page title icon Kelli Barabasz

Kelli Barabasz on from Notary Association on Career Pathing

135: Kelli Barabasz: They were scared to death of me

Kelli Barabasz Show Notes Page

Kelli Barabasz had the best team with the most sales. Then her manager asked her why her team performs. Kelli was shocked to hear her say that they perform in fear of her and not for her. Kelli refused to believe her and then she learned the truth. Listen to how Kellie was awakened and learn to move onward and upward faster.

Kelli hails from the very small town of Westwood, in Northern, CA.  Although there were only 1500 residents in Westwood, it was not boring.  Kelli found ways to experience all there was to offer in her young life.   She enjoyed spending time with her parents Gary & Gloria, her older sister Kyra, and her younger brother Troy.  The close-knit family accompanied Kelli to her many extracurricular activities, volleyball, basketball, softball, & band.  She was a competitive player in everything she did and was almost always selected as the team captain or lead on all of her teams.  It was at this point that Kelli discovered she had a knack for leading teams.

Kelli and her family moved to Portland, Oregon when she was 15.   She went on to graduate from High school and attended college where she studied general education and pre law courses.  Unfortunately, her scholarship money ran out so Kelli did what came naturally to her which was to join the US Army!  After completing boot camp and training, Kelli was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  Kelli had the honor of joining 3 other soldiers as the first group of women to be assigned to the Special Operations Support Battalion (responsible for supporting the elite Navy Seals, Army Rangers, etc.)  It was while serving in the Army that she met and married her husband Jason.

After being honorably discharged from the Army nearly 23 years ago, Kelli and Jason moved back to Portland, Oregon where Kelli began her career in the call center industry as a customer service representative.  She was one of 22 agents when she started, but when she left 10 years later she had advanced to become the Director of Operations & Workforce Management, and the company employed over 3,200 agents in 5 countries.

The company was acquired and Kelli spent the next 12 years working in various locations all over the United States, at an Outsourcer (APAC) in Green Bay, WI, then onto a retail chain (QVC) in Port St. Lucie, FL, next to a Pharmacy Benefit Management Company (SXC Health Solutions) in Phoenix, AZ and now she currently resides in Southern California where she is a Vice President of Customer Care for the National Notary Association.

Kelli and her husband Jason have been married for 24 years and have 3 adult children; Dillon, 23 lives in Phoenix and works as an IT technician, their daughter Alexys lives at home while attending college, and their youngest son Dominik just graduated from High School and will be moving to Iowa this fall to attend Buena Vista University and will continue pursuing his football career.  Kelli says her greatest personal accomplishment to date has been raising her three children.

Kelli feels her greatest professional accomplishment and her passion have definitely been in the area of career development.  She has been able to guide many of her direct reports to reach higher levels of management.  She takes great satisfaction in seeing her team members move up and move on.  Kelli still has her competitive nature, she is always looking for a challenge, and takes pride in helping to career path all levels of her staff when she notices they have the competitive bug as well!

Tweetable Quotes and Mentions

Listen to Kelli Barabasz to get over the hump on the @FastLeaderShow Click to Tweet

“Why would you think people would really want a career path in a call center?” -Kelli Barabasz Click to Tweet

“Not every single person has the want to move up.” -Kelli Barabasz Click to Tweet 

“You have to be willing to lose good employees.” -Kelli Barabasz Click to Tweet 

“Using career pathing techniques, our attrition has dropped significantly.” -Kelli Barabasz Click to Tweet 

“In the real world, people want to be respected.” -Kelli Barabasz Click to Tweet 

Hump to Get Over

Kelli Barabasz had the best team with the most sales. Then her manager asked her why her team performs. Kelli was shocked to hear her say that they perform in fear of her and not for her. Kelli refused to believe her and then she learned the truth. Listen to how Kellie was awakened and learn to move onward and upward faster.

Advice for others

As a leader, you need to keep up with technology.

Holding her back from being an even better leader

Time constraints.

Best Leadership Advice

Never give up.

Secret to Success

Being humble.

Best tools that helps in Business or Life

Listening to others around you.

Recommended Reading

The Chameleon

The Chameleon: Life-Changing Wisdom for Anyone Who has a Personality or Knows Someone Who Does

Contacting Kelli Barabasz

email: kbarabasz [at]


Resources and Show Mentions

10 Steps to a Better agent Career Path

Increase Employee Engagement and Workplace Culture

54 Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Competencies List: Emotional Intelligence has proven to be the right kind of intelligence to have if you want to move onward and upward faster. Get your free list today.


Show Transcript: 

Click to access edited transcript

135: Kelli Barabasz: They were scared to death of me

Intro: Welcome to the Fast Leader Podcast. Where we uncover the leadership like hat that help you to experience break out performance faster and rocket to success. And now here’s your host, customer and employee engagement expert and certified emotional intelligence practitioner, Jim Rembach.

Jim Rembach:   Hey Fast Leader legion today’s episode was recorded live at call center week. I had the opportunity to chat with Kelli Barabasz of the Notary Association and she shares some really important information in regards to making an impact on that burnout and turnover problems that so many of us experience especially in contact centers. Much like this wisdom that is shared, we provided additional insights for you to get on the show notes page from Kelly’s episode, so just go to Barabasz. Our goal on the Fast Leader show is to really make a difference for others and you. So, if you could subscribe, download and share and recommend the fast leader show so that we can help even more move onward and upward faster. Now on to the interview with Kelly.


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Jim Rembach:  Okay, Fast Leader Legion today I’m excited because we’re talking about something that’s critically important in the contact center and that is helping your agents be more successful and the guests that we have on the show today has a great framework that she’s been using for many years and has actually been spread throughout the entire organization. Kelly Barabasz hails from the very small town of Westwood in Northern California. Although there were only 15,000 residents in Westwood it was not boring. Kelly found ways to experience all there was to offer in her young life. She enjoyed spending time with her parents Gary and Gloria, her older sister Kyra and her younger brother Troy. The close-knit family accompanied Kelly to her many extracurricular activities volleyball, basketball, softball and band. She was a competitive player in everything she did and was almost always selected as team captain or lead on all her teams. It was at this point that Kelly discovered she had a knack for leading teams. Kelly and her family moved to Portland, Oregon. When she was 15, she went on to graduate high school and attended college where she studied General Education and pre-law courses but fortunately her scholarship money ran out so Kelly did what came naturally and she joined the US Army.


After completing boot camp and training, Kelly was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Kelly had the honor of joining three other soldiers as the first group of women assigned to the Special Operations Support Battalion responsible for supporting the elite Navy SEALs and Army Rangers. It was while serving in the Army that she went and married her husband Jason. After being honorably discharged from the Army Kelly and Jason moved back to Portland, Oregon where Kelly began her career at the call center industry as a customer service representative. She was one of 22 agents when she started but when she left ten years later she had advanced to become the Director of Operations and workforce management at the company that employed over 3,200 agents and in five countries. The company was acquired and Kelly spent the next 12 years working in various locations all over the United States and an outsourcer in Green Bay, Wisconsin and then on to a retail chain QVC in Port St. Lucie Florida next to a pharmacy benefit company as XSEED health solutions in Phoenix and now she is the Vice-President of customer care for the National Notary Association. Kelly and her husband Jason currently live in the Los Angeles area and have been married for 24 years and have three adult children Dillon, Alexis and Dominic. Kelly says her greatest personal accomplishment to date has been raising her three children. Kelly Barabasz, are ready to help us get over the hump?


Kelli Barabasz:   I am ready, let’s see bring this thing on. I’m ready let’s go. 


Jim Rembach:  I appreciate your being here. Now I’ve given our listeners a little bit about you but can you tell us what your current passion is so that we get to know you even better?


Kelli Barabasz:   Oh, absolutely. Probably it’s because what we’re speaking about today my passion is career development helping people understand their potential. And so for me this is exactly what Jim is talking about today and (4:16 inaudible) today this is my passion helping those who don’t necessarily know where to go and help them figure out how to get there. 


Jim Rembach:  In order to prep for this particular interview we talked about the process of going through that career path implementation and I think you had implemented it on other organizations besides the Notary Association but what has morphed and grown into is really quite tremendous. Can you kind of tell us that progression and what has happened there?


Kelli Barabasz:   Sure. Working in just a call center environment when I was an outsourcer I started this about 18 years ago. It was just a call center so there was no other real advancement for the agents outside of just call center job positions. So the career paths really started on how do I become ex-human or a supervisor or a manager? How do I become something on those range? And then it evolves throughout the different organizations that I been in because we found that just because you’re in the call center doesn’t mean that that’s really what your career path is. So we started looking at other opportunities around—what if they wanted to be an accountant? What if they wanted to be in communication employee? They wanted to be business development or sales, what could we do differently to career path agents not just through the call center hire thing and what they thought was the only path that they have.


Jim Rembach:  Now when you first introduced this, the very first time you introduced it at an organization what kind of reception did it receive?


Kelli Barabasz:   Why would you think that people really want a career path in the call center? That was really the response I got from our upper management and I said, you know what? Because I want (6:07 inaudible) within the call center and I want to grow and I want to develop. And so, what would you think that they—and so you know I was very, very fortunate than my senior(6:20 inaudible)said, alright play with it Kelly go ahead see what you can do. And then years later it just evolved and that was with the first company I was with which is Live Bridge for ten years. And I’m happy to say that there are various employees that I helped career path that are being teach today, directors today, managers, workforce managers or workforce directors and the thought that just being able to run with something take it and really evolved them into something great has been tremendous. 


Jim Rembach:   So I know a lot of times the contact centers that I’ve been in and managed is that a lot of people want to discourage and stop the whole career path process because they think that the contact center is where most of our employees reside. We have just for example 500 employees they’re actually in the call center and we have just very, very few support positions and very, very few positions in other parts of organization and they’re like, why would we want this entire group to flow? But that’s not the way it works, does it?


Kelli Barabasz:   Absolutely not. You have agents that want to be agents. You have agents that want to be the best agents they can be not every single person either want to move up or even the ability to move up. So you really have to take a look at that individual and see what are their strengths? What opportunities do they have? You know if tomorrow one of my agent says, my goal, my career path goal, is in one year I want to be CEO, you have to be realistic you have to talk to this person and say, what is your background? What is your agenda? What work are you willing to put in to this? Obviously in most companies they look at  career pathing as well they think, gosh, I’m going to end up losing some of these people probably to continue the work path that we’re going but there’s nowhere for them to go. That’s true, you have to be willing to move your employees but you also have to know that you help those employees move to that next level.


Jim Rembach:  In addition what I found is when you support and help and coach people outside of the organization in a successful way that comes back tenfold. 


Kelli Barabasz:   Absolutely does. It comes back over and over again. There’s quite a few individuals that not just myself but some of my staff that started career path that we built that relationships within different businesses throughout years and years with their support. It’s amazingly that I can move that same individuals whether they’re at call center they come up to me they don’t know that I’m going to be here they’re managing a booth and they come up to me and they’re like —Oh, my god, it’s is Kelly it’s my old boss, and it’s wonderful to see that. You been on the great things, you know that you’ve done all these great things so you can follow people. I love, love, love following people they see me where they leave from the point of when they left.


Jim Rembach:  I would dare to say that when you think about the industry as a whole we have leadership crisis and actually the leadership part I should say is in many different industries because of this whole development component. So when you start talking to other organization, cause I know you do have those discussions you talked about connecting and networking, what questions are they asking you about career pathing? 


Kelli Barabasz:   A lot of times it’s the same five things that I dealt with 10, 15, 20 years ago, does it work? How does it work? What percentage of your staff does it work with? How much money do you have to put into career pathing? How much time do you have to take out of the day? And is it worth it? Is it worth it? And absolutely, the answer is absolutely it’s worth it. It takes time a lot of time it takes a lot of resources it takes a lot of purchasing training materials or booking them at different options for using visuals because it changes every single day. You know if someone’s career path is into the tech world it’s different today than it’s going to be tomorrow. So if I’m trying to give them training material that I pulled out three years ago it’s outdated you just kind of have to stay up a bit and be willing to do whatever it takes.  

Rembach:  Now the return on investment for doing career pathing can come in many different ways. You and I had the opportunity to talk about your turnover experience. Tell us a little bit about that? 


Kelli Barabasz:   We found, obviously on the call center we think that the attrition problems typically we’re starting at very low rates sometimes lower rates with commissions. And we found that using a career a pathing techniques our attrition has dropped significantly. When I started in the organization I work today in the National Notary Association our turnover was 120 persons. We’re in Los Angeles, it’s obviously a more difficult place to staff. Our turnover last year we lost one individual this year zero so we do not have attrition anymore. The reason is not just career pathing but culture in many, many case and probably I (11:57 inaudible) so on and so forth. But I truly think that career pathing is the key to keeping the people because they are ready and willing to move up. In our organization in the five years that I’ve been there we have career pathed 18 individuals to the next level within our organization in the marketing department, communications department we have team them over to IT, certifications (12:23 inaudible) and help them continue on. So, I think t’s definitely worth it.  


Jim Rembach:   So when you start thinking about the different generations that we talk about in the workforce today and you mentioned that you had start the career pathing journey for yourself many years ago, well that was a different generation when I was in the workforce, so how has it differed in regards to what the employee wants from the career path perspective then versus now?


Kelli Barabasz:   Oh, it’s definitely different. I have three children they’re 18, 21, 23, so we know that their entire careers are different from what where looking at three, five years ago so, we found that engagement is much different. The engagement before is sitting down with an individual and talking to them and saying, what is it that you want? What point is for you? Now it’s more electronics. So it’s, okay guys here it is a career path folder ** performed today but they wanted to be booked up to different training that they thought would entice them to move to  those next level. So the trainings are different for each than purchasing for those next level—for these individuals is much different than it was just five years ago, ten years ago. So previously it was just books people read books now they want e-books, they want to listen to a book in the car audio, they want online training they don’t want to go sit in the training class so we’re evolving as the generations evolve that what’s really, really makes a significant difference. 


Jim Rembach:   I can imagine. When you start thinking about developing people, when you start thinking about culture all of these things there’s a lot of passion that’s associated with that. One of the things that we like on the Fast Leader show is to give a quotes that are favorites from our guests. Do you have a favorite that you can share?


Kelli Barabasz:   I actually do. My current CEO is just a great guy and prior to coming here, the National Notary Association, I was always afraid to make a mistake. You just don’t screw up you could lose your job. What do you do when you have a mistake and how big a mistake before you do lose those job? I was actually meeting a project about two years ago and it wasn’t going up fast at all. I kept saying, oh, my gosh! You cannot just let this people work, I’m not going to hit my deadlines unless something happen. And my boss said to me, well, Kelly mistakes are going to happen timelines are going to be missed but there’s one thing to remember be perfect in your recovery. You make a mistake be perfect in your recovery and the (15:30 inaudible) that you have set. And since that time I realized, you know what? Nobody’s perfect, nobody can do everything right the first time every time and so that is probably my favorite quote. 


Jim Rembach:   That’s a good quote I think that also applies for our frontline staff. Mistakes are going to happen it’s how we recover. 


Kelli Barabasz:   That’s right.


Jim Rembach:   I know when you start talking—and the opportunity to learn a little bit more about your background being in the military, being in charge of those Special Forces Group that that’s just amazing I can only imagine the stories you can tell for that. But there’s a lot of humps that we have to get over in life and they teach us a lot. Is there a time that you had to get over the hump and it helped you?


Kelli Barabasz:   It’s kind of funny that this is—the type of manager I am today is much different than when I first started. The reason being is I was in the military, my dad was in the military. I grew up with a very, very strict family you do this, you do this, you do this and you do not go outside of those boundaries. So, when I first started leading 25 years ago back at Live Bridge, one of the things that I did, I had the best team for most I had the best of everything I had to be the best of everything I did. And the manager who manage me she (16:51 inaudible) she said, can I talk to you? I said, absolutely. She said, do you know why your team performs? I said, because I’m good. She said, yeah, you’re good but you really, truly know why your team performs? And I said, because I’m good, why? And she said, you know, they perform out of fear they do not perform for you they perform out of fear of you they don’t want to make a mistake so that is why they’re performing. I believe the whole mundane, yeah, right, right, that’s not true I know, they all like me they there’s no way I perform because I’m the best. I learn a lesson that’s for sure. 


Jim Rembach:   How long did it take for you to actually learn that lesson?


Kelli Barabasz:   I went home and stay home for about two days and at the end of the two days I decided, you know what I’m going to ask one of my supervisors that works for me. I know she’s going to be honest because she told me everything. And so I pulled her in and I said, tell me about my leadership style. I said, no, no, no, tell me why the team performs? She’s scared to death for telling, you really want to know why? And I said, what do you mean you’re scared to death of me? And she said, they don’t want to make a mistake because they’re afraid of what consequences will follow. Then I thought, really? I’m not yelling, when they don’t perform I call them to my office and I talk to them and saying, you know what? You got to perform better, you have to do it. You want more money perform better, and they would walk out on me. Then when she said that, wow, is this real? Is it true? Is my style a military? Am I the manager that people really don’t want to work for? Then I realize that was the fix. It was a blew away thing but thanks heavens that my manager 23 years ago chose to tell me that and helped me to change the path that I was taking. 


Jim Rembach:   The part that you played in that was huge because a lot of people just take that stoop for the two days and just continue to do what they’ve always done and maybe even move on to another organization and still their behavior never changes. So, for you to go through that transition, how did you do that? How did you—because of changing behavior doesn’t happen overnight, where did you start? 


Kelli Barabasz:   Where I started was I went back to that manager who told me about my style. And I said, tell me what I can do differently? Tell me how I can change this. And it was a shock to me because I really thought—well my manager did, I am doing great my staff is doing great so it took a little bit of pull back and say, alright I’m not the best manager here how do I change that? So I actually had some simple managing process, I read some books that still didn’t change overnight it took me about 12 months to understand who I was, how I to manage better, how I to manage differently and looking at different leaders out there. I actually went to a few different conferences where I talk to different leaders and ask them, what do you perform yourself? I had to change to I was, I have realized that people didn’t want to be managed by the iron fist and say we’re going to do it this way we’re going to do it that way, that was military that’s what I have to do there but in the real world I have to learn that people wanted to be respected. If you respect them they respect you back and I think that for the next 22 years in my career I have the opportunity to evolve and I think need to evolve generations change the way that people wanted to be managed and I have to change with that too. I can’t manage people the way I did five years ago because the people are different and the expectations are different.


Jim Rembach:   I know when you start going through a transition like that often times you don’t know what effect is actually happening to your people. Now, did you have the luxury of actually having that team stay with you while you were going through the transition? And if you did, when did you start getting feedback from them of them noticing?


Kelli Barabasz:   I actually did stay with that team but what I actually did I pull them in as I started going through this and I ask them to get me a feedback. I want you guys to know I didn’t realize the type of manager I was. I want you guys to know I still have this high expectations I’m not going to lower those expectations what I have or you shouldn’t either but I want you guys to tell me when I’m leading you in a way that you’re not comfortable. I want you guys to tell me, hey we would like to have this or could we change it to that. I started asking them for their opinions. I started asking them for their feedback on my performance and that was significant. And we all had, everyone have 365 done on them I did one for myself. I said you know what guys? I want all of you to fill this up. I want you to tell me now and I want you to tell me a year from now what has changed it was significant because the change was significant. I tell you what reading those initial feedback, when at first I look at those first ones when I first handed those out it took everything to not want to cry. It took everything to not want to walk away and say, you know what? This is too much, let me go somewhere else to be the best leader I can be there. I have to really contain them inside myself and say, is this really fair (23:09 inaudible) if so then I need to change me. 


Jim Rembach:   You bring up a really good point, and thanks for sharing that. You bring up a really good point about the 360 process and that a lot of organizations, institutes 360 and do it in a way that is actually detrimental because they use it for stack ranking of their leaders and they use it in order to compensate them or not compensate them. However what you just described is really the way 360’s were intended to be used and you used it in a way that was quite vulnerable and made a huge difference for your career because you’ve gone on to like you said earlier create a lot of leaders that are in this industry now, so we thank you for that. I know you have a lot of things going on, you have some good work that you’re still doing with the Notary Association, but when you start looking at family and all those things, what’s one of your goals? 


Kelli Barabasz:   I would have to say my goal right now is just continue on with what I know. My son just graduated from high school, final trial get out go on to college, and so I will have more time to dedicate to myself at the bottom of that raising three children. So my future goals are just to find a way to career path more people. It time constrains since really stop me from doing it as much as I would like to. With it I’ve been training my staff to be better leaders in the career path arena. And so my goal is to continue training people continue getting (24:40 inaudible)to not just myself but others so that they can career path in the future. 


Jim Rembach:  And the Fast Leader legion wishes you the very best. Alright before we move on let’s get a quick word from our sponsor: 


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Alright here we go Fast Leader Legion it’s time for the Hump Day Hoedown. Okay, Kelly, the Hump Day Hoedown is the part of our show where you give us good insights fast. So, I’m going to ask you several questions and your job is to give us robust yet rapid responses that are going to help us move onward and upward faster. Kelly Barabasz, are you ready to hoedown? 


Kelli Barabasz:   Of course, let’s go. 


Jim Rembach:   Alright. What do you think is holding you back from being an even better leader today?


Kelli Barabasz:   I think we just fine process for a little timing constrains so I have time for those individuals that I really want to help so I think that’s pulling me back right now. Just for personal life I’m really looking forward to my son going on to college and we have more time to put in to career pathing. 


Jim Rembach:   What is the best leadership advice you have ever received? 


Kelli Barabasz:   Never give up. That leader 25 years ago say, you know what Kelly? You can do this never give up. 


Jim Rembach:   What is one of your secrets that you believe contributes to your success?


Kelli Barabasz:   Being humble. I think you have to be humble to be successful.


Jim Rembach:   What do you feel is one of your best tools that helps you lead in business or life?


Kelli Barabasz:   Best tool—listening. Listening to everyone around,


Jim Rembach:   What would be one book and it could be from any genre that should recommend?


Kelli Barabasz:   The Chameleon.  


Jim Rembach:   Okay, Fast Lead listeners you can find links to that and other bonus information from today’s show by going to Barabasz, Okay, Kelly this is my last Hump Day hoedown question: Imagine you were given the opportunity to go back to the age of 25 and you’ve been given the opportunity to take the knowledge and skills that you have now back with you but you can’t take everything back you can only choose one. So, what’s skill or a piece of knowledge would you take back with you and why?


Kelli Barabasz:   I would actually take back the ability to follow every bit of technology that happen. Because as a leader and being in this industry for 25 years (27:28 inaudible) and then you come to a show like this and you’re like, there’s a new technology? So I would definitely take that with me following all the different technology that happen.


Jim Rembach:  Kelly, it was an honor to spend time with you today, can you please share with the Fast Leader Legion how they can connect with you?


Kelli Barabasz:   Oh, absolutely, kindly look me up on LinkedIn and also the National Notary Association if you go out there and our post out there(27:55 inaudible) our leadership or you could email directly. 


Jim Rembach:  Kelly Barabasz, thank you for sharing your time and knowledge and the Fast Leader Legion honors you and thanks you for helping us get over the hump. Woot! Woot!


Thank you for joining me on the Fast Leader show today. For recaps, links from every show, special offers and access to download and subscribe, if you haven’t already, head on over so we can help you move onward and upward faster.