An Interview with Kathy Cullen Cote

Vice-President of Human Resources for PTC

Kathy Cullen Cote is the recipient of the 2018 HRLF Bob Gatti HR Leadership Award. As Corporate Vice President of Human Resources at PTC, Kathy’s helped to guide one of the industry’s most impressive transformations as PTC reinvents itself as a provider of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions. Her guidance to both the business and the culture have contributed to the success and continued development of the organization and its people. In this issue of WorkForward, Kathy shares some of her experience and advice.

GattiHR: Hi Kathy – Thank you for joining us. And, congratulations on being named this year’s recipient of the Bob Gatti HR Leadership Award! Additionally, and I shouldn’t be surprised, PTC was recently named a best place to work by several outlets. And with all the accolades, you’re continuing to change and transform the company.

Cullen Cote: Thank you, it is an honor to receive an award in Bob Gatti’s name. Yes, innovation and transformation are constant in the technology industry. We needed to transform when we embarked on becoming an Internet of Things company. It was a new wave of technology and we believed, partnered with our heritage software, we had a unique opportunity to become a leader in the space. It has been a significant and exciting shift for us as a company. We’ve successfully moved from being a large, somewhat stagnant big tech firm with a sales-first ultra-competitive environment, to a nimble, innovative company that is a leader in our industry, and culturally, a people-first friendly environmen

GattiHR: That’s an amazing transformation. And, I understand there are many other changes in play at the same time.

Cullen Cote: We also have a hiring for “Brains and Passion” initiative. By Brains we mean those capable to “figure it out” and by Passion we mean those who will do what it takes to “make it happen”. We took a hard look at our hiring process and knew we needed to embrace diversity to succeed. If we continued to hire people who look and think exactly like us, we would fail. We created a tool and process for how to hire. We stopped asking if someone played a sport or what their GPA was. The tool allows us to consider all the candidate brings to the table and helps remove unconscious bias from the process. Every manager at PTC was trained on it. Including our CEO. The success is visible and with tremendous positive response.

We are also implementing a new HRIS system and are moving everything to the cloud. To date we have implemented core and compensation, we are about to begin performance management and talent acquisition next. There is so much data in these systems and having the discernment to identify what is important and predict trends is a very critical need for all companies.

Lastly, we are making a big physical change as a company. We’re moving our corporate headquarters to The Seaport, Boston’s Innovation District, and our new office will be a completely open work environment. It is exciting and a little nerve wracking.

GattiHR: There’s been a lot written about open space environments recently including a recent study by Harvard University saying, it doesn’t work.

Cullen Cote: Yes, I get an email a week from both sides –either supportive or, describing how difficult it’s going to be. We have built a state of the art building and although open, everyone has multiple options to choose where to work from including many areas for private meetings and calls. The building and view is spectacular. There is an energy surrounding the city of Boston and you feel it inside the walls as

well. The transition to the open office will take us all some time to get used to, but we have great employees and together we will figure it out.

GattiHR: Can you tell us some of the ways that leadership has changed during your career?

Cullen Cote: I am not sure that it has. For me, the best leaders have always been those who have empathy and care about their employees. Therefore, I am not so sure that leadership has changed as much as the environments and our approach to demonstrating caring in those environments has changed. Early in my career 6 weeks paid maternity leave for a mother was believed to be a great benefit and not every company offered it. Today, we offer 12 weeks of paid leave regardless of gender or sexual orientation. We also have a mindfulness professional come into office to deliver training. It’s a clear sign to our employees we care about your whole self…beyond the 9-5. All of us have many demands we need to balance each day. What we say is, “this is available to you. It’s not required. It’s your choice. But, we’ll make it available.” We find participants then bring it back and influence their teams in very positive ways. Last time we offered it, the class filled in 5 minutes

GattiHR: So much significant change. And, you’ve done a nice job winning Leadership support.

Cullen Cote: It’s very important to have the support of leadership when going through any transformation. You must ensure alignment with your top leaders if you want to drive adoption throughout an entire global organization. Unfortunately, that means sometimes you may have to remove blockers.

But the change was not only a top down approach. We attacked it at all levels. Top down, bottom up and across the middle. Each equally as important.

GattiHR: Can you share any advice to mid-career HR Leaders interested in advancing to the next level?

Cullen Cote: I think perhaps the most important thing is to build a strong network of trusted relationships inside and outside of your organization. Not only in HR. My relationships with the business early on lead to many champions throughout my career. In the HR profession, I find a true desire for people to want to help each other. We often deal with similar challenges and sharing information and experiences can significantly benefit all parties. It is one of my favorite things to do