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.