Today’s human resource function is an essential component of a company’s success. If that wasn’t evident before, the past 18 months have cemented the transformation of the function from a service bureau for benefits and recruiting into the core of maintaining company culture, ensuring employees’ mental health, and finding new candidates in a suddenly white-hot job market. And yet, even as the function has been elevated to an equal partner around the executive table during this turbulent period, it’s still only table stakes for what great human resource leaders and their functions are driving today—corporate strategy, seeing around corners and highlighting potential impacts to company actions, coaching, advising, mentoring—all these activities now run directly through the human resources organization.
While smart executives are the first to credit the team around them for their success, the best leaders are also those that bring together the empathy required to navigate these uncertain times with the strategic agility to adapt to the changing business conditions of the organization to achieve the company’s goals. It’s this approach that makes Cathy Guthrie such an asset to the Ncontracts team.
In her role as Executive Vice President, Human Resources, Cathy is accountable for the oversight of all people and culture-related experiences at the company, including processes, policies, training, performance management, diversity and inclusion, recruiting, and the company’s physical environment. Her efforts have had an immediate impact on the company’s culture, with the most recent company survey reflecting overwhelming confidence in the company and the direction things are heading, even as the highly distributed workforce navigates through the uneven impacts of the Covid recovery around the country.
Like most executives at the top of their game, Cathy is in constant learning mode—taking in new points of view or new techniques to build and sustain a great company and culture. From investing in her own professional development to regular reviews of some of her favorite authors and books, her focus on understanding how to keep leading with empathy and insight while ensuring the company’s employee base remains aligned with the company’s objectives. Whether it’s a re-read of It’s Your Ship (Michael Abrashoff), Five Dysfunctions of a Team, The Advantage (Patrick Lencioni), or Dare to Lead (Brene Brown), these authors help her remember that her ability to connect and show care for employees is a significant contributor to an organization’s overall success. It’s one of the primary reasons she chose Ncontracts when she was considering her next opportunity—the chance to implement the ideas of leaders she admires, as well as her own, to an employee base that is hungry to keep building on the great employee experience they’d built before the pandemic hit.
Communication and Culture in the era of the Pandemic
Cathy is all too aware that we work in a time where the generational overlap is more prevalent than ever. The ways we hear, learn, and communicate can be different, creating potential divides that can be exacerbated while most employees have been working remotely. Whether it’s working with the teams to ensure everyone is practicing effective communications, to reminding the teams to “assume positive intent,” it’s never been more important to reinforce standards and ensure consistency, while allowing for the leeway and flexibility that the crisis has made employees crave—and expect today.
A unique challenge that Cathy and her team faced is learning how to help new employees through orientation and onboarding in a fully remote environment while ensuring that they feel welcome and get a sense of the company culture, expectations, and overall “vibe” of the organization. The team has worked hard to stay in constant touch with its remote teams in new and different ways—from launching a company intranet with new articles published weekly on almost every topic an employee might need to know about, to a brand-new employee-led diversity, equity & inclusion committee formed during COVID, to working to keep the mental health and well-being of its employees front and center for managers and leaders.
The company also heard from its employees that they craved more formal communications as well, so they quickly pivoted to increase the frequency of their quarterly townhall meetings to hold them monthly. They’re now led by a different team each month, ensuring that along with the key company updates each team gets a chance to showcase their work and contributions to the company’s success, while highlighting individual team members and ensuring that there’s a “face” attached to the emails and chats that dominate most projects and communication.
Giving back to the Community
When it comes to giving back to the community, Cathy and the employees at Ncontracts are active participants. And with the company’s growth and expansion into other regions of the country beyond their Nashville-area headquarters, there are unique challenges in each community where employees are based, allowing for locally sourced and employee-driven approaches to providing the help the community needs the most. Recently Cathy traveled to the company’s Charlotte office to participate in its ongoing efforts to help the homeless, partnering with Urban Ministry Center to make 400+ sandwiches alongside their local team for the day.
“Whether it’s helping people who need a meal, working to diversify our employee base or the vendors we work with, or investing in industry initiatives to get more women and minority representation in banking, there’s so much we can do, and what’s best is that our employees are the source of our best programs and outreach.”
The company also recently partnered with NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) to create a fundraiser supporting National Mental Health Awareness month, exceeding its fundraising target by 300%. An internal campaign was also created for all Ncontracts employees, reminding them that mental health matters—and the company is here for them through COVID and beyond.
Just Around the Corner
Talking about the company’s next moves, Cathy states that while Ncontracts is already growing fast, there’s so much more value the company can continue to provide to its 4000 customers and almost 300 employees in the future. “The financial services industry is going through monumental upheaval right now—from new regulations coming from Washington DC to external threats like cyberattacks and ransomware. It’s exciting to be helping to lead a company that’s directly in the middle of this challenge helping our customers not just mitigate the risk in their bank or credit union but turn that risk into a strategic advantage. And what’s best is that at the core of achieving this goal is ensuring our people—our biggest and best asset—are setup to help us win—while achieving their own goals as well.”
Inspiring the Aspiring
In her advice to emerging women leaders aspiring to venture into the IT and Global HR Industry, Cathy says, “Be empathetic and authentic. The IT industry attracts a multitude of different personalities and cultures to it. Understanding what drives these people and encouraging them to be their true self in their role is needed more than ever. And you can help them by being true to yourself as well. We live in a time where it’s easy to get swept up in trying to be someone you’re not. As an HR leader, your teams will look to you more and trust your judgment if they see you being you—and in turn, they’ll open up to you in a way that your empathy and understanding can help them even more.”