PeopleWorks helps employers in a competitive economy

Friday, January 4, 2019
In addition to giving them a home space in Alta, PeopleWorks’ modern, renovated spot on the corner next to White House 220 is available to rent for private events.

You always pass their building front as you drive by on Main Street, but you may not know what exactly they do in there. PeopleWorks, founded 20 years ago by Kathy Peterson, is by no means new to the area. But their renovated office opened at the corner across from City Hall has called Alta home for just under two years.

As Iowa’s economy ties with South Dakota for the lowest unemployment rate at under 3 percent, Peterson says the largest chunk of her business is in leadership and management training—something more important for employers than ever in a tight labor market.

“I think it’s hard for people to be great employees if they don’t have a great leader,” Peterson said. “Most people get thrown into leadership positions.” But being good at your job doesn’t always make you a good leader.

Kathy Peterson, the president and founder of PeopleWorks, has been providing dynamic keynote speeches, corporate training and talent development for 20 years. /Photos Submitted

That’s where PeopleWorks comes in—as a contractor to train and help change company cultures to retain good employees in an competitive environment where money can’t always retain them.

As millennials became a majority of the work force, leadership styles evolved to become more employee-centric.

“Millennials today are requiring leaders to do things leaders should’ve been doing all along,” Peterson says. That includes more coaching, more frequent feedback and moving from annual reviews to regular 1-on-1 meetings with supervisors.

“It helps them become better employees,” she said of the new leadership styles. She works with a wide range of clients across Iowa and the country to customize keynote addresses and training to bring real solutions in an organic way.

“We like to come up with real solutions so there’s real change afterwards,” the president said. “Each program is very customized.”

“The ability to keep good people is so critical to our employers,” said Gretchen Miller, the learning and development coordinator for PeopleWorks. More and more employers are starting to realize it’s not just about the pay. Employees want their skills to be utilized and developed.

You have to be competitive in pay. But after that, it becomes about other things like the culture of your organization and leadership—things employees can’t get if they go across the street for another dollar per hour.

Cultures and leaders that don’t want to change and aren’t receptive to utilizing employees to their fullest potential are what drive them away.

Her two biggest topics, building accountability and promoting positive collaboration, aim to change company culture peer-to-peer, rather than from the top down.

Understanding perspectives, taking responsibility in company accountability, and having results-orientated conversations all play a vital role in that culture, which can take three to five years to change.

“If you can build the right culture, you can retain employees,” Peterson said, because good employees tend to have a lot of options.

With clients like Ag Partners, Corn Belt Power Co-operative and Two Rivers Bank, Peterson has built a business of leadership innovation common to any industry almost entirely from word-of-mouth.

“I really believe in not doing something you just pull off a shelf,” Peterson says—a guiding principal that keeps clients coming back.

One of her newer programs, LEAD (Leadership Exploration and Development) helps mentor high-performing employees identified by companies as potential leaders over the course of up to 18 months.

“Once you train managers, it’s good to fold employees in so they’re all speaking the same language—because they need training and development too,” she said.

Even if you’re not an employer, PeopleWorks has some tips you can follow to help build and advance your career.

Everyone needs people skills, she says—even those in the hands-on trades like plumbing or electrical work. Being able to communicate is critical to success and advancement, Peterson said.

“Sometimes the perception of how others see you is critical,” she said, because our own perceptions often differ from how our communication is received by others.

How to move on from a dead-end job: “You either need to stay and try to make change happen, or you need to go in peace,” Peterson says. If your organization is not matching your needs, you need to have difficult conversations. Bring specific examples and requests to those conversations, but also what your employer needs and how you bring value to the company.

“If it’s not a good fit, don’t say and become miserable,” she advises, which can make it hard for everyone else. “It’s really OK for you to say that this is the end of the road.”

Need a raise? Make sure you’re not just asking for money. Show what you’ve done to add value to your company and show goals for the next year to improve yourself and continue to add value to justify an increase in pay.

You should never be done adding value to a company.

“It’s really fun to see people grow in front of your eyes,” Peterson said. “You’re changing people’s paths and that’s so cool.”