What do your colleagues and management think of when they think of you? Forget the actual hours you dedicate to your work, forget the skills you’ve honed and the difficult decisions you sweat over on a daily basis. The truth is that if you aren’t crystal clear on the impression you make, you could be inadvertently hindering your own success. That’s the lesson that Christina Erickson learned up close during her Everwise mentorship this year.
Christina works in the Quality Assurance group at Genentech, doing what’s called GCP, or good clinical practice. She’s been with the company for over a decade and loves her job. As GCP Strategy Team Lead, she’s responsible for managing a team which helps clinical teams manage compliance issues, health authority inspections and other quality matters in order to ensure the company meets all of its regulatory obligations. She also has a hand in helping Genentech with ethics and innovation, working to align the company with patient-centric research by finding new ways for thinking about how clinical trials are performed.
While she thrived in her current role, Christina felt a bit stuck, believing there wasn’t much room left for her to grow. “I would like to take the next step into a senior leadership position,” she said at the start of her Everwise mentorship. “However, without senior leadership experience, I have found it a challenge when applying for these positions.”
When it came to mentorship in general, Christina was already onboard. She has served as informal mentor herself many times to team members at Genentech and she’s had a few vital mentorships that helped her navigate at earlier points in her career.
But, she says, she was initially a bit skeptical about the idea of being mentored by someone outside the company, not to mention outside the biotech industry. What would this person really be able to offer as far as guidance? A lot, it turns out.
Can you tell me a little bit about your mentor, Patricia?
Patricia works with a lot of businesses large and small on training techniques and professional coaching skills. When I first started this I was thinking my mentor would be either physically close to where I am or in the same industry. But actually, it turned out to be a great advantage because Patricia has worked with a lot of people in a lot of different industries. And that turned out to be a really great benefit.
As a manager, I do a lot of situational leadership within my department, so I have experience with knowing when someone needs coaching versus when someone needs help with problem solving. When you’re in the same industry or very familiar with a subject matter, it’s easy to go straight into problem-solving mode when someone comes to talk to you about a challenge they are having. Whereas if you’re not as familiar with whatever it is that person is doing, then you approach the problem differently. It’s about working through things together, finding your strengths and highlighting them. Having an independent, unbiased perspective is actually a big advantage.
What made you interested in participating in a mentorship?
I’ve been at my company for about 12 years, and I was at a point in my career where I wanted to make that leap from being a manager to senior leadership. My original focus when I started the Everwise mentoring program was on executive presence and career development. As I went through the process though, my focus shifted more towards personal branding. Over the six months I explored how I see myself versus how others I work with see me. I thought about what areas I wanted to work on and which qualities were my areas of strength. That was my focus with Patricia.
Did you work on any specific goals for the mentorship?
Yeah, during our kickoff meeting we talked about my background, her background, and what it was that that I wanted to get out of the process. Patricia asked: “By the end of these six months, what things about your current brand do you want to be different?” And, “How do we measure that? What would that look like?” I wanted to understand what my strengths were, how people saw me, what my blind spots were.
What did you do to reach those goals?
Throughout the six months, Patricia would send me links to resources or other information based on our discussions. One exercise she shared was a personal assessment tool. As part of the exercise, I sent a list of questions to four or five people who I regularly work with – some who were in management and senior leadership roles, and some to a few of my peers. The exercise is different than a typical 360 performance review, because the point is not to understand how well I perform on my job accountabilities or deliverables, but learn more about how people perceive me and how I perceive myself. So for example, one of the questions asked was to name three adjectives others would say best described you; name three adjectives that others would say do not describe you; and name one thing that is unique about me? The responses I received were really interesting and constructive. It validated some things that I was already feeling but also identified some things that I was not. Patricia taught me that in general, when identifying potential blind spots, there are some things that are based on behaviors and others that are rooted in perception. For me, it wasn’t so much a behavioral issue or a core competency that needed development. My blind spots had more to do with perception: How do I see myself and how does that translate into how other people see me? That was a really great lesson.
What’s changed for you in your day-to-day work? Has your broad strategy changed as a result of your mentorship?
Definitely. I certainly am more conscious of the little things I can do to make myself more visible, which is so challenging in a global company. I work for a company that has 80,000 employees all over the world. It’s not like at a smaller company where you see everyone every day and they see your work, so it’s important to find ways to showcase the things you do that might not always be transparent to others. For example, if I am working on certain cross-department initiatives, I try to share relevant information I think people might be interested in that they otherwise might not be aware of. Also, just being present during meetings is important, making sure that my voice is heard and that I am always participating even if it is on a teleconference where no one can see you. A lot of these aren’t huge changes, there are lots of little things that I make a point to practice whenever I can. Whether it’s at a staff meeting, department meeting, or a one-on-one with my manager, I’m making sure that I am visible and promoting myself .
Was there anything that Patricia pushed back on? Anything that felt counterintuitive that you tried?
She was great at challenging me by asking questions about what actions or behaviors I was planning to take next in order to reach my objectives. Knowing someone is there to push you, for me, is very motivating and makes it more likely you will really take concrete steps rather than just talk about them. It’s kind of like going to the gym by yourself versus going with a workout partner. Patricia helped by putting me on the spot, asking me, “What are you going to do about that?” Or, “What’s your next step?”
In your time at Genentech, have you participated in other programs like Everwise or involving mentorship of some kind?
Nothing formal. I have done some informal mentoring with a former manager though its focus was primarily coaching on technical skills than it was professional development. Certainly when I was coming in and I was new to the industry I had someone who was working with me as far as regulations and auditing and that sort of thing. Genentech also has really great HR training, whether that’s workshops or online training. When it comes to soft skills, delivering results, things like that, they have a lot of training opportunities.
Have you considered becoming a mentor through Everwise yourself?
I would like to. I think it’s a great experience. If there was somebody who is in a similar situation in their career or maybe even in my industry, I would certainly love to help by sharing my experiences and hopefully provide them with guidance and insight that Patricia gave to me.