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On the Brink with Andi Simon

Feb 21, 2022

Learn how to grow your business through your employees

What is a great performance coach? Meet Kathy D’Agostino. Kathy and I met through the Business Council of Westchester where I was giving a talk about my book, Rethink: Smashing The Myths of Women in Business. Like so many women, Kathy had a great corporate job until it wasn’t such a great corporate job. Her passion was in coaching people. As she earned her professional certifications, Kathy realized that she had, indeed, found her calling. Her particular focus is helping leaders improve their employees' performance. Listen in, learn and share. Enjoy!

Watch and listen to our conversation here

Kathy D video

A leader without great followers can't do a very good job leading an organization and sustaining its growth during these fast-changing times.

But how do you grow your employees and make sure their skills are aligned with what is needed when this volatile business environment keeps shifting? Kathy has some great solutions. She talks with me about her approach, why it is designed around getting people to change, and how she can help her clients measure progress against their performance goals. You will enjoy her style and her insights. And hopefully take away some valuable learning for your company.

Kathy DAgostinoAbout Kathy D'Agostino

Kathy is an executive coach and business consultant who for over 25 years has helped leaders grow their businesses and invest in their greatest asset: their employees. She has worked with hundreds of organizations to develop their leadership teams, accentuate their core values, and create a strong culture.

Prior to establishing her company, Win at Business Coaching, Kathy held senior-level positions for global organizations where she turned around underperforming sales teams, drove revenue growth in a declining market, and built game-changing customer service programs. You can connect with Kathy on LinkedInTwitter and her website Win At Business Coaching, and you can email her at

Need to grow but not sure how? Here are some great places to start 

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Read the transcript of our podcast here

Andi Simon: Welcome to On the Brink, a fresh lens to take you and your business to new heights. Hi, I'm Andi Simon. I'm your host and your guide. And as you know, my job is to get you off the brink. It's not good to be stuck there. Stalling is not happy, whether it's personal or professional, your corporation, your company or small business or yourself. So my job is to help you see, feel and think in new ways so you can do things differently. And that's what I'm all about.

You know, I'm a corporate anthropologist and I love to help people change, but it's painful. So I go looking for people who can help you do just that. Today, I have with me Kathy D'Agostino, who is a terrific woman. She's going to help you see, feel and think in new ways because that's exactly what she has done with her career and her business.

Let me tell you a little bit about Kathy and then she'll tell you more about herself. She's an executive coach and business consultant. She has 25+ years of experience helping leaders grow both their business and invest in their greatest asset: their employees. Today, this is a big topic because the employees are hard to attract. You know the big gaps and they're hard to retain. And they're all finding new ways to do things.

She's worked with hundreds of organizations to develop their leadership teams, accentuate core values and create a strong culture. Her client base is diverse: global, pharma companies, professional service firms, education, nonprofits. In business coaching, Kathy has held senior level positions for global organizations, where she was responsible for turning around underperforming sales teams, driving revenue growth in declining markets, and building game-changing customer service programs.

So I have somebody who had corporate experience who is now an independent coach with a great business. Kathy, thank you for joining me today. It's been a pleasure to get to know you, but tell the listener or the audience or the viewer, wherever you're watching or listening to us, who is Kathy, what was your journey like? And then we'll go into this big problem for today, the great resignation and what do I do? So who's Kathy?

Kathy D’Agostino: So Andrea, you're quite interesting, the great resignation, because I actually was a little ahead of the curve. I guess I was a trailblazer as many of us were, but it wasn't quite as visible in public. About seven years ago, I quit my corporate job after 25 years, as you read in the bio. And I really decided that I'd been thinking about it for a while and probably waited a little too long. So I made a pretty snap decision. What I did was, one January after having some time off and reflecting, I called the gentleman that I work with. I told him I have a problem with my boss. I just liked to say I worked for him, not with him, probably why I'm not in corporate anymore, right?

So I called him and I said, look, it's January, I have this opportunity of a lifetime to take two weeks' vacation. And he said to me, you're crazy, it's only January. He said, you're going to use all of your vacation, because I just started about a year ago. And he said, that doesn't make business sense and we have a big project coming up. I'm like, I totally understand. He said it was going to cause a lot of problems for his boss. And I'm like, I would never want to do that for you. So I said, you know, it doesn't even make common sense. I totally agree with you. I understand that because to me it makes sense.

So I said, here's what I can do. I can send you an email with a resignation or I could send you my vacation request for two weeks. I said, you know it's up to him. He goes, how long do I have to decide? I'm like, oh, I don't leave for three weeks, just let me know before that. I'm glad to send either email. I wish I had a recording of his voice. And about a day later, he called back and said, I'll take the email for the vacation request. I'm like, gosh, and he said, you'll come back relaxed and rested because we have a big project on the schedule. I'm like, absolutely. So I took that vacation, came back, finished the project two months later, and in the beginning of April I resigned. So I used that time for reflection. We will talk about that more and what people can do at the end. Then I got home in April and I said, Oh, my God, what am I gonna do? All the freedom and flexibility I was looking for I had, and I'm like, now what do I do? I'm so used to having this reporting structure and people you know, and now you're free.

Andi Simon: But, you know, this is not an inconsequential life journey for us. Because I remember, I decided to leave corporate after 20 years helping organizations as an executive change. And I really didn't have anything propelling me except 9/11 and I had that Aha moment which said, If I'm going to go into my own business, it's not a bad time to do that. I had to go find a PR guy who I had worked with a great deal. And so who am I? And it was fun to listen to him say, You're a corporate anthropologist who helps companies change. I said, bingo, in a capsule. Does anyone know way back 20 years ago if anyone was looking for a corporate anthropologist? It didn't matter. So I knew I could help companies change. But how? So how did you end up becoming this kind of coach that you are today? What kind of coach are you? What did you finally decide?

Kathy D’Agostino: I decided to do executive coaching. And I had a transitional period where, you know, I kind of had my niche and didn't find it. But when I really thought back after about two years of really looking through and working with small business owners, and whenever I really said what made me leave, what was the impact that I needed to make? And it was really on culture, because the companies that I quit were bad bosses, or because companies didn't live their values. And for me, it's all about integrity. So to me, I really thought about what was it that made the biggest impact, and it was really creating better workplaces for employees so that they stay. I thought, you know, retention has always been a challenge for really good employees. And I just really felt that it was all about that culture. Because if I would take less money to work in a company where the culture felt right to me, we can make a lot of money. And I felt like I'm selling my soul.

Andi Simon: So when you were in corporate, the kinds of work that you were doing had to do with building better cultures? Correct? And it was a way of learning on the job. You're not an academic, but you certainly had huge credentials while you were developing these perspectives and skills. Am I correct?

Kathy D’Agostino: Oh, absolutely. I know what you mean by now. So when I really looked even deeper, what really drove me to be passionate about these great companies and these better cultures was when I was managing sales teams, and I could develop those people. So while I realized maybe the company culture wasn't exactly in alignment with what I was, I could align my team with what those values were. And that experience alone was really, really valuable. Now I had a manager at that time, because I had to come in and fire a number of people when I took over this role. She said, Oh, you'll be jaded by this forever. And I think I'd like to reframe her and say, No, I was driven by that, where I had to change that team, because they had a manager there for 25 years that liked to coast a little bit, you know, and I came in, and I'm like, Oh, this isn't the way we work. So I wanted to create my own culture within this team, even though I had the external culture, my higher ups, and I had the ability to do that. And that's really what made me think about what was so important.

Andi Simon: What I love about that story is, it's going to jade you or it's going to drive you is an interesting perspective. You know, on one hand, you were anticipating being frustrated by this. We do the same thing in this vacuum, where I have people who are underperforming. They're sort of just now attending, and that can demonstrate that they can rise. This is so exciting. So as you've launched your business now moving out of the small business world into culture, tell us about what you do and how you do it, and for whom.

Kathy D’Agostino: So you know, again, as the bio said, it is diverse, but lately it's been like you mentioned. The 9/11 pivotal moment in the world has been the pandemic. So looking once again at these pivotal moments, the organizations in the last year and a half have changed that I'm working with. I mean, some stayed, but one of the things that's really been important is the government. I work with a number of local government agencies and because they have constraints of unions and civil service to promote their people, they have some unique challenges.

So working with some of them, they have huge departments around 1100 people. So when you see that group of people and even the executive team, some are in the union, and some are non-union. So there's all these things you have to manage in addition to culture, and making change. And those organizations have been really impactful. And luckily they got some pandemic money. So that's actually allowed them to bring me back because I worked with them a little bit before, and now even more so.

Nonprofits are definitely another one that you know, they're struggling. There's so many people asking for money. So nonprofits, I work with a number of them and I'm on a board for one so I am really passionate about the work that they do. And then interestingly enough, several of my executive clients that I work with through corporate, called me during the pandemic and said, You know what, I don't want to make that three hour drive, I don't want to be on the train anymore. I had time to rethink my life. I like working from home. I need to rethink my career and not just thinking about just staying because tomorrow is going to get better. I need to think about what I really want.

So the blend of those two, which is interesting, because I have the corporate side or the organization side, but then I had the employee perspective. So just a case in point, I have an employee, a woman that I'm speaking with this morning, right after this, and she's been with a company only a year and a half. She is a top graduate from one of the top business schools. She's in a top company, and she's unhappy. She's there 16 months, and she has an early promotion and she's like, I'm bored. I think I should leave. So it's executives that have been in their mid-career and then this young one, in like 16 months says, I'm going to get this promotion and I don't know if it means enough to me to stay.

Andi Simon: Okay, don't lose that because this is an excellent case study. I have a bunch of 29-year-olds who came out of universities, colleges with good degrees and have been working in the same place for a period of time. It isn't even a promotion or not a promotion, it is that I'm unhappy. But I don't even know what will make me happy. And that's the coaching challenge, because I can't make them happy. And for yours, it's a real interesting aha moment, because she came in with lots of hoopla, I'm sure. And they were excited to bring her in. And now the question is for the company, and for the individual, what are we missing here? A woman too, which I think is a really important thing. Because they need purpose. They don't need just a position or a salary. That's just what she's saying. What's my purpose? What do you see?

Kathy D’Agostino: Very much so. What's interesting too, is because she's been a high achiever all her life, she's been getting kudos and kudos. Now, she's gotten into this organization where there's a lot of other people that are very similar to her. So they're bright, they're faster, quick, and she's going like, But I should be put first. And so I think what I'm seeing, this is a little off topic, but I think a little emotional intelligence. She's got the IQ off the chart on the IQ. She's got the, you know, work ethic. But I think a little bit more, she has the attitude, I know you recognize this, what's in it for me, and she wants to go to the corporation and tell them, this job, what's in it for me? And I think I want to see if she's willing to say, can I bring my talents and how can I best serve you. A little bit of a different statement, then I think she got bored. How about, let's say, what are you working on that I could help you with? So I think a little emotional intelligence there. I'm seeing a little that, you know, maybe insightfulness and self-awareness and empathy.

Andi Simon: But I do think that executive coaches coaching clients...I have almost all women, they're so different from the men, because the men are talking about careers as a ladder to climb. And the women...I have one woman who's wonderful, she's an MBA, a CPA, she's a partner in an accounting firm, and she never wants to do another tax return.

Another who is a very successful wealth manager. And is saying it's not necessary, but not sufficient. And they see their lives broader. And it isn't just being on a not-for-profit board or helping children, which is often a way of complimenting the business. And this is a sense of who I am. What's my purpose? And it's a bigger question about where do I get my self-fulfilling happiness from? They're asking it in a way which makes the coaching situation very rich, because they are the only ones who can discover that. And it's all that story in their head about who they are and what they are aspiring to. But this kind of yours is another illustration of how do I change the story? From, I'm the hero to, I would like to be part of the team, how do I play better? She’s the heroine isn't she?

Kathy D’Agostino: She is and you know, she wants to let everybody know that. Maybe with age and wisdom, she'll get that output of wisdom. You know that we don't have to be the smartest person in the room. And if we are, then maybe we're in the wrong room, right? So how can we put ourselves in places where we're challenged and where it gives us opportunities to say, Hey, I'm here to be a part of the team. I want my purpose and mission fulfilled. And I think that when they can really align with a company, and Andi I really challenged her to look at what's the purpose and the vision of the company. And does it align with her own? Then you know what? It's not what's in it for me, it's fear of missing out. I'm going to be part of a big organization’s wonderful change, not be the change.

Andi Simon: Kathy, as you think about this in the context of the great resignation, the illustrations I love, because I'm a storyteller like you are, and they make the abstraction come alive. But there's no shortage of research about how people are thinking about what they're doing and this great resignation at a time when it seems so hard to find people to work in the jobs. Do you have any insights you can bring to our listeners about what to think about if you're thinking about resigning, or what you see happening?

Kathy D'Agostino: So two ways, I'm going to look at that for you. One, I can tell you what I'm hearing from the employees directly, and what the research will tell us. So the research tells us that people really want growth opportunities. Like this girl, they really want to train, they want to develop, and they want to grow. And when companies don't offer them that opportunity, they will quit often. Bad bosses are the ones that often don't see the potential in them, and don't give them the opportunity. So I think that is really key to actually what we do. Like coaching and training.

I run a lot of training classes on leadership. When companies invest in that, they have an 87% higher retention rate. That is huge considering in October, 2021, 4.3 million people walked out of their jobs. Some of them went to other jobs, and some of them just resigned to do something else, which I'll answer in a second for you. But that's almost 3% of the workforce. When you have that, you really have to say, what's it going to take to keep people and what do people really want? And that's the one thing I hear. Do they want a raise? Absolutely, people would always work for more money, you feel more excited, we all feel more excited, we get a client that really rewards us for the work that we do. So they want this flexible work-balanced life. I don't call it a balance, I call it an integration where we can actually feel like our job and our home life have a certain way of intersecting, we're not living in two different worlds.

I think the key to that has been why people have been walking out the door because they can't get the integration right. The company says 24/7 you are on call, and they're saying, but I work from home, I could do this other schedule and be really productive, see my kids a little more. So that's the one thing I think companies can do. And people can think about it in their own minds. Those are the things that other employees are saying. It took me a couple years of thinking about the problem. And you know what, Andrea, then I switch to thinking about the solutions, when I change my mind on coaching, right? When we change our thoughts, and the neuroplasticity, and all those other things, we can rewire our brain to think, what are the solutions? And as coaches, that's what we do. Okay, here's the problem, we can talk about that for five hours. Okay, we know it exists. Let's talk about the solution.

So when people start thinking about what are the solutions. Okay, quitting is one of them. Maybe you're talking about getting another promotion before I leave, making a plan, really concrete specific things. One of the things that happened for me, and very fortunately, I was out for a walk, and this person joined me and I said, you know, I'm really thinking about leaving. Matter of fact, someday is not a day on the calendar anymore. So, someday is today. What do you think? She looked at me and she said, you've worked with so many different types of businesses and from like, national movie studios to the mom and pops. And she said, I'm a business executive coach, what else would you do? And I'm like, of course, what else would I do? Having that business acumen and then understanding and then knowing how the employees feel having a team? She said was there anything else you were thinking about? No, absolutely not better than that for me.

So I think that's when people talk to other people. Talk to people who've done it. Talk to people who decided to stay. We have something like 50% of the people in the last 20 months saying that they are going to quit their jobs or are thinking about quitting their jobs. They're not ready to do it yet, but thinking about it. So if they're thinking about it, that means they're spending half their time with their foot out the door, and only half of their time engaged. We know employees who are engaged in companies are actually 2.5% more profitable. I've heard it is as high as 19% more profitable. So if you have somebody only giving 50% and they could give 100%, what does it say to us? We have to eventually set some timeline. What's the difference between a dream and a goal? Having a timeline, right, set some timelines, milestones, talk to people. And I think really think through what's in your heart. And how can you start looking for solutions? What are your solutions? I didn't know I could make a living outside of that.

But Andi, a quick story short. I think I've always been an entrepreneur. When I was 10, my sister and I took babysitting jobs. She took one side of the street, I took the other side, nobody got in there because we babysat for each other. When I look back, I always had this entrepreneurial spirit, so entrepreneurial. And so when I got into my own, I think when I was coaching the sales teams, I could do that again. And so to me, it's kind of like, here's where the story goes.

Andi Simon: But it's great and what you do for people is help them literally see, feel and think in new ways. That's just what the catalytic moments are today. I have two thoughts, and we'll do a wrap up. My first thought is that the companies are missing the point. And I do think that the point is that work has changed, the meaning of work has changed. The pandemic has made us very aware that this work-life balance is not true. It isn't work a life and life work. I mean, this is to your point, I like that feeling of blending, you know, we do need to make a living. But do we have to do it at the exclusion of life?

I was giving a talk for Republic National Distribution, large distributors of liquor. And I interviewed many of their folks who spent their lives on airplanes, like I had. And they said, this has been a mindblower for me because I used to get on a plane on Monday, come back on Thursday, work in the company on Friday, maybe spend half a day on Saturday on work, maybe a day with my kids. Now I've learned that there's life. And my business is up 234%. So what does that tell me?

So if you can measure, you know what you can, when you can live, you can begin to see that what I was doing wasn't necessarily the path to growth, it was just a job the way it was defined. So companies need to rethink what is work, and what it is I want and begin to treat your employees as part of the discussion, not as an afterthought. They are not to be done to, they have to be done with. As you said, you didn't really work for him, you work with him. And in some ways, you could go back to him and say, I want you to hire me as a consultant, because I can do it for you. But I can do it faster and easier as an independent and within the confines. Of course that threatens their own job. And it's another conference.

For the folks who are thinking of resigning, and particularly women and a lot of women of color, the number of those folks who started their own business, either as a side hustle or as a full time career job, are just enormous. But the number who close and fail every day is disturbing. So if you're going to do this, spend a little time ahead of time thinking through what this is so that you don't find yourself out the door with nothing but hope. And hope is not a good strategy. As I say so often, for whether it's a company or a purpose, you need more than just a someday. You know, a dream, you need a plan and and you need to talk about growing as you go forward. It's not a place that is a destination, it's a journey. So with that in mind, two or three things you want our listeners to remember, because this has been the kind of conversation I just love for them to hear. It's all about how do I change. And if you're ready to think about it, we're ready to help you. Tell us a couple of things not to forget.

Kathy D’Agostino: So I think it's really important to know if you're in a job right now, explore the options within the organization. And if you've really made that decision, then it's time to go. Hit the pause button and do some planning. Talk to people that have left, as I mentioned before. Talk to people who you trust as mentors. Have you had a past mentor? Can they tell you what I do really well? What's my superpower? You should really ask that question.Tony Robbins would say, tell me two things that you think I do really well in this world or in this community or in life. Then tell me the one thing you think I could really improve upon. And that really does give a lot of insights into it.

I think, take your time, make it a smart decision based on economics. When I did it at a point, money wasn't a big issue, because I had worked a long time in my career. So, you know, if money is a factor, you don't plan on it, you could fail, or it could take you a while. It took me a lot longer, easily 24 months before I realized that profit because there's so much expense. So really consult your accountant. Put a plan, put milestones, put things in place. Talk to people and ask them questions. And I wouldn't say follow your heart. What's true to you? What are your values, really identify your values, and identify what are your must-haves people want to focus on. I don't want this in the organization, I don't want that, and focus on the solutions. What's my must-haves, and then go after those. And believe it or not, that vision, every day, that vision will drive you to the right place.

Andi Simon: That's not to be inconsequential, here. That's important. You have a story in your head today. In that story, you know, the things that are irritating, but what won't irritate you is missing. And I find when I work with people too, or their organizations to change, defining what will make them happy is more difficult than being angry at what's making them unhappy. And that is not inconsequential. For all of you listening or watching, if you're going to think about this as a better way for you, you better be clear that if it's fuzzy, that's okay. But if it doesn't exist at all, you're in trouble. Because then you're going to stop work. And you're gonna say, now what do I do? You don't even know one of those two things I'm really good at. And one thing I wish I did better. Great conversation today. Kathy, thank you so much. One last thing, where can they reach you? Is LinkedIn the best place or someplace else?

Kathy D’Agostino: LinkedIn is absolutely my favorite place to connect with people. At the end of the blog, Andrea, you include all my information, so my emails and all that is there as well. I'd love to hear from you. If I can help any time, I’m always glad to have that conversation.

Andi Simon: Kathy has a lovely website as well. And we'll put all that information together for you. So let's wrap up. It's been a great time to talk about how you get off the brink. Thanks for joining us today. And remember, I have two books out there for you to do just that. On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take your Business to New Heights is all about companies that have been stuck or stalled which we helped see, feel and think in new ways. Yours could be one of those for the next book.

And then Rethink that just came out this year. Rethink is smashing the myths of women in business stories about 11 women, including my own, who, unlike the women that Kathy and I are struggling with, knew what they wanted to be. And they didn't let anything stop them. And so it doesn't matter whether you're an attorney who was told not to be one or an entrepreneur, or a geoscientist, you're going to read about women who were able to smash through the myths that were holding them back and become the best they could be. Compared to my male clients, these women never thought about position or power. They thought about becoming a purpose. And even if they became really successful in whatever career they were, it was always about becoming what was interesting to them. And it didn't matter whether it was Earth studies or the law or building a business, it was a conversation about purpose. And I do think that's where we're at today. So thank you all for coming. Send me your ideas. I'd love to hear about them. I'd love to hear who you'd like to hear from. And I thank Kathy for being with us today. Thank you Kathy D'Agostino.