Kathy Kaspar on why coaching is the key to help your company achieve its goals

Kathy Kaspar is the Head of People and Talent for The Business Backer, a company created to offer simple and reliable financing for small business owners across the country.  Today, they have partnered with over 7,000 small businesses to give them the funding they need to succeed.  

Kathy is a seasoned HR professional with leadership experience across a wide variety of industries, she is also a Certified coach.

Welcome, Kathy! Tell me about yourself, your background, and what sparked your interest in the HR industry? 

I always had an interest in people; specifically in how the mind works, what drives behavior and motivation.  That led me to obtain a degree in psychology but I knew that I did not want to start a career in mental health or counselling.  After earning a masters degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, my first job was in HR, and I’ve loved it so much, it’s where I’ve spent my entire career.    

At this stage in your career,  what does an average day look like for you at work? 

Typically, my morning begins by making a practical plan for the day.  I prioritize my tasks based on our company’s strategic goals. Then, I have a 20 - 30 minute huddle with my team to make sure we are all on track.  And then, from there, it's onto a variety of meetings.

I love that we have an open office environment.  Routinely I have people who come over, sit down and say, "Hey, I need to talk to you."  On any given day, I'll coach our team through any number of issues. My days are really varied and rarely predictable, which is what I love.

What's your personal approach as a certified coach and an HR professional to the development and growth of your workforce?

As much as possible, I firmly believe it is best to grow from within.  There are times when it's important to bring talent in from the outside, but providing opportunity internally is critical.  Our key focus is to grow our talent so that our company stays current, innovative, and does everything we need to do to grow the business while keeping our workforce engaged.

What specific strategies do you use to retain your top talent?  

In the world of HR, there is a debate about whether or not a company should be transparent and let top talent know that they are considered “high potentials”. I am a firm believer that people need to understand exactly how you view them, that you are willing to invest in them and are actively pursuing development opportunities for them.  Otherwise, outsiders will be the ones saying “I see your potential” and will pursue them with offers of more money or a better title.

If your strategy is to grow from within, what strategies have been effective to prepare individuals for new roles?

One of the key things I’ve found is to encourage cross-functional work experiences across various divisions of the business.  This allows people to grow their skillset, along with their overall knowledge of the business, while building important strategic relationships. 

Another area that I think this is critical, is to create a mentoring relationship within the company.  I don’t necessarily recommend a mentor who is at a higher level in the same department. I often choose someone in a completely different division, perhaps because that individual is a high-potential themselves and they are really strong in a skillset that another individual needs to develop.

Lastly, I highly value coaching, so I think that having some sort of a coaching engagement is also very helpful for high potentials.   When a coach comes alongside an individual, providing insight, accountability, and unique tools and resources, that creates an environment where people are helped both personally and in their career. 

Kathy, you’re a certified coach. How do you apply coaching strategies in your work? 

I love coaching, so I apply it in many different ways in the workplace.  Foundationally, I am a big believer in asking the right question as opposed to just providing an answer.  There are times when it is easier to say "Here, do this. Do it this way. Here is the answer." but that's not how people grow. 

Additionally, I do a lot of group facilitation at The Business Backer.  For example, if a team is experiencing difficulties working together,  I will lead team-building activities where I facilitate the session through questions. This provides an opportunity for the team to share what's going on, their insights, and it helps me determine what each team member needs.  Sometimes this involves guiding the team into difficult conversations. What I’ve found is that these conversations allow teams to build bridges and help people better understand one another and be more collaborative. So, for me, the coaching skill set is one that I use all the time in my role. 

It sounds like you've been able to integrate coaching as a learning and development tool into your organizational practices. Could you tell me more about that? 

I see coaching as the key to transformation.   Again, it's one thing to give somebody the answer, but that doesn't really promote a lot of personal thinking or create revelation.  Somebody will just take your answer and either do it or not. But with coaching, I get to help people work through issues for themselves.  As a result, it can move someone from a place of either being stagnant, or maybe where there's blind spot, into a place of transformation and growth.

When people think through key questions and get to a personal insight - that’s where you see transformation and real behavioural change. 

Do you tend to use external coaches, or do you prefer to build internal coaching as a function within your team? 

I've done both.   In my experience, bringing in external coaches has been highly effective for high-level executives where we invest significant resources into either developing a very specific skill set that's needed, or a leadership competency that has perhaps been missing.  I think one of the reasons external coaches are so successful is because there is no perceived issue with confidentiality or bias. 

I have also implemented internal programs where employees will coach other employees.  I've successfully implemented programs where either mid or high-level management coaches individuals at less senior levels within the organization.  However, there are some challenges with this approach because of the issue with confidentiality. There is always the concern, "If I disclose this, are they going to go to HR? Or will they tell my boss?"  So, these relationships have to be structured in the right way. I've seen success in both types of programs, as long as they are set up for the right levels, and with the right framework in place. 

As you look at the HR industry as a whole, what do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing leaders like yourself? 

When I think back 20 years to when I started in my career, HR was a very administrative function. While there is still room for improvement, we have made great strides in becoming a strategic part of the organization.  With dynamic HR departments, companies are better equipped to meet upcoming challenges.

Without question, the biggest challenge is and will continue to be attracting and retaining top talent.  For example, how do you attract top talent if your organization isn't particularly well-known - if you are not a Google or an Apple?  And what programs do you need to have in place to keep your employees engaged and to keep them from burning out?

In addition to that, we are now entering a new phase where we have multiple generations in the workplace, all with very different needs.   When I look at the emergence of Generation Z in the workforce, their needs are so different even from Millennials. They have grown up in a very different world from their predecessors.  How do we appeal to them and how do we develop them and keep them engaged? How do ensure that all generations can collaborate productively? 

My last question for you is more personal.  If you could go back and give some coaching to your younger self, what would you say? 

I would tell myself to have the confidence to pursue the things that I am passionate about doing early on. I’d focus on the things I was strong at, regardless of whether or not I saw an open door for that particular skill.  I’ve learned that having the confidence to play to your strengths is key. When my role allows me to pursue the things I’m passionate about, my joy and skill will come through, opening many career-related doors. 

Thank you, Kathy, for your story and your perspective! 

To hear more from Kathy, you can follow her on LinkedIn.