I believe there is truth in the research that states “People don’t leave companies. They leave bosses.” The handling of interpersonal relationships and connecting with those we manage is so important — that’s why I believe we’ll start to see more of the emotional intelligence training for leaders.
As a part of my series on strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Bouchard. Karen is the Co-Chief Operating Officer & Chief Human Resources Officer, Racepoint Global.
Karen was one of Racepoint’s first employees when the company was founded in 2003. She leads and implements the company’s operational controls and human resources strategy. Karen has held multiple human resources positions throughout her career, including positions at Caritas St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, Weber Shandwick Worldwide and Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Hampshire.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I would say human resources came to me. I was managing operations, which included talent management, for a radio station (the industry I thought I was destined for). When the station was sold, I was recruited by a former manager to work in the HR department for a large health insurance company. It was there that I had my first “real” HR job and I haven’t looked back.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
This is an interesting story of how I landed my current role. As Chief Human Resources Officer of the company it was my job to lead the recruitment process of hiring a new Chief Operating Officer. I went to work searching for the perfect candidates to put in front of both our Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. Over the next several months, we met with many qualified candidates and eventually narrowed it down to two terrific candidates. It was at this point that the CEO said to me, “Why are we not interviewing you for this position?” He asked me to sleep on it, and the next morning, I threw my hat in the ring. The rest, as they say, is history.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are in the process evolving the way our global team approaches work flexibility. Our employees have always had access to “apply” for flexible work hours or a remote work day. Having to apply or gain approval for this type of flexibility feels outdated. We recognize in our industry that the work our employees do can really be done from anywhere — so why create strict boundaries around how great work gets done?
We understand and appreciate there are many reasons for flexibility — it may be reducing the commute, allowing for childcare pickup, taking care of aging parents, a change of scenery, etc. This holistic approach to how we work allows team members to balance their work with their personal preferences, while maximizing productivity. We trust our employees and management team to use their best judgement in determining what works best for them and their teams.
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?
I find it very unfortunate that more than half the US workforce is unhappy. We are typically at work more hours in a week than we are anywhere else and we spend more time with our colleagues than we do with some family members and friends. I believe there is truth in the research that states “People don’t leave companies. They leave bosses.” The handling of interpersonal relationships and connecting with those we manage is so important — that’s why I believe we’ll start to see more of the emotional intelligence training for leaders.
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?
Unhappiness most definitely impacts all three. Studies show that unhappiness affects everything from company culture to employee engagement, and even health! Employees who are unhappy will not excel in their careers or experience the level of personal growth they aspire to have. Ultimately, this has a direct impact on the quality of their output.
Those who are unhappy at work make those around them uncomfortable — there’s nothing worse than working with a colleague who complains all the time. Scientific literature details how negative emotions harm the body. Studies consistently show that those with a “glass half full mentality” can boost lower blood pressure, less stress, and stronger hearts compared to those who are less optimistic.
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?
- Opportunities to Learn: It is important to take a step back from the day-to-day grind to offer opportunities for employees to learn and stretch and feed their brains in different ways. We have a learning and development curriculum that combines sharing internal expertise and bringing in outside experts to maximize exposure to relevant topics for our employee base — as well as honing the necessary skillsets.
- Flexibility: Managers and executives need to continue to evolve the way they think about work flexibility. We have a very flexible work culture. We trust our employees are doing their best work no matter where they are. This is no longer a program we offer, this is our culture.
- Offer Experiences: We offer internal and external experiences to fuel engagement and reward hard work. An example of an internal experience we offer is our Exchange Program. Through this program, team members are able to experience life in one of our global offices for one week, and typically tack on vacation time to further explore. They are able to witness first-hand how their colleagues work while taking in the local culture.
Employees who have been with Racepoint for five years may take advantage of our Sabbatical Program. Employees can take six weeks of fully paid time off to explore their own personal passions, spend time with family, travel, etc.
- Social Good: Employees are encouraged to give back and engage with our Social Good Program. Our Social Good Program enables employees to volunteer, donate and utilize their resources to enhance and revive their local communities. Our leaders and managers support engagement for these initiatives at all levels and across all geographies.
- Mentor Program: Provide employees with a personal and customized learning experience. We offer a mentor program to provide access to daily coaching, career development and knowledge sharing. Employees are encouraged to enroll and choose a mentor from our vast list of leaders from any one of our global offices.
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?
We are undergoing a really interesting shift in the U.S. It’s currently an employee’s market, and the demand for a broader change on work culture will ultimately come from employees who mandate we change our view on culture. A job that provides opportunity for growth, learning and flexibility will keep employees happy and at their current jobs.
Not all industries are the same, but the key to making a broader change is to listen to your employee base. Leadership teams who are listening and responding to their employees will be more successful in ensuring long-term engagement and customizing an evolution in work culture that is right for them.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I have a democratic leadership style, meaning that I believe team members should be involved in decision making and ownership. Throughout my career, I’ve found employees who feel brought into an idea or process will be more engaged and accountable for the outcome. I’m also a firm believer in listening to team members and allowing them to have a voice, even if their particular idea wasn’t chosen. Employees are more likely to go with the final idea/decision knowing that they’ve been heard.
At the end of 2018 Q4, we had two projects that needed to be completed in a short period of time. We had several capable team members who I knew could get the job done, so it could have been easy for me to assign project roles and be done with it. Instead, I brought the team together, shared the projects’ objectives and let them decide who would lead each project and the team they would assemble to complete the project.
I will typically open a team meeting with a few remarks, but quickly turn the meeting over to the individual team members to discuss their priorities. This allows me to actively listen and show interest in what they are delivering.
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?
To choose one is difficult, I’ve been lucky in my career to be mentored by and work with so many talented people. The one person I’ll reference is a woman who was my manager at two companies. Her presence in a room was envious; she was smart, articulate and drew people in. Her passion and knowledge in the HR field is what compelled me to focus my career path in HR.
As I mentioned earlier, the HR field was not my original career path, however, this woman took a chance on me by taking me under her wing and teaching me the many functional areas of HR. She had confidence in me, encouraged me to stretch beyond what was comfortable, and allowed me to make mistakes. Most importantly, I felt she cared for me both professionally and personally, which made a huge impact on me.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Bringing goodness to my community started before my professional success. I am grateful that my parents led by example, giving so much of their time to the people and organizations in our community. It was important to them that I become a good citizen. As a teenager, my youth group volunteered with Special Olympics, and as a young adult, I became a big sister in Big Brother/Big Sisters program. Today, I find myself passing these values on to my own children, and we make time to volunteer at a local soup kitchen. As a current Board member of the of Comfort Zone Camp, a national grief camp for children, I volunteer my time and expertise to further CZC’s mission and vision in helping grieving children. I believe everyone can bring goodness to the world in their own special way, no matter how large or small the time or gift.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” — Maya Angelou
I love this quote because it permits an individual to define success on their own terms. Growing up, I very much felt that I needed to live up to the expectations of others. I frequently sought the approval of my parents, teachers and friends. As I began my professional career, I kept believing that success was defined by one’s profession. As I grew older — and wiser — I learned that only you can define what success looks like — whether that be through accomplishing personal or spiritual achievements, or excelling professionally.
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. 🙂
Oh, wow… this is a good question. My answer is not unique, as I know that it’s been used before, but I definitely think a movement of “kindness” will bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people. Kindness comes in all shapes and sizes based on what an individual has to give and another individual should/needs to receive. Kindness may be lending an ear to someone who needs to talk, donating food to a shelter, volunteering your time at a youth center, giving a ride to an elderly neighbor, etc. The kindness I pass to another person may be different than the kindness you pass on, but in the end, we’ve both done a good thing… and this is something I believe everyone, in any situation, can do.