Level Up is designed to help you get to know the leaders of Experian and gain insight into the skills needed to grow your career.
We were so happy to have the opportunity to chat with Merideth for Level Up.
Mike: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Level Up Leadership Podcast. My name is Mike Delgado.
Patty: My name is Patty Guevarra.
Mike: 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: In this podcast we’ll talk mentorship, career navigation, handling rejection, work-life balance, mental health, diversity and inclusion, and so much more.
Today we’re excited to chat with Merideth Wilson, SVP, General Manager of Revenue Cycle Solutions for Experian Health. Thanks for joining us, Merideth.
Merideth: Sure. Thank you.
Patty: Why don’t we just get started, and you can tell us about your background.
Merideth: Great. My name is Merideth Wilson. I am one of the general managers for the Health Division. I’m based in Austin, and I came by acquisition, through the medical present value. This is my 15th year.
Merideth: I am honored to lead a group of about 250 that are spread across the country. It’s a real joy, and a challenge.
Mike: Wow, no doubt. What’s it like, managing 250 people?
Merideth: Well, it’s fun. I’ve got a great team, right? It’s not just me managing this team that’s managing. We’ve got individual contributors who really want to make this a better place. The one great thing about health care is, there’s something inherent in most of us that we want our health to be better, right? What we do every day is try, and make the financial health of our clients better. Our clients typically, not always, but typically are the provider organizations, such as a hospital or medical group. We really work in closely with those groups to get paid appropriately. Whether it’s from a payer or a patient, like each of us.
Mike: I’m kind of curious about your management style, because managing a big group, and then obviously the team leaders, what is that like? What does that look like?
Merideth: One of the things that I keep being reminded, when I think of good leaders, right, because we’ve always had those in our past. We’ve learned from others-
Mike: That’s right.
Merideth: Whether it’s good or bad we learn from others. In my career I’ve been blessed to have good managers, and some that maybe were a little challenging. What I learned most is, you’ve got to have grace and empathy. I think those two words sometimes they’re misused or used too much. Grace is making sure you understand the environment in which you’re working that someone else… Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Having empathy, right? Having that ability to put yourself in someone else’s position.
I think from an Experian culture perspective, we know we’re high growth, and we reward those that perform very well. That’s what the reward system is all about. That’s what our bonuses are all about. I think along the way you make sure you have the human touch. You’ve got to make sure you’re in touch with your people, what they need, and makes them really click every day, in order to produce those results we all are after.
Mike: I think that’s so true. I think empathy is really a sign of a good leader. How does that look practically? That empathy, because I think we use that word a lot. I’m kind of curious about, how do you tangibly show empathy to your team?
Merideth: A lot of it is making sure I’m personally present and available. Again, through health, as the many business units across Experian, we’ve got multiple office. My team is spread over five offices. Costa Rice, California, Texas and Illinois. One of the things that I’ve realized, that if I’m not present, I won’t really know what’s happening.
We spend a lot of time doing that, a lot of face to face and conversations. I think empathy is also knowing the limits of what your team can and cannot do. There’s only so much everyone, each of us can do each and every day. I think one of those things from an ancient style, I’ve always… You want to push for betterment. We want to make sure we achieve, but you can’t push too much so that people just collapse. I think there is that balance.
Each team has a balance. I think the empathy that I really strive for is making sure that I know the individual traits of each of my teams. Some teams, inherently, can take on more, due to the macro environment or what they’re able to accomplish. Others are challenged with maybe products, or services, or processees that are broken. You have to know when to push and when to pull back.
Mike: Yeah, that’s good.
Patty: You mentioned earlier about how, there’s always a good example of what leadership looks like. Can you speak more to how mentorship has affected your leadership journey?
Merideth: Yes, I think mentorship… We just got done, I don’t know if anyone participated. I hope they sure did. We just did a Women and Experian Webinar with Doctor Andrews.
Merideth: Where she went through the differences of men and women. One of the things that I really believe for personal growth, we each need male and female role models and mentors. We each have different style. We have different strengths. Everyone’s got strengths and weaknesses. Different styles for male or female are also inherent, right?
Patty: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Merideth: She talked today about biosis. We have them or preferences. We tend to look for people who look like us, who act like us. If we walk out of that, and really get from leadership more a different perspective. For example, I personally sought mentors that are male. That’s inherently different than me right there. Also, in a different busy unit.
I think Experian is so large that, I think each of us can seek out different mentors. I think that in and of itself, getting feedback from fresh eyes, making sure you get a 360 view point. Experian’s got good training sources here. I know I have many people who can point out some challenges or things that I could do better as well.
I actively seek that. I encourage a lot of my leaders and pen point to say, “As we walk each day, what can you do better?”. A lot of times getting feedback from individuals that aren’t in your business unit, or may not look exactly like us, or function the same teams like us, they can give you some pretty good feedback.
Mike: I think that’s also a sign of a really good leader, is somebody whose, they’re trying to be very self aware, and part of that means getting feedback from your trusted circle. Then, from the mentors who’re going to speak truth to you. I’m curious about how… I mean, finding the right mentor is really important. What was your process for determining the type of person that you wanted to be mentored by?
Merideth: That’s a very good question. I did partner closely with not only my direct manager, but the HR department, because I said, I think the feedback we sometimes get, whatever, wherever, and [inaudible 00:06:06], people may tell you what you want to hear-
Mike: That’s right.
Merideth: … not what you need to hear. I needed to make sure I partnered from example, my style is very direct and forth right. I prefer to be told, right? Passive feedback is not necessarily my style. I desperately wanted to find some mentor who felt confident enough to deliver hard messages. That’s hard, right?
Merideth: We all seek the easy sometimes. You just need to… I was personally paired, because I asked to be personally paired. Working in health, I don’t necessarily inner relate or interact very frequently with the DA business partners or BIS. As I look to do that more, I did need the partnership with my HR team to say, “Who would be best suited to help me along my career journey?”.
Mike: Can you share, maybe, earlier on in your career, as you were developing as a leader, one of the skills that a mentor was like, “You need to work on this”. You’re like, “What? Okay, how do I do this, and how am I going to be measured on this?”.
Merideth: A lot of it, personally… Again, I point to the webinar Doctor Andrews just did. I was told a few different times, I can be very direct, and perhaps I need to soften the message, or soften the tone.
Mike: I feel like that sometimes is …. If a guy does it, it’s like, “Well, that’s perfectly fine”, right?
Mike: I feel like that’s like, “Oh, well”-
Patty: “Oh, he’s being honest”.
Mike: Right, right. A leader’s got to be honest and be very direct. That’s a good quality to have. Then, the feedback you’re getting is like, “You’re too direct”.
Merideth: Too direct [crosstalk 00:07:35].
Mike: I feel like if you were a guy, they’d be like, “That’s perfectly fine”.
Merideth: It’s a balance, right?
Merideth: We all walk those balances. I think, sometimes male or females, they want you to be more empathetic, right?-
Mike: Right, right.
Merideth: … You need to be more direct, right?
Mike: Right, right.
Merideth: I think it’s a good balance that good leaders naturally have. I try very hard to be forthright and honest. Sometimes the delivery of which I was told could soften a little. I’ve put… That was interesting to hear. I did not intend for a message to be, maybe, harshly received, but I got the feedback that perhaps it was. As I developed as a leader, I was always told, “Let’s be honest. Let’s be forth right. What stinks? Let’s put it on the table”, right?
Mike: Yeah, yeah.
Merideth: I have just learned, over the years, how to put thing what stinks on the table, but do it a little more gracefully or artfully depending on the audience.
Mike: I feel also culturally, sometimes, being very blunt and direct is part of the culture. The family you’re raised in, that’s just the way things happened. You’re like, “Okay. I’m trying to be honest, and transparent, so I’m going to be very forthright with you, and tell you exactly what I’m thinking. I’m hoping that through that feedback, you’re going to just improve”. You’re right, some people can take it as being threatened, “Oh my gosh, this person really doesn’t like me”. You’re intentions like, “No, no. I’m trying to help you. I want to be direct and let you know exactly what I’m thinking”.
Merideth: Another lesson that I learned was, we don’t have to always speak the most to be heard. It’s funny, our anatomy, we’re given two years and one mouth, right? Inherently, we should be listening twice as much as we speak. That’s the first thing.
To be the loudest or the most vocal doesn’t make you the smartest. It doesn’t make you the winner in the room. I think, as you get a little more… With age comes a little wisdom. As you watch people, I think that’s another lesson I had to learn. My voice did not have to be heard each time, in order to be respected. I needed to watch my words carefully. I needed to make sure I was intent with my words. Just speaking to be heard is not the goal as well.
Patty: To go off Mike’s point, about the whole feedback coming from where, if it’s a man, maybe it’s okay for him, and if it was a woman, you’re kind of seen as brash and rude, or whatnot. How do you kind of differentiate between solid feedback that you can really take into account, and then, feedback that might be coming from unconscious biased against your gender?
Merideth: Right. Feedback is feedback, right? All of it’s valuable, and what you absorb, right?
Patty: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Merideth: I kind of liken it to a mosquito net. There’s going to be some feedback you don’t let in, and some you do.
Merideth: From a netting perspective, there’s going to be some feedback that you may or may not agree with, right? Each of us get it. The feedback that we get is supposed to make sure we’re listening to that. What I’ve tried to do is really sharpen my listening skills.
There’s going to be certain environments where being direct is important. There’s going to be other environments and times when being a little more empathetic, or perhaps, use more of the inner personal skills, to get a message across. Again, I think it depends on the audience. I think it depends on what the discussion topic is.
I have… I think if that’s one of the greatest lessons, besides trying to listen more, my other one is really making sure that I know the audience. That when the feedback that I given, or that I’ve been asked to give, is received in a way which it was intended. I really do watch that a bit, from a brash or too harsh perspective.
Mike: Can you give me an example of… I’m curious about a situation where, let’s say that you have high performer on your team, who over the years has proven themselves, does an amazing job. All of a sudden there’s this slump. Something’s going on. There’s a couple ways you can tackle it. You can be like, “You need to step up your game. This is not acceptable”. Then, there’s also the empathetic approach of like, “How’s it going? How’s life? Can I help you?”. I’m kind of curious, how you, kind of, approach those situations.
Merideth: Yeah, I think we can all be complacent in our job after a while. We have a highly tenured, seasoned team within the health team which, across Experian I find that quite common. This is my 15th year. I always challenge myself too, to make sure it’s not just… There’s no way to have velocity in your career, or to elevate as we all know to do, in our career, without really questioning, and challenging how we’re going to grow each year. How are we going to do something different? There’s a difference between complacency and having something going on in our personal life. One of the things that I always ask, there’s always going to be years that we go up and down, right?
Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Merideth: There’s going to be goals that maybe we hit, but as Andy Niko has taught us, from a [inaudible 00:12:10] to goal perspective we need to shoot for those stars, right? Fortune follows the bold. In doing that, we need to make sure that we are empathic to a situation.
There may be something happening at home. I really do believe to bring your full self to work. You can’t ignore the full self of a person. When, and of… There’s time where I’m meeting with leaders that have had stellar years. Maybe they’re rated a four or five, but this year it’s been a three, right?
Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Merideth: From a performance [inaudible 00:12:34]. To get into the mindset of what’s happening, are you bored, right? Do they need bigger challenges? Are they not happy? What’s happening at home? A lot of times it’s just asking that question. We don’t just, all of the sudden, determine not to be smart that day.
Mike: Right, right.
Merideth: We don’t chose not to turn on, because that’s not what’s happening.
Mike: Yeah, yeah.
Merideth: You just have to ask the question, “What’s happening? What’s going on with you?”-
Merideth: … “How do you feel? Are you not challenged? Are you over challenged? Is your situation at home different? What can I do to help?”. I think sometimes asking those questions. Then, knowing to be quite in an uncomfortable silence, knowing what you may or may not get in response, is important.
Patty: Just looking through your bio, you can tell you’re a pretty seasoned leader. Just a super simple question, did you always want to be a leader?
Merideth: It’s interesting. There was a time when I had my second child, that I did a back seat for a little on purpose.
Merideth: Where I did not necessarily raise my hand to take on more. I found, during that time, that I kind of found my own fitting and my own self. My children are some of my… They’re two of my greatest gifts in life. It’s also, I realized, that it is not necessarily about raising them in the right way, right? You can do that whether you’re working from home, or working from an office setting.
Merideth: I just found in that time where I chose to take a step back, that I wasn’t satisfied personally. It’s interesting as far as leading. I think it’s inherent in some of us-
Merideth: … That we want to be better-
Patty: It’s kind of in you.
Merideth: … We want to help others. It’s just in you. To try to quiet that, it doesn’t work.
Merideth: Whether you use your talents, right, for social community outreach, or at home, or a work, it’s all wonderful. I just found that I desperately missed being in the game. There’s something about the being in the game.
Patty: We don’t want to be left out.
Merideth: We just don’t want to be left out. I’m competitive enough to know that I hate sitting on the sidelines. Benchwarmer is not for me [crosstalk 00:14:23].
Patty: How would you combat that stereotype, that women can’t be both mothers and career women? Since your children are obviously very important to you, and that aspect of your life is important to you?
Merideth: They are. I’ve gotten some great feedback. I married and had children a little later in life than most. In the years, one thing I kept being told is, “There’s an easy line to do. If it’s a one time event of your kids be there, miss a meeting”. If it’s a one time graduation, a one time trophy award, right? Baseball season in Texas seems endless to me. I don’t miss a meeting because of my son’s baseball game. When I do miss a meeting, or I do miss a work trip, is if he’s graduating, or if she is doing something different.
I really do listen to those voices before me, right? Those mothers and fathers who’ve done great jobs raising their kids. I think a lot of it is also setting example. It is important for my daughter and my son to see me leaving home, being responsible-
Mike: That’s right.
Merideth: … being able to do something outside to help them-
Patty: That’s a good point.
Merideth: … It’s something that I think my children respect. It’s also something that I need for myself. If I can bring my whole self to work, and help others, that’s really the greatest joy.
Mike: That’s really good. I’m also curious about how you’re developing your kids to be leaders. Obviously, they’re watching you. You’re modeling what good leadership looks like. I’m kind of curious about some of the things you’re, kind of, teaching them along the way, to kind of prepare them for their careers.
Merideth: Right. It’s interesting. I have a six and a nine year old. I have a girl that’s six, and a boy that’s nine. Actually, he just turned 10 last week. I’ll say six and 10 year old. It’s interesting, some of my peers have kids that are graduating high school and college at this point. Its fun to kind of learn along the way. I think the most important example I set for my children is to always be on time, to be prepared, and I talk to them.
When I come home from work, and they’re disappointed… I’m in California today as an example. I live in Austin. They ask me, “Why are you leaving again?”. Sometimes I don’t have as good of an answer as I do at other times. I will always tell them, “Because mommy needs to make sure that I’m setting an example for you”. Perseverance is one of those things that, whether it’s through sports, both of my children happen to be sporty, or prefer sports at this point, but perseverance really is taught not only on the sports field, but at home as well. How to take a challenge, how to really work through some tough times. I think, one of the greatest things I tell me children is, “Patience, and perseverance, and to see mommy go to work is something that I’m proud of”. I want my daughter and son, if that’s something they choose to do with their life, to see those role models. Not just my husband, who does a great job as well, but to see me go on planes. That is sometimes challenging to answer, “Why is mommy on a plane again?”.
Mike: Can you talk a little about that patience and perseverance is important in the development of your career as you moved into the leadership roles. Some of the questions we’ve gotten through doing Level Up is, there’s a lot of people who are high performers, doing great work, but they’re not really getting recognized. They’re not really getting offered management leadership roles. They’re kind of wondering, “How can I navigate that? How do I go from… I’m doing really good work. I’m always getting fours and fives, but I’m not ever asked to move into another role or at a higher position, and I want to be a leader, but I’m not sure how to actually do that”.
Merideth: Perfect. There’s two things that I’ve said, and I’ve had multiple conversations about this with multiple people who asked the same questions. There’s two things that I always tell people, be vocal. Number one, don’t wait to be tapped on the shoulder. Make sure your manager, your HR liaison, make sure they know your career path, that you would like to take.
The most important thing is, number two is, do something that’s hard. Do something that no one else wants to do. Stick out by being unique and individual. Roll up your sleeves and get on a cross-functional team. At Experian we have many, many vertical markets. There’s many large groups of which to raise your hand. You’ve got to step out of your own sphere and your own office to do that.
Raise your hand, do the things no one else wants to do. If you look at great leaders, they will say the same things. Sometimes, to stick out, if you feel like you’re being overlooked, or not heard, or not recognized, make sure you’re taking responsibility on yourself to raise your hand, to make sure you’re seen. Put your voice forward, especially for women. Ask for what you want, always. Make yourself known. Once you do that, be prepared to deliver. You can’t ask for what you cannot deliver. When you raise your hand, be bold, be courageous, and know you’ve got to back that up with some good experience.
Mike: What was it like for you when you first started being vocal about, “I want more”? Can you walk us through that. There’s a lot of nerves that go into that. Then, there’s a fear, “Am I making the right decision?”.
Merideth: I think whether we’re male or female, sometimes we sit and we think we’re going to be chosen. We will be selected, right? There’s going to be an applicant pool. The next manager job there will be 12 of us, or five of us that will be looked at. Not necessarily have I found that to be true. Again, being vocal and telling somebody where you want to go.
I think, often times if we sit and think back. I just wish sometimes, I could look back at my career of times that I was too passive. I assumed I would be considered, or I assumed that someone knew what I wanted. Being vocal, and taking hold of your own career, is what so many people do, right? Lean in, power up, all these [crosstalk 00:20:00]-
Patty: Lean in.
Merideth: … These weren’t discussed so frequently 10 years ago or 15 years ago. When I think about the slumps… If anyone has a perfect career trajectory I’d love to meet him or her, because I find that rare. Set backs are what make us better, right? If you don’t have a barrier to overcome, your stories a little incomplete in my opinion.
Merideth: You’ve got to have some type of barrier, right? Most job interviews you’ll hear that, “Tell me one time [crosstalk 00:20:26]”. If you don’t have that one time, surely most of us have a few more than one time. I can think of a time where I felt overlooked as well.
I had manager that might not have been growing me and my team as much as I thought. I was patient. I delivered some results, but then I raised my hand and made myself a little more vocal. I feared, not only, was I being held back, but the team behind me, right? If I wasn’t the leader that was doing the job, I needed to step aside, and let someone else take the reins. A lot of times being vocal, sharing your feelings, but just be prepared. Again, I can’t say this enough, there’s a lot of people who say, “I want to get ahead”.
Merideth: The question behind is, “What are you doing to get there yourself?”. Don’t wait to be anointed, and do something different. Break out from the pack. Try something new. Challenge yourself beyond what you think you can do.
Mike: I think that’s really good advice. Also, I’m thinking about how some managers may not be ready to hear this from somebody on their team. They may not even know how to handle that type of ask. I’m curious, what if you were in the situation where you made the ask of your manager, and the manager goes, “Well, that’s nice. I’m glad to hear that, but there isn’t really any opportunity right now”. You have to wait. Then, you wait, and you say again… When you feel, kind of, maybe stuck, or maybe you feel like your managers not really hearing you, or not really vouching for you.
Patty: How hard to you have push?
Mike: Yeah, how hard do you push? Like you’re saying, you’re getting feedback like, “You’re too direct”, an you’re like, “Okay. I don’t want to be too direct. I don’t want to get penalized. I want to vocal and let them know, but then, I don’t want to press too hard”. How do you, kind of, deal with those situations?
Merideth: I always tell individuals, whether it’s myself that I’m talking to [crosstalk 00:22:17]. I always do say, “Make sure you’re getting feedback”, but there’s also opportunities. If you’ve hit the brick wall. If you feel like you’ve hit a wall somewhere, there are other opportunities in Experian that have opens as well. I always encourage you, if you believe that you have talked to your manager, and talked to your HR liaison, and you’re still not getting where you want to go, the great news is there’re other opportunities in the company.
Expanding your network is big. THere’s a lot of places for many of us to achieve our goals within the Experian family. It may require moving out to move up. We hear this a lot, right? Some people erroneously believe they need to leave Experian to move up, and they can come back one day. Because of the areas of growth that we invest in, whether it’s a vertical market, or one of our very solid large business units, there are ways to move up by going out. Keeping the high performance within the Experian family is something we really want to do.
I really do two things. Again, making yourself known, making your desires known, career path, the journeys. If you see a brick wall, I find the good true leaders will find their way around it. It’s a barrier. It’s not a brick wall, right?
Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Merideth: It’s something you see, but it’s a barrier that can be removed.
Mike: I’m sorry, I have one more question. If someone on your team goes to you, and says, “I think I’m ready for the next challenge”, what the feedback that someone should be ready to hear? Like, “Okay, if you’re going to be vocal, here’s”… Kind of, get ready for this kind of conversation. Walk us through that.
Merideth: Yeah. When someone comes and asks opinion and feedback from good leaders, from [inaudible 00:23:56] they’re going to give that vocal and honest feedback. Whether it’s easy to hear, hard to hear. There’s also probably some steps that you can take to grow your career to grow your career, to go to the next step. I find that what many of us want to do is promote from within.
I always look to our current employee base to promote. When there’s new management opportunities, if were going to re org, or design something new, we’re going to tackle a new challenge, there’s a new innovation one to do in the market. I always look internally first, before going outside. Its so important that managers and HR liaisons know of people’s desires to do that. I try very hard, also, to encourage people to network amongst the different teams, so that when you’re volunteering for a cross functional team, that you’re also putting yourself forward, right? It’s really about making sure that you’re not in your office, with your door shut, with your head down, typing on your computer keyboard 24/7. While that is something we need to do quite often to hit our goals, you’ve got to make sure you have a network, right, and a base. That you offered to be a mentor as well.
There’s wisdom that we can all learn from each other. I find the people who do the best in trying to get around perceived barriers, or maybe walls that they think they can’t get around, it really is about asking those questions, and making sure that they have champions outside of just their team. I find too often that we don’t do that enough, right? It’s going back to the mentor, and the networking, and making sure you make your desires known as far as career path journeys. I think people will support more than people realize.
Patty: Can you speak more to any personal brick walls that you’ve experienced, and any red flags that, kind of, tell you, you’re approaching a brick wall? How you got over that, and just… I guess, signs to see?
Merideth: Yeah, absolutely. I think all of us can point to meetings we wish we were invited to, that maybe we weren’t to.
Merideth: Or conferences that were the passes were given to somebody else and not you, while you thought we deserved it. There’s one time, I think, that I really believed I was in a business unit, of which my manager was not really supporting the team. I looked really within to think, “Was it really the manager or was it me? What was I doing to contribute to it?”. The team at the time our revenue performance was challenging. It was questionable. I think I, all too often went to blame the market forces versus what I’m doing to innovate around that, right? The macro environment is something we can’t change, but we can learn to work better within.
I think some of those times, where I look back, and I feel like I was held back, some of the responsibility fell more on me. As I grew a little in my career, I started to realize some of that. That I needed to take individual ownership on some of that as well. Going around the barriers, I would say, an opportunity is there. Again, as much as I want to say stay with Experian for high performers, sometimes, if it’s some new challenge that we need to do in the market, I would encourage anyone to do that.
I just hate to say that too strongly, because Experian’s got so many opportunities, and so many different areas for people to challenge themselves too. I really believe that a brick wall, while it’s brick in cosmetic, right? The wind and rain doesn’t get through brick, that type of barrier is something that I think we can all remove. I hope we don’t have to go out to go up.
Merideth: For those of you who feel that we haven’t perhaps heard you, or your manager’s not hearing you, we have to have the courage to be bold, right? To be willing to do that, to keep moving. I think there’s a finite life all of us have in our professional careers. It’s up to us individually to determine how long you want to work, and where do you want to achieve? In America, they always say, “The sky’s the limit”. I sincerely believe that. There are a lot of good companies in America who can support that as well.
Patty: It sounds like a lot of self-awareness, trying to distinguish between, is this a “Brick wall”, or is this just me holding myself back? Do you have any advice about how to hone in on your self-awareness, and how to improve that? I know that’s a skill people-
Merideth: Absolutely. I think the feedback’s important. The 360 feedback from people that are above, around, below, everything, right? Everyone’s feedback is important. I think honing in on your skills to know really where your strong. I think self-awareness. if we don’t have self-awareness you’ve never going to have a leader, right? You can’t grow to be a leader. Good leaders lead, and people follow, not because they have to, but because they want to.
There’s too many times in my career when I feel like I was lead and I had to follow. I don’t want people to feel that way on my team. I want people to feel like they believe in a journey. They believe in an aspiration. They believe in the vision, and they believe in what we’re trying to achieve.
If I could instill anything in anybody it is making sure we understand. I think from our own personal, we have to have the internal knowledge of where our strengths and weaknesses are. If we have blinders on, that’s really on us as individuals. We all have areas to work on. It’s what you do with that knowledge. Do you sit down and say,” Oh, I’m not a good listener [crosstalk 00:28:44]”. Or do you practice active listening, right?
Merideth: I’m not a good orator. I don’t speak well in public. Well, there are things to do about that, right? “I don’t work Excel very well. I can’t do my job. I’m not proficient in Excel”. There are classes to take. I think the individuals that really know their weaknesses and do something about it… Seek others, ask others how they go around their barriers. Ask for feedback.
I think presentation skills, personal perseverance, all these things, some are inherent. Some it’s easier for others. Others who’ve worked at it have overcome any type of barrier. If you find those successful people, you hear that over and over again. “It was a barrier. I found my way around it”, or, “It was a barrier. I went over it”, right? I envision an Army commercial as I’m saying this, but people do get over those barriers. Whether its around, under, or above. There are ways to move obstacles.
Mike: One of the things you mentioned a couple times is the importance of networking. That could be a barrier for people. Some people feel like, “I don’t know how to network”, or, “I don’t know what that means”. Can you talk about how you’re intentional about networking, and why that’s important to you?
Merideth: Yeah. I think networking, both in your own community of work. There’s networking in Experian, there’s also networking outside of Experian. As an example, in Austin there’s a women in technology group that I belong to. There are ways to get your brand, and get your name, and get experience that is not just within experience for walls, but its out in the market as well. Most major markets in which we operate at Experian have those opportunities too.
When I think of networking, I’m thinking of other women and men that have gone before me, that have done great things. I seek them out. Some are within Experian, and some are not within Experian. Networking means stepping out of our comfort zone. When you’re in a conference, how many times have we all gone to conferences by ourselves. We sit by ourselves in the back of the room, in the back of the chair, hoping no one’s going to talk to us?
Mike: Yes, I hear you.
Merideth: Go sit in the third row. Put yourself between two people you don’t know. The worst thing they can do is say, “This seat’s reserved”.
Merideth: They’re not going to. You have to put yourself out there. I sincerely, whether you’re an extrovert, whether you’re an introvert, I understand it’s easier for some than others, but the networking part is so important. It’s a message that everyone talks about, yet I find few really take advantage of. No one is going to be rude when you extend your hand to say, “Hello, my name is Merideth”, or Frieda, or John, or Harold. You say your name, you introduce, and you just take the first steps. We all-
Mike: That’s right, that’s right.
Merideth: … went to grade school, or college, the first step is the hardest.
Mike: I think that’s really good advice, because I go on Reddit quite a bit. There’s a sub Reddit around people who are very introverted. I read it, because I can be very introverted at times. They talk about how, kind of, getting over some of the humps, which is just doing that, just introducing yourself can be a huge task.
Say that you, in your journal, “I introduced myself to three people today”. Dude, that’s a huge accomplishment. If you’re not used to doing something like that, give yourself a hand, because that’s a lot of work to build the nerve to go and say, “Hi”. Even though, maybe the relationship does go any further than that, the fact that you stepped out, you went to conference, became really uncomfortable to go and say hi to three people, or sit in a place where you normally wouldn’t sit. Recognize that takes a lot of intention, a lot of hard work. It can only go up from there, but you’ve got to keep doing that.
Merideth: I’ve heard tales of, not only past executives at Experian, but other’s say they have started their day with three intentional phone calls, or writing a letter to someone they haven’t talked to in 45 or 90 days. Making an intentional, building a network does just occur, right? When we were in grade school, maybe you were surrounded by 20 kids that were automatically your friend for the day, or when you went to college, or wherever you were. When you’re in adulthood it has to be more intentional.
I’ve heard great stories about the most successful people, who, when they expand their network, they start each day… In their calendar they will write, “Call three people”, and they write those people’s names down, and block it out. There’s some tangible, easy steps that we can make. Exchanging business cards. If you think about today’s age, many people don’t even have business cards anymore. I’m still asked for business cards quite frequently.
Coming from Austin, where we’re very eco friendly, and want to make sure trees [crosstalk 00:33:12] we don’t print a lot of paper. I will say, I absolutely, I never leave home without a business card. I’m asked for them on planes. Sometimes someone will ask for it at a networking event. It’s amazing who you’re going to meet if you have your mind open. You’ve got to make sure you extend your hand, smile. It’s also how you present yourself. If you’re closed and hard to approach, it’s going to make it more difficult to them, right?
Merideth: People want to see smiling faces, and open arms, and hellos, and it’s just a more comfortable environment. Starting your day is something that I’ve started to do, calling two or three people that I may not have talked to. It doesn’t have to be just business. It can be a family member, it could be a friend, it could be a college roommate, it could be a high school friend, it could be anything you think of.
Mike: I love that. This is solid advice.
Patty: Yeah, that’s nice.
Mike: I mean, I think that’s super helpful, to realize being good at networking takes practices, and continual practice. Getting yourself uncomfortable to what you just said, “Okay. If I want to be better at networking, I need to start to practice this on a daily basis. This means I’m going to have two phone calls with people who I haven’t chatted with in a while, just to check in and say hi. It’s not going to be super comfortable for me, but this is important”.
Merideth: Being intentional with everything you do in your day. We all have things to do, whether we’re a caregiver for children, a caregiver for an elderly parent, or grandparent in our home. All of us have days, what we make time for and what’s important to us. Make networking, make relationships important, whether it’s a home, or a work, or at the soccer field, or whatever we do on our off time. You have to be intentional with your time.
Patty: You’re involved in Women and Technology back in Austin. Then, you’re also, for anyone who doesn’t know, Merideth is the North America’s Women Experian Lead Ambassador for FY20. Can you speak more about your involvement in these things, and why it’s important to you to be involved in extra curricular things apart from your day to day job?
Merideth: I think so. I think it brings a fresh, new perspective. Sometimes within the Experian four walls we can hear what we want to hear, see what we want to do. I find it really exciting. In Austin, specifically, we have Google, we have Apple. There’s a lot of great companies that are there now. Small and big. Start ups and not.
I think it’s important to get out there. There’s a technology lab, an incubation group that is very alive and well. I think, sometimes, all too often, I lead a business as usual type business process, where we’ve had products in the market for well over 15 years. To get with those innovators, the market, the millennials, right as I call it. They’re really starting up with some new ideas. It’s really important to hear different perspectives-
Merideth: … and to see that. Sometimes you have to step out to do that.
I think, whether it’s Austin Technology, Women in Technology, whatever it is, there’s so many opportunities in most of our local markets to do that, that I do force myself. I can think of the times I’ve driven home from work saying, “I don’t want to go straight to go downtown Austin, I’d rather go home”. You’ve got to force yourself to get out there every once in a while, because you learn. It’s an intentional step to make sure you make that time.
I think that is one of those important things is, also as a woman in Experian I wanted to raise my hand, because I wanted to learn from others. There’s only so much I can do for a North American perspective. I’m trying to put together webinars, I’m trying to put together podcasts, right?
Patty: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Merideth: I’m partnering with some women leaders that I’m going to do some broadcasts with. The reality is, my partners in the offices are what’s driving the local community events, right?
Merideth: Everyone, whether you’re in Shomberg, or Clearwater, or Indianapolis, or Sacramento, we’ve got great offices around the country. I’m relying upon my site leaders to make sure they’re doing those community outreach, and outward that we can do together, to make any impact on the community on behalf of Experian.
I think it’s intentional. You’ve got to get out there. You can learn, in my opinion, by sitting in your desk, right? Product managers know this. You have to be market-facing, market knowledgeable, how can you do that without being in that market?
It’s also a great way for me to network, personally. When I put myself out there, I find great candidates, who may not pack in a career job, that I can import into Experian. I also find opportunities to learn from others. There are way people, that have done wat greater things than I’ve ever aspired to do, and I can look and see what they’re doing. Whether its technology related, community outreach type events. We’ve got a lot of non-profit work that happens in the communities that I live in. It’s really inspiring to see all that.
Mike: I think that’s really good advice. I think sometimes we limit ourselves. We think, “Oh, that conference, that’s not me. I’m not tech-y. That’s not me”. Or, “We have an upcoming Hack-A-Thon, I don’t belong there. I don’t know anything about coding or technology. That’s not my group”. What you’re saying is, “You need to embrace that stuff. That’s where you learn. That’s where you get to meet new people outside of your silo, your business unit”.
Merideth: My development team would not want me writing code on any of our platforms. I can guarantee it. I don’t shy away from learning.
Merideth: What’s happening? Why is .net different from Java? What are we doing about that? I think, one of the things when we look in technology stacks, or whatever your investments going to be. If you’re not growing and learning, you’re not moving forward, right? It’s how you grow yourself. There’s only so much you can learn within your own self, right? The computer’s a great thing, but you’ve got to get out in the market. You’ve got to get out and see what’s happening around you.
Patty: That’s all really good advice. I think it’s all really exciting, to be in a new environment, where you’re not really familiar with the things around you, and learning from other people, and meeting new people. I also think there’s a lot of room there for burnout. Experian is a great place to work. I don’t think, personally, I haven’t experienced burnout yet. I think there’s a lot of room for someone to experience that. I don’t know if you’ve heard on the news that burnout’s now actually diagnosable. It’s a condition by the World Health Organization. I’m just wondering if you’ve ever experience burnout, and what you do to remedy that, or at least prevent it?
Merideth: I think burnout… The word that comes to mind when I think of burnout is boredom.
Merideth: We’re bored sometimes by the sameness, or by just repeating the same thing over and over again. There are times where, in someone’s career you may find that enjoyable, based on where we are in life. In general, if you’re not moving, if you’re not seeking something different, burnout can occur. I think it’s a pace. We always hear this, it’s not a short race, it’s a long-term, right?
Merideth: It’s a marathon for most of us. If we think of our professional careers, many of us don’t have the good fortune to win the lottery, or to be able to cash out really early. Some do, which is wonderful. If you’re not, and you’re more like me, it’s a marathon. You have to pace yourself, and you have to know the ebbs and flows.
Whether it’s work within your team or yourself, there are times to push and there’s time to pull back. I find boredom and burnout go hand and hand. I think we’d challenge ourselves to do something different. If I have burnout, I hopefully wouldn’t let myself get there. I would’ve already changed directions by then. Burnout, while it’s very real, I think it’s also preventable-
Merideth: … and avoidable if we take the steps to do something before we get there, right? That may take the courage to go out somewhere. Do something different, right?
If you’re in technology, maybe learn communications. I’ve heard of people going back to college to get different certificates or different careers. There’re nurses now, that do great things in the technology world. We can all use our skills and transplant those in a different areas. I think burnout is something, though, as individuals, we’re personally accountable for, right? If you’re in a situation where you’re working your fingers to the bone, in America we need to make sure to take responsibility, and do something different.
Mike: I think also, along with boredom, sometimes is just being overwhelmed by stress and anxiety from work. Having huge projects that you’re not able to reach your goals. Part of that is making sure that you’re recharging yourself. That you’re taking time for yourself, to relax, to do things that excites you in life. I’m kind of curious about, what are some things that you do to break away, and gain some clarity, and just kind of relax away from work?
Merideth: Yeah, I think, it’s interesting. We all need to have a full life, right?
Merideth: Our life is not just work. I think people who work to live, it could be a challenge. I think that’s where burnout could happen. It’s pace, it’s a balance. I enjoy traveling. I do that with my job a lot, so I can check that box there. Getting out and knowing your pace, I literally do put family first as well.
Whether it’s at swim meets, at track meets, at softball games, baseball games, I personally get out there and do that a lot. I want to make sure I’m present. I also love to exercise. Whether it’s on the lake in Austin, I try to put on those shoes, and lace them up as much as I can to get outside.
Some of the best innovation and ideas don’t happen at work. They’re happening when you least think about it, right? When your mind is able to be free, and given the space, and the time to think. Whether you hear people say, “I thought of this great idea in the shower”, or, “I got this wonderful idea when I was cooking breakfast, cooking eggs for my children”. It’s amazing when you give yourself some time. No one can go 100 miles an hour seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
Mike: That’s right, that’s right.
Merideth: It’s impossible. It’s a pace, it’s a marathon, it’s knowing your limits. It’s also knowing when to know when you’re being lazy-
Merideth: … versus just wanting to stop.
Mike: That’s so true. That’s so true.
Patty: We only have a few minutes left. I just wanted to know, for someone who might just be starting out in their career, do you have any advice about mapping out your career and navigating it?
Merideth: Yeah, I really do. I think presentation and knowing how to present yourself is really important. I think, for those people who are shy, or introverted, it may be a little more of a challenge. I think being able to be vocal, and present yourself well, and to speak in front of a group is important.
I think that is happening more and more, and you’re asked. If you can’t articulate your thoughts, or the strategy you have, it makes it difficult to grow. I would challenge anyone who’s just starting out, know your strengths and weaknesses. If presentation skills aren’t your strength today, let’s work on those.
Merideth: It’ll help propel in the future. I think, sometimes we have some very bright, very capable, very smart people, who don’t get out of the background, who need to. Presentation skills is a big part of it. For anyone graduating from college, I would think, really presentation skill, being able to speak is important.
The second thing I would tell somebody, “Roll up your sleeves. If you don’t have first hand experience, it’s difficult to talk about them”. It’s to lead people. Sometimes they need to know you’ve been in the trenches with them. If you fly high, you’re going to be in trouble. Rolling up your sleeves, getting in the dirt, everything you do is important. When you lead people, they want to be led by someone who’s-
Merideth: … been in their shoes most of the time. The other thing is, the third thing I always tell is raise your hand. Do something different. Don’t be afraid to do the hard job. It’s those people who get asked to be on cross-functional teams, because they’re looked as a team player. If you just sit there and do the easy thing, you’re just going to be swept in the sea with everybody else.
Merideth: To stand out raise your hand.
Mike: I love that you mention working on presentation kills. I think that’s something we all can work and improve on. One of my friends, he works in data, he signed up for a stand up comedy and improv class.
Patty: Oh my god.
Mike: Talk about getting uncomfortable, which he had to then write a 15 minute monologue-
Patty: 15 minutes?
Mike: … on stage. Basically, for three months he’s practicing improv and comedy. The whole goal was for him to become a better speaker, become more articulate, more comfortable in front of people. Talk about… He actually then performed.
I went to go see him perform over here at the improv in Santa Ana. It was a blast for me to see him go up on stage and do comedy. Something that I never… He’s a really funny guy anyways, but I never would have thought of him in that way. The fact that he took initiative to do something really uncomfortable, to just-
Mike: … break out, and do something entirely different.
Merideth: That’s amazing.
Merideth: That’s a great story. That is really taking presentation skills to the next level.
Mike: His improv class is available in big cities. You can just look for them. It’s very uncomfortable, because, “Oh my gosh, I’m not an actor. I’m not creative like that”. All of a sudden it’s like, “Oh, this is going to actually help build me up, and make me more creative, and in the moment. That helps with brain storming. That helps with being more articulate”, and all that. Great advice.
Patty: We hope you enjoyed today’s episode of Level Up.
Mike: 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. 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 listen. We hope to see you again for our next episode.