Kate has spent her entire career working on amazing products with brilliant people. Now, she wants to transform the way teams work together, and create a workplace revolution where every employee is empowered to be a leader. Before founding popforms in 2013, Kate managed teams at big companies like Amazon & Microsoft, and small startups including Moz, Delve Networks, & Decide where she held the roles of VP Engineering and CTO. Kate also curates the popular Technology Leadership Newsletter, and speaks regularly at tech leadership conferences around the country.
Why does the world need a work revolution? (In other words: the way we’re working isn’t working. Why not?)
The management structure in place in most companies today, unfortunately, doesn’t serve people very well. Unless you are lucky enough to have an incredibly passionate manager willing to go out of their way to serve their team (and they are allowed to, without being completely overwhelmed by other demands from above), the default setting for most teams just doesn’t allow managers to support their teams the way they need to.
Too many people are missing too many things from their work lives, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Feeling fulfilled and connected at work isn’t too much to ask for, but right now it’s too hard to achieve.
How are you or your organization reinventing work in some way (big or small)?
Popforms is building tools for enlightened leaders and teams to be better at work. We want to make it ridiculously easy for managers and teams to communicate, so problems are caught early and wins are reported and praised.
We also have launched a number of products to help anyone who cares about their career grow their potential. We have email-based courses for learning new skills, a 1:1 tool that sends you weekly discussion topics for manager-employee meetings, and we offer a 360 review service to help users get anonymous feedback at work. People who care about their jobs shouldn’t be stifled by roadblocks and bureaucracy; we want to make it easy to be outstanding.
Why do you do what you do?
When I first became a manager, I wasn’t good at it. I worked really hard, but it took a long time to learn what good teams need and how to give those things to them as a leader. I have learned a lot, and I want to build tools that make it easy for other people to shine in leadership roles.
We all spend so much time at work, so it really matters that we get the things we need from that time, no matter what points we are at in our careers. I am passionate about making work something people feel fulfilled by and improving the ways we communicate and make things happen.
What kind of art (any kind) do you like and why? Any recommendations we should know about?
I’m not artistic, even a little bit. But I am always drawn to art that demonstrates a high level of technical skill, so I love beautiful things from paintings to industrial design. I remember when I went to the MOMA and saw Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, I was just blown away by it. So while it’s not a surprising, brand new recommendation, it is a piece that I just love after having the chance to see all the details in person.
What is one specific thing your company does that makes your culture unique and/or different?
We are completely remote and we have no managers. Of course, there are only two of us today, but these are values that are really important to me to maintain. I love the idea that popforms employees can work from anywhere, and that we are a flat organization where people are able to work on the things they think are most important to achieving company goals.
What is one discipline/industry totally different from your own that has inspired you? How does it impact your work?
The manufacturing world always inspires me. When I think about how things are made — production lines, efficiency — they’re not directly related to what I do, but I learn a lot from them. When I worked at Amazon, I got to go to fulfillment center and it blew my mind how efficient they were. The level of innovation for everything there, even things you don’t normally think about, is something that I try to bring to my work as a leader and software developer. Things can always be done better and smarter, and I love how manufacturing teams are able to make these things happen.
What’s one tangible and concrete technique other organizations should use if they want to create a more human and/or meaningful place to work?
Almost every problem at work boils down to a people problem, and people need to communicate in order to find long-term resolutions to issues. As a manager, if I don’t know what matters to you, then I can’t give you those things, which will lead to both of us ultimately being dissatisfied and frustrated. I can only find out what kind of work you like to do and what kind of reward means something to you (whether it’s money, recognition, flexibility, etc) if I ask you, and then use what I learn to help lead you better.
The same goes for employees. If you don’t see how your work contributes to the success of the company or feel like your input isn’t listened to, then you’ll end up feeling frustrated and probably move on. The more you can do as an employee to find out what goals are most important to the company and how to align your work with those goals, the more satisfied you’ll feel by the impact you are making and that your work matters.
Relationships are so important for everyone’s success, and the more you talk, the more you know about what matters to the people around you. It’s the best way to start working better together.
What is one surprising thing we should know about you?
I used to weigh 200 pounds, and I lost 80 pounds several years ago. It was a huge learning experience, and it makes me believe that anyone can do anything they put their mind to. I tried every fad diet you can imagine, and eventually learned that there is no secret trick or easy way out. The only thing that works is tracking your intake, and being serious about diet and exercise. It’s simple, and takes commitment. Just like a lot of things.
What piece of technology (other than your laptop/smartphone/tablet) could you not live without and why?
I listen to a massive number of audiobooks — probably 50 a year, so I would hate to live without those. I love stories, and they are a great way to multitask (which is one of my favorite things to do) while I’m driving or doing chores.
How do you stay productive throughout your day?
I have a Monday ninja planning session every week, where I list my biggest goals and to-do’s, and then I revisit my priorities throughout the week to stay focused and make sure I am still on track. Also, I limit my email time, which helps immensely. 🙂
Where in the world are you?