In 2018, Kathy Holmes introduced herself to me in our shared coworking space. If I remember correctly, we were both in the kitchen, and she told me my lunch smelled good.
I always have a good lunch, it’s a thing.
We struck up a conversation and realized we had a ton in common. I work in the HR space as a marketer, and Kathy, an experienced HR professional, had just left the corporate world to strike out on her own as a consultant.
Of course, a friendship started, and all things HR were discussed in our communications. I loved chatting with her about her experience, human resources in the Kansas City area, and just general business topics. And I found her willingness to say things that others won’t in the HR world to be very endearing.
Which is why I thought she would be the perfect first guest for our new blog series: Flyover HR.
The purpose of this series is to highlight HR thought leaders across the great midwest. If you’ve been following me online for awhile (of course you do, why wouldn’t you?), you know that I currently live in the Kansas City metro area, and that I grew up in Kansas.
Something that has always bothered me about online thought leadership is it’s tendency to gloss over people in the midwest. The heartland. Or, what some would call, “Flyover Country."
So, I’m aiming to fix that problem by giving midwest HR thought leaders an opportunity to share their expertise on a wide range of issues, and show just how innovative the heartland can be.
And I wanted to start with an interview with Kathy. Enjoy!
An Interview with Kathy Holmes
Aley: Tell me about your background. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? What were you like as a kid?
Kathy: I grew up in a small town in Iowa. (Aley’s side note: Yay midwest kids!)
I was a really shy child, and didn’t come into my own until I was in my 30s. I was a preacher’s kid, and my mom was a school teacher. I also had a rebellious phase as a teenager, like almost all kids do.
After completing high school, I fell in love with my high school sweetheart, ran off and got married, had kids, and didn’t end up completing college.
Aley: I know you are a consultant now, but before that, what did you do? And how did you get to that role?
Kathy: I started with a company in the 90's called the Farmers Commodities Corporation. The company had 175 employees, and they helped the agricultural community manage the price risk in commodities such as grain, cattle, and soybeans.
They were looking for a payroll-ish sort of person. I did payroll, some accounting, and other general HR work.
While I was there, the company continued to expand. My boss ended up leaving, and the company appointed me as the HR director after that. I managed the organization all the way from its days of being a small cooperative, through an ESOP, global expansion, acquisitions, and an IPO.
Throughout that stretch, I got tons of certifications. One through SHRM, a payroll certification, and a global HR one. I spent a lot of time working on both compliance and improving employee relations. I ended my time as the Global Head of HR in the same organization.
Aley: Why did you make the transition from corporate HR to consulting?
Kathy: I just felt like something was missing in my career. I wanted something more. Not to just focus on money and litigation.
I really wanted to connect more emotionally with leadership and employees. When reflecting on what makes me the happiest, that is really my driver.
So about four years ago, I took a sabbatical to regroup, and then decided to start on this consulting journey.
Aley: What is your “why’ when it comes to HR? What passion motivates you?
Kathy: I believe that people, or human assets, get lost in translation with litigation and fiduciary responsibility. Companies just don’t focus on human asset piece.
This is why I try to connect leaders with their people in a more vulnerable and different way. Instead of an “I’m the boss, and you’re the employee" way.
I care about getting employees to look at each other differently and understand the different value we bring as a team.
Aley: How is HR different in the Midwest?
Kathy: There are some differences. But it isn’t as much as you would expect.
Of course the midwest brings financially lower costs and brings down the cost of living for employees.
People here also have a little bit of innocence about the world. Less exposure. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is bad.
It is definitely slower paced and not as sexy as a coastal city. But there are real perks that come with that. Such as our strong emphasis on family values and building personal relationships with coworkers.
I’ve got to work with people all over the states and the world, and really everyone is human and everyone has a heart.
In my career at times I’ve had to work with some people from New York. They were so much more HIGH D on the DISC assessment, it was kind of hard to get used to working with them. But then I saw their humanity working with them around 9/11, and it really just reinforced my theory that we are all human beings and we all have hearts.
Aley: What advice would you give to people looking to be a leader in the HR space?
Kathy: Empathy. You need to have empathy. It will go a long way in helping both your leadership team trust you and the employees. And it will help you make the best decision for people regardless of the situation.
Aley: So, ever since we’ve met, you’ve been talking to me about the whole idea of using the phrase “Human Assets” to replace “Human Resources." Can you explain this cool idea to me?
Kathy: I really started thinking about and preaching about this when I started my consulting journey.
Anytime I showed up somewhere it was usually because there was a problem. But it became a point that often in my career I’d come up to people and they would say “Oh crap what did I do," just because I was in HR.
And this is true across the globe. When people hear HR, they automatically assume trouble.
“HR = I’m in trouble.”
I really want to try and change this narrative. So, much of the time, it is all about the financials, not the people. Which really leads to the HR= trouble mentality.
Corporations say that people are their biggest asset but they don’t think of them as human beings in what they are bringing to the organization. So saying “asset” changes the narrative.
For instance, why do we call financials “assets” and people “resources”.
And at the end of the day, all these little subcategories of HR are all apart of the Human asset team. Leaders struggle with calling people assets because people aren’t as measurable. But it is all about growing your organization through your people. And in my opinion, that is pretty measurable.
Aley: What is your secret weapon/superhero strength?
Kathy: I’ve really tried to continue to dream at every point in my career. I never stop thinking about the next step. Or what things excite me.
(I might need to work on the execution a little more, since I’m such a big dreamer.)
And every superhero has a kryptonite, so I would say mine is when people say “we’ve always done it that way” or “that is the way it is."
Something that has also been a strength of mine is that I don’t just love HR. I love business, which has made me a more dynamic leader at organizations.
Aley: Thanks so much for chatting with me today Kathy! I can’t wait to see all the amazing things you do in this new stage of your career!
Kathy: Thanks for having me! See ya around the coworking space.
Stay tuned for more interviews, insights, and opinions from some of the best HR leaders from the Heartland.