Groundwork Podcast – Episode 5

Natasha Kehimkar (Malida Advisors, AppAnnie, Fandom)

In this episode, we’ll hear Natasha’s thoughts on building (and rebuilding) people functions from the ground up.

A show about Chief People Officers from the world’s fastest-growing companies.

An HR Podcast about how these leaders guide organizations through the turbulent times of hypergrowth by investing in human beings.

They lay the groundwork that makes the impossible, inevitable. Join Lingo Live CEO Tyler Muse for conversations on how they became the leaders they are today, how they’ve navigated their toughest challenges, and how they envision the future of work.

EPISODE 5

Natasha Kehimkar (Malida Advisors, AppAnnie, Fandom)

Natasha Kehimkar has spent over 25 years leading HR, Talent Acquisition, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) in multiple industries. She started out at Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, and made the move into hyper-growth at OpenTable, App Annie, and Fandom. She brings that experience to her work now as CEO & Founder of Malida Advisors.

In this episode, Natasha talks about growing up in Toronto and the values her parents instilled in her early on. We’ll hear her thoughts on building (and rebuilding) people functions from the ground up, how to take advantage of the desire to build a more equitable workplace, and the story of the time she got laid off and how it influences how she thinks about HR.

What We Cover:

[1:05] An intro to Natasha

[2:42] Growing up in a vibrant Indian-Jewish community in Toronto

[5:33] Experiencing bullying in school and getting suspended unfairly

[8:27] Learning from these challenges

[12:31] Having a plan and achieving it

[16:02] Impressions on human behavior from her first office job

[19:03] How being laid off early on forever shaped her approach to separations

[28:08] Transitioning from organizations 100,000 to 10,000 to 100s of employees

[30:32] Reflecting on organizational structure at various stages and sizes

[33:59] Advice for CEOs hiring people leaders during these times

[34:57] How to approach DEI without getting stuck

[37:44] Natasha’s work at Malida Advisors

[39:38] What to prioritize when reshaping distributed and hybrid workplaces

[42:53] Why we often set people managers up for failure

Tyler  0:00  

Welcome back to Groundwork, brought to you by Lingo Live. I’m Tyler Muse.

 

Tyler  0:06  

At Groundwork, we talk to Chief People Officers from the world’s fastest-growing companies. We get to know them on a human level and explore how they became the leaders they are today, how they’ve navigated their toughest challenges, and how they envision the future of work.

Today we’re featuring my conversation with Natasha Kehimkar.

 

Tyler  0:31  

Today we’re featuring my conversation with Natasha Kehimkar.

 

Natasha  0:35  

I have the very first issue of Fast Company and I bought into everything that Fast Company was peddling — the innovation, the creativity. It felt like the early days of Warner Lambert, when we were very creative, we didn’t have massive budgets, but we did amazing things, and really innovative creative work in the people and talent spaces.

 

Tyler  1:05  

Natasha has spent over 25 years leading HR, Talent Acquisition, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging in multiple industries. She started out at Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson and then led people functions through hypergrowth at OpenTable, App Annie, and Fandom. She brings that experience to her work now as CEO and founder of Malida Advisors. Most importantly, for me, we’ve been fortunate enough to have her on our board at Lingo Live for the past couple of years.

 

Tyler  1:39  

In this episode, Natasha talks about growing up in Toronto, the values her parents instilled in her, and formative experiences that shaped her as a person. We’ll hear about her thoughts building and rebuilding people functions from the ground up, how to take advantage of the desire to build a more equitable workplace, and the story of the time she got laid off and how it influences how she thinks about HR.

 

Tyler  2:07  

Natasha, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.

 

Natasha  2:11  

Thank you so much for having me. It’s an absolute pleasure. 

 

Tyler  2:14  

Well, let’s, you know, we really like to as part of our purpose at Lingo Live is to bring the world closer together through meaningful human connections. We really like to focus on the human aspect of work and the human beings that make an impact on the workplace. And I think a lot of that starts with how you grew up, you know, what was your childhood like? And I’d love if you could share a little bit about what was your childhood like growing up in Toronto?

 

Natasha  2:42  

Well, yeah, Toronto is where I was born and raised. My parents are still there. I am the eldest I have a younger brother, who’s six years younger than me. We are a family of Indian Jews. And my parents were both born and raised in India, they met and married in London and landed in Toronto, which is where I was born. You know, my parents felt it was their responsibility to ensure that I had a good Jewish education and a good education, period. And so they scraped together their pennies and sent me to a private Jewish Day School. I was the only non-white child in that school for a very long time. 

 

Tyler  3:23  

Wow.

 

Natasha  3:23  

And so there are some experiences that happened there that have definitely shaped me. But we have a… there’s a very vibrant Indian Jewish community  in Toronto. And so the High Holy Days, the Jewish New Year, Yom Kippur, we would get together and that’s when all the aunties and uncles that aren’t really blood relatives, but they’re, you know, their aunties and uncles nonetheless, we would see each other, we would sing in the traditional melodies. And I had this Indian Jewish upbringing. And at school, it was very much the Ashkenazi or the European Jewish, sort of heritage was what I learned and was steeped in. And so I had a foot in both worlds. The thing I will mention about my school time was I experienced bullying, in school — pushing, shoving, hitting, name calling — based on the color of my skin. And so people would use… the other students would use some pretty nasty words, which I will not repeat here. And the teachers _ some teachers — did treat me differently because of the color of my skin. I would get in trouble for things that I didn’t do. I was raised to be seen and not heard if you can believe Tyler.

 

Tyler  4:53  

I’ve heard you say that before. I’m glad you’re touching on that. Yeah, I’d love to hear more about that.

 

Natasha  4:57  

It was very much you know, there are… there was structure at home. My parents were strict. I think now as a parent myself, I think reasonably so, but don’t let them hear that. Maybe they were a little bit more strict than I would have been. But even still, I know, I know, their intentions were good. But what that meant was in school, I was a rule follower. So to get in trouble, and at one point to get suspended for something I didn’t do was just, you know, bizarre.

 

Tyler  5:31  

You got suspended when you were in school for something you didn’t do?

 

Natasha  5:33  

I got suspended when I was in school for apparently throwing paper towels and toilet paper all over the bathroom, the girls bathroom, which I didn’t do. But you know, authority figure saying, “you did it, you’re in trouble, you’re suspended,” like, there’s no talking back.

 

Tyler  5:50  

Yeah, I can’t imagine how crushing that was, especially with your parents being strict, that must have been really hard on you.

 

Natasha  5:56  

My mother said, you know, “we can pull you out of the school. We can put you in public school. But it’s up to you. You’re going to have to learn how to deal with bigotry here, or somewhere else. But it’s up to you what you want to do.” And here I am entering grade 2 or 3 at the time, so what am I, 7, 8 years old? And my mother who was a lifelong HR practitioner, at least while while she was in Canada, asking me to make this choice. And I really loved the other things about the school. And I wanted that academic setting. I wanted to learn Hebrew, I wanted to, to be part of that community, even if they didn’t show that they wanted me. And I decided in that moment that, yeah, I’m going to do this. And I stayed. In fact, I stayed in the Jewish school system in Toronto, all the way through the end of high school. And yeah, for the longest time I was the only I was different. And as I entered high school, I realized, I don’t have to take this anymore. I never took it before. I’m not taking it now. And I don’t see a reason why others should have to take it either. And so I ended up I guess, in some way, being the one that people connected with, if they weren’t, that didn’t fit the norm, whatever the norm was.

 

Tyler  7:27  

They connected with you, because they saw here’s someone who doesn’t fit the norm, but who is comfortable in her skin and is able to stand up to quote unquote, the norm and be herself.

 

Natasha  7:37  

And stand up for others.

 

Tyler  7:40  

That’s amazing. And I want to go back to your mom real quick, how amazing that your mother, you know, gave you that option to stay in the school. Because as a parent, right, when your kid is struggling, we don’t want to watch them struggle, we want to figure out what’s the easiest way to remove this pain from their life. And keep them in this cocoon, where they’re able to continue to thrive and not be affected by trauma, which is what you’re experiencing. And your mom, that’s so amazing. She told you, you’re gonna face this in your life one way or another. Do you want to face it now, or, and to give you the choice to have we can pull you out of the school. Or you can stick with it and know that this is going to make you stronger and make you more resilient in the face of this same adversity that you’re going to experience throughout your life.

 

Natasha  8:27  

Yes, you know, my, my parents having grown up in India, they had servants. That’s what they used to call them servants, right? So my mother had never even washed her own hair until she moved to England. So she she had what she calls “a charmed life.” She was very privileged. And so when she got to England, and she was living with her brother, she asked him one day, well, where are all my clothes, and she said, they’re on the ground where you’ve dropped them. You have to do your own laundry. She didn’t know how to cook, she didn’t know how to do any of those things. And so while on the one hand, my brother and I were raised to be seen and not heard. On the other hand, she had vowed to herself that no daughter of hers, and this is her these are her words, no daughter of mine will grow up to be anything but independent. And so she wanted me and my brother, to learn how to cook to do laundry to take care of things in a home to also be able to stand up for ourselves when we needed to and stand up for others. So we didn’t have a lot of money growing up in Toronto, but volunteering and and doing things for our community was how we gave back. And so yeah, you know, I she gave me this choice. Partly because she wanted me to be able to take care of myself. And to also teach me that doing it for myself means I can also do it for others, right? And I wasn’t perfect, right? I wasn’t the perfect kid. Despite what my mother tells my children now, I was not perfect. And I’m sure there are moments where that I would if I were to remember and look back, that I teased other kids, but it is not. It was very difficult what I went through so much so that my parents really were not happy with me sending my own children to Jewish Day School, because they remembered what happened. And my father took it very much to heart. My mother was tougher in that way. But it shaped me and, and you know, Tyler, as I look back now, on my work life, I know that those experience shaped who I am, you know, I always say, we all have stuff in our backpack, I can’t see it, because it’s on my back, you can see it, you may not be able to name it. But you know, something’s there. And what that those experiences in school taught me were resilience. Being willing, willing and able to stand up for myself and what’s right, for other people as well. To hold on to values and beliefs that are important to me, even if they’re not what other people think, or believe.

 

Tyler  11:22  

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And I’ve heard you say this many times before, where you want to make a difference in the world. And so hearing you say that just now it totally makes sense. That’s where that comes from. I think everybody says, right, they want to make a difference in the world, especially in tech, you hear you want to make a dent in the universe. But unless it’s grounded in really understanding the world and the type of adversity that people can go through, you’re not, you’re not likely to follow through on it with the passion and perseverance that you’ve shown in your career. So thank you for sharing that, Natasha. That’s really great insight into what shaped you. I’ve also heard you say that you you had a very clear plan, as you were graduating high school and you were going into college and thinking about your career. You said that you had a very clear plan. Your plan was to go to McGill, and then an American university for graduate school. And you made that happen. A lot of people have these plans, and then they end up looking back and saying, “yeah, that was a silly plan. I don’t know why I thought I was gonna end up doing that.” Why was that the plan?

 

Natasha  12:31  

Yeah, I did. I did have a plan. And I did achieve it in those moments. Why was that the plan? Well, I, I never felt the Toronto was home. It’s such an interesting experience, because it’s an incredibly diverse city. And it’s a really vibrant city. It’s large. I think people don’t really realize those who are not from Toronto or haven’t visited Toronto don’t realize what an incredible city it is. And it really is very special. But it never felt like home to me. It never felt like home. I never felt settled, somehow. And I wonder if I latched on to McGill, because it was a Montreal and I loved learning French, I love learning languages. And really enjoyed it. And I just wondered if it was my way of being a little bit more cosmopolitan, despite Toronto being a very cosmopolitan city itself, that I latched on to McGill, but it was also from an academics perspective in Canada at the time, the nickname was Harvard of the north. So, you know, it wasn’t, it wasn’t like I was gonna go there and coast. So I landed on McGill, because I knew a few things about it. When it was in Montreal, I’d be able to speak French while I was living and working in Montreal, but also, they had a program focused on labor relations. And I was very interested in that my mother, as you know, was in HR. And I needed a degree that was going to allow me to get a job afterwards. I wasn’t feeling like I had the luxury of getting a degree where I could sort of bop around the world for a little while, or chill out before entering the work world. And so I wanted to do a program and they had a really good program.

 

Tyler  14:29  

I’ve been curious on that because especially in light of what you just shared and your background and the influence that your mom had on you. You know, there’s a lot of career paths you could take that also are lucrative and pay you. Why HR? I mean, was it was it that you idolized your mom and you wanted to follow in her footsteps, or was it really just more of a coincidence that you happen to be wanting to follow that same path?

 

Natasha  14:54  

I wouldn’t say I idolized my mom. So my mother was a primary income earner, which, interestingly, I am now myself. She really loved her work. And I think because she used to come home and tell us stories, although nothing that we shouldn’t have heard, so she’d never name names. I think, because I saw her, like navigating some complicated problems. That’s what got me into HR. Initially, you know, I was like, I’m going to be a doctor, I’m going to be a physician, I’m going to do the MCAT, I’m going to go into medical school, and I’m going to be a doctor. And then physics happened, and I gave up on myself.

 

Tyler  15:42  

Physics hit you in the face [laughs].

 

Natasha  15:43  

Physics hit me in the face. And I would say I gave up on myself. I also, you know, had the experience in math where the teacher said, you know, “you really shouldn’t be in these advanced math courses,” like, give up kind of conversation.

 

Tyler  15:58  

The exact same thing happened to me. I didn’t even make it to physics, so yeah.

 

Natasha  16:02  

Well, so I was stubborn, and I kept going. But you know, it didn’t sing to me. And what I realized is, I like solving really complicated problems, and people are really complicated. And so even though I went into McGill, and started in the labor relations program, I switched to sociology, keeping all the main courses that I need to needed for the labor relations program. But sociology helped me explore people and community and dynamics in a different way. And I still wanted to do human resources, I still wanted to go into the space. And so I took the opportunity to apply to graduate school. I applied to Michigan State, I accepted. I deferred for a year because I needed to work to make enough money to pay for school. Now remember, I’m at grad school, even though I’m coming in as a Canadian, I’m an international student. So you pay a heck of a lot more than American students, or especially Michigan-based students. So I took a year off. And from there, I did an internship with a company that I had started working with in high school. And all my work experience up to that point had been in office spaces. So I had one summer where I did class over summer school, summer school to avoid having to take it in the full year, because I was trying to accelerate my course load. That was the only time I worked retail. But the rest of the time, it was mainly office jobs. And I realized in those office jobs that wow, you know, we think people are going to do something, and they do something completely different. And yeah, there’s research in their data. But it’s still hard to predict. And I thought, this is for me. This is for me.

 

Tyler  17:53  

This being when you say you think people are going to do something, they do something different. What do you mean there, like, from a career standpoint, or just in terms of their behavior in the workplace?

 

Natasha  18:02  

The behavior in the workplace, the interactions in the workplace, the decisions they make at work, what they say versus what they mean.

 

Tyler  18:10  

Right. Right. And as a business, especially as business owners, it’s so easy to think about it as a machine with components where you put these components in this place, and it’ll drive this and this and that, and you forget, these are human beings are complex individuals who, you know, bring with them all their unique life experiences, and baggage and all this, this other stuff. And that, that is what really attracted you about the job is really kind of pulling on that thread and understanding the complexity of these human beings and how that interplays with work.

 

Natasha  18:41  

Exactly.

 

Tyler  18:43  

That’s so fascinating. It makes a ton of sense. So you mentioned this internship, I heard in another podcast, you got interviewed, you said, I don’t know if it was that internship or a different one, but you actually got laid off in one of your first career opportunities. And that that was actually a pretty formative experience for you or was it not?

 

Natasha  19:03  

It was Tyler. So I started working at this company called First City trust in Toronto, because I finished high school a semester early. And I worked there for the second semester of the school year. Well, AT&T capital acquired First City Trust. And AT&T Capital no longer exists, but it’s it was the GE Capital equivalent. When they came in, one of the first things they did is pretty normal, you know, was end the contracts of all your contractors and consultants. So I was serving as a contractor because I was a part time temporary sort of resource. And the HR person in the Montreal office, accidentally on purpose, gave me the outplacement support that employees were getting. And it was through a boutique, outplacement firm in Montreal. So I go to this place, and it is this beautiful 300-something-year-old building in, in Old Montreal, which is the the Old City of Montreal, brick building, sort of aged looking. And it was just, it was both old and new at the same time. They had done a really beautiful layout. And this really stuck with me because it was this space where I started to discover who I am and what I can bring. You know, I didn’t have that much work experience I was in my early 20s at the time, but I was paying my way through school. And when I lost my job as part of this acquisition, I was so worried. How am I going to pay for the rest of school? How am I going to pay my rent? I’m already reading mac and cheese pretty much every night it was mac and cheese and craft peanut butter. That was my meal. Those are my meals. So to lose my job meant… what am I going to do now? How am I going to finish university? Because in my mind university was my ticket to my career. Right? So everything was hinging on this. And this firm was really incredible. They, the person I worked with encouraged me to reach out to the folks at First City because I’d left on good terms. This was an equation that had to be completed, the layoffs. And they encouraged me to go back and ask them, what is it that you that I did? Well, what does it you wish I had done differently. And they gave me some feedback. They didn’t have a lot to give me because I obviously hadn’t worked there for too long. And again, it was part time for the most of the time. But they trusted me they they invited me to come back and you know, back and forth between the two offices to work in different departments, because I put a lot into my work. And so it reminded me or the outplacement person was basically encouraging me to really explore who I am and how I want to show up and work.

 

Tyler  22:06  

That’s amazing. So amazing.

 

Natasha  22:08  

What what 20 year old something or 21 year old person gets that opportunity to do that and to work with someone like that? It was incredible.

 

Tyler  22:16  

Yeah.

 

Natasha  22:17  

And and what I learned in that moment was… Monique, I think her name was Monique was the HR person. What she did, by putting me through outplacement was the biggest and most generous gift that I could have gotten at that moment.

 

Tyler  22:36  

Why do you say that?

 

Natasha  22:37  

Because I could have been just out out in the cold and that’s it. They she had no obligation to do anything like that for me. It didn’t cost the company a whole lot of money to put me through a short outplacement, it didn’t. But what it did for me, was it kind of got my career on track, right? This experience could have completely derailed me.

 

Tyler  23:03  

Yeah.

 

Natasha  23:03  

But instead, I left with an experience of I got let go. And I was treated like royalty.

 

Tyler  23:10  

Yeah. Sounds like it.

 

Natasha  23:13  

I will tell you, as an HR person who unfortunately has worked in companies that have done lots of layoffs and restructuring. I know there are moments where I could have done it better, or the company could have done it better. But I know that when I was responsible for the function that I gave every separation, deep consideration. And I remember sitting in a in a panel discussion at one point at a company event, not not my company, I was a guest on the panel. And somebody put up their hand and said, “we have to terminate somebody and how do we get this person to understand” and blah, blah, blah, and it was very much, “we got to push this person out. We got to slam this person down.” And I asked the audience to because everyone on the panel was stunned. So I said, without putting your hands up. I’d love for each of you to think about whether you’ve been fired, you’ve been laid off, you’ve been let go, you’ve been escorted out the door. Think about whether that’s happened to you and how you were treated. And whether that’s something you want to replicate.

 

Tyler  24:26  

Right.

 

Natasha  24:26  

And then I told the story about what Monique did for me. And that’s the experience I want to replicate. Losing your job when you’re in your 20s, like, I had my whole career ahead of me. I wasn’t, like, I was, of course I had to pay for university, I had to pay for food, I had to pay for books and housing, but it’s not like I had a family or I was a caregiver for others. There weren’t other people relying on me.

 

Tyler  24:51  

Right. The impact was more emotional and and shaping the way that you thought about how you take care of the people that worked at an organization, less the financial impact.

 

Natasha  25:02  

Right.

 

Tyler  25:03  

And you could argue is more important, you know, I mean, in the long run, because you’re talking about this was 20 years ago, and you still remember her name so amazing.

 

Natasha  25:11  

Yeah. Yeah.

 

Tyler  25:12  

And God knows how many people have benefited from you having that philosophy. I mean, we went through as you know, as a member of our Board, we went through a Reduction In Force, and you were there to guide us through it. And that concept of, you know, like you said, I got let go, and I was treated like royalty is such a, you know, when you hear that it’s slightly radical concept, but it makes so much sense.

 

Natasha  25:35  

Yeah.

 

Tyler  25:35  

So that’s, that’s fantastic. So I want to make sure that we can talk about your shift from you know, interning and being in college and getting your Master’s into full-time work. Was Pfizer the first place that you started at right after you graduated with your Master’s?

 

Natasha  25:55  

Yeah, so it was a company called Warner Lambert that got acquired by Pfizer, it was called a merger of equals, felt more like an acquisition. But the company Warner Lambert made Certs and Dentine and Hall’s and Listerine and Lubriderm and Lipitor. And Lipitor is the reason we believe that Pfizer came in, but this company was global. It was scrappy. The divisions were quite distinct. They had a confectionery division, they owned Schick shaving products, the pharmaceutical side as well as consumer health care. And they actively move people around the world and from division to division. And they really stretched people. I thought, you know, looking back, they were way ahead of their time from a talent perspective, way ahead of their time. And we benefited from having some incredible people like Jeff McCollum, which if he ever listens to this, I hope he’s blushing. Jeff, and many of his cohort came out of Bell Labs, which obviously being in New Jersey was all next door. And some of the best management thinking that we even rely on today came out of Bell Labs. So Warner Lambert benefited greatly from the deep expertise in management and leadership development. And if you ever speak to other Warner Lambert, people, Tyler, I will tell you, we all kind of get all misty eyed, because it was truly a special environment. It wasn’t perfect, but we don’t remember the imperfect parts. The HR leadership in that company, invested in our development and in our growth, they implemented things like employee and manager self-service before the HR technology had even reached that way of thinking. It was remarkable, really, really remarkable. The leaders of each of the sub functions and divisions of HR that reported into the what we now call a Chief People Officer. Outstanding. The caliber of people was absolutely outstanding.

 

Tyler  28:08  

And so you were there for a bit. You went to Johnson & Johnson after that. So you’re at these, these are massive companies. This is like over 100,000 employees. And you go from these large organizations to what I know you as and what most people know you as today is the Chief People Officer of hyper-growth companies. Was OpenTable that first kind of step into the — okay, now we’re not talking about hundreds of thousands, we’re talking about hundreds of employees — type of hyper growth environment?

 

Natasha  28:41  

It was. So I went from these hundreds of thousands of people. So Warner Lambert I think was just under 100,000. Pfizer was 100, 110, 120 (thousand). J&J (Johnson & Johnson) was about that same level. I went to another company that was about 10,000, which is so much smaller, but still really big, right? And then when I moved out here to the Bay Area, yeah, OpenTable was the smallest company I’d been in to date, other than First City when I first started working, right?

 

Tyler  29:11  

But was that intentional? Did you say to yourself, Okay, I’ve done the big company, I want to go find a hyper-growth smaller organization, or was there something about OpenTable in the opportunity that you just thought, I got to give this a shot?

 

Natasha  29:25  

It was intentional. You know, I have the very first issue of Fast Company. And I bought into everything that Fast Company was peddling the innovation, the creativity, it felt like the early days of Warner Lambert, when we were very creative, we didn’t have massive budgets, but we did amazing things, and really innovative creative work in the people and talent spaces. And so I felt like open table was an opportunity to get into the valley to get into tech. And yeah, so it was absolutely deliberate.

 

Tyler  30:05  

That’s amazing. And so you what was the… Because I’ve heard you say big companies and small companies aren’t as different as people talk about, they all have their own unique problems. But what would you say when you made that adjustment from a 10,000-person company… Sorry, 100,000, down to 10,000, down to hundreds of people. What was kind of in the first six months, let’s say it at OpenTable to what were some of the biggest shocks or challenges where you were like, “wow, this is different.”

 

Natasha  30:32  

So I have, as I look back over my career, always chosen companies where it’s a build or rebuild experience. And it goes back to when I was in Warner Lambert and led part of the HR transformation project. So I it’s sort of in the bones, you know, I would say the thing that surprised me was where, I guess navigating where people are comfortable taking risk, and where they really would move into a very conservative mode. And because I expected the Fast Company, fable of, it’s going to be very fast paced, very experiment oriented, everything’s up for grabs. And that’s not true. We have, we all have our spaces where we want to feel safe, and be safe or take the safe path. And then there are areas where we’re like, break every, break every glass window, break every door, let’s, let’s smash everything and start over, we can do this better. And so the thing that this is the thing that I’ve noticed, no matter what company you’re in, there are spaces where you’re going to experiment. And it’s cool to do that. And places where take the safe route, same old, same old, just do that. So it’s actually in that respect, there are similarities. There are industries that are much more risk averse. So when I moved back to Pfizer, the second time on the pharmaceutical side, understandably, we want pharmaceutical companies to be risk averse, we want them to be very, very safe in their practices. And that impacts the culture. We want tech companies or we think we want tech companies to be very creative. We want biotech companies to, to land somewhere in the middle, where they’re deep innovation, and very focused on patient safety, credibility with physicians and, and insurance companies, and patients. Patient trust becomes is very, very important. We want these companies to have certain attributes. And it’s important to understand how much those attributes, those characteristics, impact the culture of the organization, and where people are willing to take risk and where they’re not.

 

Tyler  32:55  

Hmm. And did you see then… So you’re saying it’s not about speed over precision, it’s more in the point being that you’re not always opting for speed. Sometimes companies want to be precise. That’s not what you’re saying. You’re saying sometimes, companies are okay with the status quo and just leaving a process or a way of thinking the way it is. And they’re not always looking to break everything at these hypergrowth companies and try and kind of reinvent the wheel.

 

Natasha  33:23  

Very true. And also leaders will sometimes say they want everything to be new, they want everything to be smashed and rebuilt. And then when it comes to the time to actually doing it, then the discomfort can creep in. I have had leaders say to me, I thought that’s what I wanted. But it’s not what I want it I was just sort of, that’s what the team was wanting. And I wanted to go along with it. But you know, I actually don’t want that.

 

Tyler  33:50  

And it’s not about… it’s not about resources, or time. It’s just that I don’t want it I thought I was ready for this radical change. But I’m not or I don’t want it.

 

Natasha  33:59  

That’s right. And it it really is, I think for leaders, especially right now where the market is so hot for Chief People Officers, for Heads of Talent, Heads of DEI, to really do some introspection and be self-aware about where am I comfortable with things the way they are and where am I really open to real change, significant change that could have that will have a ripple effect in my company? Yeah, I think that taking a moment, take a beat to really think that through can really help the dialogue that you have with candidates for those roles.

 

Tyler  34:40  

Mm hmm. For those Chief People Officer role, yeah, yeah. Yeah. Is there a story or an example that comes to mind of recent memory where you feel like here’s an example of something where, you know, they weren’t willing to break an existing process or belief.

 

Natasha  34:57  

I think the thing that comes to mind right now Tyler are conversations that I sometimes have with clients or, or prospects as I run my own firm now, and they are talking about DEI. What I discover is there is a desire to change the way things are. And there is a feeling of, well, I have all this hiring to do, or I have all of this restructuring to do, or I need to get more funding, or I need to do more internal development. And so people get stuck. And what I’m having conversations with a few prospects now on this, because DEI is complicated. It’s an ultra marathon without a finish line. And our standard keeps changing, the course of the ultra marathon keeps changing, which is a good thing. We want this. But it means that it can be overwhelming for people. But my I have the saying, if you want to change the system, you have to change the system. So if you want to have change in your organization, when it comes to DEI, you have to be willing to start with something. But what ends up happening is people get stuck. So it becomes a conversation focused on the budget focused on well, maybe this first and then that, or maybe let’s talk again in August, let’s talk again another time. And it’s not that they don’t want to change things. It’s really not. It’s just the just don’t know where to start. And it is overwhelming. And so what I encourage people to think about is start small pilot experiment. And just like everything else, we can make this bigger, we can expand it, we can learn from it. But what I find happens is that people get really, really stuck. And it’s the same thing, as I talked about earlier, where we know we want change, we don’t know what that looks like. And before we turn ourselves into pretzels, trying to figure out the solution to solve all the problems of the world. Let’s just solve this one problem. Let’s just solve for onboarding. Let’s just solve for new team formation. Let’s just solve for this new source of talent. Let’s just solve for changing our job descriptions. Let’s just solve for pay equity in our organizations.

 

Tyler  37:30  

Right. Yeah. And so is this, you’re giving us the tee into Malida Advisors. Is this the vast majority of the work that you’re doing now that you’ve started your own firm? Or can you tell us a little bit about what’s keeping you busy these days?

 

Natasha  37:44  

Yeah, absolutely. DEI is one area that we do focus on, and we spend most of our time focused on infrastructure. We don’t lead with training, we do offer it but it’s not the thing that we do when it comes to DEI. We do organization assessments, and focus on the processes and infrastructure specifically in in the people and talent space, we do a lot more work in consulting on the function. So sometimes it’s about how to scale the function appropriately. Sometimes it’s how to rebuild the function or rebuild the process. We’ve spent spent a lot of time on helping organizations assess and establish values, established operating principles, which can be used as the foundation for everything from performance management, to onboarding, new hire, orientation, leadership, development, etc. Then we have a whole arm of our organization that focuses on executive coaching. And we do both one on one executive coaching as well as small group coaching. We also offer one thing that’s a little bit unique, and that’s relationship coaching for business leaders who need to collaborate, don’t really do that particularly effectively. But we know their teams have to work together very closely as well. So we do that business partner relationship coaching as well.

 

Tyler  39:07  

Got it. That’s fascinating. What about… a lot of people talk about the future of work, you see it in our LinkedIn feed everybody, you know, talks about what scares them about future work, talks about what’s so exciting. As you look to the future and you’ve obviously had a wide variety of experiences throughout your career. What’s most exciting to you about kind of the future of work and in the direction that you you either feel work is heading or you feel it needs to head and you want to have a hand in making that happen?

 

Natasha  39:38  

There are a couple of things that come to mind, Tyler. The first thing is the story is out now. The experience is out that we can work from anywhere, right? This is true for many organizations, but let’s remember, it’s probably 25% of all industries, right? A lot of industries, we do need people to be co-located or in in a physical office location or specific location of the company. Because there is work that has to be done in that setting. But for the 25%, if that’s the right number, things have changed. We don’t have to be co-located. And I experienced this 25 years ago, in my early days at Warner Lambert, when we ran global organizations and didn’t have everybody in the same place. And it worked extraordinarily well, there were things that we could do better, just like there are now, but it’s not like this is a brand new thing. It’s just it feels new. And people are nervous and scared about it, whether they’re nervous and scared about having to go back into the office, or they’re nervous or scared about how to run a hybrid or a remote organization. But we can do this. And what I love about where we are today is that the potential and opportunity have opened up in ways that are, you know, it’s unlikely that everything’s going to go back into the box. The second thing, and it’s associated with this is people have been very much focused on the logistics of desks spacing, signing up to be in the office not being in the office, tracking, vaccinations, testing, taking people’s temperature, etc. We’re very much focused on those things, the logistics of returning to office locations, but we haven’t really invested a lot of discussion in is our our managers are people managers equipped to lead hybrid organizations or lead remote organizations. And this is critical, because over time, there are research out there and DDI has a lot of research on how organizations invest in developing people, managers. And we know from our own experience as well, that companies don’t. Pretty much every company I’ve ever joined has said we need to do better when it comes to developing our people managers. So we all know that we haven’t invested as much as we could have. And what are we expecting is going to be different right now? So we haven’t invested in our people managers, we are making it harder, because we’re going to be remote or hybrid, and we’re still not investing in our people managers. So what are we expecting the outcome is going to be? The world of work is changing and has completely changed from what it was before. Now this the the global and remote work, this is much more part of the ethos, right?

 

Tyler  42:53  

Yeah.

 

Natasha  42:53  

If we don’t change the dynamic for our people, managers, and we say, “I’ll take care of the logistics, and all you people managers, you take care of everything else, we trust you.” We’re setting them up for failure. And it’s mean, I mean, I’m going to use a very childish term, but it’s it’s terribly unkind. It’s thoughtless, and our people managers, when we look at engagement data, for example, so much of an employee’s experience, when it comes to engagement, when it comes to belonging comes from the experience they have with their immediate team and their manager. If we don’t enable our managers to do that, effectively, shame on us. And so this is where working with people who can help people managers grow, enable their leaders to coach them more effectively work with organizations, like Lingo Live, plug, plug.

 

Tyler  43:46  

I love the shameless plug, to close this out.

 

Tyler  43:49  

But this is where organizations can make an investment that’s going to pay off for a very long time. Because the culture that starts to form when you’ve invested in your people managers, is one that invests in everyone. And when you invest in everyone, you’re remembering that human resources that people aren’t resources, they’re humans. And humans like to grow. And humans that grow want to stay with your organization, and you’re investing in them, not just for their careers, right there is this is where skills based coaching is particularly effective. The investment, the payoff happens in the company they are at.

 

Tyler  44:31  

Exactly, company performance.

 

Tyler  44:32  

And that’s where I think the magic happens.

 

Tyler  44:35  

You are preaching to the choir. Natasha, thank you so much for joining us today. This was fantastic to get to talk to you both about your personal and professional journey. We really appreciate the time and looking forward to the next one.

 

Natasha  44:48  

Thank you so much, Tyler.

 

Tyler  44:52  

That was Natasha Kehimkar.

 

Tyler  44:59  

One of the things I love about Natasha is that she talks about managers and the importance of managers in an organization. And she uses a metaphor, which I think is really great, or an analogy, which I think is very apt. She talks about how managers are really your core, and talking about like the core of your body, and how, if you don’t have a strong core, you can’t lift up and reach things you can’t. You can’t even walk if you don’t have a strong core, right? If you neglect your core, and you start to get a beer gut and you let things go, eventually you are going to be incapacitated as a person. And so I love that analogy and how she talks about how managers are really the core for an organization. If you have strong managers, you’re going to be able to accomplish incredible feats. Just like if you have a strong core in your body, you’re going to be able to do incredible things. Unfortunately, a lot of times companies neglect managers, they really don’t think of them as being the central core to the organization. They think of them, you know, where they sit hierarchically is maybe two or three levels down from, you know, the C-suite. And so I love that analogy. I wish more organizations thought of their managers that way, and I’m looking forward to talking to Natasha again.

 

Tyler  46:27

 

You can find us online at Groundwork.show. Groundwork is produced by Mike Giordani at Flowship. Audio engineering by Alex Roses, production assistance by Casey Miller, music by Aaron Sprinkle, Adrian Walther, and Corolina Combo. Special thanks to Pedro Matriciano and Natalya Krimgold.

 

Until next time. Thanks for listening.

 

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