Helping Businesses Hire And Build Empowered Teams With Kathy Knowles 

December 18, 2019

LBL Kathy | Building Empowered Teams


More than having a sellable brand, businesses and companies need a great working team. This is where Chief People Officer Kathy Knowles comes in. Kathy is the Founder of Intuitive Strategies, a human resource consulting firm that assists service-based businesses to build empowered teams and drive results. Today, she talks about building teams, employee retention, and women in the workplace and the #MeToo movement. She also explains why hiring consultants like her is necessary identifying and fixing business problems.


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Helping Businesses Hire And Build Empowered Teams With Kathy Knowles

I have Kathy Knowles. Kathy is the consultant, the owner, the strategist, the brains behind Intuitive Strategies. She does HR consulting. We’re going to get into the word consultants because it’s like a coach out there. It can mean a million different things. We got to get there, sit there and say, “What do we mean by consultants? What do we need to do when we’re hiring a consultant?”


Kathy, welcome to the show.

Ben, thanks for having me on. I’m excited to be here.

I am excited to be here. I said, “I got to get Kathy on the show. She is a spitfire.” We got so much fun. We laughed so hard that I had to get you on the show. What are the strategies? I’m going to let you talk about it. Who are you? What are you about? Who do you work for? Why do you add value? Why do people care about you? What’s your story, Kathy?

First of all, I love people. That’s what got me into this business to start with. I appreciate building teams, being in that space where I’m watching people grow and excel with their natural talents. For me, that’s so exciting. Intuitive Strategies is a human resource consulting firm. I hate the word consulting. We’re a unique firm and that we help businesses hire with a strong approach on, “What is it that you want? What is your culture? What are your values? Let’s go out and find that person.” I love knowing that I give my clients that one great person that they interview and say, “Kathy, this is it. You hit it right on the mark.” I’m proud of that. I also help with building teams and optimizing talent that way too.

That’s awesome because people hire consultants for a reason. They have a problem and they don’t have the expertise in-house. It is like me. When I rebranded my company, do I know how to brand a company? Yes. Have I branded hundreds of companies? Absolutely. To brand myself is an exercise in ego. It truly was. It’s like, “You’re wonderful, Ben. Look at the beautiful pictures. Look at the color scheme. Look at the thoughts behind the identity, all that one is up.” You can’t ask yourself the hard questions. If you can’t ask yourself the hard questions, you’re not going to answer them properly or honestly.

Having somebody that you can bring in who says they’ve got specific talents that we need. It’s too expensive and inefficient for us to have this person in-house. We don’t have a need for them five days a week, 52 weeks a year, but we do have a need for them. It’s to be able to sit there and say, “Let’s find the right person who can help us solve this particular problem and bring them in on an as-needed basis, utilize their talents, build a relationship with them, form some trust.” When we’re done with them, we send them on their way, we keep them on our Rolodex. When we have the need, we bring them back. There’s a real value in that. When you’re working with your customers, it’s a niche-type client you’re going after. What is your niche client and how do you help them? What are the things that differentiate you? What are the things that make you different in the marketplace? There are lots of people who do human resources.

Every organization has things that everyone knows but they don’t talk about - be it good, bad, or indifferent. Click To Tweet

Thanks for mentioning that because my niche is, I work with businesses that are probably sitting right around $10 million a year. They have anywhere from 15 team members up to about 70. They haven’t hired that HR person because they don’t need them yet. It’s an expense that they don’t need. I come into work with them, to help them strongly develop their culture so that they get it. Not only develop it but how to communicate it. For me, all of my customers have their policies and guidelines and every organization has things that everyone knows but they don’t talk about. I want to know what they’re talking about because that’s part of their secret sauce. Be it good, what considered to be bad or indifferent, it’s part of what makes them different as an organization.

Many times, my customers will have me help them hire their team members to know that I’m building that out correctly. They’ll have me hire their HR person so that I’m assisting them and walking that person through creating the department. I have a formula. We all have formulas of the way we do things. I can teach that person physically how to do that and what makes me so different is intuitive strategies. I’m highly intuitive. There’s a feeling that I get with things. I strategize. I love being in the mix of sitting down and working out that problem deeply. I’m an implementer. The bottom line, I walk with my customers.

That’s where we can get into the word consultant. It’s that huge word implementer. My biggest beef, the biggest bone for me is people that are consultants that write you this great big book. They come in, do their assessment, run their test, talk to your people, create this book and they say, “This is what’s wrong. Goodbye. I’ve identified your problem. I’ve done my job. I’m out of here.” I see this more and more with the conversations that I have with my clients.

They have these consultants that come in and they create these pretty books. There’s no willingness to sit around or they sit there and go, “That’s not my job. That’s not what we do. That’s not where our skillsets lie.” It’s to be able to sit there and help fix the problem that they’ve identified. Let’s talk about that because that’s where the secret sauce is. It’s good that you could identify the problem and that’s important to be able to identify the problem. If you can’t help fix the problem, that problem is not going to go away.

After a consultant comes in, they’ve laid this huge manual in front of you when you don’t have the rapport, you don’t have the team to start with, that’s why you’ve hired this person. The stress only builds. It only becomes increasingly more haunting. I know for a fact that when businesses hire a consultant, they are looking for that partner to walk alongside them and to be able to answer their questions, give them the exact tools they need. When we’re in the mindset of strategy and we’re walking into our customers, we’re sitting down, we have a good idea of what’s going on within that first hour or two. The magic comes in the rest of the hours that you put in and helping them fix their problems. If need be, in teaching someone on their team, what the problem is and how to fix the problem. It goes both ways.

There’s also managing expectations because people come in and say, “It’s going to cost $25,000, $50,000, $100,000 for a consultant to come in and do an evaluation of where your business is.” You also need to talk about it and say, “I’m going to spend $25,000, $50,000, $100,000 depending on the size of my company.” You’re going to be a big company before you’re spending $100,000. Evaluating what the problems are, where the stress points are, where the holes in the dike are, but Mr. Customer, you also need to realize that we need to fix the problem once we identify the problems. You need to have capital put aside to be able to fix it.

There are too many people who say, “We spend $50,000 on a consultant. We can’t afford to fix the problem.” You need to be able to have that conversation when you’re building it. Not only are we going to identify the problem, but you also need to be looking at what is the money we need to spend after the fact to make sure that the problem is fixed. It’s not a short-term fix. It’s not putting a Band-Aid on the solution. A few weeks later, when you pull the Band-Aid off because it needs some air, nothing’s going to go back to the way it was. There’s that ongoing change. How do you help create? For you, it’s not hiring. It’s the culture. It’s a lot of things to go with it. How do you help manage that process and be able to build those expectations and then build that rapport to sit there and say, “This is the process we’re going to go through?” People want to know what the process is.

LBL Kathy | Building Empowered Teams

Building Empowered Teams: When businesses hire a consultant, they are looking for that partner to walk alongside them, be able to answer their questions, and give them the exact tools they need.


They appreciate the process side. What I do is I work closely with the leadership team and the management team because it starts at the top. There are times when the challenges are coming from the top. This is a complete rebuild. From there, it is looking at communication and transparency. It’s interesting how many organizations I walk into that say, “We have a problem,” and the problem is trust. It’s basic. You’re starting at the core foundation of the company to say, “We need you to shift the trust. We need to open the communication or rebuild the trust, have these more vulnerable conversations about where we are going in the future and where we are now.” It starts with where we are now. Those types of conversations and that type of work that’s a six-month project, that’s a year-long project, that’s a slow and steady, intensive, intentional conversation over and over again.

You can’t create a learning management system, put everybody into a six-module digital video series and assume that the trust is going to come back to life. There are too many companies out there that said, “We fired this person and trust will automatically come back to the company.” Trust takes forever to build. It can be shattered in a second. It could take a lifetime to get back to where it was. It’s even impossible.

If it ever comes back. If it comes back, it may come back in a completely different way. You’ve completely changed the structure of your organization without even realizing it.

Let’s get into things like culture. We work with teams with culture. People need to be listened to, understood, and valued. If you could start there and have open communication, there’s a lot of things you can do in the company. We’re dealing with companies with 15 to 70 people, people are able to gather around a set of desks. It might be a big boardroom table, but we’re only talking under 100 people. It’s taking teams that have been ten to fifteen people and all of a sudden, there are 70 people and getting them to understand the culture shift. How do you start those conversations about how you are growing? These are the things you need to be worried about and things you need to be paying attention to in terms of your culture and how you hire and all the things that go with it.

There’s a magic sauce to that. It’s one of those things where everyone, they’re talking about retention. “We need to retain our people. We need to keep our people. They’re here for a few months and then they’re gone. I’m so tired of training all the time.” It’s one of those things where culture starts with, first of all, knowing values crystal clear. It’s not only the company values, but it’s also the different departmental values because to a certain extent, they cannot shift. You always have your company values, but the departmental values can add a little bit more to that. It’s being mindful of values. It’s understanding that no matter what, your brand also is relayed to the people that you’re trying to attract, the candidates. It’s that special magic of why they want to be within your organization.

The hiring, it’s the same thing. Are there values there? Will they fit into the department? People call them soft skills; I consider them superpowers because that’s the way they show up in the world. You want to know if their superpowers are going to fit in with what you’re looking for. From there, how do you continually engage them with your values with a culture that you’re now starting to snowball effect build? Once they’re engaged, once the trust is there, the accountability, the growth, all those tools come together, that’s when you can retain people. That’s when your culture is solid and strong. I have a partner of mine, Michelle, and we work together on those five factors of attraction, hiring, engagement, accountability, and retention.

That’s so important, is to be able to sit there and lay out the vision of the company and say, “This is where we were. This is where we’re going. This is how you fit.” Let’s take that one step forward and let’s talk about the first 90 days of an employee. Let’s talk about onboarding. I want your opinion. My opinion is that most companies do onboarding wrong, but I want to hear from you things that you see out there for onboarding of new employees, for bringing them into the fold. What are the things you’re seeing that people are doing right and what do you see that people are doing wrong?

Part of being human is celebrating someone who you’ve worked so hard to hire. Click To Tweet

Celebrating. It’s something that more companies need to do when someone physically comes on board. You’ve mastered, “These are our values. This is the way we attract. This is what we look for when we hire.” You can’t have them come on and they’re sitting there in front of an empty desk. No computer, no phone, nothing, trying to figure out what they’re going to do for the first week. It’s one of those things where it does start with a celebration and it starts with fun.

It starts with what kind of crazy promo stuff do you have, allowing them to be part and deeply saturated into that team. You’re going to go through the process of the necessary paperwork and things like that, but we’re going to go back to the important stuff. This is our handbook and these are our unwritten rules. This is the way we show up as a company. Whatever that looks like, it doesn’t matter. Hopefully, it’s already been discussed anyway in the interview process to make sure they’re the right fit. It’ll be talked about. Business is to don’t think it’s important to assign a mentor.

I wholeheartedly believe that that first 90 days, that first month, the mentor is right there constantly. “Let’s go to lunch. Let’s do this. Let’s make sure that you have the answers to everything you need.” As the 60 days come and the 90 days come, the mentor can be there less, but they’re still highly involved. This is part of being human. It’s part of celebrating someone who you’ve worked so hard to hire and you know the right fit and you want them to stay. It’s the smallest of the touchpoints. It’s sending them an email before they come to say, “Welcome,” and it’s welcoming them in a big way when they get there.


Some of the neatest things I’ve seen and I do a lot of mentoring up at the university. I get pictures all the time from certain people that when they’ve been hired, there are promotional products sitting on their desk. Whether it’s a hat or a mug or a coffee mug, a mouse pad, a couple of different things and 500 business cards with their name on it with the proper email and all that already sitting there the day they start. Millennials and Gen Z’s and all those people, they’ll take pictures of this and they’ll send it out to everybody. How is that a huge promotion for your company? If you want to recruit people like them, they are people who say, “My first day was amazing. Look at all these promotional pieces that I got.” Use the word swag if you want to. I hate the word swag but that’s a different conversation. Swag is stuff we all get. If we all get it, how valuable is it if it’s stuff we all get?

People may not remember what you say, may not remember what you do, but you remember how they made you feel. If you can make people feel a certain way, they’ll go home their first day. When somebody asked them, “How was your first day at work?” They’re going, “It was amazing,” versus you came home, “I spent the entire day doing paperwork. It was such a royal pain.” What do you do to train companies to be able to understand the value of this? There’s a real value in onboarding properly. How do you get the C-suite to say, “They may not work out. It’s for 90 days. We’re not going to get business cards until they hit their 90-day mark or whatever?” What a detriment that is to your business.

One of the first things I do is share with them C-suite. It’s the power of not only the brand because now they’ve turned into brand advocates and they’re working there, but the power of referrals. They become some of your biggest referral networks and they know where people are in different areas of saying, “I work here. I love it. It’s great. You got to work here too.” It’s a huge economic cost saving because we know what it takes to recruit. Another part of it is going back to this whole culture thing, it all starts with the communication. Businesses don’t do it enough. It starts with getting to know each team member that comes on board. Understanding they have families or they have a child, or they graduated from here and this is their favorite thing to do and mixing that into the conversations.

Any time I work with managers, whether they’re midline managers or C-suite, it doesn’t matter. I expect quite frankly them to be able to catch their team members in the hallway and be able to say, “How so and so? What’s going on in your family? Is everything good?” When you start to have those deep root conversations, the performance reviews I don’t believe in doing either, those performance conversations turn into something completely different because they have strengths.

LBL Kathy | Building Empowered Teams

Building Empowered Teams: When you have a solid team, they are creating customer and client experiences.


That’s leadership versus management. It’s teaching people at all levels how to be leaders. A manager will sit there, if something goes wrong with an employee and they’re late for five days. The manager will say, “You’ve been late for five days. If you do it again, we’re going to have to write you up.” A leader turns around and says to that same person, “You’ve been late for five days, is everything okay?” That may sound like a subtle difference. It’s the difference between an employee thinking that they’re cared about, they’re understood, and they’re valued versus that they’re another number within the company. All of a sudden, they start looking for somewhere else to work.

The organization asked, “Why are we having such a problem with retention?” It comes back to that. We need to remember that we’re all human first, whatever that looks like. We all have our ups or downs or good days. We come to the workplace with our innate gifts to give and the more we can let all of that shine through without any of the obstacles of, “You’re going to be written up.” “What’s going on?” The demands that are there, the more a person is willing to give. That’s the difference between standing in the role of a leader and being a manager. Within your organization, as you look through each of your management team and if you’re saying, “They’re more of a manager than they are a leader.” If you’re looking at let’s say ten people in leadership roles and you’re saying, “Six of them are more managers than leaders.” You’ve got a problem. You’ve got an absolute problem.

How do you identify that in terms of a conversation? How do you get senior leadership to understand that this is costing them money? I’ve got a calculator that talks about this, every employee that you lose cost you about $100,000. It’s about $100,000 from the time somebody quits to the time somebody is hired, on-boarded, trained and efficient at their job. It’s getting people to understand that having managers versus having leaders within the organization is costing them money. It’s money out of their back pocket. It’s not being a better person making employees happy, it’s understanding the value of doing that. How do you have that conversation with people who say, “I’ve got managers who do that?”

The bottom line, when you have a solid team, they are creating customer and client experiences. That customer will pay more to receive more value and to receive a higher experience. The way it looks at bottom line profits is, “How are your team members driving customer experiences? How do they want to drive customer experiences?” Are they someone in an inside sales position and they sit all day and wait for quotes? Are they in an inside sales position where they’re doing research, they’re strategizing on, “Where can I go? Who do I talk to? How can I make this sales position rock?” It’s two completely different things.

I want to combine a couple of different things that we talked about. One thing you talked about is mentorship. The other thing we talked about is leadership. Let’s gets into a real bit of a tricky conversation, the #MeToo Movement. The #MeToo Movement over the last couple of years has gained momentum. Justifiably so, there have been some horrible things that have happened in companies for a number of years and have led to some horrible situations of people being compromised, having to do things that they don’t want to do in order to keep their families fed and food on the table. I’m not excusing any of this. In fact, I’m reeling against it.

I also look at the #MeToo Movement and there’s a lot of great managers and leaders out there. Let’s talk to them as leaders out there that are terrified to mentor young women because they’re worried about perception and they’re worried about what may happen. That’s done a lot of things to thicken the glass ceiling. From an HR point of view, how do we deal with this? There has been a backlash. You see it on Wall Street. You see it in a lot of different places where people are not taking females on as mentees anymore. How do we fight against this? How do we create an opportunity where we can go back to a position where we can have real mentorship, where it is platonic and it is for everybody’s best interest and there is no sexual innuendo attached to?

The #MeToo Movement as much as I completely believe in what it is and I do understand that there certainly have been decisions and choices that remain were wrong. I also feel that what it’s done is it’s created a sterile and cautious work environment. I understand exactly what it is that you’re asking. The question comes down to, “Where do we draw the line?” What’s happening is interesting. One of my clients is C-level, one is a vice-president and the other person is the director. The director had a female reporting to him.

Customers will pay more to receive more value and to receive a higher experience. Click To Tweet

Initially, she came onboard. She was doing awesome. She was rocking it. All expectations were being met. About a couple of months in, things started to fall apart and there were some serious challenges there. There was communication, “How can we help you? What can we do? What type of tools do you need?” The director thought, “It wasn’t a written warning, but it’d be a good idea for me to write this up in an email so that it’s understood bullet by bullet where we’re falling short.” The email went out to her. She immediately read it. She immediately sent it to human resources. While they were discussing it, the employee said something about, “I feel this is harassment.” HR didn’t know where to take it, freaked out about it. HR is talking to the vice president as well as the director about this email that was written.

Part of it is for people, they need to get clear on what is harassment because we’re going right back to the trust factor. There has to trust in an organization in order to have the proper communication of what is what. There was nothing in this email other than accountability bullet points. There was nothing that pointed to harassment. It comes down to creating the space where people trust each other of knowing and understanding that if we’re not doing our roles the way we need to do our roles, someone needs to have a conversation with us. It’s about us being strong to say, “Yes, this is exactly where I’m at and I am in the place of wanting this to work having a human work environment.” We’re going right back to, “Where do we draw the line?” I agree with you totally that we need more female mentors. My partner, Michelle Burke, that’s exactly what she does in her business. She works with worthy emerging women leaders on what this looks like and how to be strong in our own roles.

My trick with this is, and this is coming to you from a 50-year-old man's point of view. Who’s been in leadership situations within companies, who’s had to deal with this not harassment at all but seen it within the organization. We’re at a situation with social media with the #MeToo Movement with everything that goes with. Things get taken out of context way too quickly and everybody’s pulling the harassment trigger. All of a sudden you do that, lawyers are getting involved. As soon as lawyers get involved, it gets messy and it gets expensive and it becomes a PR nightmare.

There’s got to become a better way for companies to have communication from the get-go and say, “This is what our culture is like. We are open and honest with each other. If we have a problem with each other, we talk about it openly and honestly. It’s everybody is trying to look out for each other and everybody is looking out for each other’s best interests. We’re here to help each other.” If we can build cultures that talk about that from day one and everybody builds it, there are going to be people that come into work experience with an agenda.

There are people that walk into work situations with a chip on their shoulders. Those are the difficult people to deal with. Those chips could be there for particular reasons from past jobs, from past relationships and I get all that. There’s got to be a way within companies for us to have those indoctrination cultural conversations at the get-go saying, “This is how do we do it here. These are the values here.” If people see those values coming from the C-suite all the way down and they’re lived not talked about, we have a better chance of having a more open, honest, and trusting relationship.

If we’re sitting there in an adversarial thing where an email goes out, even if you’ve had two or three conversations, you might want to have HR in on that email from the get-go. Maybe I’m wrong and I don’t know if there’s a right answer to this. Every company needs to have it that says, “How do we create an environment where men, women, gay, straight, black, white, Chinese, whatever feel that they’re important because they’re human beings?” These limiting factors of judging people based on who they are or how they’re perceived has got to go away.

Even when it comes down to the clarity of what is harassment, I feel like recently since there is so much, the attorneys, we’re going to get them involved then there’s the EEOC. There are all of these things going on, what harassment is to a certain extent has even been diluted in people’s eyes. Don’t misunderstand. I get that some people have been seriously harassed. Quite frankly, some men have been seriously harassed in the workplace. Let’s say I run into you and I say, “Great haircut.” Am I harassing you?

LBL Kathy | Building Empowered Teams

Building Empowered Teams: There has to be trust in an organization in order to have the proper communication of what is what.


“I like that dress.”

That’s where we need to be human with each other. That’s the humaneness of the workplace. Going back to the beginning, what are the values? What are the department values? How do we want to attract people? What do we want to put in a job posting? All of these things build up to hiring the right people for every organization and every one of them completely different. It also comes down to, “This is what harassment is and this is what harassment isn’t.” I feel like even some people in an age that are sitting in an HR role are afraid to clarify what that is.

It comes down to effective communication. Let’s leave that there. I’m going to ask you one last question because this is the question I ask everybody as they walk out the door. We’ve had an amazing conversation. This could go forever, but I need to ask this question. When you leave a client site when you get in your car and you drive away, what’s the one thing you want people to think about you when you’re not in the room?

I want them to think that I’m a partner and that I completely get who they are. In some way that I have made a big impact on their business because of the people I’ve helped them draw in and the increased customer experience.

Kathy, thank you for being such a wonderful guest. You’ve added wonderful value. I love your insight and thanks for being part of the show.

Thank you, Ben. I enjoyed it.


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About Kathy Knowles

LBL Kathy | Building Empowered TeamsKathy is the founder of Intuitive Strategies, a unique Human Resource Consulting Firm that helps service-based businesses build empowering teams and drive home results.

Known as the “Chief People Officer,” Kathy has over 25 years of corporate human resource experience. She’s highly skilled at guiding businesses and entrepreneurs toward a more accountable result-oriented organization through a systemized hiring approach and managed growth process. Kathy regularly speaks on how businesses can hire right the first time and build impactful teams.

Through her Find & Fill Formula, Talent Optimization Process, and effective direct Recruiting approach, Kathy is committed to entrusting businesses on how to successfully maneuver the ever-changing landscape of leadership and people in the workplace.

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