“Connection is key to engagement.” With Tyler Gallagher & Claudine Zachara

Make time for company and team bonding. Establish recurring programs where your team or whole company break out of the day-to-day environment and get to know each other outside of corporate walls. This can be a philanthropic initiative or just an unexpected surprise outing that helps people spend time together doing something other than their […]

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Make time for company and team bonding. Establish recurring programs where your team or whole company break out of the day-to-day environment and get to know each other outside of corporate walls. This can be a philanthropic initiative or just an unexpected surprise outing that helps people spend time together doing something other than their work. Connection is key to engagement.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Claudine Zachara.

Claudine Zachara serves as President & Chief Operating Officer at ThinkWhy, where she is responsible for managing the organization. Her focus is driving the vision, values and culture for the company, setting direction for strategy, creating sound operational procedures, and delivering profitability. She brings 20 years of experience in commercial operations which includes serving as CMO and Senior Vice President of Revenue Operations for three prior SaaS organizations. Her experience includes leadership roles in private and public companies, board positions for non-profits and municipalities, building high-performance teams, and driving sustainable growth. She is an experienced speaker, having spoken at local forums on economic developments within those areas.

Zachara earned her B.A. from Arizona State University, and her MBA and graduate certificates in marketing management and brand strategy from Colorado State University.

This interview was originally done before the COVID-19 pandemic and updated in late June 2020 before publication to reflect the new realities caused by the pandemic.

Thank you for joining us Claudine! What brought you to this specific career path?

Perhaps it’s in my hard wiring that I’ve embraced new challenges in my career and possess a quest to learn and excel. Directly after receiving my bachelor’s degree, I earned a role as an account executive with a prestigious cosmetic company. It provided business exposures and responsibilities that few my age would have the fortune to receive. I owe that exposure to a woman who saw my potential and took a shot on my talent. Shortly after my start, I decided my purpose and “why” was to find and nurture talented individuals — “find the diamond and let them shine”, if you will. My “why” is to impact peoples’ career lives in a profoundly positive way, and in turn, inspire them to do the same. It’s not only good succession planning; it’s my life’s legacy!

Ron Johnsey, ThinkWhy’s Founder and CEO, approached me in the summer of 2018 to help refine a business concept he was working on . . . I hesitated. I’d taken on challenges before, but this would be a whole new scale. It would require building a SaaS company from scratch, branding it, recruiting the leadership team, developing operational procedures, guiding all growth strategy, and the list goes on. After careful refection, I realized that building and leading the organization would allow me to realize my “why” on a much broader scale; allowing me to inspire others, teach leadership and smart business practices, and leave a legacy that would (hopefully) be magnified through the skills and efforts of others.

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

Running a startup is a constant balance between strategic planning and managing curveballs that get thrown your way. There are many contenders for most interesting story, but in the year that I’ve been building and leading ThinkWhy, one specific positive story comes to mind.

One Monday morning, our CTO informed me our product development would be delayed another 3 months. For a COO motivated by speed to market and concerned over escalating time and costs associated with our team of employees waiting “to launch”, my initial reaction was volcanic. After an evening of weighing options and looking for a better way to move forward, I pulled the launch team together and they created a better launch plan and rose to the challenge I had given them. The result? A more enhanced product, employee goal focus, and a lesson in one of our core values — adaptability!

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the work-related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

The pandemic has forced everyone to adapt; this is especially true for businesses. The instant and constant change was initially a challenge — and staying connected with our people as we adapted to remote, virtual environments.

We had to stay on top of state and local regulations so we could strategically plan and ensure continued productivity and great service to our clients. We have constantly monitored the evolving state of the labor market and the economic impact on businesses and jobs — to make sure we were informed and stayed adaptable to what was evolving. We are forecasting a significant economic recovery as restrictions are lifted and business re-open, but the situation will vary by metro and industry.

And, most importantly, always making sure our team has the support they need and know their mental and physical health is our main priority.

Frequent, open communication has been key to overcoming these challenges. Listening to our teams and ensuring they feel safe and are healthy has bridged into continued productivity and development of our product and organization. Our tech and data teams have ensured our LaborIQ application maintained top performance. We’ve continued to deliver the most current labor market and industry impact analysis. Early on, we made sure our employees took their laptops home each day so they would be able to work remotely, if ever needed. Throughout the pandemic, our sales and client success teams have maintained a high level of service, and we’ve enhanced our communication protocols even more.

For me, I’ve learned to trust my instincts, as the right questions and pivot when necessary.

Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?

The recovery will be uneven across location, industry, and occupation, so recovery will vary.

Offer companies answers to their key pain points, and you’ll remain in business. This virus has changed the way entire industries function. Restaurants, retail, travel and entertainment have been restricted. Workers have been laid off and furloughed. Some businesses face uncertainty. Many people who worked in offices are now working from home. Parents have had to become teachers, some caregivers of their parents. We must be aware that decisions will not be made in the same way and there will be an evolving impact on consumer behavior.

B2C companies that figure out how to make their product or service entertaining, essential, convenient at home — or add comfort — will strive. For B2B businesses, it is about helping an organization make or save money right now.

As states and businesses continue to reopen, there’s a need for real-time information on the locations, industries and businesses that will recover fastest and which will maintain growth. Businesses need answers. Answers for rehiring. For where to best focus time, money and energy to grow their business. That’s what we know LaborIQ can deliver so we remain determined and optimistic about the opportunities ahead.

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?

Managers and leaders should identify their employees’ strengths, be transparent and present employees with opportunities to find success and feel valued. Equally important is expecting the right outcomes for their performance and challenging them when they are not meeting expectations. Purpose can be ignited by the employer and their investment in personnel. And, purpose can and should be sustained by the success and accomplishments of the employee. In short, there needs to be a mutual fit in the key drivers that the organization and individual possess and it starts from doing the research during the interview process and ensuring the company’s values align with those of the individual. In just five years, 75% of the working population will be composed of Gen Y (Millennials) and Z. Boomers and Gen Xers should be adapting and quickly pivoting to the generational changes in order to create best outcomes for the greater good.

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?

To achieve success, a company must create and maintain a motivated team of contributors and leaders. Transparency, collaboration, investment in upskilling, coaching and true leadership at the helm helps employees understand that their work is meaningful and valued. As a natural consequence, the cascading impact is that employee health and well-being is addressed through the same efforts. That is why ensuring ‘right people, right seat’ and hiring for culture and fit are an essential application for an employer. When your workforce is physically and mentally healthy, they motivate one another, and productivity and company traction is the cascading impact.

Employees should want to contribute to the company’s mission, represent the company, and be excited about the work they do and the people they work beside. Happy employees want to work — and they tend to stay with organizations that share their vision and goals, helping create positive change and growth.

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. Keep your office door open or remove doors altogether (open space culture). Leaders who are easily approachable, for a variety of reasons, break down barriers for their employees. The intimidation factor is a non-issue when employees interact with leadership daily because this builds a productive relationship and loyalty.
  2. Keep employee engagement in focus — always. Understand what keeps your teams engaged — is it a mid-day break, or a new challenge? Find the balance between work and play and provide “A” talent with opportunities to take the ball and run.
  3. Conduct periodic organizational culture audits. Talk to your employees. Survey them on what their expectations are of a good workplace culture; what would make them appreciate it more; where the company can improve; invest in events that create engagement, collaboration, and the trust necessary for honest feedback. Take steps to address the feedback with staff and in policies or programs. Have quarterly “state of the company” meetings so that employees are part of the process and know that they have been heard and understood.
  4. Make time for company and team bonding. Establish recurring programs where your team or whole company break out of the day-to-day environment and get to know each other better. Even in a virtual environment, team members can do happy hours, icebreakers and group activities. Connection is key to engagement.

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?

Change is always tough. Whether it be in your career, personal life or within your organization. Something about it makes people uncomfortable — but how would we grow and stay curious without experiencing “discomfort”? A good friend of mine, Keith Walters, often says “Comfort is over-rated.” Change can be especially difficult for corporate organizations that are seeking to be more adaptive and innovative.

Change needs to happen at an individual and systemic level in order to shift workplace culture. First, business leaders need to recognize the need for change and lead by example. They must become the leaders who collaborate and understand their workforce, their needs and their wants; empathize with them and show curiosity for their ideas to foster trust; and demonstrate optimism, transparency and honesty on a daily basis.

And, business leaders must ensure that their company’s approach to hiring and business planning is aligned with modern values and today’s labor market drivers. To do this, they need tools that shed insight on what the market demands — only then can companies make sure they are finding the right talent and compensating them in a way that supports retention. Hiring the right people for the right seat is a win-win — engaged employees equals a thriving company!

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

At ThinkWhy, all of our leaders and managers have a workstyle that is complementary. We all roll up our sleeves and do what it takes to remove roadblocks and create traction. No job is too small, and no one ever utters “that’s not my job”. The example is set by our CEO, Ron Johnsey, who casually empties the dishwasher at 6:40am. It profiles a hands-on workplace where no job is off-limits. Similarly, I am a hands-on type of leader and encourage my team not to be afraid to tackle any task at hand (or at least address it). How will you know you can’t do it until you try, right? We tackle issues with transparency and openly embrace conflict. It’s all done in a productive, professional way. This provides a foundation of trust, which leads to respect among colleagues. This approach requires discipline and regular meeting cadence.

While leadership styles can change over time with experience and wisdom, it is one’s grit that stays the same. Being a “doer” allows me to strengthen the collective vision in our organization, and make sure everyone is on the same page and up to speed. To achieve this vision, I surround myself with people who demonstrate passion, determination, adaptability, accountability and are caring. It then becomes easier to have a pulse on where things stand within our company and to ensure we are all rowing in the same direction — 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?

There have been several great experiences, responsibilities and learning opportunities on the way to where I am today. However, I work with one person who not only saw my capabilities as a leader, but also trusted putting his company in my hands! Ron Johnsey’s faith and trust inspires and motivates me every day. He has no bias in the gender debate and sees only passion and skill. We do not agree 100% of the time, but we always come together with the right solution for the organization. His style of leadership has inspired me, from our days at a previous company, and now at ThinkWhy. He trusts that I will do the right things to lead ThinkWhy, and I confer with him routinely regarding alignment and strategy. We make a great team.

I will never take for granted that I get to realize “my why” every day because of Ron’s faith and trust in me. No matter how challenging the week or month may be, I live my purpose and passion daily which is the most satisfying sense of fulfillment a person can have in her career life!

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

A valuable, worthy question. My first reaction is to respond, “I have not done enough — yet!” I am a work in progress and continually evolving as an individual. Depending on the road(s) in life you choose, everyone’s path and journey is different. I’ve chosen my “why” to be about exposing career opportunities and challenges to people who demonstrate the same type of drive and determination that I possessed at a young age, regardless of experience. Those opportunities change lives for the individual and their families, and of course, cascades through to the community.

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

“I will not follow where the path may lead, but I will go where there is no path and I will leave a trail.”
Muriel Strode

My friends and family would tell you that I’ve never been a follower. Even as a child growing up in Hawaii, my parents enrolled me in hula lessons, and the class would go one way, and I would go the opposite! I hope my life’s journey is always defined in this way, as I seek to carve out my own path and find new and better ways of doing things. And, I hope that my style inspires others to trust themselves and go for it! Never forget to thank those who helped you along your path of leadership!

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.

Pay every single woman on this planet equal to men for the same jobs. Give women no special accommodations, just equal pay. Watch what happens to the well-being of humanity and civilizations. I believe that more children will be fed and educated, and generations will be uplifted. Let’s envision a future world, say 10 years from now, with no special accommodations or forced hiring methods. We simply hire the most qualified person(s) for the role, pay them equally for that role, and provide them with organizational cultures that build trust and career equality. At the end of those 10 years, I believe issues around high school dropout rates, homelessness, hunger, college affordability and enrollment and student debt will be significantly improved. The cascading positive impacts will be felt in all areas of society.

And, imagine being able to soundly sleep at night knowing you’ve done your part to create positive change in humanity and leave a legacy that cannot be measured!

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