Featuring Kat Cole

Kat Cole: Why Resourcefulness is Better Than Experience

Having skills and experiences listed on a resume doesn't mean that an employee is going to be successful. In our quickly changing market were what was in fact only 6 months ago has changed drastically; resourcefulness is far more important to have.

Kat Cole is the COO and President, North America at FOCUS Brands. Focus Brands is an American company that is an affiliate of the American private equity firm, Roark Capital Group, that currently owns the Schlotzsky's, Carvel, Cinnabon, Moe's Southwest Grill, McAlister's Deli, Auntie Anne's and Jamba brands.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

The Transcript - Why Resourcefulness is Better Than Experience

Welcome to the Next Generation Rock Stars podcast. If you are trying to figure out how do you recruit and retain this next generation of rock star talent you are in the right place.

Amanda Hammett: 00:14
Hi, this is mean to him and it at the millennial translator and today I have a super amazing and just chock full of information interview for you. I had Kat Cole who is the COO and president of North America for focus brands on the show and on the show she talks about so much information that I really think that you need a notebook before you started and on this episode or if you're listening while you commute, you're going to definitely want to come back and listen to this one a second, maybe even a third time because it is just that chock full of information. In fact, she might even want to teach a leadership class for MBA students. It isn't that good. So hope you're tuning in and we will talk to you soon.

Amanda Hammett: 00:54
Hi, this is Amanda Hammett and today we have a very special guest for next-generation rock stars. Her name is Kat Cole and she is the COO and president of North America for focus brands. Now you may not be aware of focus brands, but I know that you know their products, things like Cinnabon and Auntie Anne's and Jamba juice just to name a few. So Kat, welcome to the show.

Kat Cole: 01:17
Thank you.

Amanda Hammett: 01:18
All right, so Kat, tell the audience a little bit about yourself.

Kat Cole: 01:21
Sure. I run a large company called the focus that is a franchise or in license or of some of the world's most famous food franchises from the fun for you indulgent brands like Cinnabon and Carvel to the lunch and dinner brands, kind of more family concepts like Moe's and McAlister's and Schlotzky's all the way to the healthier side of the spectrum with Jamba Juice. I've grown up in this business since or versions of it since I was 17 years old. I started out, uh, as a hostess at Hooter's restaurants. I became a waitress at 18. At 19. I started opening franchises around the world. By 26, I was vice president of the company doing 800 million in revenue, help grow the company around the world, which was an amazing experience. And then left to become president of Cinnabon at the age of 31 and helped turn that company around out of the recession, grew it into a really fantastic global multichannel brand, and then moved up as the company grew and became group president of the licensing division.

Kat Cole: 02:34
And then the role that I've had for the last two years, as president and COO of the company. I am a mom of an 18-month-old. I am almost six months pregnant with my second, married the love of my life several years ago. And so just sort of like many people juggling it all. But part of my role is I manage presidents, the president's report to me in the company. But the way we build businesses is by hiring talent that is, it's seriously multigenerational. And so I get to not only have, I typically am the youngest person in the room at almost every stage of my career, but really get to see and experience and mentor and develop people of all generations and certainly the largest influx of those being a millennial and Gen z and to various positions and levels throughout the company. So excited to cover this topic.

Amanda Hammett: 03:34
That is awesome. I'm so excited. So let's backtrack a little bit on your history real quick. You mentioned opening international franchises at the age of 19. That is an awful lot of responsibility for a 19-year-old and a lot of people would probably be like, that was a crazy decision, but I think it worked out well for Hooters. I think that they made a good call there. But you also open multiple, you know, new franchises in new countries and new cultures. And I would imagine that that did something to your leadership style because you were working with one group one month and then six weeks later, a completely new group. What did that teach you in that process?

Kat Cole: 04:17
What's interesting is when you, when you are traveling to a new place with a new culture and a new team, what you learn very quickly, what I learned very quickly is that I was the only common denominator. And so if things went well consistently, I could probably take some credit for those things going consistently well. But if things were not going well consistently in an area, I probably also needed to take responsibility and realize that likely had something to do with me. And the first time I opened a franchise when I was 19 and I was in Australia certain things went wrong, but a lot went right that certain things went wrong. And I thought, oh, well that's just because the concept is new. Well, that's just because, they don't know. And then the next country I would have a similar observation.

Kat Cole: 05:17
And then the third, you know, on the third country, which was actually also the third continent, I realized, you know, there's probably something I could do differently to create a different outcome. So that was the first thing is that that experience was a brutal yet beautiful leadership mirror that most people don't ever experience because they get comfortable. People learn your style. They say, well, oh, that's just her, right, that she doesn't mean that people learn you and you learn them. And so you can get away with having less than stellar leadership behaviors and communication skills. That's awesome because people give you room. They learned that you're pretty much a good person and so they figure it out. But when you have to be amazing over and over and over again with teams you've never met, it really does sharpen the skills of building trust and communication and giving clear direction and building teams.

Amanda Hammett: 06:15
Absolutely. So let's talk a little bit about that idea of building trust because that is something that I see as an underlying issue in almost any company I go into consult with or talk to or anything, is that they take it, they make the assumption that they have it, but they don't always have it. So what does trust look like for you today in a working environment?

Kat Cole: 06:39
You know, I think it's, I don't know that it's changed much over time. Certainly, there are some fundamentals. Yes. One is people feeling safe. Yes. And whether that psychological safety or emotional safety or physical safety, um, but the underlying belief that at a minimum I'm not at risk, you know, that they, that I'm safe is important. And in I think that might be a nuance that is more prominent in today's world than maybe a decade or two decades ago.

Kat Cole: 07:21
And so that's one foundational component. The other is that I understand and can anticipate in general things that are going to happen, set another way. People around me do what they say they're going to do. And so, and that's also connected to psychological safety. Because I believe I'm not putting myself at risk because you've given me evidence that I can depend on or rely on or use the word trust, you or the environment or, or what is said. And so that's the second component. The third is just this element of care. And one of the ways when I was opening stores around the world that I learned to build, to build trust was I would bring donuts and coffee. And that may seem silly and it's not being. It was, it was demonstrating through my actions that I thought of the team, um, first thing in the morning.

Amanda Hammett: 08:27

Kat Cole: 08:27
I didn't have to show up and say, hey everyone, I thought of you today, right? I showed up early, I got the restaurant ready, I brought coffee and donuts. That alone says I care about you. I'm thinking of you. I don't want you to be distracted because you're hungry. I want you to be delighted because there's a surprise for you. So all of those things are incredibly important in building trust.

Amanda Hammett: 08:51
Absolutely. And that one small act actually I'm sure, showed your employees, hey, she doesn't just say she cares about me. She actually does. And this is how she demonstrates it. So I think that's wonderful. So why don't you share with the audience your general idea? You don't have to get into the nuts and bolts of it. But the general idea around developing next-generation talent.

Kat Cole: 09:12
I think there are a few pieces that are important in developing next-generation talent. One is being candid with, um, with them to make sure they see and understand any behaviors that they might be displaying that are distracting from their potential. So it's just, it's candor and that helps someone learn lessons sooner than they otherwise would through longer and more painful processes and mistakes. So that's one way I think about developing the next generation of talent. So it's the, what can you do for yourself and then what can I do or what can we do for you? So on the, what can you do, are you self aware? Yeah. And if you're self-aware, are you then also aware of how to address it? So if something you're doing or saying is, is problematic or suboptimal or holding you back or unintentionally distracting from your professionalism, if you acknowledge it, do you know what the counter behaviors are to address it?

Kat Cole: 10:30
So that's a big first step, helping next-generation talent. The second is on the, what can I do, what can we do? So, giving them exposure to many unique learning opportunities, bring them into a piece of a meeting so they can see it and get perspective. Challenge them to do research on other areas of the business that round out their mindset and their perspective around the business. Put them with new teams regularly so that they have to feel, uncomfortable in a productive way because that builds confidence. Yes. So drives learning. And then the third piece is literally giving people a chance not haphazardly. I have a business to run. I have investors and franchisees and I can't randomly stick people in positions, but certainly when I see potential, if I've given them exposure, if they are very self-aware, if they're good learners and they're comfortable with iterating their behaviors, they deserve a shot.

Kat Cole: 11:39
I mean, I was opening restaurants at 19. I was a vice president at 26. A lot of people gave me a chance and you can't remove that piece from the equation. But I was also a calculated risk. They gave me a chance, but I, so many behaviors that suggested that even if I didn't know something, I would have the grit, the resilience, the resourcefulness to figure it out. So when you see people like that, no matter the generation, whether they're much older or much younger, give them a shot because it's better to have someone like that in a role than someone you just think has the experience but isn't resourceful and isn't scrappy and get stuck very easily. And in today's environment with such dynamic shifts happening in every sector, resourcefulness is a far more valued skill than experience, purely because it's really more important to have the right questions than the right answers. Because if you had the right answers for six months ago, they're not right today, most likely. So those are some approaches that I take to developing the next generation of talent.

Amanda Hammett: 12:49
That's amazing. I mean, that's just, I think that that's what every young employee needs to be looking for is a leader who is thinking the way that you're thinking. And I, I appreciate that and I love that. I'd like to pivot just for a quick second. I still speak at the university and college level frequently. Um, and one of the things that I see and hear and experience from them is this anxiety around their career path and having it all figured out. And I would say that your path has been, nontraditional and I love it and I think that it's something that should be celebrated. But I'd like for you to tell our younger listeners about, about your path.

Kat Cole: 13:36
Sure. So one I agree, I do a lot of speaking with colleges and universities and I sense the same thing from men and women. We're a little more with women but I don't know that it's a new dynamic. I'm assuming that people who have sort of matriculated through college and they're nearing graduation I would, no, I dropped out of college when I was 20, but, that they start to feel a lot of pressure for what am I going to turn this education into, especially if they are in premiere or Ivy League schools. And there is a tremendous amount of the perfection paradox being around people. Um, and so, um, so for me, my story as one of many examples out there of non-traditional pads, you know, I grew up as the child of a single parent.

Kat Cole: 14:42
We left my dad, he was an alcoholic. I helped raise my sisters. I was the first person in my family to ever get into college. I was electrical engineering and computer sciences, major psychology of women minor and then, but I had to work to pay for school debt or loans wasn't even a topic. It wasn't even available. I mean I know some people had them, but I didn't have access to it and so I had to work to pay for everything outright. And that was working in restaurants, as a lot of students do. One out of two actually. And so what was unique is that I really was so proud that I was the first person in my family to get into college and I believed I was going to become an attorney, but I was going to get the engineering degrees and then go to law school and become an attorney, maybe a patent attorney or some type of a lawyer for a large corporation.

Kat Cole: 15:38
That was my fuzzy dream that was inspired by, I dunno, television shows, and teachers and things like that. And, but then I started training new employees as a waitress in my home restaurant in Jacksonville, Florida. And then I started traveling to open restaurants and realized I was very good at this kind of complicated thing. Much more easily than others were. And, and so I was 18, I was 19, I was 20, you know, I'm traveling around training teams, hiring employees, training managers, and I, myself had been an employee in those situations. So I had learned from good managers and from bad managers. And I just realized that I was pretty good at it. I didn't think I was perfect. I didn't think I knew everything, but it was obvious that I was naturally good at it. I was fortunate to be put in a situation where I could feel that I did more with less effort than others in this area.

Kat Cole: 16:39
And I think it's important for people to tune in to their energies and to pay attention when they have those moments, no matter what it is, whether it's playing an instrument or being a nanny or you know, working with kids or education or whatever, that you pay attention and you go, wow, I'm, it's not being conceited. It's saying I'm recognizing I'm pretty good at this and I have barely any experience and I love it. Yes. and so that was the feeling I had when I was opening franchises and training employees. And I've got a lot of feedback that also suggested that. And so I leaned into it. I kept saying yes. When the company said, well, you go travel. When they said, well, you go travel to Australia, I'd never been on a plane and I did not have a passport and I had never opened a restaurant in my life.

Kat Cole: 17:28
But I said yes. Not because I thought I wasn't delusional. I didn't think I knew how to do that. I was confident in my ability to ask for help and to take risks. And so I bought my first plane ticket, flew to Miami, stood in line, got a passport, expedited and left a few weeks later to Australia. And I thought it would never happen again. And I made up my classes and then they asked six months later, will you go to the same thing in Central America? And then several months later, will you go do the same thing in South America? And eventually I was leading these teams, not just a member of the teams, but I was also failing college. So I dropped out of college because I was literally failing. I was never there. It wasn't like I wanted to leave college. Right. Mom was very upset.

Kat Cole: 18:11
But I then got a job offer to move to Atlanta and work in the corporate office as a 20-year-old overseeing all employee training. So I said yes to that and I moved up as the company, you know, as the company grew, I grew and joining growing company matters because there is disproportionate opportunities, especially for people who might have less experience. So I moved up. But all through that process of moving up as a young corporate professional, I was volunteering my time for community organizations. I was volunteering my time for industry associations like the National Restaurant Association and the Georgia Restaurant Association. And those things brought me connections, the additional leadership experience in the nonprofit sector, which is an important layer of leadership. And it helped me have confidence because I was dealing with so many different scenarios. At the same time, I was working on fundraising initiatives for the nonprofit that I would come to work and work on training new employees and launching a new menu item.

Kat Cole: 19:14
And it made my skill set very robust, very fast. And that combination of my day job, my nonprofit side hustle, um, really helped round out my skills. And I was a vice president at 26. As I mentioned, the company was doing 800 million in revenue. The CEO passed away. Suddenly the whole executive team almost turned over. We owned an airline. We sold an airline. I mean it was a bananas period. But I was learning and learning. I knew it was my currency and I stayed there and that company for 15 years, but every three years it was like a completely different company. And every two years I had a different job. Yes. So it was, it was perfect for me and it prepared me to be the president of a large enterprise. But there's a lot of things that are non-traditional in there.

Kat Cole: 20:10
And everybody has their paths. And I guess because I, I didn't sit in a college environment waiting until the end with this huge weight of what will I do next? I jumped right into something because I had a compelling alternative. But if you don't have a compelling alternative, stay in school, like finish the degree because it's one of the greatest enablers and privileges in the world. But I had a compelling alternative that happened to come my way to keep opening restaurants around the world. I did later go back and get an MBA. So I have a masters without a bachelor's. It is rare but possible for your executive MBA program. So I have further evidence that I deeply respect higher education, but I also follow my own path and I don't, a lot of people like to say, wow, you're clearly so ambitious. I've never been ambitious. I'm not by the technical or typical sense of the word. I've always been very positive and opportunistic. And so when an opportunity came, I was ready because I was working my ass off and then I jumped in and said yes. So that was a bit more my path. That's not everyone. Some people are big planners and say, I want to be a CEO. And then they work their way back. And that's an amazing way to plan your future as well. Just give yourself the flexibility to make exceptions when opportunities.

Amanda Hammett: 21:30
Yes, I agree. I agree. You know, the one thing that really are the two things I really took away from your story is that you will three, okay? The learning was, was number one for you always, but you are always well willing to take risks, which a lot of people would have shied away from some of those risks that you took. But the third thing is that you might have had some missteps here and there, but you figured it out and you kept on going. And that's important. So that's grit, resilience, it took everything. That's awesome. All right. So Kat, when you think about young talent, so again, millennials, Gen z, what do you really think about their abilities? Because they're in the media. In Corporate America, there's a lot of talk of doom and gloom. It's not what I see and it's not what the numbers are showing me, but what do...

Kat Cole: 22:20
First of all, it's millennials and Gen z, if you put them together, I might have my math wrong, but it's probably close to half of the population. And so I don't know how you could even talk about a group that large as having any defined set of characteristics. Yes. That are any different from hue, like humans. So that's always really interesting. Even the millennial generation alone is so massive that there's clear evidence that um, sort of the younger millennials, that are closer to gen z or the earlier half, uh, and elder millennials to use the fabulous comedian, Eliza's stands up, words elder, millennial, are closer to Gen X. I'm millennial so I'm on the literally, I'm on like some studies, the few studies that include 1978, you know in a millennial. Then I like those cause I get to say I'm a millennial. But I'm a cusper me too and I certainly relate to both. And so that's my first opinion is talking about such a giant swath of the population as, and then trying to define their characteristics is a bit of a fool's errand. What I will say is that, and what has always been true of every next generation coming into the workplace is that they are critical of the generations that have preceded them because they are dealing with the downside effects of whatever their parents and their grandparents as a generation produced. And that's always been true always. And that's not new. And so I don't find it particularly unique or concerning or difficult. I do believe that because Gen z and the younger millennials are true digital natives. I've never known a world without an iPhone at, you know, as even a child or other types of technology have not known a world without the Internet.

Kat Cole: 24:38
They are quite possibly the most resourceful generations, um, that we've seen to date because of the abundant access to information to them. It's just like, of course, I can find that out. Of course, I can research that. In fact, when I meet a younger professional that isn't resourceful, I almost told them to an unfair standard where I'm like, what do you mean send you the link? Google it. Like what, why would you tell? I just had, my husband was telling me a story about a younger person who, you know, was asking for somebody to send a link and they're like, why wouldn't you just Google it? It's so weird to hear a young person asked for that. If it's something a 50-year-old should ask for not a 19-year-old. So they are in general more resourceful. And so the question is how to leverage that. Um, certainly because technology is the first filter. There are other downside effects. Things like low confidence, impostor syndrome because of the Instagram generation and comparing their day to day real life to someones, highlights and posts. So that's very real. It's a very real psychological component and the trade-off for all the upsides. And it, and when I find older generations saying the younger generations or that described them as, what about me, you know, it's all about the that's a bit shaped by the fact that everyone is kind of a celebrity in their own worlds through a social media platforms. And so I just, it is the creation of their environment. And so I'm also not critical of that. I just wonder how to leverage that, how to use that.

Kat Cole: 26:29
So resourcefulness there is a bit of a celebrity, everyone's an influencer in their own way. And so again, how do I, how do I use that? And then yes, there is there does tend to be less experience in deep interpersonal conflict and interpersonal interactions. There aren't the typical coping mechanisms that earlier generations absolutely came about naturally because they did have to deal with everything face to face, voice to voice. And so that's absolutely true. So there are upsides and there are downsides, just like with any generation.

Amanda Hammett: 27:03
Absolutely. That's wonderful. So I would, I would say that you're a rock star. I mean, I'm just going to go out there and say that, but how do you identify someone else who is a rock star or potentially has rock star abilities that maybe have not been uncovered?

Kat Cole: 27:18
I look for grit and resourcefulness. I mean, that is because if someone doesn't have that and they're a rock star right now, they won't be in a different situation. They're just a rock star because they've, um, they, they know the environment so well or everyone, they, they've done one thing incredibly well and there's nothing wrong with that. But if, if the question is what is a rock star? A rock star, it's not someone just being singularly amazing, But rather on the, on the business side, someone who I could put an on four different teams on three different projects and because they know how to ask the right questions, treat people with respect, collaborate, they have the courage to speak out and speak their mind. And these are super translatable. Rockstar attributes that will allow someone to be relatively successful in most scenarios. I don't expect the impossible if anyone, not even of myself.

Kat Cole: 28:24
But certainly, those are the things that I have learned are the hallmarks of someone who could be a rock star. I was just meeting with a team member in our office yesterday who wanted to talk about her career and what she was thinking and what was next for her and truly, and it's such a pleasure when you can give someone this feedback. I said, you I know I could put you in several different situations and maybe even a few different departments and you'd probably be able to figure it out. And that means the world is your banana, you know, you're going to have so many options and that's not the case for people who haven't figured out how to navigate diverse environments. So that's a bit of what I think our rock is, right?

Amanda Hammett: 29:13
That's, that is so right on. Absolutely. I think that's what every leader really needs to be focusing in on is just not looking at the resume, so to speak, but really looking at what are those qualities that this person has. So, all right, so what I have in what I deal with a lot are leaders who come to me and they're frustrated and they are exasperated and they are pulling their hair out. And again, it's back to these, I don't get these kids, these millennials are worst. Bless them when Gen z really hits full force into the workforce for them. But what advice would you give sitting in your office to an older leader who was really struggling in that way with a younger employee?

Kat Cole: 29:56
So I start with the same approach that I would with a younger employee is first, what can you do differently? And then what might they be able to do differently? And so on the, on the look in the mirror, the first conversation is if you are older, gen x or a boomer, you made these kids this way, right? You raised them, they grew up in your environment, you and your people did this. So take credit for the good. Take responsibility for what you don't like. It's the truth. And so I like to start first with empathy. Understand that they've grown up in an era of Columbine and the recession and on the heels of storytelling of nine 11, like they, you know, they're exposed to a lot big corporate enterprises.

Kat Cole: 30:52
I mean the financial crisis. Tumbling their worlds and their parents' world. There is a reason they inherently mistrust and there is a reason that there is a general overwhelming mistrust of larger corporations and more traditional leadership. And so just start there. Like, I get it. And so I have to actually combat that because I can't undo personally as a leader or I will tell this mature leader, let's say they're a baby boomer, you can't undo two decades of programming. You can't. And so you just have to empathize and understand that leads to so many behaviors. It leads to believing that there has to be a better way, which is a positive thing. It leads to them not wanting to hitch their wagon to a company for too long because all things come to an end.

Kat Cole: 31:51
So just understand it's not disloyalty. It's just a belief of the natural cycles of things that they're faster and shorter and they've seen big companies that were prominent in their early years go out of business by the time they're out of college. I'm so all big things don't last. And in fact, they're paying very much attention to why those things don't last and believe that doing things differently will lead to a different result, rightly so, I believe. And so how do you, you know, harness that. So that's my first piece of advice is to take some accountability and have some empathy. The second piece of advice, however, would be now that you have accountability and empathy for them or the behaviors that you're describing how can you educate, inform, support, and develop? So at anytime, I hear older leaders say, well, they just don't understand the business will anything teach them, right?

Kat Cole: 32:52
If they don't understand, you just called out and identified the problem, sit down with them and show them where the breakdown of a dollar goes. [inaudible] but a dollar in sales just come in. What happens to expenses? what is leftover and then where does that need to go and where does it not go that they might think that it goes, use, get them to be on teams where they're dealing with very real problems in the business. So they can't just live in a world of theory. Those are the things that good leaders can do. And so the third is kind of the summary of those two is don't spend too much of your time complaining because then you're not being a great leader. Spend your time doing something about it. And yes, of course. Just like there are boomers and Gen Xers that aren't capable of certain jobs and skills. There are millennials and Gen z years that are not the right fit for certain roles, but don't, don't broad brush, you know, an entire generation or age group. That's foolish. Just as I would never do that to you know, the person who might be asking for the advice.

Amanda Hammett: 33:54
Absolutely. All right. So let's, let's, you mentioned this just a second ago, but let's kind of hone in on it for a second. What have you found to be the benefits of focusing in on developing and educating your team, your workforce?

Kat Cole: 34:09
I mean, development and education do two things. One, it's more and more important to every generation that's younger. So it's a retention tool in and of itself, just ongoing learning and education as a reason to stay somewhere. The second is, of course, you're building capability in your internal team and not having to hire the experts from the outside. That is both a smart financial decision as well as a good cultural decision because you have someone who can grow up within the company and credit the Organization for their learning and development and then demonstrate those the newly honed skills with that learning and development and inside the company to benefit the company. And the third is it just provides perspective and perspective leads to calm, a calm comes across as maturity. Maturity helps counterbalance some of the natural traits that might show up for them as a young person.

Amanda Hammett: 35:06
Thanks so much for joining us for this episode of the Next Generation Rock Stars where we have discussed all recruiting and retaining that next generation of talent. So I'm guessing that you probably learned a tremendous amount from this week's rock star leader and if that is the case, don't keep me a secret, share this episode with the world, but really share it with your friends, with your colleagues because they also need to learn how to recruit and retain this next generation of talent because these skills are crucial to business success moving forward. Now, of course, I want you to keep up to date every single week as we are dropping each and every episode. So be sure to subscribe to your favorite podcast platform of your choice, and you will see the next generation rock stars show up just for you.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

featuring Caterina Malerba

04: Why Communication is KEY to Building a Strong Millennial Team

Communicating with millennials is the key to success on any team. Learning to communicate with millennials and all other generations take special skills. This Millennial Rockstar, Caterina Malerba has built her career on making herself the go-to person for everything from team communications, to project management, problem solving and everything in between.

Caterina Malerba is a Program Manager at Cisco. Cisco Systems, Inc. is an American multinational technology conglomerate headquartered in San Jose, California, in the center of Silicon Valley. Cisco develops, manufactures and sells networking hardware, telecommunications equipment and other high-technology services and products.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

The Transcript - Why Communication is KEY to Building a Strong Millennial Team

AMANDA HAMMETT: Hey, this is Amanda Hammett and this is the Millennial Rockstar podcast. Join us with this rock star, Caterina Malerba, where she shares with us why communication is key, especially when you're dealing with teams. And how leadership can actually use communication to build trust and loyalty among us millennial employees. Hey, this is Amanda Hammett, I am the Millennial Translator because I help companies attract, retain, and engage top millennial talent. And on today's episode of the Millennial Rockstar Podcast, we have Caterina Malerba!

Caterina, welcome to the show!

CATERINA MALBERA:Thank you! I'm so excited to be here, thank you!

AMANDA HAMMETT:  Fantastic! So, Caterina works for a super-high-tech company that you have all heard of, I am totally sure, but Caterina, tell us a little bit about your role right now.

CATERINA MALBERA: Sure, so as you mentioned I work for a large IT company as a project manager in the virtual sales, I support the Americas, which include Canada, Latin, and the US. I've been with this particular company for just over three years, and... every day is a new challenge, and I'm so excited to be in virtual sales, where it's the digital motion, a lot of millennials and a lot of... Creative space to see, y'know, all great things that are coming out of it.

AMANDA HAMMETT: That's awesome, that's awesome. I think that you're in a really, really interesting, cool, but fast- moving space.

CATERINA MALBERA: It really is. Every day is something new, and, y'know, new direction, it's just really cool to be close to that pulse.

AMANDA HAMMETT:  Very, very, very cool. So tell us a little bit about your career path. How did you get from where you are, 'cause how long have you been out of college?

CATERINA MALBERA: So University... so I'm located in Canada, where, it's been, oh my gosh. Is it approaching 20 years? Almost 20 years. You're aging me.

AMANDA HAMMETT: Oh, I'm so sorry.

CATERINA MALBERA: That's okay. So I started actually in the banking industry, doing account management, and I realized that I really loved, although I loved the client interaction, I liked the behind-the-scenes, putting projects together and moving things along, and it really, but the sales experience really did help me sort of see things start to finish. From there, I just progressed into a services-based industry for a family-run business, which I got to really experience different areas of a corporation that maybe you don't get to in a larger business. And I got to wear a lot of hats, and I really learned quite a bit there. I was there for seven years, and you really just, you learn the ins and outs of how a business runs, and that brought me to my current company. And I've been a project manager now for over ten years, three years with the current one, and it's just been, I've had three roles in three years. And it's, every... You bring the same skill set to it, but it's just a different way to approach things, and different projects, and every day is a great day. For me anyway.

AMANDA HAMMETT: That's awesome, that's awesome. So tell us a little bit about some of the stumbling blocks, because I would imagine that going from banking to this smaller family-run business to this huge juggernaut that you're with now, I mean, there have been probably some ups and downs. So can you give us some examples of some of the stumbling blocks you faced?

CATERINA MALBERA:  For sure. I mean, I look at... So, I never say no, that's sort of my thing. I don't say no to any opportunity. Which, sometimes you get ahead of it, or you just don't have the skill set, or the know-how, which I didn't in certain situations. So you really do either fall flat on your face, or you learn from it, and it works. So, those are the stumbling blocks, kind of knowing when to say no, or be like, can I find out more information? But I just always want to learn, and always want to be involved in things. And I just feel like from those experiences is when I learn the most.


CATERINA MALBERA: When y'know, things didn't go right, and you'll never make that mistake again. I look at it as learning experiences, not really stumbling blocks, but...


CATERINA MALBERA: I mean, my workload is high! But it's good.

AMANDA HAMMETT:  That's awesome, yeah, I have uh, I know your boss, as you know. And yes, he did have some, I actually saw him at an event yesterday, when we were in Houston, and he had just praises for you. Just about--

- Oh! Thank you! He's--

AMANDA HAMMETT: Just about, you are just like, go gogo, all the time.

CATERINA MALBERA:  Yeah, and he, y'know, just to fan-girl for a minute, I do work for Sylvain Tremblay, and Yong Kim. And they're both, there's fire drills feels like every, every other day, and we've got a few hours to complete it on time, and they really just taught me, sometimes even though you don't know everything, just pull in who you need to do it, and we just get the job done. I've learned so much from them in just under a year of being with this team. He just, he's just hilarious the way that he can just picture it, and you learn so much, and he presents on four slides, but he's got 80 in back-up. He knows that it could go any other way, and those are just experiences that I learned so much from, and it really prepares me for the next fire drill that we usually get every day.

AMANDA HAMMETT:  That's awesome, I can totally see him doing that.

CATERINA MALBERA: Yep. He, I mean we, that's just how we approach things. And it serves us well, I have to say. And I've learned so much from him. Cuz it really, the conversation never stays on track. It always veers to the left or the right, and it's good to have those back-ups.

AMANDA HAMMETT:  No, absolutely, and that's the thing that we mentioned earlier, that you're in this incredibly fast-moving space, and you don't really know what direction it's going from one day to the next, I mean you guys are leaders in that field, by far, but it's still up to you guys to chart the part for everyone else to follow.

CATERINA MALBERA:  I mean we hope so right? It's exciting. It's exciting to be like that, and like I said, I don't like to say no to anything, because you just never know where that path will lead you.


CATERINA MALBERA:  So it's really, really cool.

AMANDA HAMMETT: Very cool, very cool! Well since we brought up your boss, your bosses, tell us a little bit about what your bosses current, or maybe in the past, do in order to keep you motivated, to keep you productive, because you do have an incredibly heavy workload. I mean, I know just from knowing what your team does and accomplishes, and who your leadership is, I know that that workload is just through the roof. So tell us a little bit about what they do to keep you productive, to keep you engaged, and to keep you waking up going, yay!

CATERINA MALBERA: For sure. So I've been pretty lucky working for this company and working throughout my career, I've had great managers and leaders that, that I have worked for, I did start at the current company working for Jason Bedinger, and I only worked with him for a few months but he, in those few months he kept me engaged, gave me creative, a little bit of creative space to make a work stream of my own and sort of take off with that. So I really learned a lot. Working with Sylvain and Yong, they do that and more. They really just... They let you just go out and do what you need to do to come back, and then we work together and they have different perspectives on it, and it's just something, that sense of purpose?


CATERINA MALBERA: That keeps me engaged, and knowing that what I'm doing counts to move the needle, or tell the story, or whatever it may be. And that's what I love about them, it's not a check a box, it's not a "okay, "give me this data, but I'm just gonna file it," it's really keeping me engaged and, I mean, if that's not there for me, it's not a self-motivator. If my work is not, doesn't have a purpose, it just isn't self-motivating. So that's what they do to sort of wake me up in the morning and keep me up at night!

AMANDA HAMMETT:  That's awesome.

CATERINA MALBERA: Whichever way you'll go, yeah.

AMANDA HAMMETT: That is so true, I can totally see that. I've mentioned this to you before, but I'm gonna tell you this, and actually, your boss, Sylvain and I were on a panel together a couple days ago in Houston and I actually said this out loud, and I think he was a little embarrassed, but I'm gonna say it again because it embarrassed him. But when I first met him months and months and months ago, I really got the impression in having conversations with him that he viewed his success through the successes of his team and their individual successes and them being proud of those successes. Now, I didn't get the impression that it was all about his ego, it was more about the team and how it made the team members individually feel, because at the end of the day, we all know that's gonna turn around and make the team even more productive.


AMANDA HAMMETT: Yeah. So it's just--

CATERINA MALBERA: I mean, this team, I've seen opportunities where they've passed up because they're just not ready to leave under his leadership and see where he's gonna take the work direction.


CATERINA MALBERA: So, it really is a testament to him, whether he knows it or not, he is really a great leader, and he does invest in his people. And we want, in turn, to do right for him. Everything we're doing is to make him look good.


CATERINA MALBERA: And working for Yong as well, who is his Chief of Staff, you really see that camaraderie and that collaboration, and it's really just great to see when everyone's on the same team. And working toward the same goal. So yeah, definitely fans of both of them.

AMANDA HAMMETT:  That's awesome. Well, I got to hear a lot about Yong on this trip as well, so I'd love to meet him in person too.

CATERINA MALBERA: Yeah! Oh great, yeah, we're setting it up.

AMANDA HAMMETT: So tell me a little bit about, is there anything as far as company perks, or anything that your current company or one in the past has done, that makes you think, man, that makes me feel special, that really makes me feel good, is there anything you can think of?

CATERINA MALBERA: Um, for sure! I mean, the company does have global give-back days. They let us volunteer for causes that are near and dear to our hearts and they pay for you to go to that. Like, they give you the time off, and they pay for you to go to that, or they match it, which is, for a large corporation that is global, they have no relation to where I personally am at London, Ontario, but it's just a great thing to see that it sort of comes home, and that's a great perk for me. Personally, I get to work from home, just because of my location to the hub. And that to me is really important, at this stage in my career, just that I'm able to be home and get to pick up my kids, but also I'm working. Just to have that ability to do that and still do my job, for me is, loyalty right there.

AMANDA HAMMETT: So you mentioned a few big buzzwords in the millennial world. You mentioned loyalty, which, y'know, millennials are often accused of not having. But you also mentioned, you didn't use the word, but you mentioned the ability for flexibility and some work-life balance.


AMANDA HAMMETT:  I mean that is, just for me, that is amazing that you have that opportunity, but it is so, so important especially as we change as a society to, everybody's pretty much a dual-working family these days, and you have kids, they have needs and wants!

CATERINA MALBERA: Yep, and it proves that you don't have to be seen in an office working the traditional nine to five to be able to do your job. And I think that has a lot to do with the trust that my team and my managers and leaders have in me, and they know that I'm not sitting here in front of a TV doing that, that's what-- or going to the gym, that is the traditional mindset but you really do, it's almost like, you just make the most of the time that you can sit in front of the laptop and you get things done. And then you also have that family balance, so.

AMANDA HAMMETT:  That's awesome.

CATERINA MALBERA:  Balance, I am still working on, admittedly, I mean I would love to just sit here and do all the work, we're getting there.

AMANDA HAMMETT:  It's always a work in progress.

CATERINA MALBERA: Yep. Yep. There are times I'm still up at the late hours. But it's also a passion project for me. I love, it really is, the loyalty comes from the engagement and from my leaders and from my team, and it doesn't feel like work for me. So.

AMANDA HAMMETT:  So you actually mentioned a little something I'd like to touch on, and it's a little skew off of something, but you mentioned that they have trust in you. They trust that you're doing what you're supposed to be doing. And obviously, they can see what you're producing, and things like that. But I feel like trust in a team is super important. And that's something I talk a lot about, and spend a lot of time with people helping them develop, but you guys have it. What do you think was that, what do you think it is, that has really helped that along for your entire team?

CATERINA MALBERA: Communication. Absolutely. If there's a lack of communication, or you're not collaborating well, then things tend to be disjointed, and it just doesn't work, and I feel that when... Even when you're on different views, or whatever it may be, you leave them at the door, and you just kind of collaborate and come to a mutual project conclusion, or whatever it may be. And that, I think, in turn, builds trust. If you didn't have that, I have worked on project teams in the past where the communication level was low, and things were just disjointed, and it just didn't work. Everyone is busy, but we really do need to communicate, and also you do need that time together as a team. We're pretty lucky, we get to meet at least once quarterly, and really bond and have closed-doors planning sessions, and it really, just having that trust level amongst each other, we really do work together, even though teams are so sporadic, some in Latin America, some up here in Canada, and some throughout the US. So just being able to come together regularly, and work together, but then in the interim, having that open channel.


CATERINA MALBERA:  Regardless of how that may be.

AMANDA HAMMETT: Right, awesome. So since you guys are all spread out, do you guys do like a lot of video chatting, or how do you guys do that, handle that?

CATERINA MALBERA: Absolutely, yep. Video chatting or calling, there is Jabber, I'm a caller. I love to pick up the phone.

AMANDA HAMMETT:  Very un-millennial of you…..

CATERINA MALBERA: I know, I know! Sometimes to type, I'm like, ugh! Just one more word, but I do love that facial interaction, as soon as I call someone it is on video, which is nice. Just to be able to see that. And sometimes you need that, to go beyond written word, is to have that emotional connection that you can, you can communicate on things.

AMANDA HAMMETT: Absolutely! We are hard-wired as human beings to create that human connection, and sometimes you just don't get it in email, or any kind of instant messaging.

CATERINA MALBERA: No. Absolutely. Especially, y'know, it's a pet peeve of mine when you're working through a session or whatever and someone answers, "K." Like oh my gosh, what does that mean? So yeah, so communication is absolutely key beyond the K.

AMANDA HAMMETT: I'm gonna write that down.

CATERINA MALBERA: It is so true! It is beyond, it just makes me laugh every time.

AMANDA HAMMETT:  Okay. Is there anything-- that is hilarious. Is there anything that you wish that companies knew about hiring younger employees?

CATERINA MALBERA: For sure. Definitely give them the benefit of the doubt. Let individuals prove what they're worth beyond, you know, as stereotypes. Give them the creative space to own a work stream. Don't make it so prescriptive, definitely give general guidelines of what's expected but let them own it. I feel that a lot of times people have different ways of approaching things, but when you're pigeonholed into just doing it one way, it really stifles you, and that's when you tend to lose top talent, at least that's what my experience has been. So definitely just give them a little bit of rope. Let them make things their own. And you'd be surprised, I mean, I've been able to work on different projects with-- the same projects, but different teams, and it's the same milestones. And the way some people approach it is unbelievable. It's just like, oh my gosh, that's really great. We get to the same outcome, just different ways, and it's really, really great to see.

AMANDA HAMMETT: That's awesome. I so love that, I so love that. Perfect, well, this has been a fantastic discussion, thank you Caterina, thank you so much.


AMANDA HAMMETT:  If possible for our audience, if they wanted to reach out to you on LinkedIn, would that be possible?


AMANDA HAMMETT:  Okay, perfect! Well, I will include the link to Caterina's LinkedIn profile in the show notes, but thank you so much for being on the show, Caterina, and thank you to our audience! And we will see you in the very next episode. Bye!

CATERINA MALBERA:  Thanks, everyone, thanks Amanda.

AMANDA HAMMETT:  Thanks so much for joining us for this episode of the Millennial Rockstar podcast. If you are looking for even more information on millennials, get some free resources, visit my website at amandahammett.com, the link is below, it's amandahammett.com, there you can download a free millennial employee engagement guide that will give you all kinds of tips and tricks on how to keep those millennials engaged on a day-to-day basis! Because we all know that millennials who are happy at work are more productive at work.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.