Brad Holthaus of Cartegraph: “Take Time to Nurture”

Take Time to Nurture. Hailing from Iowa, I know that you have to nurture your fields to get the desired crop. The same is true for people. You need to acknowledge your team’s achievements and thank people when it’s deserved. I always personally reach out to employees for their work anniversaries, birthdays, promotions, exits, etc. […]

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Take Time to Nurture. Hailing from Iowa, I know that you have to nurture your fields to get the desired crop. The same is true for people. You need to acknowledge your team’s achievements and thank people when it’s deserved. I always personally reach out to employees for their work anniversaries, birthdays, promotions, exits, etc. to express my interest in their personal and professional moments. Pick one “thing” and make it your own unique way of nurturing your team.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brad Holthaus.

Brad Holthaus has over 25 years of experience in the technology industry and is currently serving as the Senior Vice President of Product and Technology at Cartegraph, a software solutions company focused on managing physical infrastructure assets.

Brad’s team is responsible for anticipating customer technology needs, creating key solutions, bringing these solutions to market, and fostering their success. Prior to joining the Cartegraph team 19 years ago, Brad worked in a variety of technical jobs from mobile hardware to business software development.

Brad thrives on solving problems with technology and applying a business mindset. He is passionate about empowering others and leading with empathy. He believes when people are engaged and appreciated, the rewards are productivity and loyalty.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After graduating from the University of Iowa, I was intrigued by the function of cities and drawn to many of the concepts associated with urban planning and society. I accepted a job at a satellite communications company right when the internet boom exploded and quickly realized that I enjoyed using technology to solve problems. I believe technology “done right” can make a big impact in business and everyday life and was hooked on identifying customers’ needs and fostering the solution. My drive comes from how technology can simplify things, create efficiencies, and connect people.

When I joined Cartegraph almost 19 years ago, I started in tech support with an eagerness to learn everything possible. Over the years, I’ve taken on several roles, and through my Cartegraph evolution, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about many of the facets of our business and market. Leading the products side of our business was a light bulb moment for me. My passion truly lies in product management. I love bringing people, processes, and technology products together to solve business problems. Our Products and Technology team is very talented and it’s a pleasure to reflect on the impact our people make every day — helping our clients, better steward their critical infrastructure.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Every day in technology is interesting. But, one situation that comes to mind was back in the early days of building our flagship product, Cartegraph OMS. We knew we wanted a mobile app that would give our customers the ability to access and create operations data from anywhere. For example, a member of your community’s public works crew should be able to pull up a pothole work order on the spot, get the information they need, and capture details on what they used and did — all without having to fill out and file stacks of paperwork back at the office.

At first, some organizations told us we were crazy — that no one would use an iPad on the job. It was 2012 and using something other than a laptop was a foreign concept. But we saw this as an opportunity to create a solution for where the market was going, not where it was currently… We saw real-time data entry as a critical piece for the data to flow through the system we were creating, so we forged ahead.

When our mobile app was ready for release, our customers had changed their minds and were eager to use it. Within a few months, they were asking for more features. I think that’s just one example of what makes technology such an interesting space: there’s always something new to explore. Recently, the Cartegraph team has been digging in on smart sensors, IoT devices, and other emerging technologies, and I can’t wait to see where that takes us.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

What an exciting time to be in infrastructure and operations management. Seriously! We’re seeing an enormous opportunity with a renewed focus on infrastructure management, proposed funding, cutting-edge technologies, and a lot of eager minds. Not only does this require strategic planning, but also some “art of the possible” thinking; it’s a perfect storm of the arts and science. I’ve been fortunate to sit front row and be an active participant that will set Cartegraph up for the future.

One recent project I particularly enjoyed was Cartegraph’s ‘Ship It Days.’ A few times a year, the Product and Technology team devotes time to work on whatever they want, as long as it’s relevant to their job. Then, they present their prototype to the team. It’s a great team-building exercise and gives the team regular opportunities to be creative and explore. I’ve seen robotics, artificial intelligence, additional “under the hood” features for our solution — you really never know what will be next. These ‘Ship It Days’ are not only great for our culture, but they also end up sparking ideas for a new project or feature that we’ll surprise and delight our customers within a future software release.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

Honestly, I think people are often unhappy because they are looking for that elusive unicorn — the perfect job. Happiness in the workforce is so often portrayed as this unwavering pursuit to “find your passion.” While I agree pursuing work that interests you is important, I think people put too much pressure on the job to create individual happiness. I think a person should have many sources that contribute to their overall happiness — work being just one factor.

For example, I love being outdoors. When I was 12 years old, I started working at a golf course assisting the grounds crew. While I still enjoy mowing the lawn to this day, I did not choose landscaping as my life’s passion. My philosophy is that happiness doesn’t come from one thing. Happiness is a choice. Happiness comes from balancing all the important things in your life. Happiness is not a button we push, rather, happiness is built, brick by brick, over time.

In my 19 years at Cartegraph, I’ve had at least seven different job titles. At Cartegraph we have programs designed to help employees chart the course of their career within the organization — something we believe is important to build a robust culture and innovation. I think one of the best things about working in technology is that the industry is so dynamic and always changing. Change brings new opportunities and an engaged person will see the opportunities to learn and grow. I believe in maintaining a well-balanced life and encourage my team to do the same. I feel fortunate that at Cartegraph, we foster an environment that encourages individual ideas and team collaboration to benefit our customers. We are building something bigger than ourselves. And we have fun doing it.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

All three — productivity, profitability, and employee wellbeing — are closely tied together and cause a chain reaction. Happy employees lead to higher productivity which then leads to greater profitability. If a business isn’t focused on making money, it won’t be around very long. If a business doesn’t treat people right, the company won’t be around very long.

Balancing people and profits is the key. I believe an integral part of creating a positive corporate culture is engaging talented people over time. At Cartegraph, we want to partner with our people to create opportunities that support long-term, individual growth. We want to give our employees the tools they need to be successful well into the future.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

1.Focus on the Right Fit. I believe in the importance of character and that the simple things matter when evaluating a potential hire. Simply put, you can teach skills, but you can’t teach fit.

After I confirm a candidate has the ability to perform the job, I ask myself, “How will this person mesh with our team? How will they positively (or negatively) impact the organization? Will this person be a good investment? Will they complement our culture and our profitability?” Don’t rush: you need to take the time to ask and answer those questions.

I’ve also learned the value of having multiple people interview a candidate. More often than not, when we have a group consensus, we’re usually spot on. You can have the most amazing resume and experience, but at the end of the day are you someone we’d want to grab a beer with?

2.Hire Your Replacement. This has been said many times before, but a “hire-your-replacement mentality” has been a vital part of my own personal and professional growth. By hiring my replacement, I’m not putting myself out of a job, rather, I’m creating my next growth opportunity.

When we’re ready to hire, I identify what skills my department is missing based on our goals. Then, I look to fill in the skill gap with someone who will immediately benefit my team and strongly impact the future of Cartegraph. It’s like solving a puzzle. When you get the right pieces together, the larger picture you create is truly remarkable.

I can’t move forward if my seat is empty. So, I strive to hire people that could fill my shoes. True leaders can’t be afraid of being replaced or outshone. Instead, leaders build a strong foundation of talent so employees are already in place and poised for what’s next when the company is ready to grow.

3. Get Out of the Way. You hired a team member for a reason, now let them excel in their strengths. Set people up for success with clear expectations, regular guidance, and built-in accountability. For example, I like to create individual and team accountability opportunities to give people consistent situations to showcase their talents.

No one likes to be micromanaged. Sometimes the best thing you can do is get out of the way. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results.

4. Pause. Breathe. Be Human. Empathy is a word tossed around a lot lately. It’s so important, and yet, it still seems difficult to convey empathy on a daily basis. While empathy is often the intention, it’s seldomly executed without missteps.

To truly create a healthy work environment, you need to recognize where you are and be willing to meet people where they’re at. Pause, breathe, and remember that we’re all human and we’re all going through things. Take the time to care for yourself and others — and don’t be afraid to have fun. I’m a big believer in a work hard, play hard mentality. Fun creates trust. Trust creates high-performing teams and those teams create great results for your business.

5. Take Time to Nurture. Hailing from Iowa, I know that you have to nurture your fields to get the desired crop. The same is true for people. You need to acknowledge your team’s achievements and thank people when it’s deserved. I always personally reach out to employees for their work anniversaries, birthdays, promotions, exits, etc. to express my interest in their personal and professional moments. Pick one “thing” and make it your own unique way of nurturing your team.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

Nothing like a global pandemic to turn a workforce on its head. The last year has proven to me that the old mantra, “This is how we have always done it,” will continue to be challenged — in a good way. I think the upheaval that businesses and people have felt over the last year has shown us all how survival is about your ability to adapt, change your focus, and create what’s next.

  • Relationships. I strongly believe that what you do is as important as how you make others feel. People will forget your name and forget your title, but they will not forget how YOU made them feel. Work is what we do — how we do it can create the stage for collaboration, engagement, and strong relationships. And guess what? No one can do it alone! It’s important to me to take the time to consider how people feel — inevitably, feelings cause a reaction. How does the customer feel about the new data feature? How does the team feel about the delivery timeline?
  • Titles: Everybody’s Got One. When most of us introduce ourselves, the first thing we say is, “I work at ABC and my title is XYZ.” I’ve always felt awkward following this type of exchange. Most of the time your job title doesn’t give a lot of insight into what you do on a daily basis. Most people look dazed and confused after you rattle off your title. I think changing how we introduce or label ourselves can positively impact workforce culture. Making a simple tweak to explain what we enjoy about our work would begin to dissolve some of the external pressures that I think we all feel at times.
  • Balance. Then Re-balance. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that things get out of whack sometimes. We try to schedule, to plan, to time things perfectly. But, sometimes work runs into life and things just get unbalanced. What I worry about is if sometimes people think “balance” means all things should be in balance all the time. Well, that is definitely not realistic. If we acknowledge there’s a constant need to adjust, we’ll be able to better identify when to re-balance and what to prioritize at the moment. I think a lot of people had a difficult time adjusting to living at work (not working from home) when the pandemic started. I think people have logged more work hours during the pandemic because our work is with us all the time. I, for one, had a 6-day stretch where I didn’t leave my house. On day six, I finally realized I needed a break. I jumped in my car and drove around for a change of scenery. To produce consistent results, it’s important to encourage your employees to take breaks, time off, vacation days, and personal days to ensure they have a healthy work-life balance. At Cartegraph, it’s no question that our people are our most important asset.
  • Be Flexible. I think we’re starting to move beyond “the way we’ve always done it,” and that’s a good thing. We should ask people where and how they want to work — where and how they find they are most productive — and use that to improve our workforce culture. What makes one person successful will not work for everyone. Creating flexible boundaries will keep the culture dynamic.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I’ve been told I’m very humble. For me, it’s always about the team and making sure we collectively attain what we’ve set out to achieve.

I focus on team and individual strengths instead of trying to correct weaknesses. One style builds the team member up, the other breaks your team member down. People aren’t perfect, so I want to give them the opportunity to flex those strengths to help accomplish our goals.

I prefer to mentor over manage. In fact, I don’t like the word “manager.” It portrays that team members need to be told what to do. Mentorship focuses on guiding the way and building people up.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have a few professional contacts that I could recognize, but the person who has influenced me the most throughout my life is my wife, Dana — as cliché as that may sound. She has more grit than anyone I know. She left a Fortune 100 company to start her own business, while we were raising a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. To say she’s been an inspiration for me is an understatement. She’s stood by my side through everything. She continues to challenge me personally and professionally. I trust her feedback — even when it isn’t favorable to me. She is the one that keeps me grounded while supporting my growth.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m in a fortunate position. I work in an industry that excites me. I work for a company that values my skills. I have the opportunity to innovate by applying technology to business while empowering others. I am part of a team that creates industry-leading solutions that help organizations build safer and more sustainable communities.

I think we often take things like clean water or working sewer systems, for granted. You don’t really think about infrastructure until something goes wrong. I’m able to amplify some of the unsung heroes — like our public works crews — who directly impact the quality of life of their community. I’m able to empower their work in real-time. I’m able to empower data-driven decisions. Best of all, I get to hear from clients how Cartegraph has improved their lives and the lives of their citizens. It’s pretty amazing when you see the idea go from whiteboard to citizen interaction.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” — Mark Twain

After I graduated from college, I decided to go backpacking throughout Europe before starting my career. That trip made me grow more in 3 months than in my first 22 years of life. My experience taught me to see the world positively. It showed me that people are good and at their core want the same basic things. Traveling outside the U.S. removed my insecurities and taught me that each person is unique and that I can learn something from everyone. I think about that experience to this day and continue to travel across the globe with my family. It keeps me open to new people, new adventures, and new experiences.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Appreciation. My movement would encourage people to appreciate what we have today. It’s easy to focus on what’s wrong or what’s missing. I would want people to equally appreciate the little things and the big things. Whatever’s in your life — your job, your partner, your home, your friends — focus on what is here today and appreciate what it offers you.

One of the things I value most is a simple one: being in nature. I love to get outside and go for a hike, plant a garden, stargaze, smell the rain, mow the lawn — whatever it takes. Connection to nature provides me clarity and nurtures my mental health. I appreciate nature. When I need a fresh perspective, I take a walk. If I’m stuck on a problem, I go to the garden.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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