Lab Notes

Meet Amy Larson, GoKart’s VP of Talent

Describe the professional path that led you to GoKart.

It’s probably different from many Karters’, since my entire career before coming here was inside corporate America. I spent 16 years at Target Corp in various roles. The common thread was helping to launch new businesses or initiatives internally. Most of my jobs didn’t exist before I took them on, so I got used to operating in ambiguous, first-time scenarios with a lot of autonomy. Making a transition into a high-growth company like GoKart felt pretty natural to me.

How do you think the business of HR has changed since you entered the field?

Any industry evolves over time. For HR, that evolution is still ongoing. For so long, in the initial part of my career, it was more of a “business advisor” or support role, not necessarily part of the strategy. You supported the business, but you didn’t lead it. Over the course of my career, I’ve seen HR trying to focus more time and intention on building complex processes and tools — trying to collect data in order to make decisions. There’s a risk that you can over-index on process and complexity, without bringing a clear point of view. Now I think people are coming around to the idea that human resource is about actually solving business problems, moving away from being an internal service and actually helping to lead the business. Not everyone does it really well, it depends on how forward-thinking an organization is and how it values talent. Elevating HR means recognizing that talent is one of the critical legs of the stool. Talent is as important as products and solutions. Without talent, we don’t have anything.

Amy Larson

What’s your philosophy around growth?

Keep it simple. During periods of growth and change, it’s easy to get distracted or overwhelmed by what feels like a mountain of needs and priorities. If you try to do everything, you’ll be a master of nothing. So focus on a few of the most critical needs first, and keep your solutions simple. It’s like product invention — think in terms of “minimum viable product.” You can iterate later. Don’t hold out for perfection.

Can you give an example?

This past summer, we got a lot more intentional about the issue of diversity, which is a pretty widespread challenge. We knew we wanted to make it a priority, but we didn’t want to just sit around until we had a big master plan or program to launch. We needed to just start and make some improvements now, to get some momentum. So we made diversity a focus for some smaller existing decisions that we knew would get made sooner. You don’t always need some big roadmap. Clearly there’s a diversity problem in the tech industry, that’s no secret. GoKart is unwilling to accept a lot of the commonly cited reasons for why that problem persists. We want to dig into what’s really the issue, starting with ourselves.

How has the expansion into Washington, D.C. affected your role?

The key industries and talent are obviously different between Minneapolis and D.C. It’s been really inspiring to find some great talent in D.C. already. Because there’s a lot more government-related work, people are showing up with slightly different skill sets — they have experience with government contracts, security clearances, and complex digital problems within big public structures. It’s also been cool to see the amount of talent coming out of the younger startup community out there.

What are your favorite kinds of problems to solve?

People problems. I tend to break down complex situations quickly by uncoupling “the people side” from “the work side” of the issue. I think that’s why others tend to use me as a sounding board or a voice of reason when they get stuck. I jokingly refer to myself as the HR Bartender, but since I did bartend in college, it’s not too far from the truth.

Read the full press release here.

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