Kate Threewits, principal and senior vice president of human resources at business communications firm G&S Communications, says her interest in HR was sparked more than 20 years ago by the field’s potential to address the dynamic intersection of the human experience and business strategy—a value that has remained constant despite HR’s radical changes in the last two decades.
Threewits has witnessed those changes from a variety of vantage points. She led HR at All Kinds of Minds, which advocates for education that recognizes learning differences, and spent six years as the director and later senior director of HR at the American Heart Association. In 2014, she joined G&S as the senior director of HR and saw a series of promotions in the last six years. Her responsibilities have included recruiting and retention, benefits administration, culture, training and more, with accolades that include helping the agency earn the 2018 Corporate/B2B Agency of the Year award from the Holmes Report.
We checked in with Threewits to see how her organization is handling today’s challenges while continuing to look forward.
HRE: How different has your day-to-day been because of the pandemic (both personally and professionally)?
Threewits: It’s changed significantly on both fronts. My workday looks much different in my role at G&S, and I now have the added responsibility of homeschooling a second-grader. I try to stress the importance of work/life integration to our employees as often as I can, and, in this new environment to which we find ourselves having to adapt, it is as important as ever. I realized early on that, to be effective, I would need to do some of the very things I was recommending to others, like developing a routine, designating a specific work space and creating work blocks in order to maximize productivity. It hasn’t been easy. In fact, at times, it has been chaotic. It is important that we are honest with ourselves and others about how we are feeling and accept the fact that it’s not going to be perfect, and that’s OK.
HRE: How has your approach to communicating with employees shifted since the pandemic started?
Threewits: As we continue to see ebbs and flows in the pandemic, we communicate with employees early and often. We understand that some employees need to shift in order to care for their families and, to help facilitate those adjustments, we offer a flexible work environment. Supporting flexibility in working arrangements and communicating a shared empathy for the challenges we’re all facing goes a long way in building trust and respect. Also, we remind employees of their benefits, including telehealth options available, so they do not have to postpone necessary check-ups.
HRE: Once the crisis subsides, what will be a few of your top priorities at G&S?
Threewits: One of our priorities is making sure our employees feel healthy and safe as we return to a “normal” working environment. We want to make sure everyone eases back into their routines and knows that we will be here to offer them assistance where needed.
HRE: Is there any advice you were given early on in your career that’s helped shape your approach to HR? (Or conversely, is there any advice you found to not pan out in your experience?)
Threewits: My mentor, Ella Wilson, had a sign in her office that read, “Change or Die.” I have never forgotten that, and I have taken that with me throughout my career. Adaptability and change management are essential in today’s fast-paced, always-connected environment. The title of Marshall Goldsmith’s book, What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, rings more true today than ever before. You have to continue to learn and continue to evolve to remain an effective HR leader in today’s workforce.
HRE: What prompted the creation of the Think Differently Together initiative at G&S? And what have been some of the lasting impacts from it?
Threewits: Our CEO, Luke Lambert, reached out to me after sitting through several industry meetings focused on the lack of diversity among communications agencies. He was frustrated by the lack of progress being made and wanted to take action. From there, we created our D&I program, Think Differently Together. We found that a diverse and inclusive workforce encourages out-of-the-box thinking, which is necessary to foster creativity, drive innovation and guide business strategies. A variety of voices leads to new ideas, services and products, resulting in business growth for our clients. It is a competitive advantage for us and an important part of our culture.
HRE: You’ve worked both in the non-profit and for-profit worlds: Is there a mindset shift between the two, in terms of HR strategy?
Threewits: There are certainly nuances between non-profit and for-profit organizations. However, I don’t see a huge shift in HR strategy between the two. The overall goal of any effective HR strategy is to inspire people to do the best work of their life. In order to do that, people have to feel a connection to the organization’s mission and an understanding of the role they play in achieving that mission. In the non-profit world, the mission may be more obvious. For instance, the American Heart Association builds healthier lives in the fight against heart disease. But, regardless of the organization, it’s still about helping employees make an aspirational connection and recognizing their contribution to our world.
HRE: What have been one or two of the biggest changes the HR industry as a whole has undergone since you started working in this field?
Threewits: Without a doubt, it has been the evolution of HR from tactical policy enforcer to strategic business partner. When I first started my career in HR, there was still a great deal of skepticism about the value that HR brought to an organization, and we had to fight for a seat at the table. Today, the C-suite considers HR a valued, strategic advisor critical to the achievement of overall business strategy.
HRE: What was your first (or worst) job?
Threewits: My first job out of college was in a customer service call center for a large telecommunications company. I quickly realized it was not the career I wanted to pursue but, looking back, the customer service experience I gained while there was a skill set on which I continue to rely.
HRE: How do you unwind outside of work?
Threewits: My favorite way to unwind is to spend time with my family. I also enjoy Pilates; it is the 45-minute activity of my day that truly belongs to me.