From agile start-ups to large multinationals, from integrating acquired companies to reentering the workforce, Kate Hyatt has her finger on the pulse of the evolving HR role.
The role of a human resources (HR) professional can vary greatly depending on the organization that he/she works for and the growth strategy in place. Large corporations with tens of thousands of employees face different HR challenges than those with a few hundred. And organizations that are growing through strategic mergers and acquisitions have the added challenge of trying to integrate different back-end systems, workforces and corporate cultures.
The senior vice president of global human resources at Vantage Data Centers, Kate Hyatt, can confidently say that she’s seen and experienced a lot throughout her career.
Having worked with the office supply juggernaut, Staples, Kate was responsible for leading the HR integration process of a global enterprise with almost 100,000 employees and integrating acquired companies with workforces consisting of up to 25,000 people.
However, she’s also spearheaded HR and talent management functions for a number of entrepreneurial, emerging technology companies. Now at Vantage, she’s playing a pivotal role in helping the company evolve from a North American company to a global one through a number of strategic acquisitions that have brought together people separated by oceans and different cultures.
Despite all of her accomplishments, it may come as a surprise that one of the biggest challenges Kate has faced in her career hasn’t involved a benefits system or integrating workforces. Rather, it involved her own struggle to get back into a fulltime workforce that she left for family and personal reasons.
We learned more about this experience and about Kate’s professional career when we sat down with her for the next article in our Executive Spotlight series.
Interview with Kate Hyatt
Data Centers Today (DCT): There are many people who might seem stuck in the past when it comes to recruiting, from resumes, cover letters, applications and other formalities that haven’t changed in decades. As an HR practitioner who has embraced new technologies in hiring and onboarding talent, what’s different? How are new tools like AI helping companies find the right people?
Kate Hyatt: The big game changer in talent acquisition was LinkedIn. We’ve had it for a decade or so now, but they’re really the market-leader when it comes to recruiting. LinkedIn has eliminated the need to call into companies to find candidates. Now, everyone’s resume is posted online, making it a lot easier for in-house recruiters to source candidates.
In terms of the job postings, LinkedIn has continued to augment its products, and it now offers quite a bit of insights into your job postings and how effective they are. The company has also started providing us with metrics on candidate pools in multiple geographic locations where we’re looking for talent. The amount of information that LinkedIn has, and how they use machine learning to provide insights to customers like us, has been really helpful.
In terms of AI tools, my favorite is Textio, which analyzes your job postings and determines if they’re gender neutral and age-range neutral so that they’re as inclusive as possible. It also helps you to identify places in your job posting where you’ve used corporate speak or jargon. This allows you to cast a bigger net and attract the largest, best candidate pool.
DCT: You have a background in M&A, and Vantage is a company that has grown aggressively as a result of strategic investments and acquisitions. What HR challenges does an acquisition create for a company?
Kate Hyatt: An acquisition and integration can be a second job for many people and teams within the organization – not just HR.
The largest integration that I was involved in was when Staples acquired Corporate Express and I oversaw the HR integration. That involved acquiring a $4 billion company with approximately 25,000 employees. That was an integration of massive scale. And in that case, Staples took a year to actually go through all the steps of the integration.
In that instance, I was working on the integration and doing my day job simultaneously. And that is one of the biggest challenges of an acquisition – they’re not always anticipated, and you can’t always plan for them when identifying your quarterly objectives. And they are a ton more work.
That being said, what can make an integration more effective is having a playbook. I’m lucky in that I’ve overseen enough M&A transactions and integrations that I have developed a playbook over the course of my career. That playbook enables me to request the proper, necessary documents, ask the right questions, and do the right things while the company is doing its due diligence so that we know what to expect on day one.
The number one most important aspect to an acquisition or merger is communication. I have always found it important to have a formal monthly communication go out around the acquisition and integration – even when there’s nothing to report. If you don’t communicate, even when there’s nothing new to report, the rumor mill can run wild.
When you’re growing a company globally, your motto should be, “Common when possible, different when necessary.”
DCT: How about global growth? How have you worked to overcome these challenges over the course of your career? What cultural challenges does growth and decentralization create, and how do you solve those?
Kate Hyatt: This has been an area where I have had a lot of experience, and what I’ve found important, culturally, during an integration is to look at the commonalities. You look at the cultural overlap and communicate to the newly acquired employees about how your values and culture are actually similar. When you’re growing a company globally, your motto should be, “Common when possible, different when necessary.”
I have seen companies fail or face significant hurdles when they attempt to take their established way of doing things – the “U.S.” way of doing things – and stamp it without variation in multiple locations around the world. And that failed because there was an inability to recognize and adapt to local, regional or national regulations and cultural nuances that stipulate that things be done a certain way. You need to hire people differently. You need to schedule employees differently. You need to offer specific benefits.
DCT: You’ve worked with large companies in the past, including Staples, which had more than 90,000 employees at the time. You’ve also worked with smaller, entrepreneurial technology companies. How are the HR challenges and experiences different between large, global enterprises and smaller, more nimble organizations?
Kate Hyatt: Having tens of thousands of employees means everything takes more time. As I said earlier, an integration at Staples took an entire year. Compare that to my last company where I played in a role in integrating two acquisitions in 12 months. In fact, for one of them, we finished the integration within 60 days.
Large organizations have complexities resulting from the large number of employees, having multiple benefit plans, multiple payroll schedules and plans, and a plethora of vendors. My personal preference is working with the smaller, more entrepreneurial companies, just because we can move so much faster.
DCT: You’re an HR professional with more than two decades of experience. In that time, what has been the biggest professional hurdle or challenge that you’ve faced? Did you overcome it? What did you learn from it?
Kate Hyatt: I had the opportunity, when my children were quite young, to do an ex-pat assignment. I should actually clarify that it was my husband’s opportunity, and I was the trailing spouse. We packed our bags, sold our house and moved to Italy where we lived for three years. I didn’t work, and I was the at-home parent planning trips around Italy.
When we moved back to the United States, we settled in Denver and I went back to work part-time. I was also co-president of the PTO, leading my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop and acting as a Cub Scout leader, which almost broke me. I did that for about five years.
The biggest challenge that I faced was getting back into the workforce.
Before leaving for Italy, I was at the University of Notre Dame where I was heading up talent acquisition, training and development, and employee relations. I was actually on the succession plan to lead the HR function at the university. And after the time away from the workforce – even despite the coaching and consulting I was doing part-time – I was definitely starting at a lower level than when I left.
I had also left the workforce during the time when technology had just taken off. And I know this is going to sound funny, but the Internet was a new thing then.
So, I had to quickly upgrade my technical skills, but also realize that I was starting several rungs below where I had left. I had the challenge of staying humble, working diligently, and regaining the years and level that I lost, but having that experience makes me have a better understanding and more empathy for parents who leave the workforce to focus on children and childcare. I appreciate that a lot more now, and certainly don’t look at it as a negative for candidates.
DCT: What would you consider your largest professional accomplishment either with Vantage or prior to your time at Vantage?
Kate Hyatt: I came to Vantage as the first ever head of global HR. And what I’m most proud about is the team that I’ve developed in this short time with the company. It used to be a very siloed team and wasn’t a global team. And in the short time that I’ve been here, we’ve managed to overcome many of those challenges, and I’m incredibly proud of the team that we’ve built.
I’m also very appreciative of what the HR, marketing and senior leadership teams have been able to accomplish in the areas of diversity and inclusion. We’re doing some creative things to ensure that we have a diverse and inclusive environment, which is a challenge because the data center industry isn’t one that’s known for diversity.
DCT: You serve as a board member for an organization called GlobalMindED. Can you tell our readers a bit about that organization’s mission? Why is that mission so important today considering everything that’s happening in our society?
Kate Hyatt: GlobalMindED is a nonprofit focused on addressing the inequities that exist for young people of color, specifically college and high school students. The organization offers several programs that provide resources, support and guidance for these young people as they enter college.
A lot of those young people don’t have role models in their families and may not have the support of their family members when picking a higher education institution or selecting a degree program. And those challenges have become even more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The digital divide is real for high school students. And it’s also very much an issue for disadvantaged college students. GlobalMindED managed to pivot last year and adjusted programming to be completely digital by offering discussions on YouTube as well as virtual panels and keynote addresses with a number of exciting speakers.
I’m so excited about what the organization can do. And that we have a fabulous CEO, Carol Carter, who is the fearless leader of the group.
DCT: Is there a business or HR book that you would recommend to aspiring HR professionals? What about it makes it something that these individuals should find and read?
Kate Hyatt: I love this question, and I’m really looking forward to the day when I actually have my own book that I can plug because that’s on my to do list. Until then, my two favorite books are classics.
I am really intrigued with change management, which is a key part of any integration following a merger or acquisition, as well as any other time that you’re evolving or growing a business or corporate culture. And my favorite books involve change management.
The first is called, “Our Iceberg is Melting,” and it was written by change management guru John Kotter. It is actually a picture book about a group of penguins who are living on an iceberg, and that iceberg is melting. The illustrations are awesome, the characters are adorable and the messages are just so human. I truly love that one.
Another book on change management that I really like is actually a bit more academic. It doesn’t have the cute penguins, but I still love it. It’s called, “Transitions,” and it is a book and concept designed by William Bridges.
The idea behind the book is that any time you have a change event, people are going to have different reactions. That’s because some people were involved in the planning of the change, and they’re more accepting. They’ve moved into that new beginning quicker than some of the other individuals who might feel like the change is just being done to them.
For those people, there may be a need for some initial rejection, followed by an understanding of how that change impacts them. This may lead to them accepting the change and moving into the new beginning, or in some cases, they may become trapped in that transition state and are never going to be accepting. In this case, there may need to be other options for them.
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