Episode 203 – Unstoppable People-First Leader with Vanesa Cotlar
“People-first leader” is how Vanesa Cotlar describes herself. She and her family moved from Argentina to Canada when Vanesa was nine years old. She says that while she had challenges due to language and landing in a world totally unfamiliar to her Argentine senses, she learned that not everyone or every place is the same. That knowledge in part is what pointed her in the direction of a people-oriented career.
After obtaining a business degree from Queens University Vanesa began her professional work with companies helping them to better fit people and jobs into a framework to make those companies more successful. Along the way she spent time co-founding a German-based HR tech company, Octagon Careers, that used tech to help access and hire people without the need for resumes, but rather that utilized people’s assets and strength to achieve good matches.
Vanesa talks a fair amount about HR trends and how she sees companies creating their HR strategies in a post-pandemic world. Lots of good information here and I hope you find what Vanesa has to say not only interesting, but useful.
About the Guest:
Vanesa Cotlar is an ambitious, people-first leader who spends her days as the VP of People & Culture at PolicyMe. She is passionate about building flexible workplaces and advocates for work-from-anywhere practices as well as transparency and ongoing feedback from employees to increase attraction, retention and satisfaction. Previously, she worked as the Director of People Operations at iQmetrix, where she spearheaded people initiatives, including innovative skill mapping, retention and recruitment strategies. Vanesa worked as a Management Consultant at Monitor Deloitte Canada where she provided strategic guidance to some of the world’s largest companies, and helped build Winnipeg’s talent ecosystem while at Economic Development Winnipeg. Vanesa has worked in over 15 countries and has a unique understanding of how different markets operate and how people have found success in them.
Prior to returning to Canada in 2019, Vanesa was the Co-Founder and CEO of Octagon Careers, a German-based HR-tech start-up focused on understanding the skills and aptitudes of success in certain roles, and assessing and hiring based on those attributes without the need for a resume. She made the shortlist for the Business Leader of the Year – Women in IT Awards, Berlin 2019, for her work with her start-up and won several pitch competitions.
In her spare time, Vanesa can be found exploring a new part of the world, contributing to people & culture conversations and offering her time to start-ups that need help structuring their people practices. Vanesa is also an Ambassador and Speaker for Manitoba Women in Technology and holds an MBA from Queen’s University.
Ways to connect with Vanessa:
My LinkedIn works: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vanesa-cotlar/
About the Host:
Michael Hingson is a New York Times best-selling author, international lecturer, and Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe. Michael, blind since birth, survived the 9/11 attacks with the help of his guide dog Roselle. This story is the subject of his best-selling book, Thunder Dog.
Michael gives over 100 presentations around the world each year speaking to influential groups such as Exxon Mobile, AT&T, Federal Express, Scripps College, Rutgers University, Children’s Hospital, and the American Red Cross just to name a few. He is Ambassador for the National Braille Literacy Campaign for the National Federation of the Blind and also serves as Ambassador for the American Humane Association’s 2012 Hero Dog Awards.
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**Michael Hingson ** 00:00
Access Cast and accessiBe Initiative presents Unstoppable Mindset. The podcast where inclusion, diversity and the unexpected meet. Hi, I’m Michael Hingson, Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe and the author of the number one New York Times bestselling book, Thunder dog, the story of a blind man, his guide dog and the triumph of trust. Thanks for joining me on my podcast as we explore our own blinding fears of inclusion unacceptance and our resistance to change. We will discover the idea that no matter the situation, or the people we encounter, our own fears, and prejudices often are our strongest barriers to moving forward. The unstoppable mindset podcast is sponsored by accessiBe, that’s a c c e s s i capital B e. Visit
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**Michael Hingson ** 01:20
Well howdy, as they say down in Texas, although we’re not in Texas, welcome to unstoppable mindset. We’re glad you’re with us today. And right now we have the opportunity to chat with Vanesa Cotlar. Vanesa is in Canada, a very people oriented person, as I’ve been reading with her bio, and she has been involved with a number of different endeavors regarding that, and I’m gonna let her tell us all about that. So I don’t want to give it away, which is, you know, kind of what I like to do. It’s no fun giving it all away. And then why would we want to interview people or talk with people, so we won’t do that. Vanesa, welcome to unstoppable mindset. We’re really glad you’re here.
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 02:02
Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, Michael. Well,
**Michael Hingson ** 02:05
why don’t we start by maybe kind of talking about the earliest one. So growing up and all that sort of thing?
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 02:11
Yeah, of course. Where would you like, what are we getting right at the beginning, or I’m sure
**Michael Hingson ** 02:17
whatever you’d like to? Well, I think starts beginning where you came from and, and all of that and moving forward. That sounds
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 02:26
great. So you and I chatted a little bit about this ahead of today. But I was born in Argentina. And I moved to Canada with my family when I was nine. So a little bit of a shift Spanish is actually my first language. I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which is where I am today between ages nine and 18. And then went off to university or colleges, as they say in the US. And I went to Queen’s University in Ontario here. And when I finished I started working right downtown Toronto, and management consulting. From there on my career ended up taking a little bit of a unique shift, I was thinking about what else I wanted to do, as I was kind of gearing up to my third year into consulting and I ended up doing a one year global remote working program. So I worked in 12 countries over 12 months with a group of 35 other professionals ranging from consultants, lawyer, software developers to big mix of people, and ended up CO founding an HR tech startup. So big shift from consulting to HR tech. But after that moved to Germany with it was a bit of a roller coaster, and ultimately, as most startups or startup failed. And I ended up coming back to Canada and in 2019, and moved more into the people side of tech. So it’s been a little bit over five years now that I’ve been in the you know, people in tech pay space with my startup and then more more fully into the roles. And today I sit as the VP of people and culture at policy me, we’re a digital insurance startup that’s based out of Toronto, but we focus on being remote first so that our people can work from wherever they work best. And currently I am in Winnipeg, as I was saying before, so hopefully that gives you a little bit of that context that you were looking for.
**Michael Hingson ** 04:09
So policy me is an interesting name. What what, what prompted that or where did that come from? What is it do a little bit more?
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 04:20
Yeah, for sure. So I joined about two years ago, and the company started March 2018. And the idea behind it was around simplifying insurance. And at the beginning it was term life. And now we’ve added a couple other products on the critical illness side of things since we’re building a few more. The idea is, insurance has always been a bit of an outdated industry in terms of requiring in person application, it being quite complicated to figure out kind of what you need and making sure you’re getting the right advice. So policy knee creates a way for people to do that in a digital first format so that for more than half the people that go through, you can essentially have an underwritten insurance policy in about 20 minutes. And then we also have advisor. So if you’re the type person that you would like hopping on the phone, you like talking to the humans, we do that too, and we’re able to help you through it. Okay.
**Michael Hingson ** 05:09
Well, let’s go back a little. So you moved from Argentina when you were nine? That’s an I don’t know, maybe an interesting age. I don’t know whether it was a tough age to move to Canada. What was it like moving from Argentina to Canada? Yeah,
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 05:24
good question. I think it’s interesting, because at that age, obviously, you’re not moving as a fully formed adult, you know, so there’s some different nuances. I think, when you move later in life around work and your career or educational components that come into play, but I think what was really challenging was, you know, moving to a new country where I didn’t speak the language and leaving a home where I was really comfortable and leading what felt like a, you know, my normal childhood, I do think one of the big things so when I think back to that time in my life, and one of the things that I think kind of influenced who I am today is, I think, moving to a new place where you don’t speak a language and you’re doing everything from scratch at that age, it kind of gives you a greater sense of empathy, because I think it helps you understand that it’s, it’s really challenging, you know, to go into a place where maybe people don’t understand what you’re trying to say. And then they’re trying, but then they also get frustrated. And I just remember, it wasn’t the easiest thing for for sure, at that age. But I think one of the interesting things is it helped me really see that the world is not all the same, and that it’s super important to just do your best to take your time to definitely try to understand people because it can be really hard for the person trying to explain themselves to
**Michael Hingson ** 06:45
Sure. What prompted the family to move? And
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 06:49
other good question. There are a lot of economic crises that happened in Argentina, over the decades and the there was one in 2001. That was a pretty substantial economic crisis. And it led for a lot of people to leave the country. And that’s where my parents had started to look at different opportunities outside of Canada, and we ultimately, sorry, different opportunities outside of Argentina. And that’s how we ultimately ended up moving to Canada. Well,
**Michael Hingson ** 07:20
you certainly acclimatized yourself pretty well, you? We have sound Canadian, and I don’t hear maybe us training, but I don’t hear a lot of the Spanish influence in your voice. Although, I suppose I could work at it more. But you do sound definitely much more Canadian and English has become an integral part of what you do now. Yeah,
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 07:43
I will say most people say I sound very Canadian of most people, unless I tell them that I wasn’t important here. Don’t really pick up on it. But I think, you know, it was one of those things of just really focusing in on the on the language and, you know, they say if you move to a new country before you’re 12, that can be where you’re able to kind of adopt a new language as though it were your first language without an accent. So I think I was one of those lucky ones that the language just seemed to make sense.
**Michael Hingson ** 08:12
Yeah, I think I can hear a little bit of the Spanish. Now that I look at it a little bit my but even so, how do you think that moving, although that was now what, 22 years ago? How do you think that that impacted the direction your life took from a career standpoint?
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 08:32
Um, it’s a good question. I mean, I think because I was so young at that age, I definitely wasn’t thinking about my career, you know, when you’re nine and moving, it’s more around school and friends and and what’s that going to look like? But I do think when I started working, one of the things that was really important to me was trying to see how people that were just landing in Canada could get access to more opportunities. And back in 2019, I was working in economic development, Winnipeg. And one of the things that we were looking at is how to bring more talent into Winnipeg to support the growing tech ecosystem here and other companies. And I actually was fortunate enough to go down for an international recruitment mission to Argentina, where we helped Argentinian tech talent move to Canada for professional opportunities here. So I think one of the things that it’s done for me is definitely helped see, you know, there isn’t just talent in Canada just talent in the US and there’s talent everywhere. And now with the world that we live in, it’s a lot more global. So I think definitely looking beyond the borders of of a country where possible to look for opportunities for other people to
**Michael Hingson ** 09:48
see when you went to Queen’s University, what did you major in?
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 09:52
I studied business and I would say it’s interesting because at Queen’s they actually don’t ask you to declare a major In the business programmer, at least back then they didn’t. And they asked, you know, to choose the classes that you’re most interested or what you want to pursue. So my focus ended up being an in strategy and management consulting. But it wasn’t. It was always interesting because speaking to people that went to other schools, they would say, oh, yeah, and I majored in this. And anyone that went to craves commerce would always say, like, I focused in this instead, just because it wasn’t as strongly defined as other places.
**Michael Hingson ** 10:29
Well, but you, you clearly left after getting your degree and went into very much people oriented kinds of opportunities. So I was pretty interesting. Was that something that you had planned on doing specifically? Or did it just sort of turn out that way?
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 10:51
Yeah, so I would say, starting in management consulting definitely was my plan, I did a few different internships. While in university, I started in accounting, I thought I wanted to be an accountant. And then I did not, I did an internship and distribution services, which I liked quite a bit. And then I did my final internship in management consulting at Deloitte. And I ended up going back full time. And when I first started management consulting, my focus was on strategy and operations of large organizations. So corporate and business unit strategy, thinking about the big challenges and where organizations are going. And I think, where I ended up, kind of focusing more on the people side of things was I was always super curious about the implications of the strategic recommendations. And the so what, like, who’s going to actually deliver this strategy? What’s the day to day gonna look like? And I think that ultimately led me to start exploring that side of things more.
**Michael Hingson ** 11:44
Yeah. Well, so let’s, let’s look at that a little bit. So getting into where organizations are going, and what they’re doing, and the strategies and so on. What, what do you feel is happening today? And you think it’s different than it used to be in terms of how companies and organizations work, how they interact with human beings? How do you think all of that is changing? And is it changing for the better or not?
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 12:15
Yeah, I mean, so I think there’s obviously like a difference between, I think, the strategic direction of a company, you know, where are you focusing product wise? Or what are you building and then how you create the supporting blocks for the humans that are going to be a part of delivering that? I think, to hone in on on the people side of things is you’re getting out there, too. I think that one of the big shifts that I’ve seen is that there’s there’s this new focus on how can we help people work the way they want to work best? So moving away from you know, are you in office? Are you hybrid, too? Are you remote to this, this concept of, we really should be looking at what enables individuals to perform as best as they can and creating around that. So I think there definitely are a lot of changes and how companies are viewing their relationship to their employees, and also viewing how they create the environment so that people can ultimately thrive in their roles. I had
**Michael Hingson ** 13:12
a discussion with someone. Last week, actually, I think he said that his concern about big business and so on primarily, though, is this becoming a whole lot less humanistic is strictly at least in the US, so much focused on profit, and not worrying nearly as much about the human interaction. Do you think that’s really true? Or do you think that it’s different here than maybe in some other business? That’s
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 13:42
a good question. I mean, I think it depends by organization, right? Like, it depends on the culture and the values that that a company has. I think the best companies that I’ve seen tend to focus on the fact that the people are the strongest assets that they have and their biggest opportunity for differentiation and success. But of course, that’s not true in every organization in terms of where the focus is,
**Michael Hingson ** 14:07
do you? Do you think that in terms of discussing the whole concept of people where they’re working and how they work? Do you think that the pandemic has really been a major incident once in the whole issue of allowing people to maybe work more at home? Is that a good human approach that makes a lot of sense for companies to consider more than they used to?
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 14:34
I think the pandemic was a catalyst. You know, it helped companies see what could be possible because change had to happen quickly. And I think there’s big moments where something happens and it causes us to think how we operate day to day and then certain companies when they have the opportunity to go back have and then other companies have thought more intentionally about what worked what didn’t How do we create the rest environment, how do we enable flexibility? Because the truth is most companies can. Now almost like logistically do it, you know what I mean? Like the mechanics are there, people have their laptops, if you will had to work from home. So the mechanics to make it work are there, but I think a lot of it comes down to were companies able to trust their employees, and were employees able to deliver. And I think in many cases, organizations were just really pleasantly surprised, you know, by giving people time back in their days from not having to commute or by giving them the choice of, you know, if you want to be an office, if you want to be at home, people were able to kind of take more ownership of their day to day, which a lot of the times has led to greater satisfaction at work, right, which ultimately leads to better performance of employees.
**Michael Hingson ** 15:44
The trust concept, I think, is very interesting. And I can appreciate that I think there were probably a whole lot of companies that said, Gee, Can we really trust our employees? Will they just goof off? Or will they really be conscientious? In my impression is that, in fact, in reality, we have seen a lot of companies and a lot of places where the trust wasn’t violated. And the trust really was there. And maybe should have done it earlier. But but the pandemic still brought it about. And the reality is that, here’s what goes into building a team. It’s all about trust and working together. Yeah, exactly. And so they’re finding out that, in fact, you can trust and if you can’t trust someone, then maybe that’s especially going forward, not the right person to have or that person has to grow and, and develop the trusting relationship that’s necessary. But it is a but it is a challenge. And I’m sure that there are some companies that found a different kind of situation as well. So it’s probably a mixed bag. But I would think overall, giving people the opportunity to do some more work at home, not just being an office, I’ll be probably was a very positive thing. I know, for me, personally, a lot of companies over the years that I’ve worked for, were located in different places where I would be asked to go start an office for a company somewhere, or whatever. So I’m used to that environment. So it didn’t really bother me with the pandemic, as much as it probably did with other people. But still, it makes a lot of sense to do. And I would think overall does build a better working environment for everyone. If people can do some of the work on their own terms or in their own locations. Yeah,
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 17:36
I think the flexibility honestly, makes a lot of sense as much as companies can afford to offer it to its employees.
**Michael Hingson ** 17:44
Yeah. Do you think that it’s going to continue? Or do you think that people will go back more towards what we got to have you back in the office? Now the pandemic is over?
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 17:55
Yeah, you know, it’s one of those things, that there’s lots of news articles about different companies pulling people back end, you know, one day, a week, two days a week, or even fully in office. But I think, at least from my perspective, it’s really important to think about the why, you know, if you’re looking to remove flexibility, you should have a clear decision as to why it’s important to remove that flexibility or that choice that you had given your employees. And for some companies, I think it’s a lack of trust that makes them want to see their employees in person. And I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to bring people back in, I think, for organizations that have noticed, you know, productivity loss, or they weren’t able to get what they needed, with employees not being maybe located in the same team room. For sure, you know, if you can explain why you need people in person, I think it’s something that should be considered, but I think in most cases, it’s not really necessary. So I think that for all the organizations that are kind of bringing people back, whenever people ask me about it, I always say, well think about the why, you know, do you actually really need them to come in? Is it just because you still have that office space and one spilling it? Because that really is not a good enough reason or feeling like, you know, you want to see the people in person everyday. But why? You know, so I say ask a lot of why questions and really think about the strategy behind it. Because I have had people interview for us that said, you know, I love my job, but they’re asking me to go back in person five days a week, and I have a child at home. And I like to be able to not have to do an hour commute each way and spend more time with my kid in the mornings, and at the end of the day, and it just doesn’t make sense for me to go back in office. So I think sometimes companies are missing out on retaining their top performers if they don’t offer the flexibility. The
**Michael Hingson ** 19:42
other thing though, is that, yeah, I have a kid at home and I want to spend more time with the kid but also, let’s use your example of commuting an hour each way a day, that’s two hours. That could potentially be a whole lot more it useful from a productivity standpoint, if people didn’t have to make the commute on.
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 20:06
Yeah. And I think for me, the way that I look at it, it’s not even like two more hours that someone can work. And that’s why we’re saying, you know, it’s two hours you can spend with your kid, two hours for a walk, or you can exercise where you can do things that you otherwise couldn’t until you get home. And I think it enables people to live healthier lives, both physically and mentally when they have a bit more choice in how they spend their days.
**Michael Hingson ** 20:30
Right. Yeah. And I didn’t mean to imply that that’s two hours, only that you spend working. But it’s still no matter what you do. If it makes you more productive in some way, then that’s Oh, yeah. Yeah.
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 20:44
And, you know, to your point, I would say, even in cases where people have to work late, you know what I mean, it kind of redefines what late means, if you don’t have to commute, right? Because when you were working late at an office, you still have those two extra hours of getting there and getting home. Right. So I do think from from every standpoint, it does create more time back.
**Michael Hingson ** 21:04
My wife and I were married. So for two years, she passed us November. And I have found since I appreciate that, thank you. But I what I’ve noticed since is that since in a sense, my time is more my own once dealing with all the stuff of natural passing. My work schedule, has caused me to sometimes work later into the evenings and sometimes not necessarily within quite as much in the middle of the day, for sometimes I make the decision to work for 10 or 11 hours or sometimes not as much. But the reality is that I wouldn’t have that flexibility. If I were just reporting to the analysis that we’re doing.
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 21:51
Yeah, exactly. And this way you get to choose right.
**Michael Hingson ** 21:54
And that’s exactly what it’s all about choice, as long as I know what the rules are in terms of what I have to be able to produce. And I think that’s what companies really need to do is to define what the rules need to be recognizing trust in someone but find what it is that they expect from employees, and then let employees have the choice as to how they want to maybe make some of that happen.
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 22:21
Yeah, I agree with that. Seems
**Michael Hingson ** 22:23
to me, it makes a whole lot of sense. Well in your life, and all that you’ve done, have you found that you’ve developed any kind of network of mentors or people that have helped you through the years? And do you? Do you keep up with him?
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 22:40
Yeah, good question. I think that mentorship is something that’s super valuable, both, you know, to find a mentor to be a mentor. I think what’s interesting, though, is I think mentors, come and go through your career as well. Like I’ve had a few different mentors over the years that served me in in different capacities. But I think it’s rare that one person becomes like your lifelong career mentor. And I think a lot of it has to do with where you’re working the industry that you’re in, as you shift and change careers. I currently have an incredible mentor in the people and culture space, who is about five, six years ahead of me professionally. And she brings me tremendous insight into what I do. Because when I have questions, or when I need someone to brainstorm with about things that I’m thinking, she is there for me as a sounding board, which which has been amazing. And I think one of the other things too many know, we were going back and forth a little bit on this one as well. But it’s this concept that I mentioned to you of peer ship, which is the idea of you know, there’s there’s mentors, which are people that are further ahead. But there’s peers, which are the people that are your network, your direct peers, same type of role, and other companies that are also immensely valuable to have and be connected to. And I have a few of those that I’ve built connections with. And they can also be an excellent sounding board for more of like the day to day because they experience similar challenges and opportunities to the ones you do. So I think it’s really important to think about, you know, where do you need a mentor? Where do you need a peer? And I always say in those types of relationships, thinking about how much how much you can give back as well. So not just about what you need, but how you can support them and benefit them too. Yeah.
**Michael Hingson ** 24:24
And I was just going to ask about that. Because the reality is it goes both ways, right? You value mentors, and you have ventures and you have peers, that can be sounding boards for you. But if you do it, and I guess I’ll just put it this way, if you do it the right way that goes both ways. And you are also a sounding board and a mentor for others. And sometimes I would think I would also think that sometimes even mentors for you who have more experience may find that you can give them insights that they hadn’t thought of even though they’re ahead of you some of the workstand
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 24:59
Yeah, I would agree with that. I think that, you know, having people that I’ve been in that position for as well, you know, people that I mentor, sometimes they ask me a question, or they’re, they say something I’m like, you know, that’s really thoughtful. I really appreciate you asking that. I hadn’t thought about it in that way. Let me also share that with my team. Or, you know, let me share that with others on LinkedIn as a question and answer it for others to be able to see the answer as well. So I definitely think there’s opportunity for it to go both ways.
**Michael Hingson ** 25:29
What do you think? How would you define leadership? And who do you think are good leaders in a company maybe that you interact with? Or were just in general? How do you determine who’s a good leader? And who may not be such a great leader? Whatever that definition may be?
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 25:47
Yeah, that’s a huge question. It’s funny, when I did my MBA, we had a whole class on leadership, which was about, you know, defining what is what is leadership? What are the skills that make for a good leader? And we talked about beyond that, what are the things that matter to us? Personally, I think there’s the the broader definitions of leadership and everything from being the person that empowers others to deliver their best, the concepts of building trust, the concepts of enabling others to do more than they could have on their own. But I think that it’s a very personal concept in some ways, which is, you know, I think something that makes for a really great leader is someone that takes the time to think about their own leadership style, how they want to lead, how they want to be known, and how they can adapt based then on who’s on their team, right? Because not everyone benefits from being led in the same way. And one of the things that I’ve always valued is, having those conversations with people that are on my team on a regular basis, like, Hey, is what I’m doing. Working, you know, is the way that I’m giving feedback, helping you grow in the way that you want to feel like you can give me feedback in ways that is easy for you, and in ways that helps us build this relationship. Am I giving you enough context for your work? Am I enabling you to have enough ownership in your day to day, I think good leaders constantly are asking themselves these questions and asking their their teams these questions. And in terms of great leaders, oh, I’ve so many I can share that I work with regularly. There’s I’ll give you one example. There’s a company that I’ve actually used to support, I ran a 12 session cohort for our manager group and our exec team on leadership development. And I used a lot of content from an organization called elevate leadership and the founders there, Lucy and Lindsey, they have incredible content on leadership development, how to be a good manager, everything from you know how to give feedback, how to receive feedback, how to run effective one on ones how to have tough conversations, all the big things that managers need to get good at, and that you know, leaders have in their toolkit. They’ve developed some really incredible content there. And I work closely with both of them. And I think just their their thinking is always awesome, and in ways to deliver good content that helps others sleep better. And I think, you know, they lead by example. And when you talk to them, you know, that they really live and breathe, the content that they share as well.
**Michael Hingson ** 28:22
Yeah, and also Good leaders know, when to give up trying to be the leader in any particular situation. And let someone else who may have more skills in a particular area, take the lead, and then be willing to shift back and let the leader take over when a job is done. But good leaders, as you point out, are all about really understanding their people, learning how to interact with them, and how you interact with one person may not be the same way that you interact with someone else. Yeah, exactly. Just because not everyone works the same. So it is important to be able to understand it. And good leaders work through that. I know that for me, I always when I hired someone new said, my job is to add value to what you do. And you and I will have to figure out how best to make that happen. And I think that’s important for leaders in general to understand. There isn’t one mole fits all. Yeah, I agree with that. So you You’re clearly a pretty inspiring person. How do you find ways to share so much inspiration and how do you how do you share your inspiration and your thoughts?
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 29:50
Yeah, I appreciate the kind words Michael. I think for me, something that has gotten into my daily habits has been sharing content on LinkedIn, I think is such a good way to be able to kind of share thoughts. With a broader set of people, it’s actually been really incredible. I started posting more and engaging more with others during the pandemic, just because I’ve always been someone that used to think of community as an in person thing. But when when COVID hit, and we went to more Soviet home, I started posting, I started engaging with others. And I would say, especially in the last year, even as things opened up, I just found it was a really great way to connect with others, globally. And it’s, it’s been great. I mean, I share content every day and I connect with others have also shared content pretty regularly. And it’s been a fantastic way not only to to share my thoughts, but to be inspired by those of others.
**Michael Hingson ** 30:44
I don’t know how possibly to figure a way to answer this, but I’m gonna ask them anyway, just son. I agree. There’s so much that’s happening on LinkedIn. And in some way where a lot of business people have reacted, well, why LinkedIn as opposed to some of the other social media? What is it that LinkedIn has that makes business people and organizations and people and people who are looking to build teams, so much prefer that to some of the other social media have any insight into that?
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 31:15
I mean, I think primarily, it started because it’s a job board, right? Like, I think people go on LinkedIn when they’re looking for work. And by it being such a large repository of open positions internationally. With it, having the space to create content, I think became analogous to like the professional social network, you know, this is where you go look for work. This is where you go look for expertise, this is where you share your thinking, and others can find you here too. So I think it has definitely, from a recruitment standpoint, the strongest recruitment capabilities and the strongest recruitment tools built within it. So there’s a number of added and paid features that companies can use. There’s also a sales funnel component, and I’ve never explored that one very much. But definitely, from a recruitment standpoint, it helps you find the people you need to find. And then you also can understand who they are a little bit better based on what they post who they engage with. And you know, that I think a lot of people use, you know, Instagram or you know, I’m not on tick tock what many people use it. And you know, how we used to use Facebook was more to stay in touch with, you know, friends, family, you talked about your life, but I think LinkedIn has become the place where you shared around more your professional achievements or your professional thoughts. And it enables you to kind of hone in on it ended that way. So I think, for me, I look at Instagram is more like people’s personal lives, which you know, from hiring someone, I would never go look, because I think it’s their choice what what they’re doing. But I think LinkedIn is more where you’re choosing your professional image to put out there. So that’s where I’d love to take a peek to see how are people presenting themselves? What is it that they’re looking to do and to put out into the world? Interesting.
**Michael Hingson ** 33:05
Yeah, you know, it’s it’s very true that, I think the inertia at LinkedIn and the inertia that now so many bring to LinkedIn, to talk about the professional image, and so on and who say things like, don’t try to sell me something here on LinkedIn, we’re not here to do that. As such, we’re here to learn, we’re here to understand what you’re looking for, or like, the podcasts that that I do, we’ve talked about the podcast on LinkedIn, not trying to sell anyone anything, we invite people and they can choose to come or not. But it’s really insightful to see how people behave on LinkedIn, because it has become so very oriented toward the the image, and people looking to support each other in a professional way. And I think that’s great that, that I’m sure that people at LinkedIn intended that. But still, the inertia of so many people using LinkedIn now and using it in that way. People have bought into it made it very successful. Yeah, I would agree. Which is, which is certainly a good thing. So it’s, it’s a valid way to do it. I don’t use tick tock and I don’t use really Instagram, very well. Tick tock and Well, both of those are pretty inaccessible in a lot of ways, and of course, a lot of it is that they’re putting out a lot of photos. And they’re not doing enough to perhaps make that information accessible. But nevertheless, that’s what’s happening. So some of us don’t, and some people seem to go there and love it, but not for the kinds of things that you get from LinkedIn.
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 34:55
Yeah, I would agree.
**Michael Hingson ** 34:57
So if you can come honors somebody who wants to be a person who wants to be a leader in the, in the people culture space, what kind of advice would you give them? Yeah, I know, there’s
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 35:13
a question. Um, yeah, I mean, I think it’s depending on how, you know, for someone that’s just starting, or someone that’s a little later on. I just think it’s super important to get clear on the why I think that it helps you focus or determine if you want to generalize, like there’s so many subcomponents between, basically, when you think of people, the people or culture space in a large organization, it’s a bigger team, there’s people that solely do recruitment, people that solely do learning and development, people that solely support, you know, parts of the business as a term business partners, and there’s much more specialization and so on and so on in terms of roles. And I think in smaller companies, it’s kind of this you know, everyone does everything, type of roles, or, you know, there’s only a couple of people and you’re, you’re managing a much broader set of things. And there’s no right or wrong answer. I always say to people think about what you’re most interested in, think about, you know, if you want to be a specialist, if you want to be a generalist, what it means within that realm. And then in terms of like how to actually get in the space. I always say, just think about it in terms of talking to people to understand what their day to day looks like. And think about the organizations that potentially may have the opportunities that are best aligned to what you’re looking for. And like any other field, I think, you know, having a little bit of experience, how always helps. But to get that first experience, a lot of the times, it just means starting, you know, starting in lower level role, if you’re if it’s something you’ve never done before, to really understand it, or thinking about how your past experiences can actually translate really well into a different part of the people and culture space. So I think there isn’t just like one right or wrong way to kind of get into it. But then once you’re in it, I think one of the best things that I’ve seen is people that share their thinking, in the people and culture space, and in HR, it is one of those fields where I have no problem if anyone wants to steal my ideas, you know, I’m happy to tell you all my ideas, if they’re helpful to you use them, there’s there’s nothing that becomes like trade secrets or ways that, you know, interfere with a company’s ability to sell its product or whatever that looks like. So I think what’s really cool about this space is it is one where we can share quite openly about best practices. So I always say you want to be a leader in this space, just share about what works for you share, but what didn’t and help others kind of learn from your experiences as well. And that’s where I found the greatest opportunity for connection with others to
**Michael Hingson ** 37:53
be a sponge be willing to collect knowledge and get knowledge from other people. And of course, we talked about mentors, which are always valuable to define. And my thought, also still is that you also might very well be a mentor to somebody else, because you’re going to come with your own ideas, which will be different than a lot of other people. So it is a two way street. But but you do have to start somewhere. And it’s appropriate to take some time to learn, be a student, and recognize that in reality, you’re going to be a student, your whole life. People are interesting creatures, and you’re going to find new things that happen dealing with people all the time. Yeah, I agree with that, too. So people are, are are very interesting. And it’s fascinating to see how we end up really interacting with people and how we do the things that we do. But it’s great that that this is you’re describing it as a field where people can interact so well. And there’s I don’t want to say there’s no magic to it. But there’s no magic to forming a team or no magic to learning from other people because you’re all trying to hopefully do the same thing. And making yourself and those who worked with more successful Yeah. So I think there’s there’s a lot of value to that. Well, so do you do a lot of your work in office or do you do most of yours remote? Where do you find works best for you?
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 39:30
Yeah, we are remote first company. So we let people choose how they want to work. We do have an office in Toronto, but it’s totally optional for people to go in. And we get together in person three times a year and fly people in for those that don’t have Toronto as their home base. So yeah, I am remote first.
**Michael Hingson ** 39:50
Yeah, you are quite a waste from Toronto, I think. Yeah, yeah. You’re not gonna you’re not gonna walk or drive there every day. Ah, Winnipeg.
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 40:02
Definitely not, I wouldn’t make it before the
**Michael Hingson ** 40:05
show you learn to run a whole lot faster, right? Yeah, exactly. So is you have been doing the things that you’ve done, you worked with mentors and so on? Have you found any, any other outside sources like books or whatever that have really influenced you? Authors that you’ve learned from or that maybe you wanted to meet and get to know better, who really had a great impact on your style and what you do? Yeah,
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 40:40
so I think that it’s interesting, I would say in terms of content, nowadays, I get so much of it from LinkedIn, I love reading what others are sharing in terms of their knowledge. For books I was thinking about this ahead of today, I actually have one right next to me to show you, which is called leaders eat last. And it’s a Simon Sinek one. This one is one of my favorites, because it talks a lot about that concept of trust, and how trust within teams is paramount. And that if people feel safe within kind of their circle of what makes up their team, they’re just going to perform a lot better than if they feel a sense of competition, or like they can’t really trust the people that they’re closest to in their day to day, and it was talking a lot about how by making choices that enable that trust building within a team, then you’re able to essentially have better longer term outcomes too. So that’s for sure one, and then the other one that I read that I loved. And it’s funny, because I am, I’m still a paper person, as you can see my oldest paper next to me. But I have this this notebook. And I use it as my agenda. But in the back, I always write lots of notes on different things. And one of the books that led me to write a lot of notes was atomic habits. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it. But basically, it’s this really awesome book that teaches you that. Basically, if you break anything down to be small enough, anyone can start pretty much anything. And it’s the whole concept of, you know, start with two minutes of it, if you’re trying to get more into writing, just write for two minutes, even once a week, or two minutes everyday. Or if you want to start exercising, again, go for a two minute run, it may seem like nothing, but that’s how habits are built. And it was this really interesting idea of like finding the micro moments as a means of starting different habits that can then turn into macro moments over time. And I’ve used that in in different ways in terms of how I work and structure my days and things that I brought into my life. And I think both of those concepts have been super helpful.
**Michael Hingson ** 42:55
I have a favorite book of mine, which is all about teamwork and team building. It’s called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. And oh, yes, I think that’s a great idea. Because it really talks about teamwork. And it also depicts teaming in a little bit different way than a lot of people may view it, because it says it’s okay to have conflict on the team, as long as you all and here’s the operative part, right, trust, and trust that you’re all working together. And that’s, of course, what so many companies have to really learn to do is to trust as we talked about earlier.
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 43:34
Yeah, I agree. I think trust really is at the, at the core of successful teams.
**Michael Hingson ** 43:39
Yeah. So I’ve, I’ve enjoyed that book, a great deal. A lot of some of it. First, for me, I also in building teams have worked with now a guy Don’s and the reality is that, that what you learn when you are deciding to if you’re blind, and using a guide, dog means you’re building a team, the dog has a job to do, the person has a job to do. And you have to build that trust, because dogs may love unconditionally, but they don’t trust and conditioning, but they are open to trust. And that’s something that we seem to learn. So much of not to do that is to be open to trust. We keep hearing about why you don’t trust but the reality is that the people who are open to exploring trust are going to go a lot further. Yeah,
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 44:26
that’s very interesting. And I think the day to day that you’re describing is probably not the day to day most people think about you know, and it’s interesting to have the different takeaways from knowing that not all of our day to day is like the same and what we can learn from each other too. Yeah.
**Michael Hingson ** 44:43
And I think that we can always learn from other people, even people who I may not trust, I will still learn. I will learn from them or or at least I’m open to learning from them. Whether they know it or not because we’re always planting seeds with whatever we do, you never know who’s going to be able to benefit from the seeds that we plant. Yeah, exactly. So planting seeds and, and deciding to be a student are really very important sorts of things that I advocate all the time with all of my employees that, that it’s important for you to do. Well, so you’ve been doing this a while. And you have developed clearly a lot of experience just listening to you talk. Is there anything that you wish you had known, say, 10 years ago that you know, now that you didn’t know, then that helped you a great deal? And then you’d love to go back and tell yourself? Yeah,
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 45:48
I mean, I think there’s a few things have, you know, I always say, hindsight is 2020. But I, you know, I also think that, I, if
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 46:01
I take it any different path, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I love where I am today. So I think for me, when I think back to, you know, the past and some of the things that I chose, I do think you know, 10 years ago, I would have said to myself, HR is going to be a cool career, I promise, like, you think that you’re not sure, because there’s other things that look shinier, and better. But I promise, it’s gonna be cool. That said, I don’t think I would be as good as I am at my job. If I hadn’t spent the beginning of my career in strategy and management consulting, because it helped me see how organizations work. It helped me really understand, you know, how CEOs how executives think, and when, ultimately, you know, five and a bit years ago, I transitioned into the HR and the tech space, I just had so much more of a base that I would have had if I just had started in in HR. So I think for me, when I think about the What advice would I give myself it’s a, it’s okay, to pivot. You know, I think that the concept of work has changed a lot. In the past, people used to be in a company, usually for 2030 years, if you were leaving after, you know, less than 10 years, and like, Oh, where are you going? You know, there is this concept of like, we just started job and we stay in it. And I think now that has changed so much. And it’s changing even more, I would say, I remember, you know, 10 years ago, people used to stay like maybe three or four years, and you started to think about something else. Now that number is like two, you know, if someone stays more than two years, it’s like, wow, that company is doing something great, because people can move around really quickly. So I think if I could go back and say something to myself, it would be like, don’t be afraid to try. And if something doesn’t work, it’s okay to leave it. And we only learned by trying. And I think I always say that, you know, you’re either winning or you’re learning. And I think just getting comfortable with the fact that failure happens everywhere. But it doesn’t mean you failed and your life is over. You just learn from it and try something else. I think that can be a much more motivating way to look at taking risks, try new opportunities, you know, it’s not really going to be about what happens if it goes wrong, it’s like, there really is no wrong, you know, if it doesn’t go as planned, you you learn from it. And you take what you learn and you try again. So I think that concept of you know, being okay with trying different things be okay with pivoting and just focusing on resiliency being that underlying theme.
**Michael Hingson ** 48:27
I had the opportunity fairly recently to talk to someone who’s actually, among other things, is a champion for accessibility in Canada. He works at Statistics Canada, he was one of the Deputy Director generals, or director generals, I guess. And he started at Stats Can 34 years ago, was given an opportunity. And he’s blind, but they gave him the opportunity and, and said that they would provide him with the tools that he needed. And he’s always stayed there. We talked about that. And one of the things that he said is that I never found anything that would really offer me a better home. Any more welcoming environment that what steps can actually his has offered. And so he’s continued. Yeah, that’s really amazing, because you just don’t hear that very often. And you wonder how much of that is from his mental attitude. He was he was really open to and found that was a welcoming home, as opposed to well, I got to change every two or three years. And he said, I’ve I’ve had people tell me I should change but I’ve never found anything that was anywhere nearly so economically or at least emotionally rewarding. This thing is Tascam Yeah. That’s great to hear. So he he continues to deal with statistics and math. Exciting, hopefully very interesting, but he enjoys it. And it is it’s very unusual that you find anyone who stays somewhere very long, or maybe even necessarily stays in the same career. Yeah, that’s true. How do you advise people about that?
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 50:16
What do you mean, like switching careers switching jobs?
**Michael Hingson ** 50:19
Well, probably somewhat both. But you know, I, I assume people do more job switching, then really going off and taking a whole new career, and then something really causes them to need to do that.
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 50:32
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s important to think about kind of your own goals and where you want to go, you know, I always say, think about, you know, two, three years from now, what do you want to have learned? What do you want to have experienced? And where’s the best place to do that? Is it where you’re at today? Are the opportunities that you’re looking for going to be there for you? And if not, if you’re thinking about a new opportunity, what makes you a bit more confident that that place will give you those experiences and those skills you’re looking to learn? And I think, you know, it’s never an easy decision to switch jobs. So I always say, you know, think about from from the perspective of where you’re looking to go think about what teams you’re joining, what is it that you’re giving up? What is it that you’re getting, and ultimately thinking about where the best path for you is, I think is super important. I do think most people that are looking for a job are doing so for a reason, right? Like there’s something in their current opportunity that just isn’t feeling quite right for them, or they’re looking to grow in a way that may just not be available, I think one of the things that’s super important is, you know, if an organization doesn’t think it’s going to have the role, or the vacancy that someone is looking for, to just be honest, and to support them in that process of building their skills, so they can be prepared for a role elsewhere. I do think because careers are long, and people do switch jobs. Now, if the role that you want is not going to be available at your company, say for five years, and you think you’re going to be ready next year, it’s important to look at kind of what your best path is. But I always say to try to be as open as possible in those conversations. Because if your manager or your leader knows kind of what you’re looking for, that’s how they can be best placed to support you too.
**Michael Hingson ** 52:10
Especially if they’re willing to do that unwilling to look at you advancing or dealing with your career. And that’s always right. Yeah. So it’s a it’s an effort, but hopefully more managers than not, and I’m sure that it is true, are really looking out for your best interest in not letting ego get in the way.
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 52:35
Yeah, I agree.
**Michael Hingson ** 52:38
So, in your career thus far, you’ve been working in this field now for how long?
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 52:47
In the people’s face about five and a half years? Yeah.
**Michael Hingson ** 52:50
So between that and the rest of your life? Is there something that you’re really proud of something that you feel has been a great accomplishment for you? Yeah.
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 53:00
I think that when I think back to, you know, moments in my career, and even not just now, but I’m sure you know, 10 years from now, when I’m looking back, I think I’m in a really particularly unique moment, right now with building the culture and the team at policy me, we were just over 35 When I joined now, we’re almost 65. So I think having had the opportunity to be at the center of building the culture of an organization being so involved with how a company grows, and its future has been pretty incredible. So I am really proud of the team we built, you know, when it’s obviously not just me, but I, I love that I’ve been a part of helping create an environment where where most people are really proud to work and where they they tend to enjoy their day to day.
**Michael Hingson ** 53:47
So you, you’re a builder,
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 53:49
I am a builder. Yes.
**Michael Hingson ** 53:52
Well, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing that. I mean, if you can do it and be successful, then go to it. That’s what I would say. Well, I want to thank you very much for doing this. And for spending so much time with us today. I hope that this has been beneficial for anyone who is listening, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I certainly have, I really appreciate all the nuggets of wisdom that you’d have given us and left us with. So thank you very much for that.
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 54:22
Yeah, thank you so much for having me, Michael. It’s been a lovely conversation.
**Michael Hingson ** 54:26
This has been a lot of fun. Well, I also would say, if people want to reach out and maybe contact you, maybe learn more from you or be a mentor or look for a mentor or any of the things that we’ve talked about today. How do they do that? Yeah,
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 54:43
my LinkedIn is the best place to find me and I think we’ll probably drop that link here when this goes live, but you will but say it anyway. It’s my name. So Vanesa Cotlar you can find me on LinkedIn. I’m the only person with my name, which makes me easy to find you And Vanesa is spelled with one s with one s. Yes, that creates the uniqueness. So
**Michael Hingson ** 55:06
Vanesa, C o t l a r, and then we’ve done any other ways, or is that the best way?
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 55:13
I think that’s the best one. Yeah.
**Michael Hingson ** 55:16
Well, there you go. See that goes back to what we talked about before, why LinkedIn is so valuable. So cool. I thank you again. And I want to thank you for listening. We really appreciate it. Love to hear your thoughts about this. And Vanesa, for you and for people listening, if you know of other people that we ought to have on as guests and unstoppable mindset, please let me know I’m always looking for more people, and always looking for other ideas. I love to feel that I’m learning from every guest and every conversation that we have. And I hope that everyone else is as well. So please, pass along any thoughts that you have. And if you’d like to reach out to me feel free to do it a couple of different ways. The easiest way is Michaelhi at accessiBe A c c e s s i b e.com. Also, you could go to our podcast page, www dot Michael hingson h i n g s o n.com/podcast. And we’re on LinkedIn. Michael Hingson is in LinkedIn as well. So you can reach us all sorts of different ways, but we’d love any of your thoughts, any of your comments. And as always, please give us a five star rating. We really appreciate it. Appreciate your thoughts and your comments. And I know Vanesa does as well. So, again, Vanesa, one last time, I’d like to thank you for being here with us. And anytime you want to come back, we’d love to have you back to talk. So
**Vanesa Cotlar ** 56:43
thank you again for having me My pleasure.
**Michael Hingson ** 56:50
You have been listening to the Unstoppable Mindset podcast. Thanks for dropping by. I hope that you’ll join us again next week, and in future weeks for upcoming episodes. To subscribe to our podcast and to learn about upcoming episodes, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com slash podcast. Michael Hingson is spelled m i c h a e l h i n g s o n. While you’re on the site., please use the form there to recommend people who we ought to interview in upcoming editions of the show. And also, we ask you and urge you to invite your friends to join us in the future. If you know of any one or any organization needing a speaker for an event, please email me at speaker at Michael hingson.com. I appreciate it very much. To learn more about the concept of blinded by fear, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com forward slash blinded by fear and while you’re there, feel free to pick up a copy of my free eBook entitled blinded by fear. The unstoppable mindset podcast is provided by access cast an initiative of accessiBe and is sponsored by accessiBe. Please visit
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