Journey into Tech
1. Tell us about your role and the team you handle at Kaplan. How did you arrive here?
In 1999, our small business that prepared candidates for the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) examinations was purchased by Kaplan. What I thought would be a short stint turned into a rewarding 21+ year career arc.
During my time at Kaplan, I’ve led various units within the company’s professional education portfolio culminating with the role of CEO of Kaplan Professional. I’ve had the privilege to be the Dean of the School of Continuing Education at Kaplan University (now Purdue University Global) as well as President of that institution’s College of Business and Technology. I was also the interim president of a small college in New Hampshire that we aimed to reposition as a fully online competency-based institution.
In the summer of 2020, we combined three divisions of Kaplan (including Kaplan Professional) into a single unit – Kaplan North America. As a result, I stepped down from my role as CEO of KP and was able to focus on my passion for reskilling, upskilling, and all things corporate learning.
2. How has your role evolved in the pandemic months? How did the easy accessibility to technology stacks help you overcome various challenges?
I’m fortunate to have had a rich 30+ year career that spans both business and education. That long(ish) lens of time helps provide context to the challenges of living through a pandemic in the 2020s versus how things might have looked 30 or 40 years ago. Holding all else the same, advances in medicine and technology have made the toll today less devastating than it might have been decades ago.
In no way am I suggesting that the Covid-19 pandemic is not serious or the loss of life and economic opportunity we’ve faced is anything but catastrophic. However, had a similarly contagious airborne illness like Covid-19 showed up on the scene in 1988, things would have been much different and likely much more deadly.
Do I love connecting with others over video versus in person interaction? The answer for me is a resounding no. However, most of the tools we take for granted today were the stuff of edgy science fiction when my career started in the mid-1980s. I can still remember how proud I was when we got our first “bag phone.” And yes, for those younger than me, look it up. We had bag phones.
The point here is that leaders and businesses had options and degrees of freedom that allowed for much more rapid business model pivots to stay afloat and look for new sources of revenue. Raw materials, goods, and ideas flowed relatively freely. Teams maintained a semblance of cohesion. However, we would have been sunk if not for the bravery of our essential workers – we all owe our essential workers a debt of gratitude.
3. What has been your greatest strength showcased in the recent months?
In my book, Balancing Act: Teach Coach Mentor Inspire, I talk about the six words I live by: calm, consistent, persistent, thoughtful, agile, and industrious. Turning these words into action proved beneficial in times of high stress or when I felt particularly isolated. However, the one word that proved particularly helpful to me was to be thoughtful. I made it a point to continually remind myself that everyone I interacted with was processing the stress of the pandemic in different ways. My experience was not theirs and everyone was carrying their own baggage and that baggage was heavier than normal.
The simple trick I used to bring thoughtfulness to the fore was to have a little yellow sticker on my computer monitor with this word on it. This allowed me to quickly reset as I jumped between video interactions. Did it help? Yes. Did I fall down periodically? Absolutely.
4. Remote workplace has brought unparalleled forces disrupting work – life balance? What advice do you have for business leaders from various industries?
I believe everyone should pursue expertise in a hobby or passion outside of the workplace. Being multidimensional is critical to building resilience and creativity.
During the pandemic our commute times shrank to near zero and social interaction was significantly reduced, leaving more time and space for work.
The downfall of working from home over video is that it can be very easy to fall into the trap of moving from meeting to meeting with no breaks. Many of us ended up working more because the office is just down the hall versus across town.
Engaging in hobbies I’ve worked on perfecting for years allowed for periods of self-reflection and joy that would not have been possible had I been more unidimensional.
I’m not a fan of absolutist statements, but it’s never too late to broaden your horizons and learn something new that brings joy into your life and helps balance work, family, and self.
5. Empathy is a buzzword in most corporate training sessions. What has been your experience with Empathy Management in recent times?
Glad you asked! Dan Strafford and I spent the majority of Season 1 of The Balancing Act Podcast building up to a discussion around empathy. I believe that empathy is a top human skill, if not THE top human skill we must all continually hone and refine.
Our society is so incredibly polarized today and our ears tune out narratives that don’t fit our own. To move forward into a more peaceful, prosperous, and productive future, we must all work to improve our self-awareness, self-regulation, and active listening skills.
Unfortunately, I’ve found that the meaning of the word empathy is not widely known or understood. To boil it down, I like to remind myself that empathy is the act of feeling for someone else whereas sympathy is feeling with the other person – that you’ve actually experienced the same pain or challenge. Feeling for another human means putting yourself in their shoes without actually having personally experienced what they’ve gone through. Hence, in my opinion, empathy is harder to achieve than sympathy.
To get started on your empathy journey, here are two simple tricks. The first is to practice thoughtfulness. Put a yellow sticker with the word thoughtful on your monitor and see how that impacts your reactions to various stimuli throughout the day. The second is to remember the old sales adage – “we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Use them in that proportion to improve your active listening skills.
6. What HR Management / Employee training books would you recommend to business leaders to improve organization culture?
I’m a very simple guy. My mother-in-law gave me “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson back in 2004 and its simple but profound messages have stuck with me ever since.
My second recommendation is to dive into Patrick Lencioni’s original best seller “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” and his follow on work “The Advantage.” A dear former colleague of mine walked into my office with a copy of The Advantage in his hands back in early 2013 and my path as a leader was transformed.
Since my management style is a unique combination of organizational health and continuous improvement principles, I would be remiss to not point out my favorite continuous improvement book “The People Side of Lean Thinking,” by Robert Brown. This is the book that tied organizational health and continuous improvement together for me.
7. How can Marketing and Sales teams contribute more to a company’s HR goals?
Hmmm… Under the assumption that the fictional company’s HR goals are to create a healthy organization built on a foundation of trust and accountability, the answer to me is clear. Stop thinking about marketing and sales as functional areas that serve product and instead align marketing, sales, and product development.
To do this in practice, adopt the concepts of flow from continuous improvement practices and get both marketing and sales more involved in product development decisions.
In my experience, I find that without this level of integration and connectedness among these critical business functions, sales and marketing are left to think of product management as their client versus their work partners.
When these teams aren’t connected and don’t understand how work flows from idea to delivery, accountability is weak and it becomes very easy for teams and team members to point fingers at one another when things go sideways. In this type of environment, trust is difficult, if not impossible to foster and there is not shared ownership of successes and failures.
Mutual understanding of how work is done and flows across these functional areas can be promoted through shared goals that align to the company’s north star and effective communication between leaders and individual contributors.
8. Your predictions on the future of employee training and corporate communications:
While it’s difficult for me to comment on the future of corporate communications, I have a lot to say about the future of corporate learning.
I have the privilege of serving on the Skills Consortium at the World Economic Forum (WEF). According to WEF, up to a billion people will need to be reskilled globally over the next ten years. This is what they call the Reskilling Revolution.
Due to ever-accelerating changes in technology and the advent of computers that can “think” at low but ever-increasing cognitive levels, job disruption will be unprecedented and we will need to create faster paths to reskilling and upskilling across nearly every industry sector.
It will no longer be sustainable to take oneself out of the job market for 2-4 years to get a second bachelor’s degree or master’s degree for the majority of the population. Instead, we must develop more direct pathways to workplace competency and mint meaningful alternative credentials that align skill development with the needs of the business community to keep humans relevant in tomorrow’s world of work.
What does this mean for you? It means learning must not stop. It will not be enough to be lifelong curious, but we must instead embrace the concept of lifelong skill development. The old model of spending years within an academic institution to be “done learning” to “start working” will break down. Certainly, academic institutions will remain relevant and monolithic credentials like bachelor’s and master’s degrees will still be important, but these will need to be married with experiential learning opportunities and short-form credentials that possess real currency in the job market.
As educators, parents, mentors, and coaches, we must promote a lifelong learning mindset within our youth because in the future, if learning and skill acquisition stop, the world will pass them by.
9. Your advice to young business leaders:
First and foremost, know thyself. Then seek to understand the myriad ways in which other humans tick. Only then can you get the best from yourself and your teams.
Embrace the diversity of the human condition and let people who think and look differently to you into your life and your business. Don’t get caught in the echo chamber of uniformity.
Create your own list of words you live by. My list is unique to me and the list is not static through time. Turn your words into action. Afterall, actions speak louder than words.
Focus on building trust within your circle of influence. Lead with confidence and balance confidence with a modicum of vulnerability. Your people will wear an impenetrable suit of armor if you do.
Make time for self-reflection. Don’t be afraid to explore your feelings. This is some of the most difficult but rewarding work you will ever do. Don’t live in an unsustainable facade. In other words, be your authentic self.
Thank you, Andrew! That was fun and hope to see you back on HR Tech Series soon.
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Dr. Andrew Temte, CFA, is President and Global Head of Corporate Learning at Kaplan North America. A thought leader on issues related to workforce reskilling and upskilling, he is the author of Balancing Act: Teach Coach Mentor Inspire. His 30+ year career includes teaching and executive leadership roles in both professional education and higher education institutions. An accomplished musician and leader of the rock band, The Remainders, he is active in numerous fundraising events and committees in the La Crosse, WI, community.
Kaplan is a global educational services company that provides individuals, universities, and businesses with a diverse array of services, including higher and professional education, test preparation, language training, corporate and leadership training, and student recruitment, online enablement and other university support services. With operations in nearly 30 countries, Kaplan serves nearly 1.1 million students each year and has partnerships with 2,000-plus universities, colleges, and schools/school districts, and more than 4,000 businesses globally. Kaplan is a subsidiary of Graham Holdings Company