Agility coach helps companies adapt to change

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SUMMARY: Betsy Kauffman ('97) is the founder and CEO of Cross Impact Coaching. She and her team of consultants work with organizations and leaders who are serious about creating high-performing, next-generation organizations.

By Jim Heffernan (’96, ’17M)

Betsy Swaney Kauffman (’97) grew up in a military family. “I kind of thrive on change because I had to as a child,” she said. By the time Kauffman arrived at JMU in the fall of 1993, she had attended six schools in four U.S. states as well as Japan. “My four years at JMU were the longest I spent in one place in my life at that point,” she said.

Relocating every few years and having to meet new people also helped Kauffman develop the gift of gab. “I’ve always had a lot to say,” she said.

No surprise, then, that her career has taken a few twists and turns. After graduating with a degree in hospitality and tourism management, Kauffman went to work as a catering manager with Marriott Corp. at George Mason University. “I loved the social aspect of it, but I missed being able to enjoy my weekends,” she said. During that time, she met her future husband, Jonathan Kauffman, who convinced her to move with him to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. There, Kauffman took a job with Boy Scouts of America, helping lead a program to bring character education, leadership and career readiness into area high schools.

After getting married in 1999, the couple decided, on a whim, to move to Charlotte, North Carolina. Once again, Kauffman had to rely on her business savvy and people skills—both nurtured during her time at JMU—to find a job. The Boy Scouts’ corporate supply division is headquartered in Charlotte, so Kauffman went and knocked on the door of the director. The two ended up talking for an hour. “The next day, he called me and said, ‘You're a smart young woman. I need somebody like you to come in and shake up our IT department.’ I didn't really have a technical background, but I figured, why not? JMU gave me that confidence.”

Kauffman learned about hardware and software systems, and soon pivoted into project management, with stops at Family Dollar, Microsoft, VF Corp. and two North Carolina-based health care systems, followed by a stint as a consultant. “I love project management,” Kauffman said. “There’s this relationship to catering and hospitality in that there's a lot of change. Projects are constantly coming and going. … I liked the nimbleness. Being able to change and rapidly iterate was appealing to me.”

In 2012, Kauffman began working with organizations that were looking to become more agile in how they delivered products and services. “At the time, the agile world was really new,” she said. “Everybody was asking, ‘How do we actually change the way we operate?’ I would get pulled into leadership meetings and started working with leaders to help them on their journey.”

One day, while working as an organizational agility coach at Bank of America’s corporate offices in Charlotte, Kauffman spoke at a local conference. “The room was packed, and afterwards I had a line of people. The very last person that came to talk to me was a guy who was actually another coach at the bank. And he was like, ‘You need to quit your day job and take this on the road.’”

Kauffman did just that, launching her own firm in 2014 focused on agile training and coaching. A few years later, the company regrouped and relaunched under the name Cross Impact Coaching, with an emphasis on organizational design. Kauffman and her team of consultants work with organizations and leaders who are serious about creating high-performing, next-generation organizations.

Organizational design involves looking at an organization as a system. “It’s not just moving pieces on an org chart,” Kauffman said. “It’s, ‘Do we have the right people in place? Do they have the right skill sets? Can they help take us to the next level? Are our systems slow? Are our processes optimized? Are our strategies aligned across the organization?’”

While some organizations strive for what Kauffman calls “big-A Agility”—software-driven processes and frameworks for managing projects, involving constant collaboration with stakeholders and improvement at every stage—Cross Impact Coaching helps them achieve “little-a agility”—being nimble, innovative and creative, and not being afraid to fail. “With that comes transparency and clarity,” Kauffman said, “and being able to respond to customers and the changing dynamics of what's happening out in the world.”

In January 2021, Kauffman conducted her first TED Talk, “4 Tips to Kickstart Honest Conversations at Work,” in which she discusses why we are often afraid to speak up in a group of our peers, especially when it involves conflict. “I’m on a mission to stop passive-aggressive texting and bring water-cooler conversations front and center,” she said. “The best organizations are full of people, at all levels, who have the courage to tackle the tough topics.”

Often an organization’s teams are flexible and want to work this way, Kauffman said. It’s the leadership that needs to be brought along on the journey, she said.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Cross Impact’s coaches would conduct in-person workshops with companies, but these days their work is mostly virtual. “It’s a little tougher environment to observe what’s really going on and the relationships,” Kauffman said, “but the dynamics are still there.”

What’s next for Kauffman? She’s exploring the idea of a digital publication, or perhaps a podcast, around organizational design. At the end of the day, her goal is to help create workplaces “where people wake up each morning feeling motivated and inspired by their work and end their days feeling fulfilled and valued.”



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Published: Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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