Build your big break into bigger success
Just a few years into her career, Jennifer Caro was tapped to run PepsiCo’s Reno distribution center. She was thrilled — and a bit daunted. A young woman in a male-dominated business segment, she would lead a 100-person organization with only one other female in the warehouse. Stepping back to ground herself in the accomplishments that led to the promotion was key to her success.
“As new leaders, especially female leaders, we often second guess ourselves,” says Caro, now Food Service Director in PepsiCo’s Recreation & Retail West Division and a Class of 2019 WFF Change Maker. “When you move into a stretch assignment, you need to remember the success that led there.”
Practice the pause
Caro took time to literally write down some reasons she was given the new opportunity and to consider what critical experience the company needed her to gain from it. “The opportunity might enable you to learn a new product or market or to gain experience in a new business segment,” she says. “Ask questions and get clarity around what you are expected to accomplish,” she advises.
Abigail Sojka, Account Executive with General Mills and fellow Class of 2019 WFF Change Maker, agrees that getting the lay of the land is the best first step. A former intern at General Mills, Sojka landed a full-time sales position in Chicago managing foodservice accounts across schools, colleges and hospitals. Soon, she was offered an account executive position in the convenience segment based in Providence, Rhode Island. A month into the new position, her role expanded again with several large customers added to her roster.
“You want to dive in and go a million miles a minute with all these new initiatives,” Sojka shares. “But it’s so important to pause and consider the best way to accomplish your new goals.”
Become a learner again
For Sojka, that meant reevaluating her territory and consulting her manager about how new customers would change her priorities. It also meant adopting the mindset of a novice again. She met with customers to listen to their goals and concerns and understand their unique needs.
She learned the importance of listening first when she once let her passion and excitement get ahead of understanding her customer’s needs. “I built out this whole deck and was so excited about my ideas until, partway through the presentation, I realized we weren’t in synch. I stopped, put the deck aside and asked the customer to tell me more about them. That changed everything,” she says.
Get good advice
Although you don’t want to over-rely on the opinions of others, tapping into the expertise of trusted mentors can set you up for success. “Mentors inside the company can point you to important resources, explain the politics and help you impact the P&L,” Caro says. “External mentors provide unique and objective insights.”
Early in her new role, Caro met with mentors every few weeks and then transitioned to quarterly connections. Sojka taps into teammates to learn how they’ve handled similar situations and seeks advice from people who know her well and can help her lean into her strengths.
Land a quick win
A great way to build your confidence in a new role, and reassure the organization they made the right choice, is to land some quick wins where you can deliver tangible results in your first few months.
“I was charged with fixing a cultural issue I knew would take time,” Caro says. “But by really listening to the frontline teams, we were also able to gain some quick wins that contributed to the overall goal. In our case, equipping everyone on the team with hand trucks enabled me to make a tangible difference quickly and to build trust and support.”
Cut yourself some slack
A steep learning curve is exciting but can also breed uncertainty, stress and a few missteps. Both Sojka and Caro advise patience and self-care.
“It can be tough to jump back into learning mode when you feel like you’ve passed a certain milestone,” Sojka says. “Give yourself the grace to try things more than once and learn from your mistakes. That gives you the confidence to keep trying until you get the result you want.”
Equally important is considering the impact new responsibilities will have on your personal and home life. As a mother of two with a husband who also loves his job, Caro has learned that big career decisions need to be shared. “You will have a lot more support at home for the added work and stress of stretch opportunities if you make the decision together,” she advises.
Their final piece of advice: believe in yourself. “You earned your way in,” Caro says. “Don’t doubt yourself!”