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Kathryn Loheide: What It Means to Prioritize a Digitally Agile Workforce

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About the Episode

Have you been forced to quickly pivot plans and rethink processes this year? In this episode, Kathryn Loheide, SVP of Marketing at Formstack, digs into ways to find stability and focus during a time of worldwide upset. From ruthless prioritization to becoming a digitally agile workforce, Kathryn shares her insights on how to be more efficient, adaptable, and fulfilled at work.

Episode Highlights

Meet Our Guest

Kathryn Loheide has almost a decade of experience in marketing at some of the most well-known tech companies in Indianapolis. Now as the SVP of Marketing at Formstack, she leads a team of nearly 30 marketers and oversees everything from Formstack’s branding to the creation of this podcast. Kathryn is a committed leader, who is passionate about building teams and growing people. The ability to be creative and innovative has kept her motivated to continue her journey as a female tech leader.

Episode Transcript


Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect. I am Chris Byers of Formstack. The pandemic has brought into focus how vulnerable companies are to making really important digital changes. We're all learning how to change the way that we support customers using digital channels. We've learned how to scale back certain things that took places in offices and scale up things that are taking place in a more remote world.

So every one of us is undergoing a digital transformation. And often those efforts result in negative experiences for customers and employees, really with the employee being an afterthought. And so today on the show, we have Kathryn Loheide. She is the V.P. of marketing here at Formstack. She's joining us today because in our world, she is the closest to this often told story on digital transformation. She has firsthand experience of needing to empower individuals inside of organizations to make technology more accessible. Today's conversation is going to really go beyond digital transformation. Kathryn is going to share what it means to be digitally agile and address the new digital transformation divide. So before we go much further, though, let's take a quick pause and get to know Kathryn a bit. Well, maybe get us started with something that just tells us a little bit about who you are.

Kathryn Loheide: I have been working in SaaS marketing for eight or nine years now. And a few things, you know, the roles that I've had, all the companies have really embraced an entrepreneurial spirit which has really appealed to me. Driving my own destiny, owning my own outcomes is a motivator for me. And I've really found that in software the pace of innovation keeps me going and allows for a variety in my day. I come in. I think I know what I'm going to be doing that day and maybe I do some of it. By the end of the day, I've definitely done a lot of other things that haven't been on my list in the morning, which leads to continual learning, which I really enjoy as well. And software. I was surprised, I think, by all the creativity that I have found. Problem solving, but also the creative aspect of marketing. I found that the software companies I've worked for have really embraced that, and that keeps me going.

Chris Byers: One of the other things that I know is important to you and it's important to us here at Formstack is really thinking about how do we make sure that we build an environment that is successful? In gender diversity, for instance. And as a female in marketing and tech leadership, what keeps you motivated to grow your career and be an important voice in this ecosystem?

Kathryn Loheide: The main thing for me is I'm having fun. That's important to me. I want to be doing work that I enjoy with people that I care about. And a line I've picked up along the way is that I'm serious about my work and lighthearted about my day. I really try to live that out. And I found that tech has been supportive of that approach as my career has evolved. I've been fortunate to lead great people and I get so much energy from that, working with people that want to learn to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit. And I encourage women and everyone that I work with to believe in their own voice and experiences, which can be hard as you're finding your way as a professional. But speaking up for women and our experiences, our point of view is important in a leadership role. And being a woman, I found myself looking at and advocating in the workplace for things like female leadership representation, equal pay, mothers rooms, flexible schedules, things that are traditionally women's issues, but really should be human issues and issues for everyone to have better workplaces for everyone. So modeling the way for other women has been a big driver for me when something is hard or unpleasant. I often think of the example that I set for other women as a leader. If I don't do the hard thing and I'm not true to myself and my values, I show other people that it's OK to not do that. And because things are hard and I take that very personally around letting myself down and letting the other people that may look to me for guidance and leadership, whether it's actually hard work or just having a tough conversation, I think about leading by example a lot.

Chris Byers: Well, so much of what you're even beginning to talk about is this idea that, you know, what has happened in the past, the way that we've worked in the past doesn't always have to be how we work in the future. And it's really this idea of reimagining work. And so when we take a step back and think about 2020 in the future, what do you think it means to reimagine work for organizations?

Kathryn Loheide: I think more than ever, it starts with evaluating customer needs and asking the question, how can we better serve our customers. With the pandemic, you know, that really forced companies to think about that, whether it's a surge of customers migrating to digital channels or needing to scale backend operations to meet customer needs. I think really putting the customer at the center of the organization is more important than ever. So when organizations really think about that basic question, I think it inevitably leads them to rethink about how they run their business when they start to focus on customer needs that can lead to reimagining the way the company operates internally as well. So that can mean thinking about the work environment, making that more digital to better accommodate remote work. It can also mean looking at technology solutions to better arm employees with the tools they need to get their jobs done. And looking at the effectiveness of those tools and thinking about what tools will empower their employees to better serve the customer in the most efficient way.

Chris Byers: So those are some good examples of how companies are thinking about that. No doubt you've had your own personal journey in the past four or five months. What's reimagining your work meant to you personally?

Kathryn Loheide: I have, as we all have had, a personal journey as well. And so this year, reimagining my world of work has meant ruthless prioritization. I have young children and my husband works full time also. So prioritizing what needs to get done and to what degree in my home life and my professional life has really taken on an all new meaning. I'm generally not a good enough kind of person, but that has had to happen sometimes over the last few months. And then professionally, I think my quarterly pep talk to the marketing team for Q2 and Q3 led with a ruthless prioritization speech.

Learn More: A New Reality: Teaching, Parenting, and Working From Home

Chris Byers: I really love that way of thinking. I think so much of our work could be wound down into a lot less effort if we had ruthless prioritization. I think we just let a lot creep in. So that's a wonderful message. People really think about change sometimes in the negative. So how, speaking to your team or whomever, how do you rally people around new initiatives and that change that we need to put into place?

Kathryn Loheide: Yeah, this is so important. You know, throughout my career, I have often taken positions that were driving change, growing into new markets or launching brand turnaround. And the most important things I found are communication and managing expectations. When driving broad change, you really have to bring people along for the ride. You need to help them understand why the change is necessary and important and how it benefits them, always how it benefits them. So being clear and plain about what exactly is being executed is important as well in managing expectations.

And then just repeat, repeat, repeat, as much as you can in as many different ways as you can. When you can't stand to hear yourself say the same story one more time, you might be getting through to people.

Chris Byers: One of the things we've talked about is this idea of a new digital transformation divide. Can you explain what that means and how it's impacting companies?

Kathryn Loheide: When we think about digital transformation, there are digital first-companies that maybe are more recent. They've been founded more recently. So they have built companies using digital, using technology to build their companies and their operating systems. And then there are more established companies that need to update their operations to keep up with employee and customer expectations. One really clear example of that is retail versus direct to consumer companies. So retail that have point of sale systems, they have brick and mortar. They have a lot of systems that they need to update, where there are a lot of these direct to consumer companies that have been e-commerce the whole time that are able to more rapidly adapt to customer needs and control costs. So when we think about how that's impacting organizations, you know, digital-first companies, they can scale more quickly. They can pivot to a pandemic, where buying habits have changed to digital interactions, really wanting to use their phone, wanting to have frictionless delivery and older, more established companies that aren't digital first that need to change their operations are having a lot a lot harder time keeping up.

A digitally agile workforce is able to quickly adapt and pivot to those changing customer or market needs. Employees are empowered with self-service technology solutions, rather than the top-down, IT-driven solutions.

Chris Byers: What are the ways you even think about phrases like this? Are there kind of clinical like here's the official phrase we're going to use to describe something. And so digital transformation sounds a little bit like a buzzword. A buzz phrase of sorts, what do you think are some misconceptions because of that, around that phrase.

Kathryn Loheide: Yeah. I think a lot of digital transformation that more technology is better. Just adding tech, adding software is going to solve the problems. And that's just not true. It can create more problems, if not strategized, if not really figuring out what is the need that we're trying to solve. It's not just, oh, we should be digital. So let's add tech. It's these are the customer and employee pains that we need to solve for. And then applying the right technology for those efforts. And then I think another one is that a huge sweeping change is what's necessary. This word transformation, of course, does mean, you know, a broad change, but that may or may not be right for each business. So it's really thinking through what are we trying to accomplish here with a digital transformation.

Chris Byers: And so are you saying it's actually good to think about this as a huge kind of sweeping change, that's the way we need to think about it to be successful?

Kathryn Loheide: Actually, I don't think so. I think it's different for every business. And I think sometimes when you're thinking about transformation and a lot of that indicates executive leadership pushing things down, IT creating and implementing strategies and then executing the tools and prescribing that down to employees. And sometimes that could be the right thing. But I think there also needs to be the bottom up approach of, well, what are employees already using, what already has adoption and is working that we can use as this test case and pilots, especially in a large organization. So I think it can go either way. But generally, the buzz word idea around digital transformation is thought of as a broad sweeping change.

Chris Byers: Yeah. And in fact, funny enough, the sweeping change of kind of this pandemic is actually forcing people into quick digital transformation. I've been fascinated by, the frankly ancient-esq organizations that would probably have gotten to this in about 30 years, who are all of a sudden like, oh, well, we made the change. And now we've got to support it. Why, though? Even though this in a way has probably been good for some digital transformation. What are some ways that you think people fail at implementing digital transformation?

Kathryn Loheide: I think it's when they don't start with that digital strategy. I think that's the first piece. What are they trying to accomplish? And it's not just one piece of tech, but it's creating a tech ecosystem that makes it easier and more efficient for employees to get their jobs done while also increasing customer satisfaction. And as I touched on, another miss is not getting feedback and buy in from the end users. So top down initiatives with no meaningful input from the people that it really impacts are no good. That that's not going to work as well as leadership would hope. So meeting employee needs and empowering them to run their business on their terms is really critical. And that ends up with better outcomes for their customers, for patients, for students, whatever industry they may be in. And generally, meeting those employee needs means a no code, self-service tool that they can configure for their specific purposes, especially if it's something that you're going to drive throughout a large, diverse organization. And another reason that I think that companies fail is it's a huge change management exercise. And change management is hard. And the larger the company, the harder it is. And adopting new software and a new approach to using software is challenging for leaders, IT, and employees. And communication is the key on this one, a clear why story and then repetition to drive the change.

Related: How Digital Agility Empowers Employees and Boosts Productivity

Chris Byers: You know what most people seem to want at that moment, when they're committing to digital transformation, is really taking broken processes, inefficient processes, things that are not working for customers and getting them fixed. What do you think agility kind of means in that context? And why do you think it's important to really be successful in fixing those processes?

Kathryn Loheide: Yeah, in this context, I actually think agility is having the means and ownership to quickly react to customer demands and solve problems relatively independently. Not just being able to get something done quickly, but react to the changing customer needs. So it is speed, but it's also adaptability. And it's also not having to get executive buy-in or IT support, which goes to the idea of the self-service tools.

Chris Byers: So it sounds like one of the things you're describing to us is really there's a lot of ways you can get things done in a business. And one can be a more top down approach, a command and control. Let's tell you what you're going to do. And one sounds like something pretty exciting and different for kind of teams and individuals is they have maybe a way to impact the organization more effectively. So maybe break that down for us. What is it you're saying? How does a digitally agile workforce look different from just maybe digital transformation? That tends to be more top-down.

Kathryn Loheide: Yeah. So the digital transformation is generally a broad top-down change that is about systems and technology. It requires executive support, executive budget. The initiatives get disseminated from the top via IT with little input from the non-tech workers who actually have to rely on these new systems to solve their everyday problems and meet patient needs or their customer needs. Now a digitally agile workforce, on the other hand, is a workforce that's able to quickly adapt and pivot to those changing customer or market needs. The digitally agile workforce, it's the operating system of the company and an output of that operating system is that the employees are empowered with self-service technology solutions rather than the top-down IT driven solutions. And then they can accomplish their everyday work themselves through self-service tools that meet their specific needs rather than IT push this down to solve a broad need, and we all have to kind of do work arounds to make it work for us.

Chris Byers: We know as we grow and our organizations as leaders, we often get further and further removed from the problems and the broken processes that actually exist in the company. How do you think we find out about these? How do we know if people are experiencing these kind of challenges that we need to get fixed?

Kathryn Loheide: That's a good one. As leaders, often in our day to day get more removed from employees and customers on the front lines. I think it's really important to think about how we can intentionally get plugged into that. So if it is creating time to meet with customers, if it's creating time to listen to sales calls. You know, that's something that we've been focused on and thinking about recently here at Formstack is listening to customer calls to really hear what are our customers saying, what challenges are they experiencing that that we can help solve for them? So I think it's being more intentional about spending time listening to customers. And that's where you can really, you know, spark those ideas for innovation and for improving everyone's work, customer work and our employees.

Chris Byers: So as we start to process this conversation, one theme that's coming out is this idea of reimagining work. And while we're, of course, in software and productivity, really reimagining work is more than just tech stacks and things like that. It goes kind of far beyond it. And so how do you think companies should address this idea of reimagining their organization from critical talent to gathering new perspectives and diversity? How is it they can kind of think about getting started there?

Kathryn Loheide: I think the first is to take a look around and assess what is really happening in the organization and what is the specific goal that you're trying to accomplish. I think you need to know where you want to go before you can start to get there. And then once you've done that, I think, you know, think about what are the gaps and do we even know what those gaps are? Where can we go beyond the traditional way of doing things? So when we think about recruiting new talent. OK, we've used these three or five outlets to recruit new talent for the last however many years. And we're getting the same types of applicants, the same types of candidates.

And then gathering different perspectives. I think that is one interesting thing that Formstack has done, I think from having a remote-first workforce. But is going to be happening with a lot of a lot more organizations as remote work becomes a more significant part of their operating system is you're not confined necessarily to a geographical location. So it is going to be easier to gather different perspectives from that way of having people that don't necessarily all live in the same place, which forces a lot of the same experiences. So just the nature of remote and being able to recruit and have talent from across the world will bring different perspectives. And then as those different perspectives come, it really is being open to change the business processes because what's worked for so long has worked for that specific group that you've already had. When you bring in candidates that have different life experiences, that have different perspectives, you're going to need to change some of those business systems to better accommodate and get a better work product out of the different types of people that you're now working with.

Chris Byers: So, you know, sometimes when I read a business book, often especially if I'm reading it right before I'm going to go to bed, I often have to put it down pretty quickly because I'll start to read and then I get all these ideas and then actually experience some quick frustration because I'm like, "Ah, well, first of all, which idea do I go after?" And then it's exposing problems I want to solve. So how do you encourage people as they're listening to all this, just to take that first step? What's that first step they should think about to reimagine their work.

Kathryn Loheide: It's focusing on the customer. I think it's understanding who your customer is and what you're trying to solve and what you're doing for them and what you're trying to help them with. And then what can you control that will deliver a better experience for the customer? And I think that can give you a clear path to what needs to be reimagined.

Read More: The Best Productivity Tools to Manage Tasks, Time, and Yourself

Chris Byers: So pandemic kind of equals unknown, picking up these ideas and trying to figure out what changes do we make in our businesses? What's the advice you'd give to somebody? Kind of how to prepare for that unknown and building a digitally agile workforce.

Kathryn Loheide: I would encourage them to create the strategy first. Think about what are your goals? Where are you going? And how are you prioritizing things? What are your priorities to get to those goals so that you can start to build that digital agility? And think about the technology that you need to get there and what you know, what processes do you need to put in place. But I think it starts with a strategy and that also saves time in the end, rather than trying some things. Some of them work. Some of them don't. And then having to go back. But if you can create a strategy and a framework, I think that really helps to guide the way.

Chris Byers: That's great advice. A little glimpse into the Formstack world. You know, my tendency and plenty of you listening, your tendency is like, you know, Kathryn says, go build a strategy first. I'm like, no, let's just go do stuff. And then we'll figure out the strategy later. And yet I've seen some really good success internally as we've actually stepped back and gone through, what for me, is a painful process of slowing down and talking through strategy and getting there. But really getting people aligned and getting the right things in motion because that strategy came first. As we wrap up today, I've got a couple of questions for you. So the first one is, what's your number one piece of advice for embracing simplicity in your business processes?

Kathryn Loheide: So I follow a three step process. I start with people, then process, and then technology. So people are our most valuable asset. So I want to start with getting that right. What are the people? What personalities? What skills do I need to run the business? And then I look at the process. What process can be improved to be more effective for our customers, patients, students, whoever your customers may be? So what are the processes we need to put in place to get everyone moving forward together? And then I add on the technology. Technology will solve nothing if the people and the processes are not right. I a lot of times think it will make things worse. So I really think about it in that way. People, process, technology.

Chris Byers: Tell us what's your go-to productivity tip is.

Kathryn Loheide: I'm going old school with this one with a nod to my dad. Read the instructions. I spend a lot of time fumbling around because I just get in there and try to do things, when if I just spent the five minutes up front reading the instructions, I would just be able to move forward and do it. So I'm a read the instructions person.

Chris Byers: That is that is a solid... Yeah, I don't know, sorry, you've taken me off this other course of just thinking about the building the toy for your child or whatever.

Kathryn Loheide: And maybe that's it with my kids' age, there's a lot of that, yes.

Chris Byers: So last question. How will you be reimagining work moving forward?

Kathryn Loheide: I think I'll talk more at the personal level for me. I think it'll be a lot around thinking about how I set up my day in my environment to be more productive and creative. And I don't mean productive in the sense of get things done. I think I mean more productive in the outcome of what I'm doing. I have never been a 100% remote person. So the last however many months of doing that has been a real adjustment for me on thinking about when I get into my my flow, when I get my energy, how I get my energy, especially since I don't have that face to face interaction with people. And the energy I get from my kids running around is not necessarily helpful on the work perspective. So I am really kind of taking a personal look on how do I need to structure my time and my day to devote the right energy. The outcomes for my work and also to the outcomes from my personal life. And what I want to be giving to my family as well.

Chris Byers: You know, that's good. We are all dealing with various different ways that the pandemic has kind of hit us. And I appreciate those thoughts. You know, as we kind of wrap the episode up, this one where we've featured Kathryn Loheide, SVP of marketing here at Formstack. By the way, she was just selected as a Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation fellow, which is a great honor.

I want to kind of highlight some things as we wrap up, I've just heard a couple of things that were really helpful to me as I listen to Kathryn. First of all, it's starting with customer needs. As we think about reimagining our work, as we think about digital agility, transformation. We really have to start with those customers. What are the things that they need? What are they telling us? Because if we're not solving problems for them, we're probably just wasting our time. And I think that idea of then taking that to people. So internally, how do we find people who can help us really drive change? And then going to process and process is that moment where, I love that idea of ruthless prioritization. We waste so much time because we just want to tackle everything. If we'll keep reminding ourselves what are the really important things that we just have to get done because our time may just get crushed like it has, I think, over these past couple of months, where we don't have nearly as much time to focus on some of the things that we normally do. And really at that point, thinking about how do we embrace more and more this digital agility, making that agility and transformation an operating system for our business, not just a one time event, but just making it through how we think about things, how we enable our people and how we get success.

I want to invite you all to join us for season two of Ripple Effect. This season, we are unlocking the stories of people and organizations around the world doing one thing exceptionally well, and that's reimagining work. How can you reimagine your work for the better? Join us this season and find out.

Hosted By
Lindsay McGuire
Senior Content Marketing Manager
Co-Hosted By
Ryan Greives
VP, Brand & Communications

Practically Genius is a show built for innovators championing digitization within their organization.

Hosts Lindsay McGuire and Ryan Greives host conversations with real-world innovators sharing stories of digital transformation while also providing helpful advice and insights to listeners.

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