Connecting with Anne Catherine Nielsen on Recreating the World of Work

Anne Catherine Nielsen joins this week to discuss the "new normal," and how we can all bring humanity into the workplace to benefit the humans and the bottom line at the same time using experience from her ongoing work with the company she founded, EquaMagna, where she works to connect people strategy with organizational goals.

Anne Catherine can be reached as follows:
* Equa Magna Website
* LinkedIn

Credits: Raechel Sherwood for Original Score Composition.

YouTube Channel: Uncover The Human







Alex: Hello, Cristina. 

Cristina: Hi, happy Monday. 

Alex: Happy Monday. We did have actually a wonderful Happy Monday. We just had a conversation with Anne Catherine, which you're about to hear. And Catherine is just a wonderful thinker in the world of humans at work.

Cristina: She definitely is. We worked with her in a previous life, and loved it. And I’m really hoping to start collaborating with her just because she's just wonderful to work with. She's fully aligned with the passion behind remembering the human on the other side of every decision. And she's doing wonderful work with her company, EquaMagna, on bringing that humanity into helping midsize and small companies with their HR practices so they're not just operational, but it's really about the people and their experience.

Alex: Yeah. So she comes most recently from the hospitality industry before she started her company at Westchester Country Club. And she brings both HR and guest hospitality right to the table. I think it has definitely helped inform some of her thinking around how to bring purpose and meaning to people in the workplace, and how important that is, especially now, post-pandemic and how important that is when we're all facing the great resignation, and just changes in how we think about work. So it was really cool to get the only insights from her as well as some good actions you can take to kind of put yourself in a good place for the future of work.

Cristina: Yes, definitely. When we worked together, it was amazing to see how what she's talking about was actually happening. The Country Club was truly exceptional at how they treated customers and how they even treated us as vendors. When we were there. It was above and beyond most places that I had ever seen treat people. And it came from the inside. So because employees were treated that way from the top all the way on a daily basis in every action, that translated into their clients and their partners being happy and coming back. And so we say this, and we get on our soapbox, but it actually does happen if you treat your employees really well. And every day, from every aspect, at every level, it does translate to success with your customers.

Alex: Yeah. It's good for the bottom line.

Cristina: Yeah, straight to the bottom line.

Alex: We hope you enjoy it. It was a great conversation.

Cristina: Yes, definitely. Enjoy.

Alex: Welcome to Uncover the Human where every conversation revolves around enhancing all the connections in our lives. 

Cristina: Whether that's with our families, co-workers or even ourselves. 

Alex: When we can be our authentic selves, magic happens.

Cristina: This is Cristina Amigoni. 

Alex: And this is Alex Cullimore. Let’s dive in.

Both: Let’s dive in. 


“Authenticity means freedom.”

“Authenticity means going with your gut.”

“Authenticity is bringing 100% of yourself not just the parts you think people want to see, but all of you.”

“Being authentic means that you have integrity to yourself.”

“It's the way our intuition is whispering something deep-rooted and true.”

“Authenticity is when you truly know yourself. You remember and connect to who you were before others told you who you should be.”

“It's transparency, relatability, no frills, no makeup, just being.”


Alex: And welcome back to another episode of Uncover the Human. We are joined today with our guest, Anne Catherine Nielsen. Welcome to the podcast, Anne Catherine.

Anne Catherine: Thank you so much for having me.

Cristina: Thank you for coming.

Alex: Thanks so much for being here. We're really excited to have Anne Catherine. And we've worked with her a little bit before previously as she was a customer at a company that both Cristina and I had worked at. And we're really glad to have her back on here. And I will let you do the introduction. What are you up to? And what's your background? 

Anne Catherine: So a little bit about my background. I actually started my own company a few years ago just pre-pandemic, in March of 2019, I decided to start my own consultancy in HR. That's called EquaMagna. I service a broad range of clients mainly in the hospitality industry hotels and clubs, and provide HR outsourcing, HR consulting, some seasonal placement and some executive search as well. But prior to that, I worked for a number of hospitality companies. I worked for starter 2000 results for a number of years, approximately joining the club industry and I work for as a director. My last position was actually director HR at the Westchester Country Club in Westchester where I was responsible for 600 employees. 

So I’ve worked my entire life in hospitality and operational roles and HR. And I’ve worked for both for-profit and not-for-profits companies, and in operational and corporate roles as well. It gives me a different – A hybrid opportunity to service my clients and their needs.

Cristina: That's wonderful and I love the name of your company. Can you explain it to us?

Anne Catherine: Yes. So I actually created the name, EquaMagna. It's really made up of two words. Coming from Latin, equanimity, and magnanimity. And the reason I selected those is I’m very fond of both of those actually. I think they really represent what I try to offer, which is really a balanced approach. And kind of that mindfulness in taking care of people and making the proper decisions that are going to align with the organization. So I felt it was a good word to use to really show that I support philosophically as well in the philosophy that I provide my clients, that I provide that very balanced approach in making good decisions. 

Cristina: Well, and having worked with you, I can say that you definitely embodied them.

Anne Catherine: Thank you. 

Alex: You've come to this from both sides, from hospitality and HR. You get to see both sides of taking care of people, as well as taking care of people.

Anne Catherine: Exactly. And it's not always easy because you really have to achieve results for people. And obviously we're human, right? We make mistakes and it's hard to deliver a consistent message or consistent service. So really spending time on what that looks like and what that experience should be to be able to deliver on that client or member experience is important. And there are so many variables to the complexity of the human being that it's certainly an interesting industry to be part of. It puts me in a strong position to service other industries as well that may have less of a focus on the human elements because they design other products, but still for people. Ultimately, each one is very transferable.

Alex: It definitely is.

Alex: It's a great industry especially for the amount of changes happened not only in the last two years but just in general. So I’d love to kind of hear some of your journey from what it was like starting out and what has changed over the years. And particularly, what has changed in the last two years with everything kind of shutting down.

Anne Catherine: Sure. I think, everyone. Whether you work in HR or in any industry will tell you the last two years I’ve been very different, right? Since we've all had to go for this incredible learning curve of figuring out how to lead normal lives or how to kind of recreate the world of work. Some people have lost work. Some people have lost it temporarily and regained work. So I’ve certainly helped my clients over those past few years figure out the best strategy to stay in business. And I’ve supported them in aligning their HR initiatives and strategies to their business objectives to make sure that they would strive coming out of this. 

So we've had different strategies. I mean, some of my clients have had to follow their stuff. And as soon as they could, they brought them back. And we've done a lot of communication, which has been wonderful to see everybody come back. But I think we've done it in a very sensitive way. And I think many employers who today are in a better position from a recruitment standpoint are the ones that really took care of their employees during this difficult time. And it's only something that when I had the power to kind of influence the outcome, certainly suggested that we do everything in our power to help the employees for this time. 

I think employees have learned to flex. I think everybody's had to learn to flex and adapt. I think we're seeing employers who are slowly coming back to working in office spaces where they were exclusively remote for a period of time. In our industry, obviously, you can be fully remote. Some employees had to come back and work in a physical building. So it was you know preparing for that as well and obviously observing the different mandates and the evolution of those mandates as well. And we're still watching to see what's going to happen. And just adapting as we go. 

So I think it's been actually an interesting phase I think for every HR professional, whether you attach the company or an outside consultant, to see how you can best actually tailor your policies and your practices to the workplace and to your workforce to make sure that everybody understands what's happening and feels that they're part of this, that they still belong whether you're working remotely or at the company that you're part of it. So interesting times. 

I mean, I’m delighted. Actually, I was so happy to be kind of an outsider to some extent and have the opportunity to work for several clients, because I’ve learned from every one of my clients. And I think there's no one way of doing things. There is a way for that particular client. But we've always done it with a commitment to the employees and making sure that the outcome would be positive with the company and the employees. It's been a good few years. But very different certainly.

Cristina: Definitely different. One of the things that I know I’ve switched the way I look at things, and maybe not too much. But when you and I worked together, we were focused on change management. There was a very clear path with the new technology. And I’ve always had a hard time with the overall approach to rigid change management only when there are big projects, or big processes, or big changes. And I think the last two years have demonstrated that more than change management, it's change agility that organizations need to have, and learn, and embody on a daily basis. So that when these sudden changes happen, a turnaround happens much quicker without having to have this formalized big process every single time.

Anne Catherine: Absolutely. I absolutely concur with what you're saying. I think it's really required of every organization to be very nimble and to kind of watch for the outside to really scan the environment. I think at times, companies are so focused on their internal stakeholders, and the ownership, etc. But really, scanning your environment and understanding what's coming to you and how best to strive in that environment has been critical for companies, in particular, small to medium-sized companies to survive and strive in this environment. Absolutely.

Alex: So given the rapid changing requirements for things like COVID, for things that like whether we're in office, or out of office, and what can be done, what are some general philosophies you apply when it comes to communicating these kinds of changes? We're experiencing this on a daily, weekly basis sometimes. How do you approach that from a company side?

Anne Catherine: So when I’m new to a company, typically I come in and I interview the leadership team. I will go and spend some time and dedicate a couple of days and really interview the entire leadership team. For me, it's really an opportunity to get insight and perspective into their philosophy and what the business objectives are. And almost put a voice, because I obviously report back on my findings. But give back that voice to the company so that we can figure out what those strategic initiatives should look like. 

And I really like to do that since I'm just coming from the outside and kind of imposing my views. It's really trying to understand and leverage that talent internally and figuring out, based on where they are, how to quickly adapt. Some organizations have different ways of communicating. Some are very hands-on. They have you know daily communication. Stand-up meetings are pretty standard in our industry. But for other organizations, it's more so email communication, Zoom meetings on a regular basis. Certainly, communication has been a big piece of that strategic agenda of saying how do we stay in touch? How do we keep the teams engaged on a daily basis, the team that's here on-premise, the team that's remote. And making sure people are still aligned and communicating and feeling good about being, obviously, attached to the company so they don't feel isolated.

I think many people still suffer from isolation. We've tried to do our best to make sure people feel that they're valued and still contributing. And even though many things kind of fell through the wayside, I mean, we were not enforcing the nine to five. But really putting value to the fact that people were still there. So they're committed, dedicated, and caring. And I think for the leaders individually to relate to their teams and reassure them to wait for that. We're going to go through this. We'll make it happen for people who are furloughed to say, "As soon as we can bring you back, we'll bring you back." Many of the employees that I've worked with were very generous and maintained the benefits for a period of time. Try to do their absolute best to maintain a quality of life with employees. 

So I'm certainly happy to advocate for that and help figure out what that look should look like and how long we could do this. And luckily, I would say for the employees that I have supported, the workforce is pretty much. In fact, 100% I'll say, 95% to 100% there. So it feels like we're turning that owner now that hopefully the outlook will be better for 2022. But certainly, it's an interesting ride for everyone.

Cristina: It definitely is. Fingers crossed.

Anne Catherine: Yeah, exactly.

Cristina: It can be returning to or moving towards 100% in whatever that is. So one of the things that we talked about in our previous conversations was the communication within the company and how to keep everybody connected and engaged. And be careful with the isolation pieces especially with the hybrid and non-hybrid. And you've also been working quite a bit with the talent acquisition piece, and the great resignation that we're going through right now. So what have you seen being kind of like the focus of recruiting and the people looking for jobs?

Anne Catherine: Yes, it's interesting because then I was actually just writing an article on the state of unions a few weeks ago and we're talking about, in particular, in our industry. I mean, some properties will be unionized. Some are not. The properties that had a union actually were lucky to have a workforce that they could – That quickly came back to positions and was loyal because they obviously have seniority. So many great benefits to obviously having that union workforce. And some do have a mixed population of non-union employees. Obviously creating that balance as well between those two is always important. But I would say certainly for in industries and properties in my case that had non-union employees, interestingly, as the economy was coming back, we did see that there is definitely more of a need for people and a harder time to attract the right talent and engage people in positions that they had previously been committed to. So some people who actually disengaged from or left the industry when there was a lack of work did not necessarily come back to those previous jobs and were looking for something different. 

So yes, today, I would say generally. And it's not just hospitality. I think many employees in the US today are struggling with finding the right talent and finding enough people to fulfill all the roles that they're opening up, which is an exciting market for employees today. And I think you know looking at the other side of the coin is to say if you're an employee out there right now, you have a tremendous opportunity to go and look for the employer of choice, the employer that you think that you can commit to for the long term. An employee that will have similar values to yours and where you feel that you can grow and fulfill all your aspirations. 

And I think this pandemic has really kind of created that reality check for people where they're not willing to take the first job. They're not just willing to –Obviously, they need to cover their costs and based on what they're looking for themselves. But I think beyond that, I think there's been a search for meaning after this pandemic. And I think people are interested in learning more about their company, the company they're joining, and what that company aligns with from a value standpoint is becoming more and more relevant. And what I’m seeing really in terms of HR is, HR is really shifting into really, instead of being really internally, marketed is really more so outside marketing of what the company stands for is becoming a big portion of what HR speaks to and proposes in that value proposition to new employees. So it's really realigning that internal proposition of employers with the market demand. And today certainly employees do have some leverage and power in what they decide for themselves, which I think should create an incredible employee market. It's just going to stretch your employers to get creative to get their best talent. So I tend to look at it on the positive side. But certainly, it's putting in a bit of a stretch on employers today to figure out how to be that employer of choice. 

Alex: I like your example of the unions and that you've worked with unions and non-union workforces, and that loyalty is really interesting. You get that loyalty, that seniority that would come back much faster because that's something that they've done studies on. If the company does everything they can before laying off the workforce, it tends to be a company that's set up for greater success in the long term or tends to be around for longer. And that's a really good way of looking at it too. The employee is going to be around there longer.

Anne Catherine: Absolutely. And I think with environments, and I value, I’ve always valued the entire workforce. I think the power of unions today is really the power of setting the workforce and offering for their bargaining agreements really setting a benchmark for benefits, their benefits, medical benefits and pension benefits. So it gives them a security I think that is important today. I think, and nowadays, it's something that is critical to people. They want to make sure that they have that same guard. And we are seeing an increase in employees looking to become unionized. And I think for employers who are looking to stay union-free, this is something to observe and to think about just to say, "So what does it – Why would we want to stay union-free?" And what does that look like then? What are some of the things that we need to make sure we provide in our value proposition to stay union-free? And that really I think today is really very much forefront. I mean, it should be at the forefront of every employer regardless of the industry that you're in, because that's the reality of the market. People need some safety net. People need a sense of belonging but also good medical benefits today we see it for this pandemic, I mean, it's really essential.

And then overtime as well – I mean, I think people have you know realized that you know life is precious and they want to work, but also at some points get the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and that's important too. So I think employers are tasked with thinking about all of that and finding balance between generating, providing and taking care of their employees. So we're going to see more of that I’m sure.

Alex: I think it's interesting to hear your point of view on this, because you hear from so many –You hear in general. It'll be tossed around terms like, well, people just don't stay at companies there's no loyalty to companies. Everybody's changing jobs every two years. And these are some of the reasons. It always seems like it's put on the employee. If the employee's just this flighty person who's decided not to stick around just for the fun of it. But a lot of people don't actually want to do that. They want to feel like they're building something long-term. They just don't feel like it's accessible where they are. And it's really interesting to hear your point of view on where it becomes more of the employer's responsibility to provide some of that stability, some of that long-term feel and that connection to the overall purpose.

Anne Catherine: And I think the different philosophies, right? Every employer will have their own and always come in as a new client, always respect the kind of the legacy and the philosophy of the company and the vision of the CEO and how it all started. I think it's very important to kind of observe, understand and then see how you can best align and still bring kind of, in this moment, right now, how can we best take advantage of everything that you are and become more of what you want to be with an external scan? That's the secret sauce, is trying to figure out all those variables. And it's different for each company.

I mean we see companies in my industry. For instance, Disney was very big at creating their internal university. They kept people, I mean, with 10-year, 20, 30, 40 years. I still think it's the case because they were able to groom and help divert their teams you know. And you could start at a very line level and go up into management over years of your career with Disney. That's not the case of every company, right? Not every company will dedicate the whole training and development organization within the organization to allow for that. I think for the medium size companies that I tend to service right now, I would say, if you don't have that capability internally, I think what is really important today to meet the needs of your individual talent is allowing them to partner with people from the outside. 

I’ve always felt that it's important you learn for other people, for other organizations, for partnerships. I mean you can't just – Being self-sufficient because you're within the organizations is difficult. It's difficult even if you have a great time and eternity. And I think the opportunity to leverage partnerships, finding mentors within the organization and outside the organization is critical too. And it's something that larger corporations don't always think about because they like to keep you focused on what you're doing for your organization. They're really scared of losing you. To other organizations, you go and brainstorm ideas or share best practices. 

But I think, actually, that that's something that is going to come to the forefront a lot more. And I think smaller and medium-sized companies have to do that. It's the only way. It's the only way to remain competitive and to keep your employees engaged and excited about what they do every day. And they will be so much more loyal to you for giving them the opportunity to look outside. I almost feel like at times in the business world, you're almost like you know parents. I see it raising kids. I shouldn't maybe do this metaphor analogy. But letting your kids observe what's happening outside allows them to appreciate or that they're offered at home. And I don't think you lose them for that no matter what. 

And I think you know by being a little bit more detached and allowing your employees to grow and observe and share that feedback. So you know what? We're not doing it quite right. We should look at that company, how they do it, and bring that in. If we learn that and we actually welcome it, that company is going to survive. That company is going to do better than any other company, because the improvement will be vested and understand that they have a say and they can change. They can make a difference. They can change how things are. And I think many employees today are looking for that opportunity to contribute with their times, their skills at their level based on their aspirations much more than ever before. I think we're going to see incredible ideas come out of our workforce if we manage, if our leaders accept to be that nimble and welcome those ideas. That's really how I see leadership change as well. It's been a lot more adaptive and flexible and listening – That ability to listen to the employees and management team and taking that outside input is going to be critical. 

And we see today, I mean, we're all fighting this global pandemic, right? And we see different approaches. It's like every country has – It's almost like a company itself, right? And we see what works, what doesn't work. But we learn from each other, I mean, by observing, right? And the business world is the same, right? I mean, we see what's working and what's not working and we adapt. It's almost trial and error. And I think we're in that stage where there is no right or wrong when it comes to leadership, where there is something that works for a period of time and then you kind of reinvent it and you move to the next level. What is working right now is what needs to be tweaked and defined along the way.

Cristina: Yeah, I love that. I really like the concept of the people's experience, and the leadership development, and the leadership application, is that it's not a medal. It's not an end goal. You don't just say, "Oh, well, I’ve learned these five skills. Check mark. We're good. We've created these 10 things for our people. We're good." It's a process. It's a daily thing. It's continuous because of the change agility that's needed, because of the fact that humans are complex and what they want from life is changing. And part of it maybe it wasn't it was always there, but now it's the opportunity to actually speak up and say it. Now they have the power to say, "Well, I’ve always wanted meaning. And now I can actually demand it, or find it somewhere else." And it's that continuous like listening, and understanding, and being nimble, and not just saying like, "Well, like I’ve made it to Director. I’m good. I don't need to learn anything. I don't need to change anything. We've got our policies. We've got our processes. Just go to your job." And unfortunately – Well, fortunately, more than unfortunately, finally, just go do your job doesn't – It's not enough.

Anne Catherine: Great. I think many people are looking for purpose right now, meaning and purpose.

Cristina: Meaning and purpose.

Alex: I really like what you said about being able to look externally and bring people's influences in because it is very clear. And I can see now in retrospect, I never really thought of the dichotomy at the time, but in retrospect, when you're in a company that's telling you don't look out the windows. This is what we're doing. I don't care what any other companies are doing. Stop looking at them. Please just keep your head down. It's pretty limiting. And then the second you have a company where it's like, "Oh, yeah, you see that? You like that? I wonder if we could do something like that here." It's a very different feeling and it's at least worth the conversation, the evaluation. And same with countries. There's a lot of – Actually one of the things we've been talking about is like the four-day work week, right? A couple of countries have started this. They find that's working fine. There's cultural differences for every country, yes, but what can you learn from this? Is there something that's still beneficial even within the US culture versus, I think, it's Amsterdam that has it? What are the differences?

Cristina: And I think Iceland did the experiment for the four-day work week. And a few other countries are trying it out.

Anne Catherine: Yeah. I think there are many employees in US. would jump on that. Absolutely. Absolutely. So I think it's doable. I think it would obviously – Based on the industry, it's doable. It's just figuring out how to create the systems and the efficiencies around that. And based on the client base that you're taken care of, certainly it's doable. I mean, people could. I mean I see our industries 24/7, year-round. But it doesn't mean that people can't work four days and you have a rotation of teams. So again, it's how you organize the work and how you distribute it.

But I think with the importance of technology today and the power of AI and what's coming our way, which we don't even quite fathom yet, we're going to be able to free up some time. I think technology is never going to – I think many people are feeling afraid of it. Technology thinking, it's going to take away jobs. It may. It's going to help us reinvent other jobs and positions. But ultimately, there'll always be human guidance even to AI, right? I mean, humans will still drive technology at the end of the day. But I think we need to be smarter about how we operate daily. How we operate our companies and how we meet our customers' requirements while managing our resources. And I think the better we manage our resources, the better the output to our customers and the better we'll all do. So I definitely think that there's a tremendous opportunity for companies, small and big, to leverage technology. I don't think it's just you know for the big and large corporations. I think we have come to a point where it's available to all size companies. It's very exciting times.

Cristina: Definitely is. And it's true. Technology is taking tasks away from people, but not necessarily jobs, because the jobs are always reinvented with that technology or not. You're constantly reinventing jobs. And so it's just a reinvention of the job, like, "Okay, these tasks, you no longer do. Let's figure out what other tasks need to be done," because there's always tasks. 

And it reminded me of something we spoke to before we got on the podcast on how the end goal, the end result, the end stakeholder is always a human. It's always a person no matter what industry and what product and what service we provide, which is a good reminder I think for us in the human space of work, because sometimes, at least for me – I struggle sometimes with looking at, "Oh, like where's the tangible?" We're not making a product. We're not creating technology. We're not implementing technology. So why do people need us? 

And then this morning actually, I just kind of realized like, "Well, people need us." And on the other side of all those products and technologies and services, they're humans. And if you don't understand humans, then you can't really provide a good product or a service.

Anne Catherine: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think it's that comfort level around technology. I think that's where there's going to be tremendous growth and learning in the years to come. I think for the younger generation coming into the workforce, it's a given, because they're already so – Naturally, they're inclined to use technology, and it's second nature for them I. think it's maybe harder for our generation because we've already kind of grown what knowing technology. And we have to keep learning. That actually is the very positive of the workforce as I see progress, is learning organizations. So it's going to be a requirement throughout your career, whether you stay with one employer or several employees that you continue to learn. 

And that's something that maybe was not so much part of the curriculum in past generations where, I mean, you could do the same job over and over again and not really be challenged in how you approached it or becoming more efficient. I think technology is going to speed that up, for sure. There will be no option but to learn. But I think it's continued to make our workforce a lot more productive and more efficient and better skilled as well. 

So I think it's very exciting to see that even simple positions are going to be challenged by technology. A lot of manual positions will get the support of technology. Maybe that's where the balance comes back. It's that day off that you get because you're more productive using the technology that you've learned and that you've been empowered to use properly. A lot to be seen, but I think it's exciting times.

Alex: So in terms of what you've done to help companies transform, do you see the advent of a lot more learning programs within companies to do some of that development on the job? Like you said, it's not really about learning a skill that you then just apply anymore. That skill has to change over time. So are you seeing that reflected internally?

Anne Catherine: I think, obviously, it's probably been put a little bit on the back burner in the past two years because it's been less focused on training and development. I’m saying that and knowing that there's been the caveat of you know a number of people in management positions who are remote who've had the opportunity to take advantage of online learning. So I’ve seen it both ways. So a little bit less in terms of training and development and more maybe on the management and managerial side where people who were remote and had less of a regular normal day were able to take advantage of some great programs. And I think that as we get back to normalcy, it's going to be we're looking at how we do business. What is essential and what is not essential? And then where can you leverage technology? Where can you save time so that you can dedicate more time to face to face and what really you can't replace with technology. I mean, there are certain things that will never, that will remain very human that we want to keep very human, which I certainly am strongly I’m looking for.

Cristina: Well, and there's always a human that's going to be using the technology. So we can always fall back on that one.

Anne Catherine: Exactly. Exactly.

Cristina: What are some of the things that you found? So from a leadership perspective, you mentioned this a couple times. There's a lot of change. There's a lot of evolving and looking at things differently. As we know, change is hard, and it's not overnight. So what are some of the ways to kind of get the organizations and the leadership team to not want to keep falling back to the way things used to be?

Anne Catherine: Well, I think right now, the reality of the market is prompting it naturally. So the good thing is the market conditions are going to create better leaders. The fact it's so difficult today to attract talent is going to require better leadership. And that means, really, it has to be internalized through everything that that company represents and the way information is conveyed internally and processes, or documented, and managed, and maintained. All of that, that language. Leadership language needs to transpire for the entire company. It's interesting, because I’ve seen – I’ve read a lot about toxic work cultures and leaders are dictators and very control-oriented. That type of leadership cannot last not in this type of economy.

So I think it's going to the benefit the employees to really – Because I think for leaders to attract today and retain the right talent, it's going to take changing those things. If they do have a toxic workplace, it's how we transform. How do we create a culture of transparency where people trust and respect each? Whether it's teamwork, whether it's collaboration. And how do we get rid of paranoia, conflict, and tension? And actually I say that, but conflict and tension is actually very healthy in the workplace. So it's more so when that is not allowed, right? Or if deception is created through the leader. That's where you create exclusivity. 

I think, today, the market, the way it is, is actually a blessing to employees and to leaders because it is going to push them maybe out of their comfort zone if they're not a very open aimable type leader who kind of embraces their team and looks at that entire culture. But it's going to naturally prompt better, more positive cultures. 

It's interesting. I think I read not long ago that a culture is defined by the worst behavior that takes place in a company, right? 

Cristina: Yup. I would agree. 

Cristina: I would agree. 

Anne Catherine: And I was thinking, "Wow! Okay, so worst behavior? That's true." And what about the best behavior? So how are the best behaviors reinforced on a regular basis so that it becomes – It is the culture, right? It is the reinforcement of all those positive behaviors and ways of being and presenting yourself and working along with other people and collaborating. If all that is praised, and appreciated, and reinforced on a regular basis, that's how you create that culture. But that's a daily assignment at every level of the organization, studying as a leader at the top, right? And it has to be ingrained in everything you do. And it only works if you have accountability throughout, right? 

So if you have the positive behaviors but no accountability, that can also – Things can fall apart. So you still need a little bit of the structure of how do we hold people accountable to those values or positive behaviors? And how do we continue to recognize, and praise, and appreciate our employees and our managers for all that hard work and for creating that, creating and maintaining that culture? That should almost be a goal for every single employee, manager and organization. How do we continue to promote a cultural well-being, of happiness at work, of creativity, of engagements? And people should be honest about that. I mean, it's the only way of you know creating something that they shouldn't even be, I shouldn't say. They should be because it should be the reason that is on the rights of a company. 

But if we want to continue to incentivize people to do the right thing, certainly, that's something that organizations should be looking at. And I think we're going to see a development of a lot of that in the years to come, right? There's such a demand for that. Employees craving, are asking for that, are waiting and looking to see what you know employers will come up with. And we'll come up with ideas. And I think if employers welcome those ideas and implement them, we're going to see great success stories. And great companies grow quickly and do really. Yeah, I think the time of dictatorship doesn't work. 

Cristina: We've seen that in history too. So the companies are just following history.

Alex: So you've talked a lot about some of the values alignment. I definitely agree, there's a lot of help to be had when you can connect that purpose. And you mentioned accountability is a huge portion of that. Are there some really good accountability programs or ways to keep accountable that you've seen or you recommend?

Anne Catherine: Well, I tend to do a lot of boutique and customization of the work that I do. So work with partners. So I don't want to give names here. But I would say there is a solution for every size company in terms of creating that structure if they don't have it. And I would say it's more so empowering the leadership team to do the right thing. And that's built into your performance management system. So you do have a number of tools and resources available to you to build that in, that accountability. 

I don't think you can teach accountability per se. But I think you can help leaders define what accountability looks like for their team, their operation, and what those specific goals and what the outcome of those goals should look like and expect results. I think it's very difficult to get results if you don't manage to those results. 

And I think one of the things that I’ve seen to be very positive both for the employees and the team leaders is regular conversations around project management, is how we're doing? How we're progressing? Celebrating the milestones. So that there is a sense of accomplishment along the way. And I think that's how you build accountability. It's conversations, really, throughout the life cycle of that project all the way to the final outcome. So creating more conversations in the workplace on a regular basis, that dialogue shouldn't be left to an annual review and should really be on a regular basis. That's certainly something that I focus on with all my clients. And that's transformational. That truly is.

Cristina: One, having conversations not just around performance, but in general. You mentioned more collaboration, more connections, more teamwork, more working together, which is I guess the opposite of the dictatorship command and control type of thing. Just sit down and do your task without talking to anybody, because the connection will happen in a different level. And so what are some of the tactics that you've seen successful in transforming the culture to be more collaborative, more connected, more about the people than about, "Here's a list of tasks. Go in your corner. Finish them up."

Anne Catherine: I think it goes back to leadership again. I think it's attracting the leaders that have that type of appreciation for the dialogue. I think it really starts – I think they're too views to this. It starts at the top, but there's also the grassroots opportunity to really leverage the information that's coming from your employee base. So I think you want to leverage both sides. But I think if you really want to change the culture of your company, you suddenly have to start with the leadership team and make sure that you attract leaders that believe in that. If you have leaders who've actually worked really hard and through the ranks and they always were in that control type environment, they're going to – Naturally, they'll have embodied that and associated that with success as well. I mean, because maybe that's been their experience in the past. 

So I would be very cautious in making sure that if that's the desire of the company to switch towards that more of an open environment of dialogue is to attract the leadership that will allow for that and give opportunities by creating, really, almost a structure for that within the organization. So it has to be welcomed it has to be part of what is expected at that level. And that should really percolate. It should really transpire for the entire company. But I think the too needs to be said at the very top, because it's not easy for an employee to come up with ideas, it's not being welcomed by the higher-ups. So that culture really has to come from leadership. 

Cristina: Alex and I call that the open glass door policy. Instead of open door when you walk in and ask questions or prior suggestions, it's a glass door and you smack your face into it when you try.

Anne Catherine: Yeah, I like that analogy. 

Alex: It's the appearance of transparency.

Cristina: It's the appearance of transparency. 

Anne Catherine: Appearance of transparency. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I was the corporate trainer for 6 Sigma sigma for a number of years. We start with a dozen. And we went and I actually rolled it out worldwide started North America and then we went to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and a little bit of Asia Pacific as well. It was an amazing journey for me learning the company and getting to meet with all the stakeholders around the world and trying to deliver the very same products in a different way. I mean, the same curriculum that have to adapt to local ways of doing things, which was fantastic, because we were kind of in the country. So we were experiencing it as we were going. 

But what I learned, what I really enjoyed about 6 Sigma, was this approach to the voice of the customer. The voice of the customer was absolutely critical. And I know their new philosophies in terms of management practices. But I think that is something that will always stay regardless of the mythology that you use, is really trying to understand what your customers want and need, whatever you deliver as a service or a product. And trying to translate that into requirements and kind of organize or recreate your organization or the world of work around those criteria so that you can generate the revenues or reduce the cost or whatever your mission is. 

I thought there's a translation table for customer requirements into something tangible that you can actually deliver on. And I was always fascinated by that, because it really allowed a company to realign, to reorganize, to reinvent itself. I was thinking from an interesting point, isn't that just fascinating? If only we could take the voice of our internal customer, or our employees, and figure out what they want and what they need and translate those few things into key requirements. What does it look like? What does it mean? What does engagement mean? What does benefits mean? What does life-work balance mean? Because it means something different to different people. 

And if we do the Pareto chart of that, the 80/20. If we want to try to get to 80% of our employee base, what does that look like in terms of initiative? And I think it's just fascinating to think that you can apply some scientific tools to some extent or methodology to really get through the nuggets that are going to help you create the culture that works for you. Because, again, it's very unique to each company. But there are methods by which you can do that. And I think that every employer today should be putting on the agenda for the next year and years to come, what are those nuggets? And how do we hook our mission statement and our values around those to make sure we deliver on those? Because that's the best strategy to actually attract and retain that talent. And make sure that we strive for years to come. I think it's really important to keep listening to your customers and to your employees alike. It's so important to have those sides, both aspects to have that balance. Really critical today.

Alex:And it makes your job so much easier both as an employee and as a leader. But if you want to be making a lot of decisions about the company, it's a lot easier when you know what the direction is. What are the values? What are we really trying to bring forward? If you can make those right trade-offs at the right time and the employees understand what that is, what that means, what that means for them, it's a lot easier to have these conversations when you have established that baseline, and it's consistent, and everybody knows what they're talking about. What it means. These four values we have on our wall, what does that really mean for everybody? How do we do that on a company level? How do we do that on an employee level? It's amazing how much easier the job is. Everybody kind of fights themselves until they get to this point where they can coalesce those things.

Anne Catherine: Right. But it's so powerful, right? And it goes beyond that poster on the wall. I mean, it's obviously the output that I think when it's lived on a daily basis for what you just described as a conversation dialogue, where it's ingrained, it's just the way we function, right? Because we know, we're creative. We're a cool team. We work together. And it's embodied. Ultimately, that's what I think every company should be striving towards, because it's so powerful. And having lived through it, it's quite amazing when you're able to create that. 

Cristina: It is amazing. It's pretty magical when you witness it and you see it happens. 

Alex: And the work is not easy to get there because you basically have to deprogram some other habits and reprogram a new habit, and that has come from the top, and everybody has to be invested enough in that. And that is a long transformation. That's why you can't just redefine values and then suddenly everybody's off and running. It is a mindset that becomes just the way we start going forward. And that takes practice, that takes visual reinforcement, so that we can get into that. 

And that's I think what some people miss in cultural transformation is they just are like, "Well, we need to improve some things." That's good. It's going to take a lot of investment, a lot of deliberate practice that will feel awkward at first sometimes to get into the blood of the organization and make this just the common way that we interact.

Anne Catherine: Yeah. I think you're describing transformation briefly, because it's a process, right? And it's not always pretty, right?

Cristina: No.

Anne Catherine: Right? It's not always pretty, because it's that iterative process of trial and error and trying to figure it out. And as you're saying, at times it's getting rid of things that no longer serve. So bad habits, yeah, let's not do this anymore. But it's like creating that awareness that at least – And the conversation of what we want to be so that we can get rid of that when it no longer serves and just focus on the value add. 

Cristina: And it's a daily. I mean, we always talk about habits, but it is a habit. It's a daily action. It's not the announcing, just come to us with questions once a year, once a quarter, once at the beginning of the project. That's not a habit. That's not an action.

Anne Catherine: Yeah, it's every day. You're absolutely right. It's every day. And it needs to be done with authenticity. And I think that's why it's so important to bring the right talent in. I actually just recently partnered with a Predictive Index. It's one of my partnerships. Because they really focus on timed optimization and looking at there's so many personalities, like social styles in the environment. And there is no good or bad. The important thing is the dynamic, right? That team dynamic. So bringing that the right team together or helping that team align towards the business objectives is really critical. So people can take advantage of each other's strengths as well. 

Often, it's just that separation of, "Well, we don't all have the same strengths," and there are certain things that are – It's not necessarily a weakness. I don't like to use the weakness, but it's more so the lack of awareness. So just when you have kind of a self-assessment that allows you to just see your blind spots, and when you know that on the team you have somebody who can actually support some of those areas that you're less strong in, you can truly team up and create an environment that is powerful. And I think that also helps the leaders. If the leader doesn't necessarily have it, the team culture will make up for that. But I think you need to look at the global picture. And I think that for people, to have individual assessments and a team assessment to see where they really contribute and how they should be contributing to that particular team is powerful. And because then you really have you have a tactical tool to help you leverage the best out of your people. And that's the only way of making it part of the everyday. It's a habit, because we're learning to work together as a team, and we're well aware of what – And we can live with people's blind spots. We know what they are. And they know where they are too. And we've come to accept that they have that. And we're going to actually make up for that because we're strong in that area. So I think that creates that dialogue and forms those good, healthy habits. But it takes time to create that. And a lot of self-awareness and a lot of team awareness. 

Cristina: Yeah, we're big fans of assessments. Because of that awareness of what are my blind spots, which I may know, but I may not have the language? I may not know. Most of the time I don't know. When I do get to know them, I don't have the language to actually express them to other people. And then as a team, what are the team blind spots? And if we end up in a situation where nobody can overcome them, who's close enough or how does the leader and the team address that? 

Alex and I actually took the Predictive Index, and we have common blind spots, which doesn't help us as business partners. But it does help us – 

Anne Catherine: That's why you bring the team, the rest of the team. Yeah. 

Cristina: Exactly. Exactly. It's greatly helping us in figuring out things like, "Okay, neither of us are good at this. So who can we bring on that can compensate for that gigantic bottom right corner, which we're both avoiding?" 

Anne Catherine: And that's tremendous. I mean, to come in and know that from the get-go is amazing, right? Yeah, it creates a space where – A very safe space, too, that you can be yourselves and it's okay not to be perfect. because we're all human and we make mistakes and we're not good at everything. And I think creating that environment in the workplace is liberating. And it fosters an environment of creativity where people can be at their best and feel supported. It takes away that culture of blame or lack of accountability, because there's no need for it anymore. There's no reason for it. Everybody is part of this and everybody belongs and feels valued for what they're able to contribute. There are a few tools like that. I’m mentioning this one, but that really focuses on the positive and what people can bring to the workplace.

Cristina: I couldn't agree more. I think it eliminates a lot of frustration and disappointment. Some of the definitions of frustration and disappointment is that our expectations were met. If we can align our expectations of what other people will be doing based on what their strengths and their blind spots are, then we can avoid a lot of that misunderstanding, frustration, disappointment, miscommunication. Because it's like why expect Alex, for example, I’m going to pick on you, to sit down and create like this gigantic piece if that's not his strength? Then my own disappointment, it's like why am I disappointed? I’m disappointed because of my expectation of something that I knew from the get-go that that wasn't his strength. 

Anne Catherine: Exactly. I mean, what you're reflecting on as well as that leader, realizing that on that scene, he may not have the person that he needs to accomplish that goal. And it's kind of thinking, "So do I have that person within the organization, another team, or do I need to look for some time to make up for what I need on this particular scene?" And then obviously leverage the strength of that player in other ways. But I think that that takes a lot of reflection. And wanting to help you now look at your employees differently, see where their strengths are and be willing to accept that you can develop them in a different way. 

It's interesting you asked me at the beginning earlier on what I had seen change during the pandemic. One of the things that I didn't actually share with you is I saw a lot of a concerned workforce, employees who had issues or who did not feel comfortable anymore in the workplace because there was obviously a lot of unknown of is my job safe? Is it – And that created a lot of internal turmoil at times to the extent that you can't necessarily mention that to your direct supervisor or you go to the CEO and say, "I’m really worried." But that's where HR, if you have an HR intern and HR department becomes kind of the gateway for that of being able to listen to those employee concerns. And before they become issues, performance issues, to address and reassure employees on the emotional level so that they can continue to perform and focus on what they're supposed to do. 

And what I’ve seen is when you don't have any short team or you don't have a supervisor that you can know confide in, that's where those tensions result in employees who are detached, disengaged and eventually will leave the company, and not necessarily for the right reason, right? So we may be losing an employee who's this one just because of that lack of communication. We talked about a lot of dialogue and communication. If that does not happen in particular times of tension and certainty, that is where the risk is. And I think today that's a huge risk for many organizations who don't realize that, "Well, maybe they don't have the structure of an HR from as HR team." And even if they do, do they leverage it fully and do they give that opportunity for just letting out the emotional side and refocus? Help that person refocus on the business and how they can continue to successfully contribute? 

And I think that's the greatest missed opportunity today. So not only do I focus on timed acquisition, but really retention. Many of my employees right now, let's make sure that we are focused. We must talk to individuals as well. And instead of getting rid of people who are problems, right? Because that tends to be, it has been for a very long time, a strategy. Is a person who is not aligned, who doesn't believe, who's disgruntled, let's get rid of them, right? So I’m saying it in a candid way. But obviously, it's a little more subtle than that. But ultimately, there are only two ways of how we shape the behavior and how do we help the person re-engage? Or do we decide to kind of disengage from that person and we set the steps towards that. 

I think there's tremendous opportunity in that area more so today than ever before within every organization. And if the CC, everybody's happy, there's still some grumbling. And in every organization there's opportunity just to tap into that and turn things around before you see a huge exodus because people have lost faith or trust in the organization. And I think that is really – It's an art and science, but it's being able to quickly get the pulse of the organization and figure out where those pain points are and quickly intervening and speaking to those candidates to really try to assess what is happening and how can you help re-engage them. That is very doable. And I think that's probably a strategy that many boys should be looking at if they haven't addressed that's in the past few years just because of the economy and how things are happening in the last few years with more uncertainty. 

I just want to put that out, because I think at times it's easy just to turn the other way and pretend it doesn't exist and let that person go. But, again, it's a lost opportunity. So that's where HR I think can do a little bit of its magic at times. Doesn't always work. But certainly there's opportunity there.

Alex:I really love the idea of changing the mindset to like crumbling not as a sign of an issue. I mean, it is a sign of an issue. There's something that people are grumbling about. But grumbling itself is not the issue. It's the silencing of the grumbling. And then you just have people writing whatever story of whatever the issue is in their head, and that will grow without any chance to address it. Whereas if you allow for the grumbling as a powerful tool, eventually it starts to become not grumbling. People will just come up to you and say, "Hey, I’d rather change this instead.. It isn't even grumbling. It's just feedback. And then it becomes a lot easier to take that cycle. But it takes that bravery on the leadership part and the whole leadership team to say, "Okay, I need to start listening to what people are grumbling about instead of trying to just dismiss it and have to do it and say, "Well, that person's just disgruntled. There's nothing we can do about that." It'll work itself out. You missed the opportunity. And I like the way you put it that it is really a tremendous opportunity.

Anne Catherine: Yeah. And again if people have a voice today and if they can express it internally in a safe manner at work, it's going to come out elsewhere, right? And people can express themselves. Today in social media, it's very prevalent. And it's important that people feel that they have a voice. So I think the place of employment is a place where employees should feel safe and should feel that they can. As long as they're respectful and courteous towards everyone, there's no reason for you know fearing, providing feedback, and even critical feedback. And they should be welcomed, you're absolutely right, at every level of the organization. And it's something that leaders you know should be prepared to offer and welcome. Absolutely.

Cristina: Well, I’m sure we could have a whole other episode on just how to create a safe environment in many of the other pieces of this complexity. But thank you so much, Anne Catherine, for this wonderful conversation. Lots to take away and lots to reflect on. And hopefully we'll start seeing the changes and we'll start helping with the changes that are needed.

Anne Catherine: Absolutely.

Cristina: Or continue to help. You already are helping.

Anne Catherine: Exactly. Such a pleasure to be here.

Alex: Yeah. Thank you so much for joining and sharing this. We do have one more question for you. What does authenticity mean to you? 

Anne Catherine: I think being authentic is really being fully aligned, when your mind and your hearts are fully aligned, and you're able to just be. I think it's kind of a state of your natural being where you're almost detached from anything outside and where you're in a – It's almost in a non-judgment zone where you could be kind of an objective observer because you're so aligned with your essence. You just are you. And it's not always easy to be in that state of authenticity. At times, you feel pulled and influenced. To truly be able to be yourself and be the best you can be, I think, and allow – Going back to our conversation, allowing employers to be authentic takes an incredible leadership style of acceptance. But I think for the person itself, to feel attentive is that level of self-love and self-acceptance where you're just truly aligned, mind and heart.

Cristina: It is. I want to work for those leaders.

Anne Catherine: Who wouldn't, right?

Cristina: Exactly. I guess that's what I’ve chosen to do over and over. So where can people find you?

Anne Catherine: So the best way is really – I have a website at, and a simple email, And I send welcome inquiries. And if I can be of help or service to anyone, I work on that. That's my life mission. That's my only aspiration. That's what gives meaning and purpose to me and the reason why I started my company. So thank you so much for the opportunity to join you and share this wonderful conversation with you. And I look forward to many more to come.

Cristina: Yes. The next one in New York, in-person. 

Anne Catherine: Yes, yes, absolutely. Looking forward to that. Oh, yes. 

Cristina: It's definitely a plan. Well, thank you again for joining us.

Alex: Thank you so much, Anne Catherine. And thank you everybody for listening.


Cristina: Thank you for listening to Uncover the Human, a Siamo podcast. 

Alex: Special thanks to our podcast operations wizard, Jake Lara; and our score creator, Raechel Sherwood. 

Cristina: If you have enjoyed this episode, please share, review and subscribe. You can find our episodes wherever you listen to podcasts. 

Alex: We would love to hear from you with feedback, topic ideas or questions. You can reach us at podcast, or at our website,, LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook. We Are Siamo is spelled W-E A-R-E S-I-A-M-O.

Cristina: Until next time, listen to yourself, listen to others and always uncover the human.


Anne Catherine NielsenProfile Photo

Anne Catherine Nielsen

Principal and Founder of Equa Magna, Mindful People Solutions

Anne Catherine has over 20 years’ experience working in the Hotel and Club Industry, in both operational and human resources roles. Her true passions are Talent Management, Innovation, and Training and Development for increased Organizational Performance.

She is the founder and principal of EquaMagna, Mindful People Solutions, a boutique human resources consultancy providing leading edge Human Resources expertise by offering the quality of products and services found in larger corporations, in a scalable formula, from HR Consulting to HR Outsourcing, staff placement and Executive Search. EquaMagna offers HR a la Carte. EquaMagna builds up HR resources and systems when and where they are needed, just in time, based on their clients’ short, medium, and long-term people strategy and goals.