A Report from #SHRM17- Kat Cole the REAL Wonder Woman

by Michael Haberman on June 19, 2017 · 0 comments


The real “Wonder Woman” at SHRM17

The opening session of #SHRM17 was held today. People scrambling to register, others looking a might peaked from a night on Bourbon Street Saturday night. We met in the main hall to the music of Irwin Mayfield playing Satchmo on the trumpet. He said the rules for our time in New Orleans was to Smile, fight the urge to count calories, dance in the street and don’t worry be happy by drinking adult beverages.

Hank Jackson, in his last year of his tenure with SHRM, told us of the many changes and advancement the field of HR had undergone in the seven plus years he had been at the helm of SHRM.

The Kat Cole was introduced

I have to admit I am, and have been, a fan of Kat Cole. She is from my home town of Atlanta and I have heard her speak many times. I have always been impressed with her and continue to be so. Unlike many executive speakers Kat did not come on stage to tell us how to run HR. She did not regale us with the stories of her many victories as a young female CEO. Rather she told us of her mistakes and the lessons she learned from them that have made her a better leader.

Here are some of the key points she made during her talk:

  • HR is need now more than ever.
  • The Leadership competency of influencing is incredibly relevant today.
  • You have to look at the entire spectrum of the wide nature of diversity of your business. Focusing on that broad spectrum is what leadership is about.
  • We get so excited about a project but don’t get to the point of leadership. Don’t get caught up in the small things.
  • Culture has to be given permission to step up and challenge the way things are.
  • Questions to ask “If we launch something new how does it affect me? What is the change on the legacy product?” Fear is generally the answer.
  • When trying to change find the ‘coalition of the willing”. Reward them handsomely for participating early.
  • HR is second only to the CEO in influence.
  • You must change policies to keep up with practices. This is scary for legal and HR.
  • To be successful you need a culture of openness.
  • It is consistently true that your company is not going to keep up with innovation. Take the risk anyway.
  • Loss of trust is the second biggest loss just behind loss of love and life.
  • Be extra diligent in launching innovation. Your systems are not ready to keep up.
  • Leadership is courage and confidence mixed with humility and curiosity.
  • Her humility caused her to question what was going wrong.
  • Do the right things for the right reasons.
  • Handling the bad stuff will allow you to handle to good stuff much better.
  • The people closest to the action know what to, but leadership has the language and authority. They need to be connected better.
  • Always ask “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
  • Stay close to the people who stay close to the customer. HR does not do this enough!
  • Go after it before you are ready. She says you have to have what she calles #hustlemuscle
  • Have an open view of what talent is. Look in unexpected places. Look deeper into skills.
  • Priorities matter to help you focus with limited resources.
  • Very powerful to focus on your number one priority.
  • The hot shot rule. If a hot shot can come in tomorrow and change one thing, why can’t you be that person?

Kat credits her mother with the best advice she ever got. Her mother told her to never forget where she came from, but to never let that get in the way. She didn’t. She no college degree, yet was able to get an Executive MBA, receiving endorsements from multiple CEOs. She has taken on a great deal of relief work in Africa, leading efforts to provide water.

Her history

She had humble beginnings growing up in Florida. She went to work as a hostess for Hooters. Soon she was advancing and was eventually asked to open other stores around the world. She had only been out of Florida three times before she was asked to travel to Australia to open a new store. She was then was asked again and again, eventually being promoted to a VP position. From there she was recruited to become the CEO of Cinnabon and eventually the president of Focus Brands that owns  Schlotzsky’s, Carvel, Cinnabon, Moe’s Southwest Grill, McAlister’s Deli, and Auntie Anne’s brands.

Wonder Woman

The recently released movie Wonder Woman has been praised as providing a super hero for young girls to look up to. I don’t think we need a comic book hero with a golden rope. I think we have that in Kat Cole. A real-life woman with a golden attitude and a super hero work attitude. You cannot, in my opinion, find a better role model for your daughter or young woman to look up to.


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