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Karin Hurt: “Respond with Regard”

Respond with Regard. One of the most frequently overlooked steps is how you respond to an idea — even if it’s not great. You get more of what you encourage and celebrate and less of what you ignore. If you want a consistent stream of ideas and best practice sharing, be sure you respond to ideas with regard. […]

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Respond with Regard. One of the most frequently overlooked steps is how you respond to an idea — even if it’s not great.

You get more of what you encourage and celebrate and less of what you ignore. If you want a consistent stream of ideas and best practice sharing, be sure you respond to ideas with regard. Start with gratitude (thank them for thinking and contributing). Then add information (about what is happening next, data, or more context). Then close with an invitation (encouragement to continue to think, problem-solve, and share).


I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Karin Hurt, Co-Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, a leadership training and consulting firm in Maryland, and the co-author of 5 books including Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul and Courageous Cultures Cultures which just released July 2020.

Recently named on Inc’s list of Most Innovative Leadership Speakers, Karin, along with her partner, work with leaders around the world who want to achieve breakthrough results and build highly innovative, courageous cultures. They are also dedicated to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells, building clean water wells in Cambodia.


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

Well, I never thought I would leave Verizon. Here’s the backstory and the plot twist of how I started Let’s Grow Leaders.

I spent two decades of my career at Verizon. The first decade was in Human Resources, leadership development, training, and merger integration. In the second decade, I was in a variety of field assignments, including leading a 2200-person sales team and a 10,000 person contact center organization. The last position I held at Verizon was transforming our outsourced contact center operations — the BPOs taking Verizon’s calls, which at the time were really struggling to provide a good customer experience.

It was an amazing incubator to test everything I believed about leadership and culture — that you can get breakthrough results and build trust and connection — even without a lot of resources — BPOs (business process outsourcers) are known for tight margins, and limited time for employees to be off the phones.

As we were working with these BPOs to turnaround their results, fast, I found I was telling a lot of stories — about lessons learned — and how to get great results without being a jerk. AND, working to build very easy to implement tools and techniques to help their managers lead well, even with limited time with their teams offline.

So, I started writing the stories and tools down and started a leadership blog. What I didn’t expect to happen next was for the blog to take off and get an International following. I started getting requests to speak and do consulting and fielding the question, “when are you going to write a book?”

I hadn’t planned to leave my day job but the pull was too hard to resist. So, I gave four months’ notice and started Let’s Grow Leaders.

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

Are you up for a love story?

I had written an article for a major HR publication and a guy named David Dye read it and thought, “huh, I don’t remember submitting this article.” Intrigued, he kept reading and got to the byline at the bottom. It was mine. He immediately picked up the phone and said, “I think we are incredibly aligned.”

We talked for a while and decided to someday collaborate.

Then we both turned up at a book publishing workshop and after an additional conversation realized we were writing essentially the same book. Long story short, we decided to collaborate instead of compete. After writing Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results — Without Losing Your Soul living and working 1700 miles apart, and becoming great friends along the way through some pretty tough personal stuff, we realized we had fallen in love. We got married. Merged our business together. And now run Let’s Grow Leaders together.

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

Yes, like so many other companies right now, we’ve been on a fast pivot to move all our programs to live-online. And, our new book Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers and Customer Advocates s resonating so well to help companies during this challenging time. We’ve been doing live-online Courageous Cultures programs with large and fast-growing companies including Amazon, Microsoft, Lily’s Sweets, Clinical Mind and Kforce staffing.

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?

That’s an interesting list in Forbes and resonates with much of what we see. Their top reason, 58% of managers don’t receive leadership training is part of the problem. Many times when we do leadership training, we find it’s the first time they’ve had more than something really basic or an online course with no interaction or application. It’s really hard for high-performing contributors to make the leap to management without some foundational skills.

Also, in our Courageous Cultures research, we found that employees are incredibly frustrated when they are not asked for their ideas and their voice isn’t heard.

And, particularly right now, employees are longing for human connection. They want to know they are working for a boss who is real (and willing to be a bit vulnerable) who works hard to get where they are coming from and what they need right now.

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 well-being?

According to our research when employees are scared, intimidated, frustrated, they just shut down their voluntary effort to think critically and share new ideas. The ideas we found employees were holding back were not trivial. The top 3 ideas employees told us they were not sharing were 1) improve the customer experience 2) improve the employee experience 3) to improve productivity.

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?

In our new book, Courageous Cultures we share a seven-step process to improving company culture. Here are the top five

1. Navigate the Narrative

We all tell ourselves stories about what is happening, who we are, and what other people think about us. To Navigate the Narrative means that you pay attention to the stories you tell yourself, stories that reinforce your values, culture, and commitments.

Courage starts with you — the courage to get real with yourself, acknowledge your internal stories, and ground yourself in the experiences that give you and your team confidence and courage. Then you’ll be a role model for everyone else.

When it comes to building a courageous culture, leaders go first. If you want your team to speak up and share ideas, they need to see that you’re doing that too.

2. Create Clarity

In this step, you want to be very clear about two things. First, be clear that you really do want ideas — and keep in mind that your team may not be convinced. 67% of the employees in our research said that their leadership operates around the notion that “This is the way we’ve always done it.” And second, be clear about what an outstanding idea would accomplish. In our Courageous Cultures I.D.E.A. Inspiration rallies, we start with 3–5 areas of the business where leaders really need ideas.

3. Cultivate Curiosity
Here’s where you go out and deliberately ask people for their ideas. We share many ways to do this, along with some terrific best practices. The I.D.E.A. model also helps your team to vet and refine their ideas.

4. Respond with Regard

One of the most frequently overlooked steps is how you respond to an idea — even if it’s not great.

You get more of what you encourage and celebrate and less of what you ignore.

If you want a consistent stream of ideas and best practice sharing, be sure you respond to ideas with regard. Start with gratitude (thank them for thinking and contributing). Then add information (about what is happening next, data, or more context). Then close with an invitation (encouragement to continue to think, problem-solve, and share).

5. Practice the Principle
When you Practice the Principle, you commit to finding the core idea within best practices and help your team localize best practices for their unique circumstances. This step helps you to scale best practices across markets, geographies, and contexts.

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

Authentic. I speak the truth and I encourage others to do the same.

Visionary. I help teams think strategically to see possibilities and then to operationalize a plan to get there. One of our favorite techniques to do this, is our “Own The U.G.L.Y. Model, which is just four important strategic questions.

U- What are we underestimating

G-What’s got to Go

L- Where are we Losing

Y- Where are we missing the Yes?

Connected. Particularly now there is nothing more important than showing up as an empathetic human being and connecting at a deep level with your team. Much of our work since the pandemic

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