Level Up Leadership: Karen Whitney

Listen to the podcast (FULL TRANSCRIPT):


Level Up is a podcast for anyone interested in improving their leadership skills. The series is designed to help you get to know the leaders of Experian and gain insight into the skills needed to grow your career.

You can subscribe to Level Up Leadership on iTunes, Google Play, SoundCloud and Spotify.

Most recently, we spoke with Karen Whitney, Vice President and Head of Talent for  Experian, North America. Karen has oversight for all North American talent initiatives across the employee lifecycle including performance management, employee development, leadership and high potential development, succession management, change management, organizational development and culture and engagement.

Here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Karen:

Be energized by and connected to your work.
Like Karen said, “Is there purpose in my work?” is a question you’ll likely ask yourself throughout numerous points in your life. That’s why it’s important to find ways to put your whole self into what you do. When you feel energized about your job, it’s easier to see where you fit and how you’re contributing to the organization.

There is no innovation without diversity.
Not much convincing has to be done on behalf of diversity and inclusion because it makes a business case for itself! As Karen pointed out, if you are part of an organization that values innovation and growth, there can be no such thing if everyone on the team comes from the same background and experience. Diversity is innovation.

There is no greater power than the Power of You.
A motto Experian lives by is the Power of You. This means that the more opportunity you have to bring your whole self to work, the more room there is for Experian to grow and thrive together. Karen is a huge believer in bringing you, who you are, your background, your ethnicity, your sexual orientation, your hobbies and everything else that makes you you to work. Suppressing your authenticity is a good way to suppress your potential.

Know that the way people view you will often change.
When Karen was first promoted into a director role, she had to acclimate to stepping into a leadership role over team members who were once peers. At some point in your career, you may become a leader to someone that was a friend, that you confided in, that you regularly had lunch with, etc. It’s okay to continue to appreciate that relationship, but it’s important to be clear with your peers about what exactly it is they’re going to see from you differently now that you’re their leader. Structure takes some time to build, but approaching leadership with honesty always make it easier!

Be aware of your impact on others.
It takes a good leader to be able to put ego aside and read the room properly. Karen advises you ask yourself if the people around you are receiving information well, if what you’re saying is landing, if there are questions, etc. The better you can read the people around you and the impact you have on them, the easier it is for you to jive with your team.

You will never have complete “work/life balance.”
Because when you think about it, work is part of life, right? Instead of aiming to achieve perfect balance, we should be trying our best to incorporate it wherever we can. Maybe you leave work a little early to take a yoga class then return home and work a little more. Maybe you stay a little later at work today for a deadline and you work remotely tomorrow. Whatever it is, balance isn’t permanent but there are ways we can make sure we enjoy it wherever we can.

We were so happy to have the opportunity to chat with Karen for Level Up.

Check out interviews with other Experian leaders.

Full Transcript

Mike (00:09):
Hey everybody. Welcome to The Level Up Leadership Podcast. My name is Mike Delgado.
Patty (00:13):
My name is Patty Guevarra.
Mike (00:15):
This podcast is designed to help you get to know the leaders here at Experian and also gain insight into leadership skills and traits needed to grow our careers.
Patty (00:24):
In this podcast we’ll talk mentorship, career navigation, handling rejection, work life balance, mental health, diversity and inclusion and so much more.
Mike (00:32):
We hope you enjoy the show.
Patty (00:39):
Today we’re speaking with Karen Whitney, vice president and head of talent at Experian North America.
Mike (00:45):
Start with sharing a little bit about your beginning in your career and then what led you to Experian and what you’re doing now.
Karen (00:54):
Wow, that’s a big journey. So I think the most important part of my journey is I did not start out to be in human resources. I started out with the intent of going through graduate school and being in counseling and being a psychotherapist.
Mike (01:08):
Oh, really?
Karen (01:09):
Doing just one on one counseling, doing marriage and family counseling. So I went through undergrad and graduate school with that as my ultimate intent.
Mike (01:20):
That’s really, really cool.
Karen (01:21):
It is really cool. It is really cool. And so you ask why did I not do that?
Mike (01:27):
Yes.
Karen (01:28):
So I was in New York at the time that I finished my graduate work and I was working at a law firm in human resources to fund my continuing studies. I was finishing my postgraduate work at Teachers College Columbia. I was doing some field work. I did end up working down at a psychoanalytic Institute down in the village. So I had a caseload of 20ish clients and loved the work. What I found however, was something I hadn’t really realized was that while it was very rewarding, it was very solitary and there was not a lot of room to necessarily be collaborative and think as part of a group, think as part of a team, share a lot of thought leadership. There was naturally a lot of enforced kind of boundaries and helping people find their own answers and not giving them answers, not brainstorming answers, but being very structured.
Mike (02:21):
That’s what I don’t like about therapists. If I see my therapist, I want to ask some questions and she’s not there to give me answers and it drives me up the wall sometimes.
Karen (02:29):
That’s right. And that’s not how I … As I moved through my both career journey and my personal journey, I’ve just really learned that that’s not how I operate either. I operate best when I can share myself, I can engage with others and we can really find that common space. So as it happens, I was in human resources at the law firm, really loved what I was doing. I was doing recruiting. Was out on campuses interviewing people, looking for the right fit for a summer associate program.
Mike (03:01):
I’m sorry to interrupt you before you get into that, because that’s a big career change. You invested a lot of time-
Karen (03:07):
I did. A lot of dollars.
Mike (03:07):
And energy into counseling and that was like where your passion was. So tell us about that switch, switching lanes.
Karen (03:18):
I don’t think it felt like a big switch only because I use my counseling skills everyday. Even to this day, I use influencing people, I use engaging with people, I use trying to understand what might be motivating. So I use it every day. So the switch for me however was, or the personal question for me was, wow, am I living my purpose? Right? So my purpose going into this was I’m here to help people. And that continues to be always my question of am I living my purpose, right? Or am I here to do what I’m supposed to be doing? And I think you live your purpose every day. And so I was still getting my gratification through my work with people, through first in the recruiting perspective, engaging with people on campuses, finding the right fit for the organization, contributing to the culture of the organization.
Karen (04:17):
So I stepped into human resources with the idea that maybe I would one day come back to counseling and I just never did because I find such fulfillment in what I do every day. And then when I got into leadership, that brings a whole different level of engagement with people. So that has really always just satisfied I think the passion for being connected and being part of something bigger, whether it’s an organization or a team or a personal journey. And I think that’s what I was seeking when I really wanted to get into psychotherapy and counseling.
Mike (04:58):
You know, you touched on something that’s really, I think at the heart of what we all want, and that is passion and also purpose. And it’s really cool that you found that early in your career. And I’m wondering if you can give advice for those listening in who are maybe struggling, they’re trained to find like their purpose in their work and they’re not sure quite like, am I doing the right thing?
Karen (05:23):
I think that’s a question that you’re going to ask yourself throughout all points of your life. And the counsel that I would give from my own personal and professional journey is look for opportunities every day to be energized and to connect with your work. And that’s the most important part. Someone just recently said to me, someone in my personal life that I really admire greatly said to me, “Why do you feel like,” because I continue to question, “Why do you feel like you’re not living your purpose? You’ve just related something to me that happened at work that feels like that was a really big connection that mattered a lot.” And so I think when I would give, if I were to give counsel to people about that question, I would say look for opportunities every single day to put your whole self into what you do. And if you’re feeling energized about what you do, then you’re sharing that and you are living what you’re here to do, what you’re part of the organization to do, what you’re part of your own personal and professional journey.
Patty (06:29):
All right. So how did you get to Experian?
Karen (06:33):
So how did I get to … Okay. Great question. So how did I get to Experian? So fast forward to I did move out to California from New York long before I joined Experian. But I was in human resources from 2004 to 2008. And yes, the subprime mortgage industry as part of Lehman Brothers-
Patty (06:53):
Oh, wow.
Karen (06:54):
Who had purchased a number of subprime mortgage entities. So I joined one of the subprime entities from a bigger organization that I was a part of. I was ready to move on and do something different in HR. And so I joined one of the subprime mortgage industries under Lehman to head up HR and also it was a newly acquired company. So the goal was to integrate the subprime mortgage company into more of the more of the Lehman culture. To Lehmanize was the phrase of the day. As you can imagine, that was not [crosstalk 00:07:27].
Mike (07:27):
We should talk about that for Experian. We haven’t found the right term yet.
Karen (07:35):
Exactly. So I was in the mortgage industry, really at the very top 2004 to the utter crash in 2008. And we had just announced closure of the entities that I was a part of. We’d announced that in July. So I was there through October with the senior team. The fall of the house of Lehman had not yet occurred. But I had thought to myself as I looked at how long I was going to be there, the package that I was walking away with, I thought, well, I’m going to take some months off and I’m going to spend time just maybe traveling a bit, maybe just some downtime and figure out if there’s anything different I want to do. Well our recruiter called me and said, “I have this job at Experian. I think you should come interview for it. Are you familiar with Experian?” And I said, “Yeah, one of the credit bureaus I think.” And she said, “Yeah, and let me send you the 84 page document about Experian and about the role. And it’s much more than the credit bureau.”
Karen (08:36):
So I was really fascinated with just learning all that Experian was, and I came to interview with the CHRO at the time, then moved through interviewing with several of the business leaders. About six weeks of interviews and I was just increasingly engaged with the opportunity and I thought I can’t pass it up. So I got the job offer to join Experian the Friday before the Saturday that Lehman Brothers announced bankruptcy.
Mike (09:05):
Wow. Oh, wow.
Karen (09:05):
So that was a really pivotal time for me. I felt like well, this was meant to be.
Patty (09:11):
The timing.
Karen (09:11):
The timing was actually, yeah.
Patty (09:15):
That’s insane.
Mike (09:16):
Yeah. What was that like because you saw like just the high point with profit, mortgage brokers, mortgage industry making tons of money and it seemed like, wow, this is going to continue for a long time. I can probably rest comfortably at this company because all of the money that you made and then obviously what happened. And you’re kind of like in the HR role, seeing all this unfold. What was that like for you during that time?
Karen (09:49):
That was, well, it was incredibly difficult because we went through a couple of rounds of very significant employee layoffs, to the couple of hundreds until the time that we closed the company and it was about 1200 people that we had to notify. That was incredibly difficult. I think the harder thing for me though was really watching the news and watching the Lehman Brothers, the parent company, the employees leaving the building with their personal belongings and just utter shock. It was just shocking. I mean, it was personally tragic because I worked with a lot of those people even over the phone and just the fall of the house of Lehman, it was a huge institution that people felt very proud to be part of. So that was really, really, it was difficult.
Karen (10:37):
And I felt so fortunate that here I am watching this and I had this great opportunity to go join another organization that felt like they were really financially stable, doing some really good, good things. Even the little that I knew about Experian at that point. So truly, I look at that point in my employment and my professional life and I’m still thankful for it. I accepted the offer on the Friday that the recruiter gave it to me. She said, “Do you want me to tell them that you want to think about it?” And I said, “No, actually I’ve met with everyone. It looks like a great company. The offer is great. So I’ll accept.” And then less than 12 hours later, I’m hearing of the Lehman Brothers fall. And I just look at that and just think what a pivot point in my career journey.
Patty (11:32):
In situations like that, and maybe not even just at Lehman, but anywhere else in your career, how do you keep up the morale of the employees, especially from the point of HR?
Karen (11:43):
Always, always think about it from the point of an employee and how you would want to be treated and always think about respect and courtesy and the point where as an HR professional at the point where you would get, where you might not have that human feeling is the point you should step out of HR. Now fortunately, that is only a small part of what we do in human resources but always operate with the person in mind. And that’s the most critical. And certainly during those times in the mortgage industry when we did have to deliver really, really, really tough messages, always think about it with the people, with the person in mind. And it’s not a transaction.
Patty (12:27):
How has the culture at Experian changed since you’ve been here and how do you remain flexible to it?
Karen (12:34):
I am a big fan of Experian’s culture. And how I think always have been from the time that I walked in the door really from the time that I met the people that I met as part of my interview process. I got a strong sense of just the integrity of the company, the work that we do as an organization. And again, when I walked into my interview process, I didn’t really know the lives that we touched. I didn’t really know at all how comprehensive Experian was. And when I look at the culture of Experian, who we are, I think that we’ve continued to grow. We’ve continued to deepen our connection with our people, our connection with the community. And it really makes me feel like I’m a commercial for Experian.
Patty (13:24):
Keep going. Keep going.
Karen (13:25):
But it really does make me real, super proud to be here. And I think when I joined 11 years ago, I’d been in Orange County for many years before. I had never known of the culture of Experian. And I remember a colleague of mine who joined a year after me, Janet Clardy, she and I joked for years and years about the, how was Experian the best kept secret in Orange County and how do we make it not the best kept secret? How do we spread more about who we are. And I think that as we’ve continued to focus on our culture, I think we’ve naturally been more externally facing. And it’s great to hear people on campuses. It’s great to help my friends who aren’t familiar with the industry, they follow us on social media and they say, “Gosh, Experian is doing such great things. What an awesome company.” So again, I could be a commercial. I’m really proud of what we do.
Mike (14:25):
Yeah, I am too. I’m just, I feel very fortunate to be at a company, especially with all these amazing leaders. And I’m kind of curious about from your view, like what do you think contributes to like this amazing culture and the type of leadership that we see here? Because HR, it plays a huge role in that.
Karen (14:44):
Sure, sure. I would say I think HR doesn’t play the role, we don’t have to drive it. I think we have really strong leadership. I think we’re very careful about how we select leaders to join the organization. I think our leadership operates always with integrity with really the thought of the people in mind as well as the business and the business results. But I think coming to the organization, not with ego first, what’s it going to do for me, but really thinking about about the organization and what we as leaders can add to continue to move that culture forward and to continue to make it a place where people are proud to work and enjoy what they do. And we work with a lot of really wonderful, smart people. And I think that none of us take that for granted leadership included. So does that answer your question?
Mike (15:45):
Yeah it does. It does. How would you describe your leadership style?
Karen (15:52):
I would say first and foremost, when we started talking in the DNI world, and the Power Of You council about bringing your whole self to work, I would say that’s, I just do that. I try to be authentically me. I try to share, when I don’t know the answers, which I don’t. When I really lean on the people that are a part of my team and that are my colleagues. Because I think all together, I think no one person has one answer. And I don’t feel like just because I lead a team that I know more or I’m better or I’m different, I feel like I learn from them just as much as I like to think that they learn from me. So that’s kind of how I approach my leadership really with with a trust that I have good people and I need to give them guidance and kind of get out of their way and learn from them.
Patty (16:55):
You’re involved in a lot of extra curricular activities. Can you explain what you’re involved in and then why you think that really helps your leadership skills?
Karen (17:03):
Meaning like the things that are outside of work by extracurricular?
Patty (17:07):
Just outside of like your main job. So even like ERGs or I know you’re involved with the Power Of You Council. You started Le Tour de Experian, so things like that.
Karen (17:17):
Yeah. Mike was in the very first [inaudible 00:17:19], we’ll talk about that in a minute, but the Power Of You council, that I think is really what helped what for me probably in my 11 years here has been one of the things that I have felt most passionate about being part of. And I think the reason that I feel so passionate about it is because we came together as a group of people with the focus on making sure that we had a diverse and inclusive environment and we didn’t come in with a check the box and they were done let’s move on. We really spend time thinking about what that would mean and how we bring this to life for our employees. And we spent a lot of time, and I know Mike, you heard me talk about this in one of the leadership programs. We spent a lot of time iterating, being thoughtful, talking to people from other companies who were doing the same kind of journey in the diversity and inclusion space.
Karen (18:16):
And really as we talked about how to bring this to life for our employees, one of the most important things for me was that we didn’t have to create anything new. We just had to really bring it all, put some visibility to all of the things that Experian already was and all that was already going on here from a culture standpoint. So that’s a part of my job that I’m so passionate about because I think it was already there and I think we’re really just helping to bring it to life. So really I love the Power Of You work.
Patty (18:51):
And I think as a champion of diversity and inclusion and culture and engagement and all of that, like Experian is doing a really good job with DNI, but there are other companies that are doing better. There are other companies that are not maybe doing as well, but as a champion of all of those concepts, how would you convince a leader that they need to care about these things?
Karen (19:14):
Oh, that’s a good question. That’s a good question. I think because we don’t have to convince. But there is always a business case, right? And first if you lead with the business case that we want to be, we need to be, we are an innovative company. You can’t have true innovation and growing innovation without having a diverse population of people who are working on the products and processes and selling solutions. You just can’t. If you have 7,000 people that all look the same, act the same, come from the same backgrounds and done the same thing, you’re not going to get innovation. So I think first and foremost, business case is pretty much there and clear, just as I articulate it. I think also when you think about, and this is such an HR buzzy word, but when you think about engagement, which engagement to me means that you have people who like coming to work every day and if people like what they do and like coming to work, they’re going to give their very best. Those two things to me are the case for diversity and inclusion.
Mike (20:23):
I want to touch on the Power Of You because I love that program and many people listening in might not know about it. So I was wonder if you can kind of share for those people who are interested in like growing in their leadership skills, what’s the process for them to get involved with Power Of You and can you talk about what that is?
Karen (20:45):
So Power Of You is really, and look, it’s not even an acronym, point. [crosstalk 00:20:51]. It’s not even an acronym. But the Power Of You is really the name that we gave to our diversity and inclusion movement and all it is simply. And it’s basically the Power Of You, meaning bring your whole self to work, bring who you are, bring your background, bring your ethnicity, your sexual orientation, your activities outside of work, bring who you are and be authentic. And there are various different ways that you can get involved in that movement that you will, you can be part of one of our ERGs, you can volunteer at some of our community events. There’s, I would say please go out onto the zoom site and look at the Power Of You site. We’re about to launch in the March timeframe.
Karen (21:33):
We’re about to launch our third annual report, the diversity and inclusion. So great opportunity to really look at all that we’ve done over the last year and look for opportunities to get involved and come forward with ideas. I mean, I think best thing about both Experian and the Power Of You is there’s no limit on ideas, opportunities that we can create and build on.
Patty (21:59):
Just pivoting the conversation a little bit, did you have any leaders or role models in your experience where you thought like, I want to model that kind of leadership or even the opposite where you’re like, I don’t want to be that kind of leader?
Karen (22:15):
Yeah. I’ve been fortunate to work for really good leaders. I think the first one would be a leader that I had at a large commercial real estate company that I worked before I worked for the mortgage subprime. And she promoted me for the, I’ve been promoted many times in my career, but she was the one who first promoted me into a director role. She promoted me over my peers, which is always a challenge. Right. And she told me that and she told me, she gave me some really good advice on don’t change who you are. I’m moving you into this because you have the skills and the capabilities and the interpersonal skills to do this, but just be aware that you need to now lead and not just be part of the team.
Karen (23:05):
And she was there to mentor me. She also was really great about giving me coaching and paying attention. And I remember when one time and one of our one-on-ones, six or so months after I’d been moved into that role, she said, “I just want to give you … I was listening to you talk to your team.” And she said, “I know I told you that you need to lead. I think you’re very solutions oriented. So I’ve heard you on several occasions give the solution. Think about letting your team come to you with ideas and solutions and then react or ask them first. Don’t solve for them.” And that was really pivotal for me because I am very solutionary. So I always have ideas on other solution and she was great to just be there and kind of course correct. So I really think made a difference in how I engaged with my team at the time.
Mike (24:01):
But that’s actually a huge challenge. Like moving from being part of a team to now overseeing that team and because it puts you in an awkward position. How or what advice would you give for those leaders who are right now maybe doing that move are going to be doing that move?
Karen (24:18):
I think there’s also a level of just needing to be open about the challenge. Right? And in some situations a leader may be faced with someone that was a friend. They always went to lunch. They always, they kind of connected about things they weren’t happy about. And to really just be really even open and clear about the fact that I’m still a bit big advocate, still appreciate the relationship, but it has shifted a bit. So this is what you’re going to see from me differently. And I think when you lead with kind of honesty, I don’t think you can go wrong. And I think those are awkward times. Those are awkward moments. I think there also is going to be initially a need to put some structure in place and not do all the of the same things that you might’ve done at one, when you were part of the team and friends and go to lunch. But just intentionally put some structure in place. And it does it requires artfulness, it requires thoughtfulness and it requires just honest and open communications.
Patty (25:31):
So when your leader came to you with that feedback, you took that very well. Do you have any tips about how to give feedback to your team?
Karen (25:44):
I think the feedback that she gave me, at first I was a little bit challenged by it because I can’t … and I told her and I had a great relationship with her and I said, “Well, you told me to lead, and now you’re telling me not to lead.” And she said, “No, I’m not. I’m telling you not to direct. Right. I’m telling you to coach and I’m telling you to encourage your team to come forward with their ideas and find their own solutions and to be there to help when you can.” So-
Mike (26:15):
That could be extremely difficult when you kind of like, I can make this much easier, but it’s tell them this is probably the best path to take.
Karen (26:24):
Well hello. That was one of the reasons why, the whole reason why I wanted, the whole reasons why I didn’t get into psychotherapy. I have to sit across the table from someone and say, “Well let’s talk about why you keep doing this.” I wanted to say, “Don’t do that anymore.” So yeah, it is challenging and not as much anymore know because I’ve gotten … I think I operate much more naturally. I’ve been a leader for many years. Again, I have really good teams so I do try to give feedback to my team, if it’s challenging, if it’s constructive. I also try to give recognition and I like to hear the same back. So I like to hear feedback from my team if I should be doing something differently. If when I’ve done something well and I’ve had really good team members that have done that.
Mike (27:09):
So how do you go about getting feedback? Is it just like one on ones with people?
Karen (27:14):
Ask. Yeah, I mean I ask for feedback. And I could, I’m sure I could always ask for more. There’s always opportunity to do more.
Mike (27:20):
That’s one area that I’m really bad about is asking for … I don’t want to hear feedback, the negative feedback. I don’t want to hear you know. [crosstalk 00:27:28]. That’s always, well-
Patty (27:30):
Oh, here we go. It’s session now.
Karen (27:31):
Okay. Okay.
Mike (27:34):
This is like, I can pay you with my flex card. No. But you know like getting negative feedback can be, it’s very, very helpful. Or just thoughtful feedback. Like, Mike, if you do it this way, it’s probably a better way to go. Sometimes I can just take things hard. I’m just built that way.
Karen (27:53):
Yeah. Well and several people have said to me over the course of my career, feedback is a gift. And the first time I heard, what kind of gift? I don’t want that kind of gift. That’s like a gift I want to give back away.
Patty (28:05):
That’s a terrible gift. Keep it.
Karen (28:07):
But you know when you think about it like that, when you think about feedback is generally well-intended. I mean even feedback and maybe we shouldn’t call it negative, right? Maybe we should call it an opportunity to do something differently. So feedback is very rarely ill intended. It’s not intended to knock you down or make you feel bad about yourself. It is truly intended to, I think I would always assume positive intent. And so maybe that would be helpful.
Mike (28:37):
Yeah, I’m just hypersensitive. Hi Chung will tell you, my wife will tell you that she has … That I’m so sensitive. She tells me feedback and I’ll just like fall apart. And she’s like-
Patty (28:47):
Why are you getting your feelings hurt?
Mike (28:49):
Exactly.
Karen (28:51):
Okay. So there’s another thing. Don’t take it personally.
Mike (28:54):
Yeah. I can’t.
Patty (28:56):
I’m the same way.
Karen (28:58):
That’s fine. That’s not easy. That’s easier to say than it is to action, I mean to feel.
Mike (28:59):
So funny.
Patty (29:04):
So you studied psychology in your undergraduate and then your master’s program and then you actually dabbled in it for a while before moving into HR. You still hold a fairly people oriented position. And like you said, your experience in psychology really affects your job today. This might be a big question, so think about it if you need to, but can you tell us about one observation that you’ve made with just reacting to your clients or your patients and then your colleagues and your direct reports that might help someone’s leadership? Just like any observation. So like maybe a common blind spot that a lot of people have or something we all tend to do well or something we all tend to ignore in the workplace.
Mike (29:48):
Yeah, that’s actually a really good question. I think about like for those of us who want to continue into leadership and maybe they’re approaching you like, “I really want this leadership role.” And maybe it’s that blind spot that you see a lot of people have. Like you’re not ready for this role because I see this in you or this is an area that you need to work on.
Patty (30:07):
And a big quality, I feel of leaders is having to understand that they’re humans. Right?
Karen (30:11):
That’s right. I think the thing that comes to mind is really as far as the blind spot and I think, well I think most people have an opportunity to pay attention to this is really be aware of your impact on others. And that means read the room. That means think about how what you’re saying may land with someone. Pay attention to the cues if you’re delivering, if you’re giving feedback that may not be so positively received. Think about how it’s going to land. Be thoughtful about how you phrase, but really it’s have an awareness of your impact. Have an awareness of how what you’re doing is landing with, if you’re delivering your presentation. Have an awareness of are the participants engaged? Do they look stunned? Do they have questions? And that’s a little bit of setting your ego aside and looking at how others are receiving what you’re doing or saying. I’ve seen that just and I know I have that awareness. I need to focus on that as well.
Patty (31:22):
I think a big part of that is, yeah, self awareness. Do you have any tips for people who kind of need to improve that scale with themselves?
Mike (31:34):
See a psychotherapist.
Karen (31:35):
[inaudible 00:31:36]. That’s a great answer. So no, I think ask for feedback. And that’s not something I think people who might have more of a blind spot than not don’t really have an interest in seeing themselves through the eyes of others. But I think if you really want to improve, then you have to ask for feedback and ask for it about a specific circumstance. Ask someone, if you’ve been given feedback that your manner is abrasive, go to a colleague or two that you trust and say, “Here’s how you’re going to start seeing me operate differently. And I’m going to come back to you and ask you what you’ve observed.” So that really requires being vulnerable. I mean you’re really putting yourself out there when you do that. Requires a lot of trust and just being vulnerable.
Patty (32:26):
And you’re asking someone to hold you accountable.
Karen (32:29):
You are. That’s exactly right. And you’re giving someone permission to hold you accountable.
Patty (32:31):
Yeah. That too.
Mike (32:35):
Well, what I thought was really funny was during one of our leadership training sessions, we had a 360 feedback and there was that whole like 15 minute prep that you provided.
Karen (32:48):
Was that hard for you Mike?
Mike (32:49):
But I thought it was so funny because like before you look at these results-
Karen (32:54):
Yes. Don’t turn the page.
Mike (32:57):
Don’t turn the page. Like mental preparation [crosstalk 00:32:59].
Patty (32:58):
I read so much about this off the internet.
Mike (33:00):
Yeah, I thought that was really good because I mean the feedback is excellent to hear that from all the corners. So you’re not missing anything. But there’s also that mental preparation that you need to go in. Like this is going to be helpful to me.
Karen (33:16):
And did that help you?
Mike (33:18):
Yes.
Karen (33:18):
Just giving you kind of the pause for thought?
Mike (33:20):
Totally. Totally. Yeah. Actually having that time was like, it was really good because I think if you just turn the page, you can immediately just start crying. But I mean like, but if you like … you know what I mean? If you’re mentally prepare like oh this is actually, it was really good that you gave that talk because then I was like turn the page. I was like, “Okay this is all helpful and you can kind of go through like disagree, disagree.” I’m just kidding. But I mean like it was actually helpful.
Karen (33:47):
I’m glad and I’m glad to hear that. And I think some of the reason for that is just really giving you pause, right? Not to prepare yourself for bad news, but just to really kind of settle into the state that you’re open, you’re aware that this is ultimately for your own improvement in development. And it’s, again, none of it is ill intended. Take what you can, learn from it, be open minded. So I’m glad that was useful. Because it is, it’s truly just a pause. I can stop.
Mike (34:14):
I’m waiting for an AI to take all the feedback and like I contacted a Mike, so I got to like really soften this up. Exactly.
Patty (34:25):
It’s funny. Did you always want to be a leader?
Karen (34:29):
I don’t know that I … no. No, I don’t think that that was something that I sat down along the way and said, “I can’t wait to lead people.” I think it just naturally happened and the more that I had the opportunity to be a leader, the more that I really thrive on it. I think also, I think everyone is a leader. You don’t have to have teams of people that report to you to be a leader. And I think when, as my view on leadership has continued, and it’ll continue to evolve as it’s continued to evolve and grow throughout the years from a both personal and professional standpoint, it’s leading is not only about how you direct and coach and develop teams of people.
Karen (35:14):
Leading is how you carry yourself, how you think about how you’re perceived. Andy Meikle in our ambition program and masterclass talks a lot about the concept of state and being aware of how you present and others are watching and really think about how you move through the world of both, I would say this is my words, how you move through the world of both your professional and personal journeys. There’s that integrity, there’s grace, there’s how you operate. And so leader and leadership for me is much bigger than just managing teams of people.
Mike (35:53):
That’s right. That’s right. I want to ask you about, as you’ve had over your career, different opportunities to move to another company or take a new role at a company you’re at, how you kind of navigated those periods. And if there was any like big crossroads for you where it’s like if I stay in my current role, this can happen, but now there’s other opportunities there that looks really attractive but I’m just not sure whether I should take that leap or not.
Karen (36:23):
I think the biggest one, the biggest one for me was … and opportunities have always come my way. So I don’t mean to say that from an ego perspective, but aside from making a decision to go leave an organization to pursue something different, opportunities within have come my way. I think one of the things that stands out for me as a career highlight and really putting myself out there was several years ago, probably five, I’m guessing now. I was in business partner role leading groups of business partners, supporting businesses. I also had the opportunity after the currency HRO left the organization, and while we were, there was a six month period while we were waiting for Justin Hastings to come over from the UK on assignment. And I got the opportunity to work with Craig more closely and his leadership team.
Karen (37:12):
And on the last day before Justin was coming over, I sat down with Craig and I said, “So how did I do? Can you give me some feedback?” And I don’t know if Craig even remembers this, but he said a couple of things that were meaningful to me. One, he said, told me that I’d done a really good job, really appreciated working with me, really enjoyed it. He saw a lot more of me than he’d seen before and I needed to think about what I stood for. That really, those words really stood out for me. And he also said, “And you clearly are already to do something different. So think about what that is.” So that was a Friday.
Mike (37:48):
Wow.
Karen (37:49):
I thought about, I mean [crosstalk 00:37:51], but think about what that is. So that was a Friday.
Patty (37:55):
So you spent the weekend thinking what do I stand for?
Karen (37:58):
No. I didn’t spend the weekend. I spent like eight hours. I’m like, okay. And I knew that there was going to soon be an opportunity to head up talent acquisition that was going to open. I sat down and I sent Craig an email Saturday morning and I said, “So enjoyed working with you. Thank you for the feedback. Really valued your counsel. You asked me to think about what I wanted to do next, and this role is going to come open and I want to do this.” In addition to the role that I have now.
Mike (38:21):
Just like that? Just like that.
Karen (38:21):
Basically. Yeah.
Mike (38:24):
Was there any hesitation?
Karen (38:26):
Well, I’m sure I’m a wordsmith, so I probably spent 45 minutes trying to figure out how to exactly say it. And I am someone who likes to put a lot of words to something. I’m like no, “Craig is direct. I’m just going to say it.” So I sent it off to him. And a couple of days later, he was actually headed I think to the UK. Couple of days later, Justin called me and said he’s coming over and looked forward to working with me. And he said, “By the way, Craig sent me your email and he said let’s talk about this. Because Craig said, ‘I don’t see that there’s any reason why we can’t make that happen.'”
Mike (38:58):
Oh, how cool is that.
Karen (38:59):
That was like the biggest thing ever.
Mike (39:01):
Oh my gosh.
Karen (39:01):
I took a chance and I was able to, I got to run talent acquisition for three years and then I moved into the talent management space here in [crosstalk 00:39:09].
Mike (39:08):
That is such a great story.
Patty (39:12):
It’s like the best example of declaring what you want and putting your foot forward.
Karen (39:12):
And yes, I’m sure I wordsmithed this I remember because I was like, “No, be direct. Just be direct.”
Mike (39:21):
Did you talk to anybody before you did, or was this like a conversation in your head and you’re just like, boom, I’m done. Or did you talk to a friend?
Karen (39:27):
I talked to a friend about, okay well, here’s something I’m thinking. I didn’t say that this was what I was going to do. I wasn’t going to send the CEO a note that said this is what I want. Tell me, you asked what I want, this is what I want. But I pretty much slept on it and I felt right just do it. What harm that … there’s no harm in it. All that can happen is no. So, yeah.
Mike (39:50):
I love that. Now the other question he asked you about what you stood for, it’s very cryptic. What is, do you know what he meant? Like how you took it?
Karen (40:00):
I think he meant, the way that I took it from I think what he meant and I took it that way. But I’ve also, I continue to ask myself that. I think what he meant at the time was think about how you show up and think about how to make yourself more visible. Think about how to make your accomplishments speak for themselves abit more. So I think that’s more what he meant. I also, I took that to be, I took that to think about myself as a leader. What do you stand for? And some of the things that we’ve already talked about. What is being a leader? Integrity, authenticity, vulnerability, being willing to show up, operate with grace. So those are all leadership things that as I think about what I stand for, that’s what I stand for. But it was great counseling.
Mike (40:50):
That is so cool. Also I’m curious about like during that time that you were so close with Craig and leadership team, things that you observed about, because I love Craig’s leadership style. I love the leaders he’s brought on. I’m kind of curious about like being on the inside, like kind of the leadership traits that you saw and were like, “Yes, this is really, really good.”
Karen (41:12):
I think I was … It wasn’t that different because I’d always supported leaders here. So first Kerry Williams and Lloyd Parker, Steve Wagner and a number of the leaders. I think what I got to see though was all of the leadership team operating as a unit and how well they did. Right. And Craig didn’t direct, he more orchestrated and facilitated a bit and clearly valued their opinions, clearly was the leader and made decisions when a decision needed to be made. I just, I felt like they all, they moved so well together as an operating unit. And I think that’s even continued to evolve from what I’ve seen.
Mike (41:55):
That’s cool.
Patty (41:57):
That’s really cool for her. I love it. It’s always like, you hear from leaders the advice like declare what you want. Your manager is not going to know what you want unless you say it. But then it’s a whole nother thing to actually do it.
Mike (42:09):
Yeah. It is.
Patty (42:10):
It’s very nerve wracking. Do you have any advice for any leaders that might just be emerging and maybe managing people for the first time or leading a team for the first time?
Karen (42:23):
Give it your focus, really take it seriously. And there’s a lot of resources out there. There’s a lot of role models, there’s a lot of books to read. Books are only one part of your learning. Engage with your team. I think one of the biggest things is really, again, like I just said, role models and mentors. There’s a lot of really good leaders. There’s a lot of people that may be on your team that do things really well that you could learn from. But I think give it your focus and don’t just assume that now that you’ve been promoted to a manager, you were promoted because you knew what you’re doing. It’s an whole different level of opportunity to learn. And it’s all embrace it. Take full advantage of it and put all of your energies behind being a leader of people.
Patty (43:16):
Did you have any missteps when you were first starting to lead people?
Karen (43:19):
Oh, I’m sure. I still have missteps. I can’t remember, I can’t think of any that are big, but I feel like I’m constantly learning.
Patty (43:29):
Right. Everyone’s constantly making mistakes.
Karen (43:31):
Yeah, absolutely.
Patty (43:33):
I love that you mentioned learning because I feel like with each leader we talk to, they always say never stop learning. So I’m curious about ways that you learn every day.
Karen (43:44):
Ask a lot of questions. I read a lot. Internet for someone like me who is like a learner, an information person, the internet is a great source to kind of start to find books, to find resources. I think you learn from experiences as well and being challenged. And I don’t know, just personally, I set out to do something and then I realize that maybe I have to like stop and figure it out. Right. So, I mean, just even personal things like trying to think about it. I was just telling a friend about this. I taught myself to quilt. I really-
Patty (44:20):
Oh cool.
Karen (44:23):
Yeah. Right. I’m like, I don’t know why I decided I need to do that. But there’s YouTube, there’s all kinds of resources out there. I unclogged my garbage disposal last summer, somebody clogged it right before a party. I was really frustrated and I went onto YouTube and we figured out how to do it.
Mike (44:39):
That’s huge.
Karen (44:41):
I mean, I think the other piece is about learning. Don’t be afraid to try new things and go find out how to do it and find out someone who knows and just do it.
Patty (44:51):
I love hearing about our leaders’ hobbies, because we learned that Nadia, our chief communications officer out in the UK likes to plant trees. You like to quilt.
Karen (45:04):
Oh, I love that. I don’t know about liking. [inaudible 00:45:02]. I like to quilt.
Patty (45:04):
You learned to quilt.
Karen (45:05):
I learned to quilt. That’s exactly … I’m still learning to quilt.
Patty (45:09):
I see in your bio you like to do yoga, cycling, working out, reading, spending time with your family, and you’re also involved in a lot of things at work. How do you avoid burnout?
Karen (45:20):
So I don’t do all those things at the exact same time.
Mike (45:21):
For the one hour [inaudible 00:45:24].
Karen (45:21):
Yeah. I don’t do all those things [crosstalk 00:45:26].
Patty (45:26):
Yeah. I’m doing everything right now.
Karen (45:28):
But you know, I would say for instance cycling, I’ve cycled for 15 years. I haven’t cycled as much over the last two, but I still love to cycle when I get the opportunity. I love, I discovered yoga two years ago, not from a physical fitness standpoint, but more from truly a way to get in touch with myself to find quietness. And I’ve continued to stay with that practice. I go to yoga twice a week if I’m off, I’m trying to add a couple more classes. So that for me has been an opportunity to just kind of slow down, reset, be quiet and as far as working out, I always work out just because that is part of physical fitness. So I don’t know, I make it all work. And I think here we’re really great.
Karen (46:17):
We’ve talked a lot about, I wouldn’t say work life balance because I don’t think you’re ever going to have work and life balance. You can integrate it though. You can leave for yoga at 4:30 and then I can come back home and do some work. And so we’re able to integrate it. Reading’s kind of just always been a passion of mine. I’ve read since I was in third grade since I first learned how to read and all kinds of books. So that I probably, I don’t do all of those at the same time. But I just put things in if I like to do them and I have a passion for them, I do. Yeah.
Patty (46:52):
Just do it. Learn how to quilt, cycle.
Mike (46:54):
I see you’re reading while doing yoga though.
Patty (46:56):
No. Yoga is so hard.
Karen (46:58):
No. Yoga is not hard. [crosstalk 00:47:04]. It is so beautiful. No I don’t. That is one place the minute I walk into the studio, I just, I feel like-
Mike (47:09):
Zen.
Karen (47:10):
Turn my device off for that hour and 15 minutes. That’s my time, you know? And I think all of those activities and work, they go hand in hand because if you do things that make you enriched as a person, then you’re going to be better in all aspects of your life. And that sounds so trite and cliche, but it’s really, really so true.
Mike (47:36):
Well, it’s so true because like you need rest, you need to recharge, especially if you want to be highly productive and creative. Like all those things that taking a break from technology do, it’s a yoga, meditation, cycling and all of that just like helps you be better.
Karen (47:55):
True. And it kind of goes back to that, when we talked about the Power Of You. It really helps you be that diverse person. You’re not just the person who works, you’re not just the person who cycles and works out. You’re not just the person who does yoga or cooks for friends. You’re all of those and they interrelate. So and so consequently, you’re a better whole.
Patty (48:18):
Right. I feel like a lot of people struggle with the work becoming their identity, especially when they’re just starting out in their careers because they’re trying to succeed so hard and all of that. I like, even myself when I’m out with my friends all be talking about is like, “Oh, how’s work? Like you got work. How’s that promotion you’re working on?” And it’s just like, yeah, we’re more than just our work. And I love that concept with the work life balance. It doesn’t have to be a balance between work and life because the work is your like, it’s part of your life.
Karen (48:45):
Right. It’s the whole gestalt of you, right? It’s work. It’s the fabric of who you are. And I used that word intentionally when I first, didn’t try my hand at this whole quilting thing-
Patty (48:55):
Yeah. The fabric.
Karen (48:56):
But I’m a perfectionist and so my sister who’d been doing it for years said, “You can’t be a perfectionist with this. You just have to look at the whole, right. You just have to, you have to look at the whole gestalt of when it’s done. You can’t look for the broken seams and jagged edge, you just have to look at the whole and be pleased.” And I think that that’s a little bit of like how you look at yourself as a person.
Patty (49:20):
Yeah, I really like that. Wow.
Karen (49:20):
I thought it was really [crosstalk 00:49:21].
Patty (49:20):
A quilting metaphor for life.
Mike (49:24):
When you said that I thought, is that a gestalt therapy met that I don’t know about?
Karen (49:27):
Try not to go there. But it’s worth a whole right? [inaudible 00:00:49:33].
Mike (49:33):
Yeah. Yeah. I like that.
Patty (49:36):
Quick tangent. We talked a lot about reading. So do you have like a favorite book right now?
Karen (49:41):
I don’t have a favorite book. I read a lot of things and I have a lot of different books going on. I have crime fiction, which is a great escape. I have fantasy, I have inspirational books, I have books like Brene Brown and Simon Sinek who write about how to be a good leader and bring your whole self into your leadership. And I usually have one or two kind of going on. And I have this, I read on Kindle for my fun crime fiction books because that’s also instant gratification, right? You want a new book? Amazon.
Patty (50:15):
There it is.
Karen (50:16):
I read books that I want to retain and that I really want to, that I find nourishing. I read the word. I mean the book. I like that.
Mike (50:23):
Yes. I’m the same way. [crosstalk 00:50:27].
Karen (50:27):
Yeah. Yeah. And I don’t mark in them. I don’t mark in them.
Mike (50:27):
You don’t?
Karen (50:27):
No.
Mike (50:29):
I’m a marker.
Karen (50:30):
I put little stickers like I have little yellow sticky things on pages that I want to go back to.
Patty (50:35):
I’m also not a marker.
Mike (50:36):
I can’t wait to crack it open.
Patty (50:37):
I don’t like cracking the spine and folding the pages.
Mike (50:43):
I’m like, “Here we go. Through the space, underline-”
Karen (50:47):
But yeah, guilty pleasures. If I have a half an hour while I’m waiting for a doctor’s appointment, I always have my Kindle. Like let’s go to the fun book.
Mike (50:55):
You mentioned Simon Sinek. Are there any favorite leadership books for those listening that you think would be helpful?
Karen (51:01):
I like Simon a lot. Love Brene Brown. I think Brene really talks a lot about, her book Dare To Lead, but she also talks about, she brings her whole self into her leadership, which again, that really resonates for me. So, and she talks a lot about courage, talks about a lot about vulnerability and I just, I think gifts of imperfection, being imperfect. We’re all imperfect and that goes for you as a leader. So I think those are some of my favorite just readings currently I would guess.
Mike (51:32):
Brene Brown is awesome.
Patty (51:33):
She is.
Karen (51:33):
She’s great. Yeah.
Patty (51:35):
She’s a very cool woman.
Karen (51:37):
And she’s funny.
Patty (51:39):
That’s always important.
Mike (51:41):
I do have another question. Can you talk a little bit about the mentorship programs here. For those who are interested in getting a formal mentorship, like what that looks like.
Karen (51:50):
Okay. So we have a couple of ways. I wouldn’t say we have formal mentorship programs. Some of our programs, we do have formal mentorship assignments, but we do have a number of ways that you can go about getting a mentor and a mentor is a great development opportunity. So we have on our zoom site, there’s a mentor, there’s a mentor portal. There’s also a portal that you can go online too and you can say, “I’m interested in a mentoring, here’s what I’m looking for.” And there’s people who have signed up to be mentors. That’s not something that we have broadly yet rolled out. It was kind of a homegrown application I think that we were testing it a bit, but it is quite functional. So and I think always speak to your HR business partner or your manager and then they’ll work through the talent community and we’ll work to find the right mentor.
Karen (52:38):
I would encourage a mentor outside of your business and a mentor maybe in a role that’s different than yours. And you think about really thinking about what you would be looking for as to be mentored, where you feel like you’d like assistance and help and development and then think about that. Think a little bit about that and go to the site and we can help you.
Patty (53:00):
Any parting words for our emerging leaders?
Karen (53:04):
I think I said it before and I would probably just really reiterate. Just it’s there’s a lot of opportunities out there for learning and always just look for them. And think about yourself as a leader and really sit down and think about the kind of leader that you want to be and put a plan in place to work toward that. Resources, mentors, experiences, bu really take it seriously. Take the job of a leader seriously and study for it if you will.
Patty (53:36):
Perfect. Thank you so much. That was a really good episode.
Karen (53:40):
Thanks.
Mike (53:41):
Sure.
Karen (53:48):
Okay. Thanks guys.
Patty (53:49):
We hope you enjoyed today’s episode of Level Up.
Mike (53:52):
If you’d like to see a summary of today’s show, you can go to the Experian blog. The short URL is just ex.pn/levelup.
Patty (54:00):
If you found any of the information today helpful, please consider supporting us by hitting subscribe or leaving us a review. Thanks for dropping in and giving us a lesson and we hope to see you again for our next episode.

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