Leadership lessons with Kat Cole

With the rush of the holiday shopping season starting earlier this year, chances are you’re wondering if now’s the time to begin hiring additional help for your business. This week on the podcast we’re chatting with Kat Cole, COO and President of Focus Brands, about hiring, company culture, and leadership.



Kat Cole

Kat Cole is an inspiring leader and operator with a track record of turning around companies and building brands, teams and high-growth businesses over two decades.

As COO and President of Focus Brands, the owner, franchisor and operator of global limited service food brands, doing billions in product sales in over 50 countries, she leads the company’s 7 brands: Cinnabon, Auntie Anne’s, Moe’s, Schlotzsky’s, McAlister’s, Carvel and Jamba with 6500 operations globally and leading the multi-brand licensing and CPG business. She is formerly president of Cinnabon Inc. and past Group President Focus Brands. She has led the evolution of several brands through product and technology innovation, organizational structure changes and building customer-centered cultures. 

Kat is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, a member of the Milk Bar Board of Directors, an advisor to high growth businesses, and mom of two. Kat is a past member of the United Nations Global Entrepreneurs Council, was featured on CBS' "Undercover Boss”, and was named one of Fortune’s 40 under 40. She is past chair of the board of the Women’s Foodservice Forum, past Silver Plate winner from IFMA, named most admired leader by QSR magazine and named Elliot Leadership Motivator of the year.  She is a college dropout, yet has her MBA in International Business. Her journey from restaurant hostess at 17 executive by 26, president by 31, and investor by 35 is often shared as an example of the American and entrepreneurial dream. 

Outside of the foodservice industry, Kat is an angel investor and advisor to early stage consumer product and Direct-to-Consumer companies and an outspoken advocate for women’s issues and the broader role of business in democratizing access to education and opportunity.




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show notes.

  • [02:45] Holiday shopping season has officially started
  • [05:19] About Kat
  • [07:15] Kat’s genesis story
  • [12:42] When is it the right time to hire?
  • [19:01] Setting your business culture up for success from day 1
  • [25:15] Learning to lead and delegate
  • [30:26] Coaching style leadership
  • [37:18] What if someone is uncoachable?
  • [43:05] Book recommendations
  • [44:31] Where to find Kat on the internet




Kelly Vaughn (00:00):
With the rush of the holiday shopping season starting earlier this year, chances are you're wondering if now is the time to begin hiring additional help for your business. This week on the podcast, we're chatting with Kat Cole, COO and President of Focus Brands, about hiring, company culture, and leadership. Let's dig in.

Rhian Beutler (00:21):
Welcome to Commerce Tea, a podcast to help you succeed on Shopify. I'm Rhian.

Kelly Vaughn (00:26):
And I'm Kelly. Grab a mug and join us as we talk about all things commerce.

Rhian Beutler (00:31):
Hey, Kelly, how can I get to know my customers better?

Kelly Vaughn (00:40):
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Rhian Beutler (00:48):
What kind of results can I expect from building a quiz?

Kelly Vaughn (00:51):
You'll see increases in your conversions and average order value, growth in your marketing lists and higher engagement on your marketing campaigns by using the personalization data you're collecting, and the results are profound. Brands on Shopify with a Shoppable Quiz have collected 16 times more emails and discovered segments of customers for the 75% higher AOV than the average customer.

Rhian Beutler (01:14):
That's so rad.

Kelly Vaughn (01:15):
Yeah, plus, Octane AI passes the quiz responses into the marketing tools you already use, like Klayvio and Privy. You'll also get to use this personalization data with Octane AI's powerful Facebook Messenger and SMS automations.

Rhian Beutler (01:29):
Where can I learn more?

Kelly Vaughn (01:30):
Visit octaneai.com/quiz to learn more and request an invite for early access.

Rhian Beutler (01:41):
Hello, Kelly.

Kelly Vaughn (01:42):
Hello, Rhian. How are you doing today?

Rhian Beutler (01:44):
I'm doing so well. How are you?

Kelly Vaughn (01:47):
I'm good. I started my morning off with some really delicious pumpkin bread that I made this weekend.

Rhian Beutler (01:53):
I have to say I did the same. I put some maple butter on there, a little spicy.

Kelly Vaughn (01:58):
I did brown butter and bourbon.

Rhian Beutler (02:01):
Oh, whoa, yours is fancier than mine. Mine came from Trader Joe's. I will say I remember and now you all have heard me say I don't like pumpkin products twice at least. But I do like pumpkin bread from Trader Joe's from a box, if it's gluten-free. Apparently, those are the rules.

Kelly Vaughn (02:21):
I wonder if you would like my pumpkin bread.

Rhian Beutler (02:23):
Maybe, let's make it maybe. Gluten-free version and then ship it to me.

Kelly Vaughn (02:25):
I can make a gluten-free version. Perfect. All right. So we have a pretty lengthy interview with Kat Cole today. So we can keep our little intro here short. But it is worth noting that it is October 13th, which means-

Rhian Beutler (02:43):
Drum roll please.

Kelly Vaughn (02:45):
Prime Day has officially started. Which means holiday shopping season has officially started.

Rhian Beutler (02:52):
I hope you all were ready. Because here we are.

Kelly Vaughn (02:54):
We have made it. We are over a month and a half away from actual Black Friday. So now is the time to begin testing and seeing what you could do and stress testing everything you can.

Rhian Beutler (03:09):
Is it a month and a half away? It feels somewhere in between tomorrow and never far away.

Kelly Vaughn (03:17):
Just to put a regular time, some kind of time reference around there. That's good. That's good. Yeah, it is, I don't know the exact number of days but it is somewhere around a month and a half away, which blows my mind.

Rhian Beutler (03:28):
Yeah, I'm not ready.

Kelly Vaughn (03:31):
I have never been ready for Black Friday. Being in the agency space in e-commerce means that I am just permanently not ready. I accept that.

Rhian Beutler (03:39):
That's fair. That's fair. On my side, we just scale up our servers really heavy before Black Friday, Cyber Monday, but we pre-scaled before today.

Kelly Vaughn (03:52):
You know what else, you are potentially needing to scale?

Rhian Beutler (03:56):

Kelly Vaughn (03:57):
Your customer support.

Rhian Beutler (03:58):
Oh, yeah, definitely, definitely. Which might be a thing for all of us that we're not considering. Whether you're app side, agency side, or like most of our listeners-

Kelly Vaughn (04:10):
You're a merchant.

Rhian Beutler (04:10):
You're a merchant and you're selling something on the internet. Where's your customer support at? What's your hiring been like? And are you all of a sudden going to have to do some type of hyper growth hiring, which is always like that back up against the wall hiring that stresses me out.

Kelly Vaughn (04:24):
I think it stresses everybody out.

Rhian Beutler (04:25):
It does.

Kelly Vaughn (04:27):
Hiring in general is stressful. Hiring in as short amount of time trying to find the right person, for the right job, for the holiday season is just stressful in general.

Rhian Beutler (04:39):
So very stressful, and it's probably good that we had Kat on this week to talk about exactly that.

Kelly Vaughn (04:45):
Exactly. So let's go ahead and just go to the interview now.

Rhian Beutler (04:49):
Yeah. Today, we're speaking with Kat Cole, COO and President of Focus Brands and an inspiring leader and operator with a track record of turning around companies and building brands, teams and high growth businesses for over two decades. Hi, Kat, how are you doing?

Kat Cole (05:09):
Awesome. How are you guys?

Kelly Vaughn (05:12):
Doing great. Thanks so much for joining us today. I'd love to just kick things off with you telling us a little bit about yourself.

Kat Cole (05:19):
Sure. So today, I run a company that is famous for the brands it owns. Like Auntie Ann's and Cinnabon and Jamba Juice and Carvel and Moe's Southwest Grill, McAlister's, and Schlotzsky's, and the company will own many more in the future. And the presidents of those brands report to me. I support them, weigh in on the company's executive leadership team to think about things like resource allocation, future acquisitions, where we should invest in the company. And overall supporting the team's culture, hiring, growth, direction, in addition to running the businesses within the corporation.

Kat Cole (06:03):
I've been there for 10 years. I am a mom of two babies. I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old and an amazing husband, who is a phenomenal partner and very busy with his own role in a venture fund here in Atlanta. So times are interesting and energetic, quite dynamic these days.

Kelly Vaughn (06:26):
I love that there's a skew towards Atlanta on this podcast episode this time. Sorry, Rhian.

Rhian Beutler (06:34):
Oh, it's okay. I'm just over here in California. And I've been inside my house for six months-ish, but that's okay. I'm finding more and more joy in my house every day. I have now collected 42 houseplants.

Kelly Vaughn (06:48):

Kat Cole (06:49):
Quite the collection.

Rhian Beutler (06:52):
At some point, I think I need to press pause. But Kat, I just want to thank you for being on here. Your work is so impressive. I'm never not excited to speak with you and to hear from you. I love your genesis story. Can you talk to us a little bit more about that, before we start getting into the nit and grit of it all?

Kat Cole (07:15):
Yeah. Well, I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, I'm the oldest of three girls. I have two younger sisters. And when I was nine years old, we left my dad and went out on our own. My mom was what was called a secretary at the time. And no one on either side of our family was even close to middle class. And so she really struggled to feed us and lead us, but she did it and she did it with grace. She fed us on a food budget of $10 a week for three years, she worked three jobs.

Kat Cole (07:50):
I had to start working as soon as I was legally able to pay for things that one needs, as we get older. And there were a lot of lessons from that period of time, that ended up playing into my mindset around life and business, such as when she told me we were leaving my dad at the age of nine, I didn't cry and I didn't get upset. I looked at her and said what took you so long?

Kat Cole (08:15):
And that lesson, and many others in other situations, really stuck with me over the years. Because it was so apparent that other people, me being the other people, the daughter, the kids in this situation, and in later scenarios, employees, know what the right thing to do is long before the leader ever does it.

Kat Cole (08:38):
I over time became obsessed when I took on leadership roles, at knowing the truth, the true truth, people's experiences. So that I could compress the amount of time between when others have an inkling of what the opportunity in the business is, or a problem that's serious that needs to be solved. I can compress the time between when they know and when I know. Because I'm the one with the authority to do something about it with the language to articulate the problem and solution in a scalable way.

Kat Cole (09:09):
I applied that as a waitress. I eventually became a hostess, a waitress, after working in malls. First person in my family to get into college, happened to be a waitress at Hooters. Hooters happened to be growing. I started helping them open restaurants around the world at the age of 19 and traveled so much, launching so many franchises on different continents, that by the time I was 20, although I was the first person in my family to get into college, I was failing college, because I was never there.

Kat Cole (09:38):
I dropped out at the age of 20. Fortunately, had a job offer to work in the corporate office for Hooters, which is how I got to ATL and started my corporate journey. And as the company grew, I grew, and by the time I was 26, I was vice president of the company, doing close to 800 million in revenue.

Kat Cole (09:58):
We were fully vertically integrated, owned a good bit of our supply chain and distribution, our own marketing company, our own restaurants, in addition to franchising. Eventually an airline, the licensees of the business had a casino. It was crazy how multi-channel on the outside, from a revenue perspective, and then vertically integrated how many different industries we were in, supporting and running our own business from the inside out.

Kat Cole (10:26):
I was exposed to so many industries and verticals and complex elements of business and nuances of branding all in one company, but one company that was growing quite a bit around the world. Privately held, so we could kind of do anything we wanted.

Kat Cole (10:43):
I benefited from that. I stayed there for almost 15 years, became president of Cinnabon at the age of 31, just before I turned 32. And helped turn around Cinnabon out of the recession by addressing multi-channel opportunities, addressing unit level economics issues that were incredibly severe in these small businesses.

Kat Cole (11:05):
It's a big brand, but they're run by franchisees. So it's where Main Street meets Wall Street. So big strategic things have to happen with the brand consumer facing, and very tiny tactical in the weeds operating stuff has to get done, in order to make the business model healthy, to feed the turnaround of the brand and the perception of the product.

Kat Cole (11:25):
So we did that. I hired a successor. I took over the global licensing division for the company, which meant putting CPG products and other branded channel products outside of the franchise business, out into the marketplace for more than just Cinnabon. I was group president, and then became president and CPO of the parent company, which I've been for almost four years.

Rhian Beutler (11:47):
That's so cool. I love your story. Thank you so much for sharing it. I feel like there's a woman and a person out there right now who needs to hear that type of a story. That is, I had a non-traditional genesis story as well. And I think the more we talk about it, and the great places we can rise to, the better. So thank you so much for sharing that with us.

Rhian Beutler (12:18):
And today, we want to ask you, going back to something you said earlier about leadership and knowing when it's the right time to do the right thing, which I just grossly oversimplified what you just said, we want to talk to you about when is it the right time to make a hire? And Kelly, do you want to kick that off with your first question?

Kelly Vaughn (12:42):
I often talk with merchants whose businesses are hitting a growth point where they wonder if it's the right time to start hiring somebody, to hire their first employee. I guess let's start there. How do you know when it's actually the right time to bring on your first employee?

Kat Cole (12:55):
One thing I would suggest for listeners is that no one ever knows for sure when it's the right time to bring on their first employee. So the stress over that decision is completely normal. I would rather pay attention to the signs that you might be trading off things you don't want to trade off.

Kat Cole (13:19):
So of course, that phase, that early phase of doing everything ourselves is awesome in a lot of ways, because we only have ourselves to blame, and everything is connected in our mind. The downside, of course, is bandwidth. The ability to go deep and follow up.

Kat Cole (13:38):
Sometimes things in the business, especially around sales or marketing in particular, can get better, faster when someone has a sole focus, instead of just catching inbound or doing enough for the business to improve a little. But when someone's dedicated to it, the upside that they can create in terms of demand, awareness, trial, repeat demand is tremendous.

Kat Cole (14:06):
So first, I'd say watch out for your own burnout. That's an obvious blinking red sign. A friend of mine calls it the BLOs, the blinding lights of the obvious that it is time to get help. Because then everything you're touching, you are likely less all in, less quality. And if you were paying yourself to do each of those individual jobs, you wouldn't be very happy with the way you're doing some of those jobs. So that's one thing to watch out for is just radically reduced energy levels.

Kat Cole (14:40):
If you're paying attention, the follow-up falls to the wayside. You can feel it, and that's when you need help. Now, do you need to hire or is that a contractor or is that an agency? Different decision, but at least that first awareness of, I am likely costing my business money by trying to do at all. Then, finding a way to pay for help.

Kat Cole (15:02):
And then the question is, in what area of the business? Often, it is sales and marketing in some way. Because a lot of the bigger functions, you can rely on partners. Whether it's manufacturing or distribution. There are partners who will lend their expertise or bake it into the cost that you're paying to make a thing, if it's a product company.

Kat Cole (15:27):
So, really, that marketing, messaging, communication, or if you already have revenue, customer support. That takes up a lot of time in the early days that you're trying to figure out, how should you pivot the business or not? Where can you double down? Who are your most valuable customers? And as a founder, you don't ever want to get far away from that.

Kat Cole (15:48):
But sometimes, you need help to be a good customer support company and center. I would focus first on need and think about opportunity cost of, if I don't do this, what is it going to cost my business?

Kat Cole (16:03):
Then in terms of which roles, again, sales, marketing, dealing with customer or targets is often, not always, but often a best first hire. And then in terms of hiring that person, the question is, are you good enough still at all the things that you need a linear functional expert, who is only going to do what you ask them to do, in their area of expertise, and they'll help make that area better? Or do you need someone to complement you with a little bit of Jane of all trades expertise?

Kat Cole (16:40):
Because you're not only looking for their functional skills, you're looking for help broadly, in the business. And when there's only two people in a company, still, you're going to juggle the role of janitor, manager, server, all of that. I'd say think about, do you need someone who's so functional? Maybe it's an engineer, right? And they're head is down and they're only doing that thing and working with you. Yes, but you really need them just doing that thing. So you can give your attention somewhere else.

Kat Cole (17:07):
Or is it more like you need someone to drive sales, and they're going to help you think about the next step of the business, product iterations, et cetera? So I'd get clear on that before you... Actually scope the role. And think about that scope, and then put it out into the world to hire the person.

Rhian Beutler (17:22):
I really love that framing. The first person that my company hired was for a customer support role. But I also think it's so important to be mindful of burnout. It's something that I feel like you can get so close to, and especially as a founder, essentially, right now, because we're at home and there's this weird boundary between work and life, that I feel like doesn't exist anymore. I feel a little bit like I'm flying too close to the sun sometimes. I'm sure a lot of our listeners feel a similar way.

Rhian Beutler (18:00):
So what did you say before obvious? You had an [crosstalk 00:18:04] there.

Kat Cole (18:04):
The blinding lights of the obvious. BLO.

Rhian Beutler (18:06):
Blinding lights of the obvious.

Kat Cole (18:08):
Nadia Bilchik who came up with that, and she said it for decades, and she's wonderful. I always think of her when I'm trying to teach myself to look out for signs.

Kat Cole (18:21):
People say when there's smoke, there's fire. Eventually, catch the little things before they come big things. But I like to think of it as they literally are these blinding lights of the obvious, if we're paying attention

Rhian Beutler (18:34):
Something that I feel like has been a blinding light of the obvious in my business scale, but I know a lot of merchants and other agencies and app developers have this challenge and struggle as well is, when you do make that first hire and that second hire, the onus then is placed on you to start building the company culture that moment, the second you hire that first person.

Rhian Beutler (19:01):
Can you talk to us a little bit about setting your culture up, day one, so you get it right?

Kat Cole (19:09):
It's a vector. Imagine, I try to think about, let's say we as a company are actually successful. We're a little dot on a map, and all of a sudden, we start moving really fast. The question is, where are we pointed? Because it is very hard to change directions, if we're pointed in the wrong direction from the beginning. Because we've gone so far off of where we want to be. Now, we've got to put energy in just getting back to the original place.

Kat Cole (19:42):
And so I use analogies of physical objects a lot. I'm a visual learner, and it helps me think about very complex human concepts in very simple terms, that will motivate me to take things seriously at the stages where that focus is most needed. And in this case, hire one, day one that they join.

Kat Cole (20:07):
I would just challenge founders to almost think about how the movie is going to end if you don't. What will happen if you don't? There are no shortage of examples every single day in Twitter, in the press. And it's easy to sit on the outside and critique, culture is hard. Because it literally leads to what people do when you're not in the room and how they treat each other. And then how that affects the reputation of the business broadly, and even coloring, the products that are built and the tone of customer service, marketing, branding, et cetera. There's nothing it doesn't touch.

Kat Cole (20:45):
But for me, using the fear of, if I don't pay attention to this. I am well informed of how bad things can get for a company, even when they're very, very small. And maybe even worse, if there's a lot of success that hides the fact that the culture is kind of loose, and then it gets big before it breaks. Yikes, that can be very expensive, because then you're losing lots of talent, many customers and the bigger you are, the harder you fall, and people tend to celebrate that from the outside. So that's the mindset I would put in place, this concept of understanding what will happen if we don't take it seriously.

Kat Cole (21:27):
Then the question is how, because it's two of you in a room. So what is culture? You also don't want to overdo it with two people sitting at a table and things get... they can also get over formalized at that early stage, where it's not organic, it's not fun.

Kat Cole (21:48):
So, for me, even in the early days, it's about a thin rule book, but a rule book. Something must be in place, how we treat each other, how we treat our customers, our vendors. How we talk, how we respond. What are our first filters for the world?

Kat Cole (22:09):
And that takes spending time together. You can't slide somebody a piece of paper, I'm the founder, I've been doing this thinking, here you go, here's what I want you to agree to, sign here. I'll fire you if you don't, or worse, I'm just giving you the paper. I'll actually not say anything about every time you push on the boundaries of this, because it's just us and that piece of paper was just something I thought I was supposed to do.

Kat Cole (22:32):
So it's spending time together, and man, is that hard in a remote first or remote only environment, but not impossible. It can happen over the phone. It can happen over group Zooms.

Kat Cole (22:46):
I think some of the bigger building blocks of culture in the early days, especially when it's literally two people, is not necessarily setting out what the culture is. But every time something happens in the business, you talk about it. When there's a problem, we talk about it. When there's a customer, we talk about it, and it starts to codify the way you navigate reality, and how you treat each other.

Kat Cole (23:15):
And each person hired must put their thumbprint on the culture. Even if that is to say, hey, here are the things I've been thinking about that are important to me for the culture of our company. What does this mean to you? Do you have any questions? Have you been anywhere where this actually has been lived? Because it's not about the words, it's about how it comes to life every day.

Kat Cole (23:38):
And so talking about the ways of working and catching these moments. And it's usually the tougher moments. It's a mistake. It's high growth. It's saying yes to something before we're ready. It's a breakdown somewhere in the value chain that really reveals the culture. It's the tide receding and it's like are there smooth beautiful shells underneath? Or are there sharp rocks that we are... man, we didn't want to see? But that were there all along.

Kat Cole (24:07):
So those early days, the culture is, yes, about having an intention. Yes, putting it on paper. Yes, having some directives, a true north of ultimately what you want to be about and how you want to be thought of and revered by stakeholders and communities and customers.

Kat Cole (24:26):
But separate of setting that direction, it's just the first few weeks. I think there's a study of the first 40 hours an employee makes their decision on whether or not they'll stay with a company long term. And the first 40 days cements cultural behaviors.

Kat Cole (24:45):
The bigger the team, the harder that is, because there are more examples of different behaviors. And so you need more commonality for that to stick. So the bigger the company, if the culture is still forming, it actually takes longer for a person to be able to say, I know how things work around here. If it's large, but the culture is very strong, that time is compressed, it doesn't take 40 days, it takes two weeks. So those are just some thoughts on the very early days of culture.

Kelly Vaughn (25:15):
One of the things that I think is also difficult when hiring your first employee is learning to delegate and learning to step into that leadership role. Because it's not only you anymore. Do you have any recommendations or any tips or advice for starting to learn how to delegate and let things go?

Kat Cole (25:35):
You'll notice a pattern here. So the longer you go without delegating, the harder it is to start. Because then later, it feels like an imposition to that employee, potentially, or they've figured out their ways of working, and so have you, and then delegation all of a sudden feels like micromanagement. And so it is not in service of people who you hire to do work, that you absolutely need to lead, if you don't delegate to them, direct them, provide a level of directive behavior for things that they need to know. So you're clear on your expectations.

Kat Cole (26:12):
But then also, if you hold too much of the work, you won't pay attention to when they need attention. You won't see the little boo-boos they make because you're so busy juggling those 10 balls, and you should only be juggling five. You really should have handed off a few of them to them.

Kat Cole (26:32):
And sometimes that's what it takes for a founder. You hold on a lot, you don't want to impose, you want to give them their space, you want them to learn, you want them to have a good learning and onboarding experience. So you think you'll give them one thing at a time. People can handle more than we think.

Kat Cole (26:46):
And the key is to give someone a little bit more than maybe seems reasonable, but then to stay very close to help and support them, because most will rise to the occasion and surprise you. However, many founders and sometimes more often young or women founders, not always, but sometimes, will feel the need to hold back some of that. Because they don't want to overwhelm and they feel a very protective instinct over the way things are done. All founders to a degree. But feel a protective instinct over the way things are done.

Kat Cole (27:17):
So I would challenge a founder to ask yourself, why might you be holding on to things that someone you are paying to do that or similar work can and arguably should be doing? Why? And is it because you're having trouble letting go? That's okay, that's totally normal. Is it because you don't trust that person? Maybe there's a conflict there of, did you settle on the hire and now you're having a bit of buyer's remorse because you're worried about giving them very important things?

Kat Cole (27:50):
The point is, you need to work through it, because the longer they sit on the payroll and don't optimally live up to the expectations of the role, you are not getting the highest return on your investment and that employee. Nor are they going to have the opportunity to feel the most successful and the most valued, because in some cases, they will get bored.

Rhian Beutler (28:18):
Kelly, I'm going to be really honest, I need to save time and make my marketing workflow more efficient. I don't want to continue to dump money into ads if they're not converting. Do you have any suggestions?

Kelly Vaughn (28:28):
As a matter of fact, I do. With Justuno you can capture, segment and retarget your website visitors, then personalize their shopping experience. Why spend hours on writing email copy when you're not customizing the buyer journey?

Rhian Beutler (28:41):
Okay, I'm in, but does Justuno work with my marketing tool?

Kelly Vaughn (28:45):
Yes, Justuno integrates with email tools like Klaviyo and Omnisend, as well as SMS providers such as PostScript and SMSBump. You can even capture both email and phone in the same pop-up. I recommend the Justuno plus plan, it gives you access to their AI component which treats smart product recommendations based on things like most purchased and most viewed.

Kelly Vaughn (29:06):
You also get access to a Justuno strategist to assist with a game plan and technical support.

Rhian Beutler (29:11):
Where can I learn more?

Kelly Vaughn (29:12):
Go to justuno.com/tea to sign up and get 20% off your plan for the first year. Again, that's J-U-S-T-U-N-O.com/T-E-A.

Rhian Beutler (29:33):
I want to double click. I do not like tech jargon, but I find myself just I fall right into it. I'd love to double click on two things that you said. One thing is regarding, if you don't delegate fast enough, it feels like micromanagement.

Rhian Beutler (29:51):
And then that kind of concept goes into when you are managing somebody and if they are feeling disengaged, how should you be coaching them? Because there's a difference between a leader and a manager and a coach. I feel like oftentimes we get caught in this, I should manage this person.

Rhian Beutler (30:14):
I'm a big fan of, and this is because of my background, I'm a big fan of you should coach this person. What is your thought, and what happens if that person becomes uncoachable?

Kat Cole (30:26):
I'm a big fan of coaching style leadership. I'm a huge fan of the old school framework of situational leadership. I think it has evolved a good bit over time. But the concept at its highest order is still very smart, which says, no one person should be described as a development level, because we are all at varying levels of competence with varying tasks. The goal of growing is to keep coaching ourselves and getting coached up in the many tasks we take on.

Kat Cole (31:04):
But even me, I've been leading people, running companies now for quite some time. Two years ago, we bought Jamba, formerly known as Jamba Juice, and it was a publicly traded company. We were in a take private reverse merger transaction.

Kat Cole (31:24):
There are four development levels with varying degrees of competence and confidence, one being low, enthusiastic beginner, and four being very seasoned, both competent and confident, I can teach others, I was a one. Yet, if anybody looked at me, they'd say, oh, she's a very accomplished, very seasoned mature leader in all areas of business.

Kat Cole (31:46):
But I could not just jump into that thing and handle all the pieces I was responsible for appropriately, without guidance and direction and follow-up from people who understood the processes that I needed to follow. I do believe in opening up and democratizing the fact that we are all always learning, we are all always good at some things, not great at some things, as a mindset for myself. So that I can be vulnerable and help others on my team see that I'm going to treat myself that way, in addition to treating you that way.

Kat Cole (32:23):
So one is just, whether it's situational leadership or other frameworks where there are different leadership styles needed for different development levels with varying tasks. Someone could be super, super strong at one job and really, I don't need to set the meeting, they do. I don't need to give them directive behavior. But maybe they're a little frustrated, because they've been doing this for a long time. So occasionally, I need to reinforce them with positive feedback.

Kat Cole (32:50):
But then they might be doing something else, using my example of taking a public company private, where I need to call the meeting. I need to give them the list, I need to tell them who to talk to. I need to schedule the follow-up meeting. They still have to do work within there. But they're following my list.

Kat Cole (33:09):
Some people aren't used to that level of flexible leadership styles being applied to them. They're just used to being treated like I'm either good or I'm not. I'm either new or I'm tenured. That's such a mistake. And so one, you don't know what you get when you hire someone. If they're younger, it's almost better or earlier in their career, because you can shape this in a way. You're not having to unlearn their previous ineffective management styles that people have used on them.

Kat Cole (33:35):
But the first step is contracting, sitting down and saying, here are the main things you're going to do. Here's where I understand your capability level to be. Is that accurate? Is there anything I'm missing? Do you have experience I'm not aware of? Because I'm assuming that, you can use one, two, three, four, you can say low, medium, or really high, you could teach this, if you needed to.

Kat Cole (33:57):
And as a result of what we need done and where I see you, here's how I'm going to interact with you. It's just managing the expectation. So in this task, we're going to meet every day, because you're new, but I'm spread too thin, but you can absolutely do it. But you need to follow my list. On these two things, I just need you to keep me posted twice a week, because I trust that you are going to be so much better.

Kat Cole (34:20):
That agreement at the front end helps eliminate confusion of, why are you looking over me and why are you asking me about this? Why are we talking about it? Or you left me to the wolves, you told me to do something, I had no experience. So the contracting side of things is an important element. The agreeing on where we see each other and how we're going to coach or interact as a result, is a big part of that coaching leadership style. And then recognizing when people get better, you got to remember to back off, or change the way you lead, elevate the directive behavior versus the supportive behavior or vice versa.

Kat Cole (34:57):
And then the other piece that I think about, because I do really lean into the coaching leadership style, it covers most development levels, except the extremes. The super new, super, super new at a task, cannot be coached, they need to be directed. Very, very senior, it's not even coaching, right? It's just highly supportive behavior and keeping them with new tasks, so they don't get bored, where they're on a learning journey.

Kat Cole (35:27):
But I heard an acronym decades ago, called FAST feedback, by an author named Bruce Tulgan. And the F stands for frequent or frequency, like you just get to know the person and tune into their vibe and their style for feedback. A is accurate, make sure it's not based on hearsay or rumors or something you're interpreting from what you see. S is specific, saying good job or bad job does nothing for people. I saw you do this. Here's how it impacts the business. This is what I want you to do differently next time. And timely, it's got to be fast, literally in the moment. Otherwise, you're losing the ability to impact it quickly. So FAST feedback.

Kat Cole (36:11):
So I use situational leadership frameworks for how I think about people in different tasks and negotiating and agreeing on how I'm going to support and direct and lead them, based on where they are in the development curve for their big buckets of areas of responsibility. And then remembering there are best practices in giving feedback. And FAST is a nice acronym to use to remember those.

Kelly Vaughn (36:35):
I love the topic of just talking about feedback. I read a lot of leadership and management books, because I find them very interesting. And one of my favorites is of what not to do is the shit sandwich of padding good feedback around negative feedback. It doesn't do anything.

Kat Cole (36:53):
The person walks away with whichever of those is most natural to them. So they only hear the good thing, because they just really like themselves. Or they only hear the bad thing, because that's how they've been managed in the past. So that's why that FAST feedback, it's like give them the feedback in the moment for the thing. And then again for the thing, and then again for the thing.

Kat Cole (37:18):
And if that's a couple of constructive in a row, a couple of good in a row, a bunch of good and one tough, it's authentic and it's real. And then you've done the right thing, back to your question earlier, which is what if they're uncoachable? I don't believe most people are uncoachable. But the question is as a founder, if you really are putting in the effort as a leader, can they get good enough, fast enough for your business's needs?

Kat Cole (37:50):
And sometimes my conversations with people, which is the situation I think you were referring to, is not so much that I think that they're uncoachable, it's that the business needs X. You definitely have potential, but I don't have the time for that potential to come to fruition. And so we're going to either have to re-scope the role, so that you're doing something where you really can do what the business is needed. And if we can work that out, great. If not, we'll have to figure out a way to part ways.

Rhian Beutler (38:17):
That is exactly what I was asking. Thank you very much. It's something we... I was once taught, I used to be manager at one of the big five banks. I was taught basically, if I couldn't coach somebody to success, it was my failure as a leader and as a coach. I've always internalized that.

Rhian Beutler (38:40):
But then I have also been in situations where sometimes things just aren't working out. I've always really wrestled with that. Because in the back of my head is, am I just failing? Especially because I went from that to founder, right? Where we need that time, like you said, to just shorten up, as opposed to I can give you six months of runtime here and we can figure it out. Because in our world, we got to figure it out in a month or two. Otherwise, we can't... we're all trying to fly together. Thank you so much.

Kelly Vaughn (39:14):
That's one of the things I struggle with most, especially I've been told that I give too much grace to people, and that I extend too much time to get things right. It ends up being a detriment to my company.

Kat Cole (39:30):
It is so common. I think, one, if there is a side you want to err on, I think it's the side of grace. You have to look at yourself in the mirror every day. You care about your reputation in the community. At the same time, one of the things that helped me learn to move faster is, of course, making mistakes, because then I'm like I don't want to deal with that again and it got worse the longer it went on.

Kat Cole (40:01):
But the other thing that helped is remembering that the longer I take to solve some of those people issues, it's not just that person. Anyone else on the team is being affected by their performance or lack thereof. And man, it would bum me out, if I knew I really needed to help that person find their great thing that's not here.

Kat Cole (40:27):
And then in the process of me toiling and delaying and giving grace, I lost a high performer. Because they just didn't want to work with someone that wasn't contributing as much as they were, or to be more harsh to myself, they didn't want to work with a leader that wasn't going to hold everyone to high standards over time, that they delivered on.

Kat Cole (40:49):
I have absolutely been in that seat, and lost a person, because of the lack of speed on moving on other things in the company, resources or people. And those are very painful lessons. So it just helps you get a little faster, a little faster, over time. I just started reframing those tough conversations and the people moves as I am failing this person, if I don't help them find a good fit somewhere. I'm failing the team and the company.

Kat Cole (41:21):
Failing them is not having a hard conversation. Failing them is not firing them, because if it's not going well here, it usually gets much worse over time. And then they get passed up for a promotion. And then they've got you on the hot seat, and they're going, well, why did you hire someone for the outside? And you're thinking, well, I was going to fire you a month ago. So you're lucky that you're here.

Kat Cole (41:43):
But that's my thought. But that's really my fault, right? I really shouldn't even be in that position where I'm having a conversation with one where they're confused and disappointed about what opportunities they do or don't have, because the reality is, I should have helped them out previously.

Kat Cole (41:59):
And so I've just completely reframed. I lean into those performance conversations very early. But in the framework of that situational leadership. Here's what the company needs. Here's your part in that, here's where you are in delivering on those. Here's what we've done together to work on that. But here's what I've got to see next, because it's what the company needs. And it's not right for the team, for each person to not do their part. And then I have to decide, do I think they can or can't, over time.

Kat Cole (42:29):
But to both of your point, exhaust every option as a leader. And over time, I've learned to spot the signs sooner, where I can pair performance and what I see in terms of data points, with my earned education and intuition around how things are playing out.

Rhian Beutler (42:53):
Thank you very much for all of that wonderful insight. I know I have found it really valuable. I know our listeners are going to find it really valuable.

Kelly Vaughn (43:05):
So we're going to switch things up a little bit this episode and instead of doing a store recommendation, I would love to get a book recommendation from you instead.

Kat Cole (43:13):
One of my favorite books and favorite books to recommend is Give and Take by Adam Grant. It's really about mindsets of showing up in the world, certainly in the way it applies to business. But given these conversations around hires and leaders and culture, Give and Take by Adam Grant is one that I would definitely recommend.

Kelly Vaughn (43:34):
Rhian, do you have a book recommendation?

Rhian Beutler (43:35):
Okay, so I'm really terrible, because I don't really read very many business books. I'm a strange outlier who just reads fiction all day, every day.

Kelly Vaughn (43:44):
Give us a fiction recommendation.

Rhian Beutler (43:46):
One of the best books I have read in the past two years is Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang. I think it's magical. It's beautiful. It's everything I want a novel to be. What about you, Kelly?

Kelly Vaughn (44:06):
Rhian, do not judge me. I always talk about this book as being one of my favorites but it's Atomic Habits by James Clear. It's one of those you can read it once every single year to just center everything for starting the new year. It's talking about changing your habits to get just 1% better, just slow progression, as opposed to just trying to overhaul your entire life. Really, really, really great book.

Rhian Beutler (44:31):
Kat, thank you so much for joining us, one last question. Where can we find you on the internet?

Kat Cole (44:38):
Oh, all the places. Twitter @KatColeATL. LinkedIn, Kat Cole. Instagram, Substack, my newsletters, Checking In.

Kelly Vaughn (44:49):
All really great. It's all really great, by the way. Big fan of the newsletter.

Rhian Beutler (44:55):
Phenomenal. Thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate you endlessly.

Kat Cole (44:58):
Oh, thank you guys. Appreciate you too. Have a good one.

Rhian Beutler (45:08):
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