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Ep. 59: Championing your team's growth with David Kaus

David Kaus, SHRM-SCP  | VP, Human Resources | Catalyte

David Kaus embodies the qualities of a modern HR leader–  empathetic, forward-thinking, and committed to empowering others. He currently drives the people function at Catalyte as Vice President of Human Resources, leveraging AI technology to revolutionize hiring practices that unbiasedly discover and nurture high-potential talent.

With a background in instructional design and a dedication to fostering growth, David brings a unique perspective to his role having navigated various positions across Catalyte's professional track. Through collaboration with business leaders, he helps devise and execute strategic plans aligned with company objectives, emphasizing the importance of a learning and development culture and advocating for managers to prioritize the growth and authentic support of their team members. 

David intentionally leads by example, serving his role with vulnerability and openness, viewing mistakes as valuable learning opportunities, and sharing tips for how to be realistic when providing career advice.

Interview Highlights

  • "Be the person now that you needed when you first started your career." Understand and learn the value of mentorship and supporting others in their professional development journey.

  • David underscores the importance of not being “naive” and pushes leaders to recognize employees' autonomy and motivations for career development. He encourages managers to invest in career growth and well-being, even if it means team members may eventually move on from the organization.

  • Be your own user in whatever way you can, and if you can't get the feedback as live as you can, learn how to develop a learning culture of inclusive connection. This leads to authentic, valuable feedback from those who are participating in critical organizational processes.

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[00:00:00] Aaron: David, I'm so excited to have you on. I think so much so because of your background, it's fascinating. So I'm very excited. I think the thing that interested me the most is you have a background in instructional design, which is very unique to someone who's in the Head of People function.

What role has that played as you've grown and scaled Catalyte? 

[00:00:23] David: Yeah, first off, thanks for having me here. And I'm really excited to be here as well. Originally, coming from starting off my career wanting to do instructional design learning development, it really stemmed from a personal desire to just want to help.

I want to teach. I've had some really impactful teachers and mentors over the years. And so that was at my core is I just loved seeing people grow, helping them grow. Naturally, education and instructional design. Worked out in the college system for a while. And when I joined my 

[00:01:00] current role, I was the head of the training department and I think starting off there is really understanding how people think, what motivates them, how they learn so much of that I used to this day and in terms of just HR and people leadership, I put on my instructional design hat quite a bit when it comes to rolling out a particular policy or designing a particular program. You want to message something in a way that people are going to understand and do it in a way that you’re going to have your intended goal for it though. when it comes to HR and people related efforts. Really focusing on the end user experience. What exactly it is you're trying to accomplish.

What does success look like? Anyways, yeah it's helped quite a bit in my transition to formal HR for sure. 

[00:01:56] Aaron: What's an example of a way in which you, give me something in the last couple of months, even it could be something very small where you take that instructional design mindset, as someone who's fascinated and interested in human behavior and instructional design myself, it's a unique perspective to take to an everyday people problem. Yep. Absolutely. Every business issue.

[00:02:14] David: Yeah. So I think where it really helps is an instructional design. You want to, when you're designing a particular training module or document, you don't want anything to be left to an assumption made by someone, right? If you go from step three to step four and you're not crystal clear on something, then you might get someone who's going to be lost. And I take that perspective when working on corporate communications or designing company policies, but as an example here, our company is working on… we have a lot of folks who come in an interview for our apprenticeship program, and we're trying to do a much better 

[00:03:00] job of automating responses and getting back to candidates as soon as possible. And so what we're working on is being able to concisely and quickly providing responses to candidates and giving them really the best experience possible in terms of the timeliness of communication, updating their status. And so when when you're looking at the responses that are generated, it gets tricky because there's all these different potential pathways it could turn into, and so looking at the types of automated responses we're sending and just being able to put yourself in the candidate's shoes and say wait a second, that's not quite clear.

This leaves a question that I would want to ask myself. And so how do you address as much as possible in a standard automated response, to minimize the type of questions that someone might have to follow up on that?  And upon review, so you can imagine there was a lot that we wanted to make modifications to.

[00:04:02] Aaron: Yeah, that takes one. I love that. We talk about this all the time. Clarity is kindness. And oftentimes the challenges that happen with an organization are when individuals or teams or departments aren't clear on either what's expected or the steps or the follow-up or something along the line. But that also takes work, right?

Like it sounds like it takes a lot of work. Just in that one specific example, how do you get your people team, but also the organization to take that work on and take that mindset on of, “Hey, let's remove assumptions as much as we can.”

David: I think it's all about just the end user experience, right? And no matter what we're doing, we're, services company, professional services. And so we want to delight our stakeholders and, our stakeholders can be clients and investors and employees ourselves. And so when you give someone a strong experience, whether it's an employee engaging with the HR department or [00:05:00] when they're engaging their manager, whatever it might be, again, the clearer you are the faster you can address their concerns, making sure they felt heard.

That, that's all part of a great experience. And so when I'm working with team members, even outside of HR, give everyone the information that they need in the fastest way possible. But you also want to minimize the amount of back and forth that's needed.

You're saving everyone time. I think, if you have that mindset, you're in good shape. But something I would caution on, though, , And this kind of goes back to 

[00:05:33] instructional design, too, is that at a certain point, you need to be satisfied with whatever deliverable you're working on.

Because there's always something you can do to continue to. But at a certain point, there's a point of diminishing return, I guess you could say. And so it's hey, look, here's what's most important. We want to focus on the end user experience, and we want to minimize the amount of time it's going to take to go back and forth.

[00:06:00] But at a certain point, we need to call it and say, this is good enough. Let's see how this goes and we'll get feedback and we'll iterate afterwards. So that's another key theme too, is just that iterate, your piece you say, being agile and just understanding, Hey, look, we'll get it as good as we can. Let's get it out there and then adjust as needed. 

Aaron: Yeah. It's funny. I talked to my team about it's like the 80, 80, 20. Hey, this is 80 percent good enough. We don't need to dive any deeper. But the 80%, I think is a unique, the way you're talking about it, which is an interesting reframe is there's a difference between checking the box or going after the goal and saying, “Hey, I did this.” And then doing it from the lens of the stakeholder that's going to be receiving it or going to be impacted by it. And I liked that you said “Hey, it's not just the client.” It could be an employee. It could be right. Literally investor.

It could be whoever is interacting with this policy or change or tool or product, and I just really 

[00:07:00] liked the idea of how do we minimize the back and forth and create a Meaningful stakeholder experience, because if you put that lens on, you're like, Oh, how does this help somebody else? I can't tell you how many times I've talked to a team member or talked to a manager that we're training and saying “I understand your perspective, that's totally valid,” but let's put on the perspective , of the other person on either side of this and what they're trying to get out of it. 

[00:07:22] David: Yeah. Yeah. There's so much value to, and actually whatever you're working on being a participant in that process, right? So the example I shared before, sending out the automated emails, I'm not applying myself to that program.  I can't really put myself in that position. So if you can't do that, who can you talk to get real life, direct feedback on that process and asking them, what would you change that sort of thing?

I'll give you another example is we have recently this year, we incorporated some new company values and a lot [00:08:00] of organizations, sometimes the challenges, you create these new values, put all this effort into it, and then they sit on a wall somewhere, they're in a slide deck and it's okay, we'll, , it just helping it become institutionalized and a living, breathing thing in the organization can be difficult to do.

[00:08:16] David: And so one of the ways we helped really roll this out and to really change behavior is we incorporated it into our performance review process. Each of our company values, team members are evaluated. We were clear with it, too. This is what this value means. Here's what it looks like in action.

And we had everyone in the company rated against those values. And so I actually had a chance and I helped design the questions in the process. But how having participated in it as my own review, but then reviewing my direct reports, I really got to see this in action and already I have things I want to change about.

Which is fine, right? It's we talked about before about iterating, but there's just so 

[00:09:00] much value in being able to actually be on the end of something and communication or process, whatever it might be, actually using it or talking to someone who is, because oftentimes… if you're too disconnected how are you going to really get that, feedback and know what to change? 

[00:09:17] Aaron: Yeah. There's some real gold nuggets here. One is like what you said is be your own user in whatever way you can, and if you can't get the feedback as live as you can. And then the other thing that you just offhandedly in your example talked about how to make values come to life, which is.

Hey, we need to put them into action. And we love that. We do that too, in our review and resets annually. And that's just one of the ways to have them come to life. So for those who are listening, if you're wondering how to make your values come to life, it has to be from the executive team on down, but like a great way is to put them in your.

Reviews and resets, or your performance reviews, whatever your end of year reviews are, 360s to make them something that people actually think about. And then the third thing you said, which is something that I find is critical 

[00:10:00] to any type of growth that I've seen is learn, apply, reflect, or apply the idea.

And then reflect on it, being the user reflect, what did I like about it? What didn't I like about it? Now, what do I need to change? Cause as you said, it's an iterative process. And that's so crucial. And this is all circling around. And you talked about this last time we talked a little bit about the importance of a learning culture.

And I feel like we're circling around some of those elements, but I guess what I'm curious is. How does having a learning culture impact the employee experience from your perspective? 

[00:10:32] David: It means in so many ways, right? Companies are faced with having to do more with less, right? Macro economic environment isn't the greatest right now.

And yeah, that's a big theme is doing more with less. I would look at this from a couple of different perspectives, like from the company perspective, right? If you have team members that are so driven to want to improve their performance, who wants to work the way up the career ladder.

That's [00:11:00] fantastic, right? You can continue to delegate more work and you obviously want to make sure that you're rewarding them and you're compensating them for all those increases in responsibility. But you're gonna get team members who can grow with the company who, know your system so well and what you're doing. And so it makes a lot more sense. We prefer training and preparing individuals and improving them versus, sometimes bringing in external senior talent, not to say that we don't bring an external senior talent, there's always that risk of, how are they really going to fit with the company culture? And there's that period of onboarding. It's going to take years for them to really get used to the role. And so I think when you have an organization that's really focused on learning and the organization is committed to helping develop their team members , there's a lot of advantages to promoting from within, 

[00:11:49] I see a lot: of hyper growth companies go down a very different path. The path of, okay, now we've raised X number of dollars. We're at 200 employees and we're [00:12:00] going to 400 and we have these hiring plans and we need to make our executive team or we need to bolster up our senior leadership team and let's bring in a bunch of outside talent.

Part of it is because we need to grow really fast. We need to acquire talent. And the other part is because we need to grow up and mature. What have you seen as the benefits of growing from within and what are some of the ways in which you found doable in a hypergrowth  situation?

I think it's so much depends on the roles. That you were trying to fill or help those grow into and the maturity of the company, what's going on at the moment. And don't get me wrong. There are absolutely appropriate and should be done at times where you bring in a senior expert who can oversee and help with the transition.

And there's just times where that clearly is the answer. We've done that at our company. We brought in some new leaders and they've had such a profound impact. And that was absolutely the right decision. Thank you. But there are also times, too, [00:13:00] where, there's roles where they're going to be a stretch for someone, but under the right support structure and giving them enough time they can absolutely grow into those roles and the advantage of that, we've talked a bit about the advantages to the company.

But there are tons of advantage like for the individuals too. That is a huge retention strategy and a way to help someone feel committed to an organization is when you put in the effort and really want to see them grow and having taking the time to talk about it I mean those individuals are gonna want to stay at the company .

They recognize the efforts put into helping them grow. So And it's also, from their perspective, it's, it helps them become more marketable. So at the time where they do need to leave the company, they'll be able to talk about all of their growth and the time they've spent there.

And so that's really, it's the goal is like you want everyone who's left the company to be like, you know what, this was I've my growth during my time, the organization [00:14:00] was just phenomenal. And the support I received. It's never, I've never had anything like that. It's a win all across the board here. 

[00:14:08] Aaron: think you said this last time, embrace the idea of, supporting people as they move on and grow out, how, tell me more about that and how you just think about that. Cause you talk about developing people and coaching them into their stretch role and next part of the organization.

And then, Some might say, Oh I don't want to do that if they're going to leave. 

[00:14:28] David: I think what is it? Was it a Richard Branson quote where he said something on the lines of train them as if they can go anywhere, but treat them as if they want to stay. And I get in the same vein as that.

 It would be such a mistake to not want to train someone and help them grow for fear that they'll become. Markable to the point that they're going to want to go somewhere else. I can get maybe the line of thinking there, but if you really invest in them and they see that and you treat them great and [00:15:00] compensate them and have their needs met. They're going to want to stay. Even if they do leave, there's always a chance that they'll come back in the future or in their other roles, they'll be a great person to network with. So it can lead to new work at your organization.

Some might find this controversial, but I've actually, I'm very candid when I talk to employees about their career development. It's Hey, look, I'm going to take off the HR and company hat. Like I'm going to give you just genuine career advice. And if what they're telling me isn't quite in line with what we can provide our organization, I let them know.

I've even had employees talk to me about a job offer they received. And I give them my candid opinion about, Hey, look, like this is actually a really great offer. If I was in your shoes, like we don't get me wrong, we want to keep you and here's what we might be able to do. But if something is just so much more aligned with someone's career goals and it's just a fantastic [00:16:00] opportunity.

I'll give them the advice that I think that they need to hear and I've actually done that before with an employee. They've taken the opportunity, but then they've actually rejoined our organization later on. That's what I'm getting at where you just, if you really, if they really know that you're looking out for them.

I might say you don't have to look out for the company, but at the end of the day, we're all people. And if you're looking out for them, they recognize that you're trying to pretend like you're looking out for them, but really at the end of the day, you're just doing what's best for the company.

 People see through that so easily. 

[00:16:30] Aaron: It's so transparent. The word that kept coming to mind as you were sharing this is let's not take the human out of our businesses, there's a business entity, but We're a collection of human beings working together, figuring our shit out and our lives out.

And like, why not be humans with one another? We don't need to turn on the legal aspect all the time we can say Hey, yeah, that's a great idea. And there's something that I talked to our team about pretty consistently. And try to, as a CEO myself, not be afraid of the fact that yeah, people will leave, like [00:17:00] that's going to happen.

Everybody's going to find what's best for them. Every day we're making a choice. I'm making a choice to work here today. You're making a choice to work where you're working today and the company's making a choice to work with you. It is a constant choice. We just lose sight that we're making that choice because it's assumed like I have my job.

So I go to my job. I'm choosing to work at my job today and they're paying me in return for compensation and we're doing other things, in return for that work. But that's. My choice. We sometimes get afraid as people teams to say, Oh, we don't want them to know that they have a choice to leave, that they have options elsewhere.

We're like, why not? We should let them know they're making a choice constantly. And to me, that, that engages people's and activates people more and why am I here? And if they're actively choosing to be here, I want people that are actively choosing to be on my team every day versus people who are staying on my team because they're too lazy to look for another job.

[00:17:53] David: It is so naive to think that people aren't evaluating their options and they're just going to, Oh, just blind loyalty to an [00:18:00] organization. You're exactly right. And I think some companies, they can take their employees for granted. It's Oh yeah, we're assuming that they're good and they wouldn't leave.

But everyone's going to do what's best for themselves and their families. Think there's just you got to look at, it's almost I'm not saying Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but as it relates to the employee experience, like you got to look.

And there's different motivations for everybody. Some people are super motivated by career development. Others, not so much. Some are super motivated by compensation. Everyone's different and it's up to managers to really understand what are the motivations of your team members and comprehensively making sure all those needs are addressed.

 Something that can go such a long way it's like showing that appreciation. the kudos when it's due. weeks where I've, it's, i defeated and my to say, David, by the way [00:19:00] job and give me some kudos matter how bad of a mood It's just like a shot in the arm and it can really just refresh you.

 I think there's a lot that managers can be doing and just caring enough and checking in on people too, and how they're doing. I think sometimes that can go overlooked where you hop on a call, especially in a remote environment, you just. Jump on a call you get right into the details of the meeting, hey, how are you doing?

 Remembering, what's going on in their personal lives and some people might not want to get into all those details But for a lot of us, we spend so much time with our co workers I mean we should ask what's going on and how people are doing and so I find that goes a really long way to generally wanting to get to know your team members asking how they're doing and not just always just jumping right into the meeting details.

[00:19:57] Aaron: When you hop on a remote call,  what I'm wondering is how do you [00:20:00] equip your managers? This is a space I'm clearly passionate about and From what I've seen and read, it's not a good portion of managers are equipped with those tools and skills to, to know that, to know how to do that too.

Even if they do to remember to do that because they're also doing their work and expect to do more. And this is maybe the first time they're taking on their role. So how do you equip them to show up in that way? 

[00:20:22] David: It's tough. It's tough. And I think we're guilty of this too, is When you have someone who's new to management, you almost like a Dunning Kruger effect where you've been in management for so long, you assume that others know a bit more about management than they actually do.

 Going back to instructional design. Don't assume learning has taken place unless you've verified that, right? Or someone understands something unless you've verified that. If it's someone who completely new to management, so let's break it down to different categories here.

[00:20:54] David: There's like just management training 101, right? The do's and don'ts of management. We [00:21:00] actually have a standard operating procedure for managers that lets them know their responsibilities, how to handle certain situations, performance management, as much as we can put into, we try to make it as lightweight as possible, but it's a good guide for them.

We meet with managers and we go through it and make sure they have any questions. HR is always here to provide support . So there is that, right? But then I think, Aaron, this might be what your question was getting at, was maybe more of the interpersonal soft skills, like making sure that folks are getting the best management experience possible and how to engage in a remote environment.

 You don't want to do everything at once. And so later on down the road. Have different opportunities to engage with those managers and say, Hey, look, , how are things going? What's working well, what's not working well. And slowly introduce these concepts about strong people management.

And so often I think, it's I don't want to say, Hey, watch this video and then do it. I don't think that works [00:22:00] well. It's let's have a meaningful conversation. And let's talk about how something is working for you and maybe just giving a couple different suggestions and then having to do it.

And then, meeting up later on, Hey, how did that work out for you? And just going from there, but I think if you have senior managers who have been around, who are modeling that your new managers are going to see that. And they're going to want to emulate , the more senior managers who have that as well.

[00:22:29] Aaron: Yeah. I, we found it so helpful to have senior leaders, show the way. You get the osmosis there a little bit, and then you get them asking questions and then it's much easier to get other people on board versus sometimes we have clients who say, we want to just work with our first time managers and help develop them.

And then we say, great, you're going to work with them and then they're going to complain about their bosses. And making sure that those senior managers, I think there's a really important one are modeling the, the Cadillac way or the learning culture that you're trying to cultivate

[00:22:57] David: Yeah. I don't know about you, but my [00:23:00] management philosophy, my approach, the biggest influence have been the managers I've had in the past. But good and bad. Don't underestimate the importance of, how do you respond to an email when you're frustrated or things are, not going your way. They pick up on so much if they being, your direct reports and team members. Always know that that's a learning opportunity for someone when they see how you handle a particular situation .

And have to remind myself too about that. It's oh my gosh, here's what I'm really feeling right now. But it's again, this is a learning opportunity for somebody, and if they see you handle it a certain way, there's a really high chance that if they encounter that in the future, how you handle it is going to be similar to how they would handle it too.

[00:23:42] Aaron: It's such an important point. It's easy to get caught in. And I think it goes back to your idea of taking the user stakeholder experience, right? It's like even something as simple as, a direct report coming to you with something and the way in which you respond, if what you're saying is like, Hey, I'm I'm taking their experience into mind [00:24:00] here because the way I respond will actually affect how they show up with others. And I get I can't, it's such an important thing to a mindset to hold onto is like that other person's experience. And right. It's like walking in somebody else's shoes, but it's subtle, but so important.

It shows up in all these different ways and has a profound impact on how you lead others intentionally. It sounds like. 

[00:24:21] David: Yep, absolutely. I have a co worker, his name's Mark Freeman, and I think this was something a mentor told to him, but he says, be the person now that you needed, you wanted when you first started out your career .

And that's always resonated with me where I think, work your way up, increased priorities and you become so busy and , you got to think Hey, wait a second. , what was so helpful to me when I was first starting off the people that went out of their way to give me advice or to welcome me and put an arm around me, like you gotta do that.

And you have to make time for that too. 

[00:24:58] Aaron: And you have to start doing it now. I, [00:25:00] a mentor once told me the future is determined by what you do today. Not what you did yesterday. And so that, to that, it's if this is how I want to be, 

let's not ascribe to what I want to be. Let's actually just take the time and do it. Let's take the time and give an extra 30 seconds of description in that response to an email versus just, no. Let's ask a question before we. Say, I don't like that idea, to get more info. I think one of the big lessons I'm getting from you is the importance of taking time, the importance of intentionality, and you're at a company that's grown and evolved and move fast.

And it's not just something that you can do that you need to do when you're, a first time manager, but you're. On the people function of a large organization. And you're still leading that way and it shows as someone who's thoughtful and intentional and caring versus frantic and just like, I gotta do this next thing.

I gotta do this next thing, which is an easy trap to fall into

[00:25:53] David:  Yeah. I think too, oftentimes, you see this a lot in media and I'm reviews, it's, I'm not saying anything [00:26:00] that's. But, HR can get a bad rap. People don't have the best experience at times with HR. And I think, oh, that's where you go when you get in trouble, right?

And I think there's sometimes individuals in HR roles who've been doing it so long it's almost it's like they become robotic in their responses and it's just, this is a business transaction and you just give them the required information to do your job. And that's okay.

On to something else. It's just like we think about what HR is for, it's you're the people function, people are our greatest asset we want to know how they're doing what matters to them. And so when you just treat them and I think in that way, it's just gonna you're damaging trust and you're not doing your company any good.

I was trying to take the approach of like our HR brand is no, like we. We really care about how you're doing and we want to make sure that you're satisfied and we can help out with whatever problem it is. And, even times where, you might need [00:27:00] to, separate with an employee the goal is you always want them to look back and say, you know what, it didn't work out, but I was treated so fairly and this was a great experience.

And. You know what? Like I look back and yeah, it didn't work out, but it was a great experience. It's not always going to be that situation. But I think that's what you should aim for. I think of it like it's customer service, like an HR.

It's Yeah. Show a bit of emotion and who you are too, right? I think that's something I've had my, actually my supervisor's working with me on is, sometimes it's like you can be so polished and want to just represent the company, but people want to see who you are as a person, they're gonna be more comfortable with you.

And I think that's also something I'm working on too, is just, yeah, being more of myself around folks. 

[00:27:48] Aaron: Being more human, like bringing the human into HR, there's a study called the Pratt fall effect that says if somebody of an authority position makes a mistake, they're actually more likable if they show they make a mistake, they're [00:28:00] competent.

And so I constantly think about that too, of like, how can I not? Be polished, but also just be myself and, make mistakes and screw up and not brush them under the rug, but actually share them so that people can know Hey, yeah, we all make mistakes. 

[00:28:15] David: I love that. I want to get, Hey, acknowledging a mistake. It's okay. And then, what are you going to do to get better at that? Absolutely. I think, yeah that, that can go such a long ways.

[00:28:25] Aaron:. I like that. This has been so much fun. I feel like we could talk for hours about learning and development and how to infuse it in all elements of a business.

And it sounds like you've done quite an amazing job as you've grown yourself within the organization and help grow the organization as well. So thank you so much for your time. Thank you for your insights. Really grateful. 

[00:28:49] David: Absolutely. , it was a pleasure. This was a lot of fun. Thank you.