Get to know the people behind Sonar with our employee spotlight series. Next up is Kayla Cox, People Operations Manager.
For many startups, hiring HR roles doesn’t happen until you reach 100+ employees. But at Sonar, our co-founders Brad Smith and Jack McGlinchey knew that to create a thriving culture and scale the right way, they needed to hire an HR leader early on.
So, they brought in the incredibly talented Kayla Cox. Read on to get to know Kayla, how she approaches culture at Sonar, and her life outside of work.
Kayla, tell me about your career path.
From the start, I knew HR was the path for me. After graduating from Georgia Tech, I landed an internship with RaceTrac’s Support Center as an HR coordinator. My time there taught me so many things I carry with me to this day, like advancing your career as a woman, running payroll, and the importance of training.
From there, I moved to Carter’s, taking a hybrid role that supported two HR organizations. This position gave me a holistic view of how to support marketing, sales, product, and engineering teams. After realizing the Fortune 500 space was not for me, I started considering what I wanted to focus on next, leading me to explore opportunities at startups.
I got a role at an Atlanta startup called Gather as an operations administrator. In that role, I met Sonar’s co-founders, Brad Smith and Jack McGlinchey. Back then, Brad and I always had a running joke that if he created a business, I would work for him. Little did I know it would happen!
After Gather went through a merger and acquisition in 2020, I left for a job at a worker’s compensation law firm. But after a year, I was really missing the startup world. Then, I found out Brad and Jack were hiring for HR at Sonar. And the rest is history.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Honestly, there is no typical day in HR. You’re constantly flexing different muscles and putting fires out you never see coming. I’m continually pivoting based on the company’s needs for that day or hour.
But an ideal day? That allows me to do a little bit of everything. Like being there for any employee who needs me, regardless of whether it’s a personal or professional matter. Or knocking out technical work such as implementing software, running payroll, or working on benefits.
What are the most rewarding and challenging parts of your job?
I love data. That makes running payroll fun, and I get to flex a part of my brain I don’t always get to use. I also really love employee relations. I enjoy working through tricky situations and having to have conversations–positive and negative–with employees. I view that as an opportunity to provide someone with a new way to think about a solution.
A challenge for me is prioritizing what I have to get done with what I prefer to be working on. For example, I never prefer the compliance portions of my role. But one of my managers told me if you knock those out first, then you have so much more time in your day to focus on the work that lights your fire. So that’s how I’ve learned to work through those challenges.
What are two lessons you’ve learned in your career?
- Believe in yourself and fight for what you feel you’re worth. You’re the only person who’s going to advocate for yourself. You can have the best managers and executives, but it’s still on your shoulders to fight for what you think you deserve.
- When the business is healthy, everyone wins. Sometimes, decisions aren’t popular at the time but are important for the company’s long-term health. It’s important to build a culture of trust and work through changes together. We need to be comfortable being uncomfortable and help employees navigate those changes.
What’s your approach to Sonar’s culture?
My goal is to make Sonar an inclusive environment that celebrates different perspectives and backgrounds. I’m focused on building a supportive culture that picks someone up when they’re down, encourages each other, and recognizes the wins.
What’s the biggest perk of working at Sonar?
It’s truly our people. I feel so supported and encouraged but also pushed and challenged. Everyone’s determination to do better inspires me to go above and beyond and be the best version of myself.
Who is someone you admire at Sonar?
This is a tough one–I admire so many people at Sonar. But, two people come to mind.
The first is Soma Dixon, our QA Lead. There are so many reasons why I admire her. She has a challenging job and is the only woman on our engineering team, balancing all of that with her life and family with such grace and poise. I admire that she chose to come to a startup and build something from scratch, knowing what a difficult thing that is to do. And, she’s helped change people’s minds about what QA means and debunk myths of what they thought it meant so gracefully.
The second person I admire is Danny Garcia, VP of Sales. He’s such a hard worker, but he’s also an incredibly empathetic leader. I admire the way he motivates his team, understanding each person needs something different from him and being able to change how he manages to deliver that.
What are your favorite things to do outside of work?
I love hanging out with my two labs and my fiance. I do a lot of DIY projects. Everything from refinishing furniture to remodeling projects to updating my house–I just absolutely love it. And, during baseball season, I live at the Braves’ stadium.