Female Disruptors: Karolyn Hart is shaking up how organizations communicate internally
“You are not your work so don’t take it personally when people critique your work. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you as a person or don’t think that you are great. Separate the two and it will allow you to lean into the criticism and truly excel.” As a young professional learning this lesson from my mentor, Tim Traill, truly transformed my career. We all have a deep desire to be liked and when we are young we tend to see approval of our output as approval of who we are as a person. The moment I separated the two my career launched. This distinction makes it possible to vehemently disagree with those at the table and still enjoy their friendship over a meal within moments of leaving the meeting.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Karolyn Hart, an award-winning Canadian entrepreneur, technology executive, activist, speaker, author and the Founder of InspireHUB Technologies. Karolyn spent close to two decades serving in a variety of technology roles with different publicly traded companies. During this time, she also sojourned into opportunities outside of technology, including launching a national television show (Get Connected TV) that was aired across Canada via Detroit Public Television. Karolyn was the first female executive appointed to one of Canada’s oldest economic development agencies. She has garnered awards for the organizations she has represented, most recently receiving a Business Excellence Award in Innovation for the IHUBApp that is proven to reduce email fatigue and increase employee productivity, boosting an organization’s overall success.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
It’s more “Slumdog Millionaire” than anything else and helps to explain how a young girl who grew up in a working-class neighbourhood in Canada ended up with experiences that included travelling to South Africa to work with the Mandela family. It’s hard for me to fathom how my journey unfolded when it started with me leaving to attend an extremely small Bible College but it ended up with me working in Fortune 500 companies on large-scale technology projects. If you had told my 18-year-old self that one day I would be leading an award-winning technology startup who was the first to implement new technologies with clients in multiple countries, I would have laughed in disbelief. However, if you had explained to me that I would help figure out a simple way to bring people together and make things run more efficiently I would have been excited because I have always loved to do that since I was a child.
Why did you found your company?
The genesis story of our company was in helping the Mandela family with a fundraising project and working to address the challenge with donor fatigue, directly related to email fatigue. InspireHUB Technologies was born in 2016 when I realized there was an opportunity to take the lessons we were learning from some very specific engagement challenges and apply what we learned using our own technologies to bring those solutions to all organizations for their internal communications. Our goal is to save our clients time by reducing email fatigue and to make it easier and faster for employees to receive notifications on the items that directly impact their day-to-day job.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Many organizational problems occur as a result of poor communication and effective communication is an essential component of success. Since email is a 40-year-old vehicle we depend on to deliver information, it needed to be rebuilt. Simply put, we’re able to solve an organization’s internal communication issues. We were the first to integrate Progressive Web App technology into our platform even before the large brands had converted over. Apple just announced in December 2017 they were also embracing this technology that changed the world of apps as we know it. It’s still very early days for many organizations even though it’s been years for us. That certainly is one disruption on the technical side. On the implementation side, we are disrupting how organizations engage with their internal audiences and even challenging the notion of the “ignored” intranet, which is a major problem for internal communication. We are excited to see how our solution truly becomes a hub, or as one client calls it, their “source of truth.” The best disruption story and one I never get bored of hearing from clients is when they say “You’ve saved me time so now I can go work on more important priorities.” That never gets old for me.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
The very first mentor I ever had was Tim Traill who is now the VP of Wealth Management at Manulife Financial. I had the privilege of working for him while at that company. He practised servant leadership in his professional life as well as his personal life. If I had to point to a person who completely lifted the lid on my future career and launched me it would absolutely be him. It was because of his guidance. All these years later I still work to mimic his leadership style and approach because it was so effective.
The other mentor who significantly transformed my career was Ron Loveless, the founder of Sam’s Club. We were introduced when I was invited to speak at a summit he was holding and by the end of that meeting he and a few others agreed to mentor me. He passed away in 2016 but he gave me so much in teaching me the power of friendship and using business as the excuse for friendship as opposed to using friendship for business. It was just one of the many lessons he taught me. We all still miss his friendship.
How are you going to shake things up next?
87% of employees in the global workplace are either not engaged or actively disengaged with their jobs. We’ve been using our own company as an active testing ground. As we used our product to reduce communication challenges and save time we also began learning what it takes to get an employee to engage. We joke internally that we were once “UN-InspireHUB”. Technology is only a facilitator and a part of a toolset to help create engagement.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
“You are not your work so don’t take it personally when people critique your work. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you as a person or don’t think that you are great. Separate the two and it will allow you to lean into the criticism and truly excel.”
As a young professional learning this lesson from my mentor, Tim Traill, truly transformed my career. We all have a deep desire to be liked and when we are young we tend to see approval of our output as approval of who we are as a person. The moment I separated the two my career launched. This distinction makes it possible to vehemently disagree with those at the table and still enjoy their friendship over a meal within moments of leaving the meeting.
“You are a human being, not a human doing.”
Who are you if you were stripped of your title, work, reputation, and output? I spent five years working 18 hour days 7 days a week. I accomplished much at the sacrifice of my health and relationships. At my lowest point, my health was so poor that I faced a moment of revelation that I would not be able to “do” the things that had become my identity. When you are stripped of your output it can cause you to have an identity crisis if you don’t understand your own intrinsic value. Our value is not based on the work I put my hands to for that may change tomorrow. As cheesy as it sounds — we are all children of God and our intrinsic value is linked to our existence. As I share with my teams, place your hand on your heart. Do you feel it beating? Then that says you still have a purpose.
“I think what you see as faults make you approachable. You shouldn’t be embarrassed by them because they make you, YOU.”
This was probably one of the key life-altering moments for me. All of the teams I’ve worked on have stories of my klutziness. I’ve tripped up stairs, down stairs, accidentally walked into doors and there was even an incident with an office trash can that ended with me standing with one foot in it and the other out. My boss at the time watched the whole thing happen with a compassionate chuckle and said ‘I just watched that and I will never be able to explain what I just saw.’ I spent years feeling embarrassed and humiliated. Why couldn’t I be more sophisticated? What is wrong with me? A colleague who I greatly admired and worked with at different companies spent years watching these moments unfold. On our way to a high-profile meeting, she breathed out an observation that stopped me in my tracks. She noted that when I was trouble-shooting high-profile problems that my klutziness seemed to grow in proportion. Then, before I had a chance to get embarrassed she interjected “When you walk into a room people feel intimidated. You are a beautiful, strong and intelligent woman. It just seems like you have everything together. It’s not fair because of course, you’re just as human as the rest of us but people make quick judgements all the time. The thing is when you are klutzy and laugh at yourself and we all see ourselves in those moments. I think what you see as faults make you approachable. You shouldn’t be embarrassed by them because they make you, YOU.”
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
Gimlet9: We Made a Mistake (Podcast)
This raw, funny, and insightful podcast really made an impact on me. Mistakes happen in business all the time and I love the lessons in this podcast. Most importantly, I love the way they share about how they turned it all around.
This book outlined everything that went wrong despite things going so right. Thanks to this book our company has intentional policies around being fiscally conservative. Every time we rent a budget car and find the most affordable room in our company I think about this story.
It doesn’t matter if you are an Atheist or a follower of Jesus, everyone can agree that Jesus had a historical impact on our world. This book is packed with great business advice. For example, there is a checklist in here on who not to partner with and when I reflect on my failed partnerships that person has usually violated one or more of these things. These include having a lack of integrity, a quick temper or deep-seated anger, a pattern of foolish behaviour, anyone who offers a lot for a little or quick riches, an excessive use of flattery, an inclination to gossip or exaggerate and a disregard for rules, regulations, or personal boundaries. That’s just one example of the practical advice found in this book. It’s a fascinating read regardless of your opinions on religion and faith.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
It’s not necessarily a particular person but a ‘type’ of person with a particular way of looking at the world with a shared vision. It’s not just about what “we” could do for one another but about what we could do for others if we unite. Nothing gets me more excited than hearing “your team has changed our lives.” It’s about the human connection, creating a sense of inclusiveness, teaching leaders how to create an environment where people feel they belong and doing all of this because you understand this how you have the power to transform lives. They would understand that technology is just a means to the end. It’s the facilitator of the ultimate mission. Today we are delivering that with the IHUBApp but tomorrow it could be something not yet invented. It’s not about the invention but rather what we do with it to transform the world.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!