Executive Decisions

If I had to throw my own fabricated percentage out there, I'd say that there's probably a 90% chance that you've cooked with a McCormick product at least once in your lifetime. As a Maryland girl, born and raised, I'm particularly fond of their Old Bay seasoning. Product and brand portfolio and reputation aside, McCormick has an additional asset in human form: Karimah McFarlane.

Karimah is an HR Business Partner with extensive human capital management experience (including certifications in SHRM, Prosci, and MBTI, to name a few). During our chat, she unloaded a wealth of valuable advice on how to broaden your network in every way possible as a junior employee and on how she's able to translate her change management experience into practical life skills.

Into the Details

What are some of the core skills that you developed as a more junior employee but that you still employ in your leadership roles today?

When you're first starting out in your field, regardless of the field itself, time management is really going to be at the core of your success. Often when you're just starting out, your roles will be detail-oriented and data- and analytics-driven. Time management and and an understanding of how to balance competing priorities are key in accomplishing those tasks.

Another skill that you need to develop early on in your career is networking. When you get into a new role, regardless of whether or not you start as an intern or as an experienced hire, you need to form a network not only in the function that you're in, but also among people in the company who will help you develop your growth areas. You need sponsors. Realistically, your ability to complete your workload and day-to-day job requirements will only factor into about 50% of your performance review outcomes. The expectation is that you will perform well and when you're starting out, junior employees are virtually all the same from a skills perspective. The exposure, the opportunities, and the sponsorship that you've had are what will really matter when it comes to your performance reviews.

Despite this fact, when it comes to networking, a lot of associates are afraid to reach out to people that share similar characteristics with them. It's okay to reach out to people based off of your school or hometown network. It's okay to start an artificial bond based off of those shared characteristics and to then build an actual, organic relationship based on that premise. As you progress through your career, your ceiling will rise with your network and as with sponsorship, true mentorship is extremely important, regardless of your level in an organization.

Finally, you can and should infuse your networking skills with your time management skills. One of my Directors early in my career told me that I should create a spreadsheet of all of the people that I would want to interact with on a regular (maybe quarterly) basis. I just cycle through those individuals and set up time to either talk with them or meet with them in-person. This keeps the engagement on a natural, yet organized cycle, so that when I really want to reach out to someone with a request, it's not the only time I'm reaching out to them. The best part of this approach is that it not only helps me to maintain a formal network inside of my organization, but it also helps me to keep in touch with the leaders that I've met in previous jobs.

How are you able to translate the strategy and change management work that you do in the workplace to your personal life?

There's a large business process that goes into change management - as change management professionals, we're essentially determining how we are going to make sure that the people will come along with the journey. Change management asks the questions: where are you in the journey? How are you going to get to the end state? And what are the barriers that are preventing you from getting where you need to go? More often than not, the barriers are resources and communication.

My Prosci certification in change management has shown me that before you go into the process, you need to first increase awareness and build out desire. If I don’t know why I care, I won't be susceptible to the change. The ADKAR method demonstrates the importance of building the knowledge, or increasing the awareness, for your people. I might have the desire, but I might not have the time or the skills to go forward with the change. I also need to build a resistance plan; people often wait until the change is already going forward to create a resistance plan when you should actually create a resistance plan before communicating what a change is going to be.

So, if you have your awareness and you have your knowledge, you can then proceed with answering the question: what do you need to do to get to your desired end state? Do you change your relationship or set up a plan to come to a mutual agreement for the avenue? All of these key questions and activities can easily be applied to personal decisions and life changes. And in that way, work decisions aren't always that different from personal life decisions.

How has your company helped you to grow and made you feel valued? How are you best able to drive value and grow the company in return?

McCormick does an excellent job of having a tenured culture that builds off of relationship building. Our best asset is our people and their commitment to our organization. So, we empower our people to make decisions at the lowest level possible. If I'm making a key decision within my group, I'm going to drive that key decision down as low as possible to the people that will have to enact the process or procedure. There are also rewards and recognition for taking risks. By offering those, we are showing and saying that there is success in failure. Every time you fail, you learn more about innovation. But every time you don’t try, you fail from the beginning. It's a very entrepreneurial spirit.

"Every time you fail, you learn more about innovation. But every time you don’t try, you fail from the beginning."

How are you best able to lift as you climb?

For me, lifting others up is a very important step. I am a first-generation college graduate. This experience isn't something that was prevalent for me growing up. I grew up in inner city Chicago, Illinois and I didn't really know anyone other than my teachers that had access to, or experience with, higher education. Those were the people that encouraged me to get where I am today through their service. Service is the debt that you pay to live on this earth. The service that I provide is the professional development that I give. Any time I learn of a new opportunity to serve, I try to engage, particularly when those opportunities involve things like conducting mock interviews or mentoring young girls through my sorority (Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.). In many instances, I'm able to provide these young people with coaching and I'm also able to share anecdotes that describe what it's like being an African American woman in the workplace. I try to help them understand how important it is to be your full self at work, without worrying about being what some people would say is "overly assertive." Often times, what you'll see or hear in the workplace is that women are assertive, or overly transparent to ambitions, when that isn't always the case.

You do have to have clarity in your desires - in what you will and won't accept in your atmosphere - and you need to be able to bring your full self to work regardless of your experience. Every time I get pulled into a new project, I make sure that I pull someone in with me, even if it's just to give them exposure to the dialogue and insight into the way that things work in that context. That's one coaching tip that I always share with my colleagues: bring someone with you. Let them see how things operate so that they can determine whether or not the opportunity could be of interest to them. If you've never seen a million-dollar house, how do you know that you want one? I see that same aspiration gap often with respect to compensation - Black women and Hispanic women often undercut themselves and present the opportunity to negotiate their existing, or former, salaries to secure new opportunities. But, why is your salary negotiable? Historically advantaged individuals don't always negotiate their salaries. And why is that? Because in some ways, when you present a negotiated salary before one is even requested, you're saying that your skillset and your value are negotiable. And you have to give yourself full credit for your skillset and your experiences from the start.

"Service is the debt that you pay to live on this earth. The service that I provide is the professional development that I give."

If you had to list one go-to garb item in your work wardrobe, what would it be?

A blazer, of course! I say a blazer because you can take any outfit and make it at least "lunch-appropriate" with a blazer. A blazer can go over a nice dress, a skirt - I always leave either a black or gray blazer on my door so that no matter what event I might be going, I can be ready to go. When I think of an affordable brand that still has great cuts, I think Zara.


If you see me on this site, the product or service with this tag created is owned or distributed by a black-owned business!

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