we plan. Nobody planned for COVID because we didn't have a lot of time and it came out very quickly. So what companies have had to do is to realize that they have to be agile, they have to change, they have to be resilient. And what worked for you three months ago is not going to work. So the only way a culture succeeds today is if it embraces resilience and agility and trust.
“The only way a culture succeeds today is if it embraces resilience and agility and trust.”
And if it embraces all those really human things, then it should be able to change and pivot pretty quickly. But it can't do that when we don't have high trust and agility. So these are the kinds of things that we have to nurture in cultures and cultures that don't grow that, I hate to say it, but if you didn't have trust in your environment before COVID, you're in trouble and the cultures that have an advantage right now are the cultures who cared about people beforehand and built that trust and invested.
And you see the difference it makes because they're trusting their employees to do the right thing, to work at home. And they're trusting that people will make the best choices and they're trusting their people to take care of themselves and caring about people so that people can do their best work. So I think we've got to really change culture from the inside out.
Yeah. I think your companies who learn to trust that employees more are the ones who are thriving now, through the pandemic. Right?
They have to. And if they don't know, then they're in trouble. You're gonna have to let go. You have to learn. It is interesting because if we trust employees, they'll rise to the occasion. And the reason that employees don't respond well is because we don't trust them. And they know that. They're like, 'Why would I jump through fences for you? You don't trust me.' And it's interesting when we let go and actually trust employees and treat them decently, they feel a responsibility to live up to that.
Yeah, with the current situation that's happening with Coronavirus, are organization is going to be more people-centric versus business-centric. And do you think this is going to be the new normal now?
I think so. I hope so. I think we have to have a real change in leadership thinking, Yeah, I do think it has to be people-centric. They're not at odds with each other. And I think that's really an interesting thing is that the problem with a lot of companies is they think it's this or that. It's both, and the way to be more business-centered is to be more human-focused.
It's not an either-or, and I think if companies would embrace that, it would be an easier pivot for them. And I think this is a reminder. Because I think the people that were technology only focused or totally business and profit-focused at the expense of people, I think they're hurting right now. And the people in the companies that had all that stuff in place are just going to rebound faster now.
"I think the people that were technology only focused or totally business and profit-focused at the expense of people, I think they're hurting right now. And the companies that had all that stuff in place are just going to rebound faster now."
The good news is I don't think we're going to go back to the way it was. Some things will go back, but I think now that employees are working from home, they like a little bit more of the balance. Yes, we miss people, we want to see people, we want to leave our home. Yet, I think what it reveals for people is that the old way of thinking was broken. And I don't think employees were gonna go back to a broken status quo. It didn't work for a lot of employees. So I really do believe we're going to see a lot of change.
We're gonna see a lot of top-down change. We're gonna see a lot of grassroots, bottoms up culture change because employees are smart, they're technology savvy and if they were fortunate enough to work from home, not everybody can, but if they were fortunate enough to work, I don't think they're going to give up some of the balance and the emotional needs and all those different things that they have had to figure out a way to meet in the last few months.
So I think we're forever changed. Not quite sure how it's going to land, but I do know one thing. I think we're on the cusp of a cultural revolution.
Yeah, I think that is a silver lining to all of this.
It had to happen, Don't you think? I think that it needed to happen. It shouldn't have taken COVID to have that happened. I wish it hadn't taken COVID. But I think that change has been forced. We're so you gotta deal with it.
Yeah, I think the ones who come out dealing with it up technically going to be stronger.
They're gonna be stronger. You cannot avoid it. And if you didn't have a plan before, now is the time to look at your company and see what's working and what's not. And fix those areas. Fix it, fix it. And I think the biggest hole that I've always thought about and talked about is culture and employee experience. And now we're seeing that.
Good luck getting your employees to jump through these hoops when they're emotionally drained. And the only way that you can continue to grow is you're asking your employees to do the almost impossible and incredible. If you didn't treat them well before, good luck.
And so I think you know, we're gonna see a lot of companies not bounce back, and maybe they shouldn't. I think that's cultural Darwinism. Survival of the fittest. And if you didn't treat employees well, well... so I think we're going to start to see that shake out. And I think it's very important that it happens and it's gonna be a great thing.
Do you have any other thoughts that you would like to leave your audience with? The ones who will be watching you?
Now you know, I still want to leave a message of hope. I think too often with COVID it’s hard, and I know it's hard. I know it's hard for people who don't have jobs. There are so many people affected worldwide. The loss of human life is a complete tragedy at every level, and it's hard. But I also feel we have a lot of inequities that have come to the surface. We have digital divide, racial divides, and we need to fix those things.
But I would also offer hope because what I think this does is it shines a light on those areas that were broken, and we have the opportunity to fix those things. So I think the good news about if you're a business right now, whatever size of business you are, whether you’re a leader in a big company or you're an entrepreneur is to really look at how has this changed your market? How has it changed your customers? Because chances are what they needed before isn't what they need now. The priorities that they had before isn’t what they have now.
"If you're a business or an entrepreneur, really look at how has this changed your market? How has it changed your customers? Because chances are what they needed before isn't what they need now. The priorities that they had before isn’t what they have now."
So focus on what they need. Focus on your people, on what they need, and I think you're gonna come out of it better, stronger. So I think there's hope. I think as you know, focusing on human things, you can't forget the hope and what you sell regardless of what business you're in, you're in the hope business.
So go sell hope. Go sell hope. That's the last thing I'd say. You got to keep it human care about people, truly care about people.
Yeah. It was a pleasure talking to you, Kathy. We appreciate you taking your time and sharing your views and it has been a learning experience in a short span of time.
Oh, my gosh. No, thank you. Thanks for the opportunity. And, I appreciate what you're doing. And especially with the time difference and all the stuff going on, and it's chaotic, and I'm just grateful to be able to have that chance.
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October 25, 2021
A very inspiring list. Thanks for putting this together
October 25, 2021
This is such a great list of women leaders! More power to you all