Kathryn Maloney, Who Are You Professionally + What Have You Been Up To?
What have you been up to for the last many years?
I have been an external consultant for lots and lots of years — to all shapes, sizes, and industries.
Between 2016–2020, I helped to build an org design consultancy called The Ready. We set out to establish a strong narrative in the consulting field around new ways of working, the future of work, and the shape of organizations for the future. Early clients I worked with who believed in our approach and experimentation long before the words “new ways of working” were so fully steeped in the collective narrative were GE, Kaplan, Edelman, BCG, and Boeing. This was 2016, 2017, 2018 — long ago as far as covid time and space go.
For the six years prior to 2016, I ran my own practice focused on organizational strategy, leadership, communications, culture, and design. By sheer accident, I worked primarily with female founders who were often at critical transition points around growth and change within their companies. Together, we grew startups, pivoted 10 year old business models, re-branded, invested in people and culture strategies, and embraced and aligned visions with operating strategies. Many were Brooklyn-based, others scattered across the U.S.
Between 2004–2010, I helped to grow a boutique communications and org design consulting firm based in D.C. Our primary clients were U.S. Federal Agencies. We were information designers, qualitative researchers, and org change folks whose expertise was in leading rigorous, human-centered design, large-scale studies to inform content and design for consumer-facing communication instruments that consumers could understand and use. My clients were across health, tax, data privacy, and finance, for example IRS, HHS, FTC, OTC, Fed, FDIC along with the former Fannie Mae, Rand, and a bank that had to change its name and is now Ally Bank. National projects I led informed regulatory changes on how to articulate clear information about use and sharing of data with regard to financial and health privacy along with org design work in perhaps one of the most challenging of places… the IRS.
Early in my professional life, I founded a wholesale / retail venture in a sleepy New England retail town known for a big outdoor brand store, and where it was “unheard of” at the time to try to operate a privately-owned retail clothing company. After the launch and 5 years of operating, we sold the business which then carried on for another seventeen years. I generally like the spaces to play where something “is impossible” or “unheard of” :)
Currently, I run an org change lifestyle practice called Theeo Company. We are focused on applied and progressive change, strategy, culture, and working and leading in modern ways. How change is and can always be more beautiful, tangible and worthy as a way of operating makes meaning out of the day-to-day. We hold that space for our clients while also helping them to move key initiatives forward. A few passionate hearts who are working with us in our earliest days are UNWFP Innovation Accelerator, the OE Team at Allstate, Omidyar Group and a high demand office for UHNW families that currently manages the complexity of >2.5B in assets for their clients.
Leading change efforts, growing companies, designing operating systems, coaching leaders, building cultures, articulating vision, framing strategies and priorities, clarifying and simplifying communication efforts, envisioning futures and making products is what i’m generally up to.
I truly love what I do.
What pulls you to change, organizational design, and strategy work?
I’m pretty certain at this point this work chooses you! I always joke that in my next life I’m going to come back as a plumber, accountant, or teacher… something very concrete and tangible.
Needless to say, in this one, the work I do is often amorphous. But, I get to solve riddles and am privileged to design solutions for sticky and important challenges that affect a lot of people in important and meaningful ways — the work they do, the money they earn, the services they provide, the solutions they design, the impact they make on people and the planet.
If you are a curious person who enjoys grappling with questions and allowing for bold ideas and innovations to show up out of processes that are laced with ambiguity, randomness, messy-ness, and high levels of discomfort… well, you get a bit hooked. Ironically, the not knowing is the pull.
Why do you do this instead of anything else?
When you practice this work for long enough, it’s no longer something you just do, it becomes who you are and the way you approach most things in life.
Even if I decided to do something else in my day-to-day, I’d still be doing this work in the process. I’m a vehicle at this point! I do also consider the work I do to be one version of my Art that I put out into the world and my way to be of service.
I’ll know when it’s not time to do this work, in this way anymore. That isn’t the case right now at all. Too many people need the help to get us out of all the big challenges we face as a people, a country, a world, and a collective. We have too much work to do.
What are some of the biggest influences on your thinking?
I am somewhat of a purist, so I still rely on the foremothers and forefathers in my academic field (applied behavioral sciences). They rarely fail me when I need answers or a container.
I’ve also been looking to neuroscience, Eastern philosophies, quantum physics, and spirituality for a while. Blocks and barriers to change — individual, organizational, (political…) become clearer when we are willing to investigate how our minds and hearts work.
We begin to see the expanse of the mind and heart yet the limited way we use them, what brain muscles we flex too much (as a culture and hard-wired in our education system) along with the areas we don’t fire up nearly enough.
Being in this conversation begins a wholly different conversation about transformation. The front brain isn’t going to solve the messes. It is in truth what got us here. Our intuitive minds and the expanse of our fuller selves, however, are entirely other tools to open up and realize all the potentials and possibilities.
I’m a big fan of reflective and contemplative practices. They are my spiritual seat, how I keep those other brains of mine lit up, noticing, listening and discerning.
What’s one thing that people are not talking about in regards to how to make organizations better?
Change begins with individuals.
That is leadership theory in four words.
We can talk all day long about changing organizations in the abstract — but it’s all rhetoric until people do the hard work of changing their behaviors, patterns, narratives, perspectives, and habits that keep organizations stuck. Change is a choice; you have to do change. You can’t think your way through change. That is both how simple and how complex it is.
Living systems ( e.g. human systems, immune systems, solar systems, ponds, oceans, etc.) rely on three things to thrive: interdependence, self-organization, and diversity.
Baked into our DNA is the deep knowing that we are all connected at the deepest level, that we have the capability and freedom to do anything we want to do at any moment in time, and the appreciation for variation and difference. Anything short of that just runs up against nature.
We can and do make it more complicated all day long, but it’s not.
Just do your personal growth and evolution work — or at a minimum intend it — and by default you are making organizations better. Do it without the need for a committee meeting, permission, or a raise — but because you know it is the reason you are embodied here and now.
Going out into the world already fulfilled to spread your light is the change you have control over and will then be able to contribute to the needed global changes outside of yourself. Do that work today. Please!
An advisor, strategist, systems design consultant, coach and change storyteller, Kathryn weaves together strategy, transformation and change, the ways we work and the work of presence and self-awareness to build and run organizations of the future, prosperous teams, and coherent systems. She is founder and chief architect of Theeo Company, a consultancy committed to emerging the humanity within organizational life — as an act of strategic urgency.