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March 18, 2024

Stan Slavev

"If We Spend the Majority of Our Lives at Work, Shouldn’t We Find Joy, Meaning, and Purpose in What We Do?"

In our interviews series, we bring you insights from leaders who reshape the way we view work, leadership, and personal development. Meet Katya Davydov from Los Angeles, CA:

Thank you for joining us in this discussion. You’re a transformational coach and speaker on leadership development. Could you tell us a bit about what drove you to this career choice?

Absolutely; I love career stories! I’ve been fascinated by people ever since I can remember. My family fled economic and political turmoil from a developing country to pursue the American dream when I was a kid–a classic story. Being an only child and having to learn English and all the American customs, I was surrounded by adults quite a bit, so I got good at communicating and asking questions. In fact, my nickname was something akin to “question-asker” because I asked why so much–why did people do this? Why did they act like that?

So, I studied the way people and brains work in undergrad, and, after feeling miserable in my first job out of college (consulting), I studied organizational development and knowledge management in grad school–understanding how people within companies function. I figured, if we spend the majority of our lives at work, shouldn’t we find joy, meaning, and purpose in what we do?

That became a guiding value in my career, so I selected jobs in people operations and learning and development. I helped shape the employee experience at a few tech companies and built out full-scale online and in-person L&D and onboarding programs to foster others’ growth. I then made the leap to external-facing client work, facilitating over 600 leadership development workshops for 6,000 executives, managers, and individual contributors on skills like coaching, change, and influential communication.

While that was an incredible experience, I wanted to spread my impact, and now I coach high achievers to bridge the gap between insight and action, specifically at their pivotal moments and in leadership and public speaking. I’m also a passionate keynote and TEDx speaker to ignite audiences to think and do differently. What led me here is the confluence of what made me feel alive both in and outside of my 9-6 roles: deeply understanding how people tick and what makes them the best versions of themselves. This is exactly what I get to do now, and it’s such a joy!

I want to dive right in and ask you to share with us a situation in your life where you felt unappreciated at work? How did that affect you?

While I wasn’t new to working, my first full-time job after college found me in tears under my big, fancy, wooden desk one day early on. My fellow colleagues and I would describe the environment as being cogs in a giant machine–we didn’t matter. My managers and leadership seemed to only care about billable hours and the final product they’d share with their leadership; there were no career development or feedback frameworks or conversations (until I spoke up and ended up getting placed on an international project for our parent company–a true career highlight!). Sitting beneath my desk that day, I knew two things: I had to get out of that organization as soon as possible (and many of my colleagues followed), and no one should feel this way for the majority of their working hours. That’s when I decided to pursue organizational development: creating work environments where people can thrive, instead of merely survive.

Honest feedback. We all know it’s essential for growth and development. Yet we rarely get it at work. How do you see this impacting organizational culture and employee engagement?  

Well, we know that it can be a huge factor in attrition, disengagement, and decreased productivity. Research tells us that people whose managers don’t recognize them at work have triple the risk of leaving the org within the next year. That’s huge! From an individual lens, how else would we know how we’re doing? Feedback matters.

From your perspective, what are the most significant barriers to fostering a culture of feedback within teams, and how can they be overcome?

Leadership role modeling - do leaders give and receive feedback well? There’s the notion of social contagion: employees tend to emulate the attitudes and behaviors of whoever’s at the top–for better or worse. If leaders aren’t giving and receiving feedback, others in the org are less likely to do the same. So, it starts at the top.
Incentives - are employees motivated to give feedback? What’s in it for them? Explaining why feedback benefits the person and their team can help.
Systems - are there effective, frictionless ways to deliver and ask for feedback? Enabling people with the right technology can ensure consistency, fairness, and accessibility.

This is actually very much why we started Mirror 360 itself. When honest feedback is not known, when honest work is not visible - people are left to play politics at work - managing up, rather than working across teams. In your experience, how do office politics and bias affect team cohesion and productivity?

Ah, a tale as old as time. And a recent and poignant example comes to mind. One of my dear friends left the corporate software engineering world in America to expand his career in Berlin, hoping for a more human-centered, feedback-open approach. He’s now leaving that org after a few months because the feedback culture is such that any constructive criticism gets shut down and the whistleblowers get fired. While this is an extreme example, it’s all too real, and all across the world. Many times, folks are too busy doing performative tasks that “look good” to the top but are not as meaningful to the long-term success of the team or the work itself.

On the flip side then, from what you’ve seen out there with clients, what are the key benefits of fostering a transparent feedback culture in the workplace?

Good work gets done, leading to positive business outcomes–think ROI, retention, and other real and vanity metrics may rise.

People feel a sense of meaning. They know why they’re doing the work, because they get feedback on it and why it matters.

Effective feedback begets effective conversation. The more people feel psychologically safe to speak up, the stronger the culture may become.

What approaches have you noticed to be effective in making sure every team member feels acknowledged and valued?

Making feedback a routine: either time-based (ex: give feedback to someone once per week), or task-based (ex: give feedback after every interaction).

Pulling for feedback: taking the often uncomfortable step of asking for feedback can help foster a growth mindset and continuous improvement.

Rewarding feedback behaviors: recognizing people in public settings, positively reinforcing when someone shares feedback, and talking about feedback at every level can help keep it top of mind for every employee.

Remote and hybrid work is pretty much the norm now for so many knowledge workers. How do you see this impacting feedback and professional development?

I’ve noticed a recent trend where knowledge workers are just trying to “get through” or “coast” through their work. It’s not because of laziness, but rather because they are burnt out or are tired of the hamster wheel of trying to achieve the next title. Some folks are even taking demotions because they don’t want the stress of a higher-paying, higher-responsibility job.

The caveat is that this isn’t true for everyone, and remote work can offer greater flexibility and freedom, especially for marginalized communities. And, the increased connection to colleagues across the world may offer even greater opportunities to collaborate and innovate. However, being mostly online also means that we are bombarded by signals in the virtual space; we live in an attention economy. So, while we have access to more feedback and professional development tools than ever, it can be harder to solicit feedback and carve out time (and energy) for professional development.

(For more inspiration on our lack of focus, check out the book Stolen Focus by Johann Hari.)

How do you see tools like Mirror 360 transforming workplace culture in the next five years?

One aspiration I hope workplace culture moves toward is that of candor. Feedback is often hard to ask for, but unlocks our blindspots and growth (which is a crucial aspect of being human, in my opinion). Having micro-moments of reflection in the service of helping others develop when we share feedback, and in getting an unbiased view of how we’re doing, may make us feel more connected and engaged in our work.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Where can people find more about you and what you do?
My website,
or even my email:


Mirror 360 ambassadors are the voices for honest feedback at work. For the first time in a corporate setting, honest feedback can be easily given and seen via the enterprise solution: Mirror 360. Separately, individuals can start using the free web app - My Mirror 360. Gain self-awareness and take growth and development in your own hands!