We’ve known Kathy Yates for many years now. It has always been crystal clear that she is a cerebral person, a foodie, a fantastic mother and a wonderful Wash Park neighbor. It wasn’t until recently that we were introduced to her amazing talents as a leader in team development. She has a keen sense for finding the strengths in every individual, which by our standards is a remarkable trait.
Tell us how you decided to make roots in Wash Park.
It was more luck than intention. I found our current house online. I hadn’t been in Colorado all that long so sent the link to my husband, asking if he thought the neighborhood was good. I didn’t realize that the house was near where he grew up. He was completely familiar with all the neighborhood had to offer. He also says that South High is much better now than when he attended.
You have spent the past two decades helping for-profit and nonprofit organizations, Fortune 500 companies, and sole proprietors achieve operational excellence. Now you are the owner of Concurrence Consulting. Can you tell us about this journey?
I’ve been interested in group dynamics, communication and leadership since student council days in high school. College classes for me weren’t quite as interesting as the summer camps I worked at, where I trained leadership skills to camp counselors. After college I went to work as a training manager for a national retailer, working my way up the chain until I was running a store that did $41 million the year I left.
After eight years in retail I got a chance to work on the Getty Center in Los Angeles. If you’ve visited, you know how massive it is – over a million square feet and it cost more than $1.2 billion to build. When I joined the Getty Research Institute, it was just some plans and a dusty hillside near a busy freeway. The challenge of working on that project in part was the size of the challenge not only in terms of the building, but in helping the research institute staff transform itself into an organization that could not just handle more than a million visitors a year, but really delight them.
I am a person who likes to see results, so I earned an MBA at Claremont Graduate School at the Drucker School of Management while working at the Getty. I got to learn from Peter Drucker (considered the father of modern management) himself that business really is all about people. Over time, some MBA colleagues asked for my help with operations and change management, so I created my own company as a side business.
After the intensity of opening an internationally renowned cultural center, I came to Denver to hike for a couple of weeks, and I fell in love with it – the city is beautiful, I love to hike in the mountains, and the people were so friendly and welcoming. I got some temp work right away and then that morphed into a consulting gig, so I got serious about creating my own operations consulting company. I also had a child during this time, and wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. Once our son entered school, I became what I called a “full time working stay-at-home mom” by consulting so that I could control my hours and be home after school.
With working for an national retailer and an international cultural organization, I had the benefit of understanding for profit and non profit environments. Regardless of the nature of the engagement, I continuously observe that the way to improve operations is to help people better understand themselves and how to work better with others.
Tell us about the Clifton Strengths Assessment and how it can strengthen an individual and group working environment.
The Clifton Strengths Assessment is an online tool that identifies your natural way of approaching work. Donald Clifton was an educational psychologist who thought we should focus on what people do well. He identified 34 different ways that work gets done, so when you take the assessment, you get back a full report explaining how you work best and what you need to be successful.
While it is great to put words to how you work, it is magic with groups because it shows you how other people work. Once you see that people have a different way of looking at a situation, you can better appreciate what each person brings to the table. It also helps teams understand the need for clear communication because it shows that there are many ways to see a situation. It is not that someone is being difficult, but that they have a different way of looking at things. A team can also more fully utilize its people when they see the team members’ strengths and can strategize how to tap into them.
Using the Clifton Strengths Framework also gives a team a shared vocabulary. They can start to identify what is called for in a given situation, and can speak to the themes rather than making it about a person. By utilizing the 34 themes, groups learn different ways to approach their work. Sometimes our natural tendency is not what will work best for a given situation. When I work with teams I help them to see a range of options.
I am also certified in Lego Serious Play, which is exactly what it sounds like. When people use their hands it helps clarify their thinking. We use Lego Bricks to build models for a variety of situations – to represent strengths, to show the connections of a team, to identify a problem or understand cause and effect. It is super fun and surprisingly effective, and engages an entire team.
Since having started your own company, what advice would you offer future entrepreneurs?
1. Don’t wait for perfect. By getting your product in the hands of customers, you will get invaluable feedback. I have refined my offerings from working with clients and responding to their needs.
2. Play to your strengths. The cool thing about having your own company is that you get to decide what you want it to be. I like working with individuals AND teams so that is a feature of my offerings. I also really enjoy making things better, so I work with clients for a year so that we can really see improvement. When I focused on what I am good at and what do I enjoy doing (not always the same thing), I was able to really hone my offerings.
3. Get a coach. It may sound self serving for me to say that, but my business improved when I hired a coach. We all have our blind spots and a good coach helps you see what you can’t see about yourself and figure out what to do about it.
When you’re not working how do you spend your time?
I am married to Scott Yates, also an entrepreneur, and our son is a sophomore at South. We all have busy schedules but we try to have dinner at home most nights to keep us connected. We also take a family vacation every summer. I walk our dog Buddy every day. Well, almost, and not when it is below 20 degrees. I love to hike and spend time outside. During the winter I cook and try recipes I find in the newspaper. Inspired by families at South High School, I volunteer as an in-home tutor for adults learning English language skills. I also work part time two weeks a year at the National Western Stock Show, which really is a national treasure. I am a parent representative on a Colorado State Board of Education advisory council.
What are your top three faves about our neighborhood?
1. I love that it is truly a neighborhood. We know our neighbors. We help each other out. We can walk to restaurants, light rail, grocery stores, pilates, dry cleaners etc.
2. There are two great schools on either end of the park – Steele Elementary and South High. I loved walking my son to school through the park to Steele Elementary, and now appreciate that he has the park to ride his “fixie” through to get to school.
3. The park itself is gorgeous and well used. I love going for walks and seeing people of all ages in the park. We’ve had birthday parties in the park, attended summer concerts with the Denver Municipal Band, walk our dog and enjoy it in all kinds of weather.
It has been a pleasure picking your brain, Kathy. We anticipate many organizations will be eager for you to pick theirs in order to reap the benefits of a team with people who truly understand one another.