Today it’s my pleasure to introduce you to Dr. Kathryn Keeton—an inspirational woman who has demonstrated several different skillsets in the field of Talent Management. She obtained her PhD in Industrial Organizational Psychology at the University of Houston, Texas. Past experiences include working for NASA as a Behavioral Health & Performance Research Scientist, and an Innovative & Strategy Specialist. She is currently the Chief Executive Officer and Consultant at Minerva Work Solutions, PLLC, and a professor at the University of Texas in San Antonio. Throughout this interview we touch on topics including: her current role, past experiences that prepared her for her current role, and advice for aspiring HR professionals.
TSL (Talent Science Lab): Please describe what you do in your current role.
KK (Dr. Kathryn Keeton): We have pitched what we do as essentially HR Consulting where our company has four main founders who are all Industrial Organizational Psychologists. We have three main areas of focus: (1) employee engagement, (2) leadership and team development, and (3) executive coaching. Our company can help with customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, morale, turnover, and other issues the organization may not know how to deal with.
TSL: One topic Talent Science Lab is interested in is the employee experience, can you tell me what your company does with regards to helping organizations to foster the employee experience?
KK: When I look at the IO literature I think employee engagement it is just another way to assess the employee, it is definitely it’s own construct, but the way we are using it is a way to connect an understanding of what we are trying to do for the employee through the organization. We are following an evidenced-based approach, and the findings with what we are doing will help translate to an increase in employee engagement. Our company specifically looks into constructs like motivation, talent development, work/life balance, and much more. I have about 5-10 coaching clients in San Antonio, when we go in we have a very specific target market for each of those three services we offer. I target middle-aged women who have a decent amount of work experience, typically in middle-management, who are looking for promotional activities. I absolutely have male clients and people who fit outside of that target market, but we have had much success with our current target.
TSL: May I ask what attracted you to that target market?
KK: I think I fell into it, I never considered myself much of a feminist, but the more women I met in this realm it opened my eyes to the disparity—it is real, it exists. It has really lit a fire for me to represent these women. We know from research that promotions into managerial roles and direct reports happens significantly less often for women. This has really driven me and I feel passionate about helping women in these ways.
TSL: Once you engage an organization, for example, let’s say they were interested in team development, what are the next steps?
KK: To translate things from the IO side to an actual business, we are selling them a product. So if an organization is interested in team development, we sell them our team training simulation. We developed this with astronauts and flight controllers with NASA. We were able to take that training simulation and tweak it for other purposes. We usually have two trainers for each simulation.
TSL: What are some prominent trends in Talent Management that you have noticed?
KK: The prominent factors I have noticed are heavily related to employee engagement, such as work/life balance, alternative work schedules and arrangements (more people are wanting to work from home or have flexibility in their hours), and diversity. An interesting trend right now is focusing on the aging demographics, especially with the Baby Boomers, how are we going to make sure those employees stay engaged or maintain some sort of relationship between the organization and the employee?
TSL: What kinds of skills and experiences do you feel prepared you for your current role?
KK: For me, I relied on internships, my program was a balance between applied and research. I got lucky with my advisor who was able to help me make connections and get into applied projects. I did however, Google internships on my own and found an unpaid internship opportunity for the summer, and I got it! It was unpaid for 3 months, working 40 hours a week, but it turned into a full-time paying job by Fall. So besides luck of the draw with advisors, I am a big believer in pursuing websites and you must be proactive. You must reach out for these opportunities and make connections.
TSL: When you were obtaining your PhD in Industrial Organizational Psychology, were there any specific classes you felt prepared you for the applied world?
KK: Statistics wasn’t anything I loved or was passionate about, but it has really helped. The data and the evidence-based practices is what distinguishes you from any other HR Consultant out there. When we market ourselves as HR Consultants we are putting ourselves into a barrage or sea of other people who also call themselves HR Consultants. We are still working on finding that right lexicon or wording to describe what we do; but I can tell you the data, the evidenced-based practices, and follow-through—like the implementation, is what sets you apart in the applied world. It is important to be proactive rather than reactive.
TSL: How do you think your company stays proactive rather than reactive?
KK: In my own professional life we have strategic meetings every three months with all the founders and we ask, “What are we doing, and what should we be doing?” and “If we had to do this all over again, what would we do differently in our business?” It is important to take time for strategic thinking and to be able to pivot if necessary. Right now this is easier for our company because it is still fairly small, but even from organizational research, companies who are large tend to be more successful when they take time for strategic thinking. We even try to help our clients think more proactively, for example, if an organization has a big turnover issue we help think about their hiring process and bringing the right people in the door, or if they performed better training, that turnover issue would likely reduce. You need to be proactive about how to run your business which, will help the overall organization. I recently heard a podcast where someone was talking about doing one thing a month out of their comfort zone, and I think that is an excellent way to put yourself in unknown situations to build your skillset and education.
TSL: Are there any other suggestions or words of wisdom you would like to pass on to graduate students who are interested in entering the Talent Management field?
KK: It is so important to put yourself out there and find what you are truly passionate about. Grow your network so that you can try out a diverse array of opportunities. It is important to be open, I see so many people try to focus too narrowly and then when that changes they are at a disadvantage. So be open and diverse!