Ongoing development a critical job skill
Talk with Karen King at PepsiCo Foodservice for two minutes and it’s no surprise she has packed so much growth into a career that has taken her from corporate office design to high-end toilet sales (more on that later) to a dream job that combines her love of food with her passion to understand people. She’s a model of ongoing learning and boundary stretching.
A recent survey by Pew Research Center found that 87% of working adults feel, as King does, that developing new skills throughout their work life is important or even essential to excel in a dynamic workplace.
Self-directed, continuous learning can help you increase your value and advancement potential, remain relevant in fast-changing environments, gain new perspectives and build confidence and flexibility to meet unexpected challenges and opportunities.
King majored in interior design to incorporate her love of drawing and color into a lucrative career. After graduating in 2006, she designed corporate work stations that people actually loved using. She moved into sales and then, during the 2008 recession, found herself needing a new job. She landed in sales working with homeowners and designers in the market for . . . yes, high-end toilets.
“I was horrified at first to be selling bathrooms,” King explains. Until her manager helped her see the role as one that directly impacts people’s lives and is, let’s be honest, important. Successful in sales but wanting more, she enrolled in an MBA program. An internship with SC Johnson uncovered a real affinity for consumer insights and a new career trajectory.
“If you sit next to me, I’ll start asking you questions and getting to know who you are as a person,” King says. Her job search took her to PepsiCo Foodservice and she fell in love. “PepsiCo looks for people who are willing to learn and grow and I have a deep natural curiosity,” King says.
How she keeps learning
King’s commitment to ongoing learning has enabled her to fill potential skill gaps. And many of the approaches she’s embraced are exactly what the experts suggest.
“When I first joined PepsiCo three years ago, I just read constantly and still do today,” King says. “I read to go deep into how people think. I’m always developing my ability to look inside problems in new and different ways.” On Friday afternoons, she tries to catch up on new insights from syndicated research, check out Ad Week for the latest consumer insights and dive into Bon Appétit for food inspiration.
She also looks to mentors who challenge her. “I was talking to my mentor recently about my next role in consumer insights and she challenged me to consider bold choices, reminding me of the big switch I made successfully from design into consumer insights. Mentors help push you out of the nest to keep growing.”
King also calls on resources within PepsiCo when she isn’t sure where to go next. “There are so many people here with great advice and deep expertise. I need to get better at leaning on those rich resources,” King says.
Taking advantage of formal learning programs within your organization and industry are also key. King attended the WFF Annual Leadership Development Conference in 2019 which she describes as an incredible learning experience.
Attending Conference also enabled her to build her network by making connections with new people within PepsiCo and with others throughout the Food Industry.
King also focuses on building new competencies. “There are new tools coming out everyday that I need to master,” she says. She’s currently honing her storytelling skills to bring data to life with more impact.
King is always looking for new leadership opportunities. “I’m the first person to volunteer if we have a project that’s understaffed, especially in another business unit working with a different product and team,” King says. She recently contributed to a volunteer project with the Girl Scouts that provided more exposure to different functions at PepsiCo and the company’s Women’s Inclusion Network.
King has learned to see her non-traditional background as a plus. “Interior design brings you very close to human beings and how they live, work and think and that set me up uniquely to work in consumer insights,” King says. “I’m highly collaborative, excellent at brainstorming and can come at problems in different ways that lead to new solutions.”
In other words, everyday she’s learning and growing.