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Women Of The C-Suite: “When things aren’t working talk to the people doing the work” With Kate Barrand CEO of Horizons for Homeless Children

When things aren’t working talk to the people doing the work: I have rarely encountered a business challenge that could not be best solved…


When things aren’t working talk to the people doing the work: I have rarely encountered a business challenge that could not be best solved by those doing the work. If you really spend time with people doing the day to day work within a function that is underperforming they have the answers. Some may resist change and try to obstruct it, but you can always find a few to help architect a better solution.


Kate Barrand is president & CEO of Horizons for Homeless Children, the only organization in Massachusetts that exclusively serves homeless children and their families. Kate is an experienced consultant who has worked with the C-suiteand executive teams of large financial institutions, Fortune 500 companies and nonprofit organizations to define new strategies, develop marketing programs and realign business units to better serve stakeholders. Kate was previously the founder and CMO of Clareon Corporation and led strategic planning and global strategic marketing while at BankBoston. Kate has an MBA from Boston University and a B.A. in early childhood development from the Eliot-Pearson Department at Tufts University.


Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My story is one that comes full circle. I started my career in the classroom; I studied Early Childhood development and taught in bilingual classrooms. I loved that job but because of family circumstances, I needed something more financially lucrative. I was recruited to go work for a management consulting firm. That role exposed me to the business world. Eventually consulting turned into a leadership role at a dominant bank in Boston. That bank had a seat on the Board at Horizons and when I had the opportunity, I asked to take that seat. That position hit the sweet spot for me — it was where my business knowledge could be leveraged to fulfill my personal passion. I served on the Board for 15 years. After that I wanted to have a more direct role, so I became a Playspace volunteer, otherwise known as a “PAL,” where I got to work directly with children in a homeless shelter. The opportunity to come back in a different, but even more meaningful way arose in 2016 when I was asked to step in as CEO.

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

One day a donor to Horizons came in and began asking questions about our expenses, operating budget and revenue projections. At first, I was taken aback, not expecting such pointed questions about the business aspects of what we do. I expected to talk about the stories and experiences of our families. I realized that, like shareholders, our donors have a stake in our work. These are people who are investing in the organization to make a positive impact and we are the stewards of that investment. Recognizing the span of our accountability, from the families we serve, to employees, Board of Directors, and our valued donors made an impact on me. In the last several years, we have reengineered many of our processes to make the organization more efficient to ensure the bulk of our spending is actually devoted to improving the lives of homeless children. For our donors and for the health of the organization, we’ve refocused on our very important core mission and adjusted our operations to deliver on that promise with excellence.

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?

My first winter as CEO at Horizons brought with it lots of snow. The first day the leadership team was looking to me to decide if we were going to open or close for the day and it caught me completely by surprise. Wasn’t this the kind of decision the superintendent or someone else in authority made? I didn’t know what to do! On the one hand, I recognized that I needed to evaluate all logical considerations like safety for my employees and the families we serve. On the other hand, I knew very well that for our families living in Boston area shelters a snow day is exceedingly challenging. It was a tough call. After that day, we setup a process to evaluate snow days more methodically which, I think, has taken some of the unpredictability out of our decision making. I no longer feel like a deer in the headlights when a Nor’easter comes our way.


What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Horizons for Homeless Children is dedicated to improving the lives and changing the future of homeless children and families. We have been addressing the needs of homeless children and families for 30 years and were one of the first organizations in the state to take on this critical mission. Our mission is the heartbeat of this place. Every single employee from our teachers to our support staff and administrative team are committed to that effort. We measure our success by the transformation we see in the children and their families. It’s such meaningful, rewarding work.

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

We broke ground on a new building for Horizons, something we’re so excited about. This first-of-its-kind center in Massachusetts will improve the education, health, and well-being of the city’s homeless families by providing on-site early education programs and access to a variety of social services to help parents navigate the many complexities of homelessness. We’ll move our three Boston Early Education Centers under one roof where we’ll be able to increase our reach to serve 225 homeless children and their families each day. This unique joint-venture, public/private partnership between Horizons for Homeless Children and WaterMark Development is allowing us to transform the education, health, and well-being of Boston’s homeless families and children.


What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

There are three things that I’ve come to realize that have impacted the way I manage. First, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve got to embrace change. Change is an opportunity. If we get too caught up in doing things we know, the way we’ve done them before, we get too comfortable. Change is inevitable, so if we anticipate and embrace it, we can have more influence on where that change is taking us.

Second, I’ve realized the best way to get things done is to hire people who are scary good. Give them a clear directive and then the freedom to get the job done. It won’t always be done exactly the way you would have done it, but it could be even better. There’s no place for micromanagement when it comes to keeping and grooming talented people.

Finally, after years of management consulting, I found the way I spoke and the language I used reflected where I’d been. How we expressed a business situation was often sanitized and didn’t really get to the heart of the matter. Since then, I’ve adjusted. I try to be clear and more deliberate in what I say. I want to be real and relatable. I take responsibility openly for successes and for our mistakes. Our words matter, and I never want to hide behind them.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

It’s absolutely critical to acknowledge that great leaders are the product of great teams. In a leadership role it’s easy to internalize our own significance. But truly, one of the best things we can do is recognize, reward and support our colleagues. It isn’t the effort of any one person, it’s the many who affect change.

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 was fortunate to have three very important mentors in my career. Each of them saw my ability, believed in me and gave me the freedom to do the job without micromanaging. Those relationships allowed me to observe their strengths and weaknesses, mistakes and successes. By reflecting on what I saw in them, I developed my own style. Those mentorships and the time each of them invested mean so much to me. I think mentorship in general should be pursued as an intentional part of professional and personal development.

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

When I was consulting, I did pro-bono work for other charities and worthwhile causes. But in all those years, Horizons was always my focus. It’s where I gave my time, my expertise and my financial gifts. It’s been my consuming passion since I was 32.


What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Hire talented people: I believe in hiring great people. ‘People who scare you’ is what I like to say, because you see them as talent that could one day replace you. These are the sort of leaders that will allow you to achieve the extraordinary.

Share your vision and outcomes then let them lead: If you hire the best talent and share a compelling vision with desired outcomes, then trust your leadership to do their jobs, you can achieve great things. I became the CEO of Horizons 3 years ago when the organization faced some significant challenges, chief among them a $2.5 million deficit. After my first three months, I shared with the team a vision for our future under one roof excelling at the three things that had always been the institution’s strengths. I made a pledge that we could end the deficit if we focused on building new sources of revenue while also increasing our Annual Fund each year. My leadership team embraced the vision and were a big part of driving the solution. We closed the books in June with no deficit.

Good process is what drives exceptional outcomes: In my years of consulting I learned that strong outcomes are achieved when you get the right people with the right skills aligned against critical activities within the organization. Too often leaders spend months defining the strategy and outcome they want and then too little time thinking pragmatically about the best process for rolling it out and the critical skill set alignment to achieve their goals.

When things aren’t working talk to the people doing the work: I have rarely encountered a business challenge that could not be best solved by those doing the work. If you really spend time with people doing the day to day work within a function that is underperforming they have the answers. Some may resist change and try to obstruct it, but you can always find a few to help architect a better solution.

Focus on the few, not the many: Organizations suffer when their leaders try to support too many priorities and initiatives. The energy within the organization becomes too diffuse and leaders can fall into competing for resources. At Horizons we focus on three fundamentals: program excellence, building a great place to work and creating long term financial sustainability.

Recruit talent with passions outside of work: I like to hire people who have passions outside of their work as I find it makes them more well-rounded, creative and resilient.

When I was first managing I found I often hired college athletes — it became a running joke in my department in my early years as a manager. I liked them because having been a D3 athlete myself, I felt athletes understood teamwork and accountability. They also understood more naturally the importance of balancing their work with their workouts. All of these traits combined made for a talent pool that was more collaborative, creative and resilient. Over the years I have expanded my vision and now I just try to recruit those with a passion for something outside of work that gives them balance and perspective.

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. 🙂

Homelessness is such a widespread problem. Right now, there are 900 children under the age of 6 in Boston who are living in a shelter. There are 4000 children across Massachusetts. We know that 80% of neural connections are made between the ages of 0–3 and the toxic stress of homelessness weakens children’s brain development. That makes them twice as likely to have a learning disability and three times as likely to have a social or behavioral issue. Those are statistics we can change in very tangible ways.

Home is so much more than a building. It’s the place where families are created and cultivated. Its where children’s minds, bodies and souls should be nourished. It could dramatically change outcomes for children. And yet, so many families don’t have a consistent place of their own. I’m intrigued by the opportunities that are being explored in cities to create tiny houses/homes. Its real estate without fancy countertops and soaring ceilings, it’s about creating a place for growth that’s not exclusive and much more attainable to the average person. Doing that in urban environments where it can be coupled with all the richness the city offers in terms of arts, culture and diversity makes that idea even more appealing. It could have such a far reaching and profound impact on children!

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

Maya Angelou said it in her memoir, “I became the kind of parent my mother was to me.” I’ve worked hard at many things, including raising my own three children to the best of my ability. My husband and I were both committed to setting our kids on a course for success. We were fortunate and never lacked for anything. But what happens to parents whose circumstances are different than ours were? They face so many more challenges. Like us, their parenting and life experience is repeated in what happens to their children. We see time and again that homelessness is generational. We recognize this at Horizons and have programs that serve the needs of children but we also address those underlying parental challenges with our Family Partnerships program. We work with parents to give them the supports and strategies that empower them to break the cycle of homelessness. The behavior that parents model becomes the life lesson their children adopt. We’re doing everything we can to help homeless parents be that positive role model they so desperately want to be.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My personal social media accounts are far less interesting than those at Horizons. I’d encourage readers to follow Horizons on Facebook, on Twitter @HHCTweets and Instagram @horizonsforhomelesschildren.

Originally published at medium.com

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