Everyone started somewhere. The past several years have been filled with breathless news stories about companies achieving extreme levels of success, seemingly overnight. Words like “meteoric” and “explosive” are being used to describe the growth trajectory of red-hot start ups. This is most definitely not the growth path for most companies, especially newly-founded companies. Small wins, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, add up. Stay the course, keep putting one foot in front of the other, and don’t let your focusing on the path of other companies throw you off of your path.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kia Roberts.
Kia Roberts is the Founder and Principal of Triangle Investigations. Triangle Investigations is a group of lawyers and expert investigators conducting misconduct investigations (i.e.: sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation) within workplaces, schools, and other organizations. Triangle also oﬀers its clients usage of its proprietary Telli™ app, which works as a reporting mechanism for people to report misconduct within their organization. Prior to founding Triangle, Kia was the ﬁrst-ever Director of Investigations for the NFL (National Football League), a position in which she led and conducted investigations into NFL players and employees accused of violating the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy. These investigations ranged from investigations into allegations of sexual harassment and workplace bullying to investigations into allegations of domestic violence, sexual assault, and animal abuse. Prior to the NFL, Kia spent approximately a decade as a prosecutor in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Oﬃce, ﬁnishing her time there in the Oﬃce’s prestigious Homicide Bureau.
Kia received her law degree from Vanderbilt University School of Law, and received her undergraduate degree from Duke University. A native of New Orleans, Kia currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and two small children.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In the Summer of 2018, my husband and I had just welcomed our 2nd child to our family. This was the Summer of #MeToo, and countless companies and organizations were facing a reckoning over how they had handled allegations of sexual harassment. During one long and sleepless night, while rocking our newborn, I was reading that particular day’s batch of allegations related to sexual misconduct. I had a major lightbulb moment. I was the first-ever Director of Investigations for the NFL. Prior to that, I spent approximately a decade as a prosecutor in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, having finished my time there in the Office’s prestigious Homicide bureau. With my particular resume, having investigated everything from harassment to homicide, I realized that I was uniquely suited to start my own shop, where sexual harassment, discrimination, and misconduct investigations is all that we do. A few months later, Triangle Investigations was born. Our works helps organizations to create accountability processes that speak specifically to changing sensibilities about what is and isn’t appropriate behavior related to sexual misconduct, discrimination, and other misconduct.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Absolutely. My background is as a lawyer and an expert investigator. What my background is not in — and I quickly realized this — is within marketing, copywriting, brand development, etc. After a very, very slow few months of business, I outsourced some of the marketing strategy to consultants, and never looked back. The money spent on that work has paid for itself in dividends. I quickly learned to “know what I don’t know”, and plan accordingly.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I always had a deep and abiding sense that I was offering something that was timely and unique. When Triangle first launched, we had the momentum of the #MeToo movement at our back, and most recently, the demands resulting from the social uprisings of 2020 have provided an enormous amount of demand from organizations crafting new and unique solutions for combating racial discrimination and misconduct within their organizations.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going really, really well. We just finished a round of hiring and brought 7 new investigators aboard. These new team members bring a wealth of experience with investigations all along the spectrum-from civil rights investigations, to federal investigations, to HR investigations. I would say that my grit and resilience lay within my commitment to follow through and never give up, especially during Triangle’s early days, as I stumbled through the struggles inherent within launching a new startup.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’d outsourced some tweaks to my website to an outside consultant and was so busy that I didn’t check on the website promptly to make sure that the corrections were — well, correct. This consultant really, really screwed up the website. Sections were moved around, misspelled, and so forth. I learned from this that I absolutely have to double-check work that is done for my startup. The website was truly cringeworthy, and it would have been hugely embarrassing for me if potential clients had seen the website while it was in that state.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our company stands out because not only are we lawyers and expert investigators with decades of investigation experience, but we are intentionally diverse. We are uniquely suited and culturally competent to address sensitive allegations related to race, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity. A person who has been on the receiving end of discrimination or other misconduct should never, ever have to explain to the investigator why the alleged misconduct was offensive. Our team approaches investigations with a wealth of personal experience, as well as a thorough knowledge set, to understand and painstakingly investigate allegations of discrimination.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Being meticulous and ruthless about your daily schedule is an absolute must, especially in this era of working from home. A tight and focused schedule should have time specifically allotted for certain tasks, with an emphasis on not letting allocated time chunks “bleed” into each other. Additionally, it is crucial to have a time during which work stops for the day. It’s important to rest and recharge in order to be performing at your highest level during the day. Picking up the laptop for one more email to be sent, or endlessly working late into the night leads to burnout and general dissatisfaction. Your central animating ideology must be a commitment to putting out a good product/service — not buying into the energy-draining hustle culture.
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?
My mentor, Janet Hill, has been instrumental in my success. Janet Hill has been so many things — roommate to a certain Hillary Rodham (later Clinton) in college, mother of legendary basketball player and businessman Grant Hill, and recipient of too many accolades to mention. There has never been a single time when I have had a question, or wanted to pick her brain, that she has not made herself available to me. She is the gold standard as it relates to being a spectacularly successful businesswoman, wife, and mother.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I consider Triangle Investigations, in and of itself, to perform a public service of sorts. So much of our time is being spent at work, or now, in the remote workplace. Organizations that breed and allow a culture of bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination, and general misconduct not only make for toxic workplaces, but also can have long-lasting effects upon the mental and physical health of its organization members. Depression, anxiety, and its attendant physical manifestations can result from people being treated poorly. Triangle comes in to address allegations of misconduct with the goal of creating workplaces/organizations where this behavior does not occur. We do this work because we genuinely believe in the dignity of the individual and the power of an organization where employees are able to thrive and be treated equitably.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
#1: Everyone started somewhere. The past several years have been filled with breathless news stories about companies achieving extreme levels of success, seemingly overnight. Words like “meteoric” and “explosive” are being used to describe the growth trajectory of red-hot start ups. This is most definitely not the growth path for most companies, especially newly-founded companies. Small wins, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, add up. Stay the course, keep putting one foot in front of the other, and don’t let your focusing on the path of other companies throw you off of your path.
#2: You have to know what you don’t know. When founding a company, and then moving into a position of leadership, the company founder wears countless hats. Hiring and managing team members, setting pricing, acquiring office space, creating new product offerings, creating a marketing strategy — this doesn’t even include doing the actual core function of the work being done by the company. The time of the leader of a company is priceless and precious. Every second, minute, hour, spent muddling through work that is not really with the wheelhouse of the company leader should be outsourced if possible. I struggled hugely for months with tweaking my website copy and with creating an impactful marketing strategy. Do you know why I struggled? Because I am a lawyer and investigator, and not a marketing strategist or copywriter. I outsourced a large amount of this work to an absolutely amazing freelancer that I stumbled onto online, and the work that she did has paid for itself time and time again, via new clients and new business.
#3: “You have as many hours in the day as Beyonce.” This quote has been thrown around social media constantly for the last few years, much to the chagrin of working moms (like myself). While I may have as many hours in the day as Beyonce, what I don’t have is a live-in nanny, a chef, a personal trainer, and the various accoutrements that accompany a lavish celebrity lifestyle. Which leads me to another lesson that I wish that I’d known when I began leading Triangle — I am not an octopus, and neither are you. You, unlike an octopus, do not have multiple tentacles that are able to handle numerous different functions well. The scrambling, up-all-night, hustle culture that has become canon for some leaders can in fact lead to no work being done exceptionally well. Jack of all trades, master of none, correct? Know what your expertise is, your core skill set, what makes you exceptional, and place the vast amount of your time and energy into perfecting that area of work.
#4: Make sure you have enough salt for all of your pots! When first founding and leading a company, you are engaged in the work of not only offering a valuable product/service, but are also engaged in the work of crafting a reputation for your company. Early days require that your product or offering be stellar. Spreading yourself too thin can lead to dissatisfied clients, and be damaging to your future growth potential.
#5: Be intentional and relentless about structuring your day. Countless leaders in 2020 realized, once juggling work from home and perhaps with children running under foot, that they had not been judicious about their time and productivity levels. Working from home has opened a lot of eyes and forced leaders to be more methodical about how they are using their time, with an increased commitment to making sure that time is being spent in service of growing the company. You can’t get wasted time back.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
I think that any movement related to kindness and empathy at this moment is sorely needed. The division, violence, and unkindness of the past several years has been truly overwhelming. A specific cultural emphasis on small acts of kindness could make a world of difference.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!