Tips From The Trenches: One-on-One with Valerie Insignares of Darden

“I believe every day your actions speak louder than any words you say.  In fact, what others say about you is often times more important than what you say about yourself.” – Valerie Insignares

We meet a lot of powerhouse women in our day-to-day lives — women who are making a name for themselves in their industries and beyond. So, when we recently connected with Valerie Insignares, SVP/Chief Restaurant Operations Officer at restaurant company Darden, we jumped at the chance to get her perspective on standing out in the workplace.

Insignares is impressive  – recognized within her company (which owns Red Lobster, Olive Garden and The Capital Grille, among other multi-location establishments) for her record-breaking guest count growth as well as for her role in establishing the supplier diversity initiative – she’s made the “most influential” lists for key industry publications as well as Hispanic Business. Add to that her other role as one of this nation’s 30 million working moms, and her list of accomplishments becomes even more inspiring.

With all on her plate (restaurant pun intended), we were honored that she found a few minutes to share her perspectives about serving up authenticity and quality no matter the role and why we should look to Missy Franklin for inspiration:

Why is it so important these days to stand out in the workplace?

I’ve been with Darden for 15 years now, and we’ve grown into the world’s largest full-service restaurant company with more than 180,000 employees and 2,000 restaurants. As the company has grown, the organization has become much more complex and the environment is much more global. In order to stand out, you need to be more than a functional expert. You need to be viewed as a business leader. The way to do that is to view your career as a learning journey: (to) take risks and roles that will broaden your perspective,  be committed to evolving your leadership, and be open to relocation. Many more opportunities will be open to you if you are!

As a leader, it’s equally important to be known for how you do things as it is for what you do.  It’s important to demonstrate personal balance and commitment to your family and community.  Luckily Darden is a place that places equal weight on both its business and its values.

 

What’s the best PR advice you’ve ever received?

Play to your strengths.  We all come from different places and have seen or worked through all kinds of personal and professional experiences.  Remember that you bring a unique perspective to the table as well as a unique set of skills. It’s up to you, however, to deliver tangible value to your employer by using these strengths. At the end of the day, doing good work using your unique strengths is your best PR plan.

 

What’s an example of when you’ve been your own best publicist?

As a leader, I believe every day your actions speak louder than any words you say. In fact, what others say about you is often times more important than what you say about yourself. Do you behave in way that is positive and energetic? Are you consistent?

 

What are your top networking tips?

Networking doesn’t have to be something you do in addition to your day job. As a working mother, I have little time outside of my day-to-day schedule of work, family and exercise. My advice is to work connections into your schedule. Make genuine connections with people in your company, industry and community, and keep those relationships going. Simply checking in with these connections a few times a year can help maintain a strong network. Also, keep your commitments. A quick cup of coffee is easy to reschedule when your calendar is full or you have a full inbox. But it’s important to realize we’re all busy, and you’ll be happy you honored their time and your commitment.

 

How important is it to break through the clutter when you’re trying to stand out—and what’s the best way to do so?

Sometimes you don’t need to break out in a big way; rather, you need to demonstrate leadership qualities and let the result speak for itself. A good leader coaches his or her team and smartly allocates his or her resources in the best interest of the business. Making a true difference is the best way to differentiate yourself.

 

What’s your best tip for how to get what you want at work?

A great start is to really know what you want!  So many people ask me for career advice and say they want to advance, but when I ask them where they are trying to go they aren’t clear. When you’re clear about the types of opportunities you would be open to — lateral, cross functional, relocations, etc.– you are more likely to be top-of-mind when the opportunities are created. You also need to be very willing to do or change what it takes to get there and be ready to say ‘yes’ when asked!

 

 What do you think is the best/worst recent example of managing your reputation?

I think a strong example of reputation management was seen with the United States Olympians in London. Athletes like Missy Franklin, the 17-year old swimmer who at such a young age is expected to carry herself with the composure of someone twice her age. I think we can all learn something about staying calm under pressure and performing to the best of our ability.

 

 What do you think is the biggest challenge facing recent graduates now – and how would you combat it?

There is a lot of pressure on youth to figure out what they want to be when they grow up before they’ve had enough experiences to really know the answer.  My message to youth is that you don’t have to have it all figured out… but do follow your passion!  If you set yourself up for success by taking advantage of educational or mentorship programs and always keep learning and working hard, you’ll carve out a path to success – and that success may look a lot different in the future than it looks now.

I love the restaurant industry! I grew up in Chicago, wanting to be a chef. I’ve lived in Kentucky, Texas, and now, Orlando.  I’ve progressed from the purchasing side of our business to leading restaurant operations. I couldn’t be happier, and to realize this happiness, I had to be open to course changes during my career journey. The restaurant industry is truly an industry of opportunity.

 

What skill or technique have you, yourself, used to get ahead or get a job? 

For me, it’s strategic thinking: working with teams to identify and prioritize the work that will matter most to our business and our people. In fact, I use the same skill as a working mom to understand the events I really can’t miss at my girls’ school — like Mother’s Day celebrations, for example!

 

Have other tips from the trenches?  Share with us here, on Facebook and Twitter.

NEWS WE CAN USE: Why Working from Home is Just Like Being in the Office

Working from home is not as fun as it sounds.

Working from home is getting more popular and also harder, writes the Wall Street Journal‘s work/life columnist Sue Shellenbarger, in this interesting recent article. With the ability to be connected 24/7 and more ways for your boss to be monitoring your progress and productivity from afar, doing your job remotely may be just as demanding and busy as if you went into the office every day.

According to IDC, a Framingham, Mass., market-research company, the number of corporate employees who work from home at least one day a month has been rising 23% a year since 2007, on average, to 22.8 million last year. Jessica works from home one day a week and she can attest to the fact that some of those days are so packed with conference calls and deadline-driven tasks that she doesn’t even have time to shower or say hello to her toddler between play dates. In fact, because she has a laptop that hooks into her company’s network and a wirelessly-connected duplicate of her work phone at home, most people don’t even realize she’s not physically in the office.

As technology has allowed us to be reachable at all hours no matter where we are (even, in some cases, on vacation), companies are increasingly offering employees more flexibility and telecommuting options, which is a good thing. At the same time, even when you work remotely, taking a break from the hustle and bustle of a busy office environment has gotten more challenging.

Share your thoughts on working from home with us here, on Facebook or Twitter.

“Listen To Your Mother” and Other Lessons We Learned at Wharton (Part I)

Jessica Kleiman and Pandora's Jessica Steel with Wharton students

While neither of us has gone to business school (not yet, anyway), we did just spend the one-year anniversary of the publication of our book, Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Noticed, Hired and Rewarded at Work, at the Wharton Women Business Conference in Pennsylvania.

What an event! Jessica was honored to have been invited to participate in one of the day’s panels about “lead-her-ship” (WWBC’s phrase, not ours…) for her role as VP, public relations at Hearst Magazines, along with two very accomplished female executives — Cindy DiPietrantonio, COO of The Jones Group, and Tracy Travis, CFO of Ralph Lauren Corporation. The other panel featured Jessica Steel, EVP of business development for Pandora Media Inc.; Alex Witt, NBC correspondent and MSNBC anchor; and Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, executive vice president and artistic director of OPI Products Inc. The luncheon was keynoted by Uta Werner, corporate vice president and chief strategy officer of Xerox Corporation.

We were blown away by the amazing women we met there — attendees and speakers alike.  And, as with any event that brings together such powerhouses, we walked away with great insights and information which we’ve broken into two different blog posts.  For starters, here are some key take-aways: [Read more...]

What a Scandal! How to React When Your Reputation is On the Line

With Weinergate in full swing and ‘The Sperminator’ and Strauss-Kahn incidents just barely in the rearview mirror, a lot has been said about the various scandals in the news of late (weirdly, all by powerful men making sexual slip-ups) — and the impact of said debacles on a person’s reputation.  But as PR experts, we’ll address the most recent situation with NY Congressman Anthony Weiner, who late last week was accused of having sent lewd photos of himself to unsuspecting young women on Twitter.  He responded by inviting reporters in to interview him about the scandal and then giving cryptic, defensive answers to simple questions about whether, in fact, he had done the deed and whether it was his, ahem, wiener featured in the offending pics.

After denying, deferring and dismissing these accusations, Weiner finally admitted today in a press conference that he had sent photos of his “member of Congress” to several women through Twitter and Facebook and had previously lied about the situation. In our book, Be Your Own Best Publicist, we spend an entire chapter on crisis management and we thought we’d share some of that advice with Rep. Weiner and others who may find themselves in personal or professional pickles.

  • Assess. In PR, when we encounter a crisis situation, the first thing we do is examine the potential damage and consider the best course of action. Staying as calm and objective as possible will help you see potential solutions.

 

  • Admit. If the crisis involves lying, as Weiner’s did, you should fess up and admit your mistakes as quickly as possible.  Honesty is always the best policy. It’s never good practice to lie — trust us, it will inevitably come back and bite you in the ass. And, in the age of YouTube and Twitter, your cover-up will replay over and over again, harming your reputation more than if you had just told the truth.

  • Address. When you do apologize, it’s best to explain why you’re sorry about what you did and, if appropriate, the reasons behind your behavior or actions. Show true remorse for your error in judgment. No fake tears (Do you hear us, Congressman Weiner?), no robotically reading off a prepared statement (Hello, Tiger Woods!).

  • Atone. Try to clean up your mess by righting the wrong as much as you can. Make sure you make it up to the people you’ve hurt (especially if they include your wife). While you can’t reverse the past, you can attempt to have an honorable future.

  • Adapt. A scandal may interfere with your life in lots of ways. It may destroy your family or ruin your career. Either way, you need a game plan for how you’re going to adapt to your circumstances and their effect on your future. Maybe you won’t be the next Mayor of New York City but as we happen to live in a culture of forgiveness, it is possible to make grave mistakes and come back from them (Martha Stewart, anyone?).

Bottom line: The best way to deal with a crisis and do damage control is to face it head on and come clean. Not a lot of people like a cheater — but no one likes a bold-faced liar. We all make mistakes but admitting to them is the first step in repairing a tarnished reputation.

Share your thoughts with us here, on Facebook or Twitter (@bestpublicist).

 

Tips from the Trenches: Six Ways to Further Your Career

Over the last few months, we’ve been asked to share our tips from the trenches at colleges such as Manhattan College, Montclair State, Rutgers (and soon Ithaca College) as well as to professional, creative and alumni organizations including Advertising Women of New York, New York Women in Communications and The Hired Guns.

Last week, Jessica moderated a career panel for her alma mater, the University of Michigan, and the panelists — all successful alumni in different fields, from finance and e-commerce to fashion and food — had some great advice to share on how to be your own best publicist. Here are a few highlights:

 

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Being a Good Manager: Nature or Nurture?

Recently, there was a story in The New York Times‘ business section about Google’s quest to build a better boss, an initiative called “Project Oxygen.” The wildly successful technology company, whose algorithms have changed the way we use the Internet, applied its scientific methods to analyze what makes a good manager and then mapped out a series of tenets called “The Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers.”  These commandments, which include “Have a clear vision and strategy for the team” and “Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented,” sound pretty obvious to us — but then again, we’d like to think of ourselves as good managers. Most people, in fact, are not.

In a survey by Business Insider, 41 percent of respondents said that disliking a boss was a driving force in quitting their jobs. And according to a CareerBuilder survey, the top issues managers struggle with are dealing with issues between co-workers; motivating team members; performance reviews; finding the needed resources to support the team; and creating career paths for their employees. No one said managing people was easy. For many, it’s the most challenging part of a job.

So, is Google right? Can simple analytics make a bad manager into a better one or are some people just born to lead and others aren’t? We actually think that the eight guiding principles Google has devised make a lot of sense. (Frankly, many seem like common sense — did they really need to apply deep analytics to arrive at “Be a good communicator” and “Help your employees with career development”?) But even Google admitted in the article that one of their more difficult and disliked managers showed improvement but didn’t become a great manager after following these rules.

So we’ve decided to offer up a few of our own “unscientific” tips for being a good manager that we try to ascribe to when overseeing our own staff:

[Read more...]