Never assume, get feedback. All. The. Time. When your organization is full of smart people, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we have all the answers — that our instincts are always correct even without being tested. You’ve got to be willing to pause and ask, “is that actually the case?” When your assumptions are off-target, you can end up making decisions that undermine the whole organization. So, be curious. Ask questions and be prepared to listen openly to the answers (even when it’s contrary to your assumptions). Then, most importantly, take action to improve. This is true more broadly as well. I have a passion for meeting with our employees around the world and listening intently. Change isn’t something that just happens to employees — it’s something they can help to make happen. When they’re given the opportunity to provide input for a transition, they feel more invested and motivated to support the change. At Citrix, we make feedback part of our everyday through a ton of avenues. My favorite being our flexible performance, development, and rewards process that gives people the option to ask for and give insights at any time and for any contribution. It places the employee in the driver’s seat by scheduling touchpoints with their managers whenever they feel the need to (versus waiting for a quarter to end). This can become a self-reinforcing circle: as people see that their feedback is being taken seriously and used, their trust grows and their contributions increase.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Donna Kimmel, executive vice president and chief people officer of Citrix. Donna is responsible for identifying, fostering and developing top talent as well as overseeing organizational strategies that maximize engagement and position the company to win in the marketplace. With more than 30 years of experience in creating and implementing successful global talent programs that drive business results, Donna is a trusted Human Resources leader who believes in creating diverse and engaged teams that enable the extraordinary.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always felt that there’s a special power in a well-run team. Talented, engaged people help organizations become more productive and successful, while the company itself can help each person within it reach higher and go further to unlock their own full potential. I remember seeing this dynamic as a kid playing softball. We found ways to turn plays together, help each other develop our individual skills, cheer each other on, and we won more games as a team than I ever thought possible. That kind of spirit is the essence of HR. It’s what I strive to foster at Citrix every day.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you took on a leadership role?
Ha! This is a good one…and a tough one. You can always count on HR to have the best stories! There have been so many moments throughout the years that have made me say: “wow, that was something.” One I was thinking about recently was at my first job in this field. I was working for a small bank and those around me gave me a hard time because it was so important to me to sell candidates on why they should want to work there. Sounds normal today but back then I was a radical. Employers wanted candidates to beg for jobs and they treated them as though it was a privilege to work there. In my heart, it was a privilege for us to have top talent. I carry this with me today. Always put talent first and you’ll be amazed by the results.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
First, let me just say that being able to laugh at mistakes is crucial. Nobody wants to get something wrong for the business or a customer, but the last thing you want is a culture of fear and risk aversion. Laughing is a way of saying, we’re all human here — it’s okay to fall down, as long as you pick yourself up and learn something for next time. If you’re not making mistakes, there’s a good chance you’re not taking enough risks, not stretching far enough, not exploring new ways of thinking. That being said, here’s a good one: Though it’s not at the beginning of my career, when everyone started using email at work, I accidentally sent a file with people’s names and salary information to the wrong distribution list. When I realized what I’d done, I wanted to crawl under a rock. I’m cringing just thinking about it. Instead of hiding or changing my name and moving to a new city, I took immediate action to correct my error. I recalled the message, sent an email apologizing and asking people to treat that information confidentially. I was fully transparent. And the lesson here is: don’t hide from a mistake. Own it. Be sincere about it. Fix it. Move on.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Every day, I feel lucky to be part of an organization with such an inclusive, progressive, and innovative culture. We’ve done extensive work over the past few years to build a people-centric organization, from our consultative approach to performance to HR practices that honor people of every background and identity. The technologies we provide to both our own workforce and our customers are designed around flexibility and choice, so people can work however they feel most engaged and productive. This is more than just good business; the values we live as a corporation can also be seen in our thriving volunteer programs. When community needs arise, our employees give their own time, energy, and creativity to help out, from disaster relief to student mentoring to supporting service members overseas. I like to think of our workforce as a force for good for the society we all share.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
As a matter of fact we are. I’m really excited about how Citrix is powering the future of work. We think deeply about ways we can improve work for everyone. And when it comes to our HR team, it’s up to us to reimagine work. To reimagine roles. To gain competitive advantage by harnessing technologies that advance productivity. We’re investing in our people by rolling out innovative learning and development opportunities. It’s not the boring training format of the past. We are offering employees choices based on their learning preferences. Mobile? Sure! In classroom? Sure! Person-to-person? Sure! That’s just one way that we are focused on delivering an impactful employee experience so that our team feels engaged, recognized and valued for their contributions.
What advice would you give other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
I hope that someday, the word “female” will no longer need to be included as a qualifier in a question like this. I’ll answer anyway because I know there’s still a glass ceiling. For women, I’d suggest we push out of our comfort zones. Be audacious. Seek out opportunities that we feel passionate about without overthinking being perfect. This perfectionism is a burden that many of us shoulder. Giving ourselves permission to move past being 100% all the time frees us tremendously to go out there and conquer.
My biggest piece of advice — for all leaders — is to be authentic. We are our best when we are ourselves. I’ve made it my mission to always create an open and inclusive environment…wherever I am. This has been particularly impactful at Citrix because inclusion and belonging are such a big part of our culture. Our philosophy is that our people make Citrix special. It’s in large part what differentiates us from our competitors. Each of us contributes to the business not only our technical expertise but a spark of greatness influenced by our unique life experiences. Taking an authentic, empathetic approach when interacting with your people shows vulnerability which is actually a huge strength when inspiring, guiding and directing teams. Saying “I don’t know;” inviting feedback; listening more than you speak; bringing all people to the table; making them feel safe/supported when discussing ideas; encouraging them to take risks and supporting them if they fall; celebrating progress over failure are all solid ways to drive true innovation. Also, start today; even if you’re not in a leadership or management position or your dream role. Do it. Practice it. Live it. And you’ll see the results. You’ll cultivate a network of people who say: “Hey, I want to be on that person’s team!”
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
The size of the team doesn’t matter, to be honest. It’s about the behaviors and the values that you bring to your leadership style consistently. I will say that as your team grows, it becomes more important to practice self-management and in turn self-awareness. You can’t hope to monitor or handhold every team member, every day of the week. [Side note: If you’ve ever had a boss who was a micromanager you know how annoying that can get. So, always remember what that felt like and think: Golden Rule]. You’ve got to give your team the tools to manage their own performance and progress. That includes a clear understanding of how their work matters to the organization, what’s expected of them, and how they can best drive value for the business. Build a culture where people feel a sense of ownership and control over their own day-to-day work, but also feel that they can seek out guidance as needed, whether it’s coaching for a changing role, training for new skills, or mentoring for long-term career development. The common theme here is mutual respect and trust. When people are treated fairly by an organization — specifically, their leader — they respond in kind. When everyone shares that sense of trust, mutual respect and shared mission, they work together to succeed together — without the need for micromanagement.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve crossed paths with incredibly kind and supportive people. Part of it is luck. Part of it is due to my belief that when you act with integrity, respect and honesty, good people find you. A couple of people come to mind throughout my career. They did similar things that helped me be better — for which I am eternally grateful. They trusted me to take scary leaps and run with my ideas, giving me the courage to turn them into productive and meaningful solutions. They believed in me when I had my doubts. They gave me feedback. They encouraged me. They heard me. And I knew implicitly that they had my back. This gave me the extra nudge and confidence that I needed to take bigger risks. Oh and one more thing, they were true sponsors who created opportunities for me to take on challenges, progress and grow into new roles. THIS is how you chip away at that glass ceiling. Take risks on behalf of others and let them thrive.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
These are deep questions. It’s all about paying it forward and we can look at this in layers. First, I can think of how I’ve partnered with great companies to be good stewards in the community. I love how Citrix has a solid commitment to corporate citizenship. Our team has partnered with Girls Who Code to close the gender gap in technology, we have increased the amount that the company matches on personal donations, we collectively work thousands and thousands of hours a year on social projects (in fact, we give all employees paid days off to go out there and make a difference). The list goes on, but the takeaway is that we make an impact leveraging our unity and strength as an organization. Second, I want to shine a light on the power we all have as individuals in our daily interactions to demonstrate kindness and compassion. That has immense power that multiplies as we share positivity with others. Lastly, I’m going to point to our products. Our organization stands for new ways of working that value the individual more than has traditionally been the case. That’s true in terms of both the corporate culture I’ve described, and the digital workspace technologies we develop, which are designed around the individual need for flexibility, freedom, and choice. At Citrix, we’re saying: be yourself, work your way, bring your own uniqueness and creativity to work, and be a complete person — have a personal life and find your own way to make it work with your career responsibilities. Find purpose in what you do and find fulfillment outside the “office” as well. In a better world, that’s an experience everyone can share and that is what we’re working toward.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
We’re only as good as our people: Too many companies think of themselves in terms of their products — we’re a bank, we’re a retailer, we’re a widget-maker. But really, every company is a people company. You’ve got to hire the best, inspire and empower them to do their best work, and give them every reason to want to stick around. Hire people who are good but also who you’d want to work with. Cultural fit is real…just as real as having the right experiences and skills to bring to a job. It can be costly if not taken seriously.
We win more when we win together: It’s sad to say, but at some point in their career everyone runs into somebody for whom “to win” is only a singular action. They take all the credit for team efforts while diminishing the contributions of others, and they keep score against their own peers. That’s no way to build a culture of success. This is not a zero-sum game; there’s plenty of success to go around. When we win, we win together; when we fall short, we regroup together in a constructive way instead of pointing fingers. It’s this kind of spirit that encourages people to “cross the line of courage,” gaining confidence to take risks, venture into the unknown, and make new discoveries. When people support each other and celebrate together, you get true win-win outcomes.
Never assume, get feedback. All. The. Time. When your organization is full of smart people, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we have all the answers — that our instincts are always correct even without being tested. You’ve got to be willing to pause and ask, “is that actually the case?” When your assumptions are off-target, you can end up making decisions that undermine the whole organization. So, be curious. Ask questions and be prepared to listen openly to the answers (even when it’s contrary to your assumptions). Then, most importantly, take action to improve.
This is true more broadly as well. I have a passion for meeting with our employees around the world and listening intently. Change isn’t something that just happens to employees — it’s something they can help to make happen. When they’re given the opportunity to provide input for a transition, they feel more invested and motivated to support the change. At Citrix, we make feedback part of our everyday through a ton of avenues. My favorite being our flexible performance, development, and rewards process that gives people the option to ask for and give insights at any time and for any contribution. It places the employee in the driver’s seat by scheduling touchpoints with their managers whenever they feel the need to (versus waiting for a quarter to end). This can become a self-reinforcing circle: as people see that their feedback is being taken seriously and used, their trust grows and their contributions increase.
Technology can empower or inhibit. Use it wisely. In a survey we conducted on workplace productivity and happiness, we learned that 35% of employees find it difficult to communicate with colleagues when working remotely, and only 31% can easily maintain productivity while away from their desk. For these people, technology imposes a constraint: you can only be productive in a specific setting, working a specific way. Traditionally, organizations have thought about functionality too narrowly: do people have the tools to create documents, track customer relationships, analyze data, and so on. Of course, task-specific capabilities are important, but you have to consider that larger question: are you going beyond pixel-pushing to truly free people to do their best work? Remote work, mobile work, any-device productivity — by enabling a more flexible work environment, you can increase productivity while keeping your best employees happy so they stay with you for the long term.
Change will come, so build on bright spots
In this business, you can never rest on your successes — and you shouldn’t linger on your failures, either. Everything changes, everything passes. That’s one thing that makes our work so exciting: the opportunity to make new discoveries and inventions in shifting markets. Consider the impact of cloud computing across industries. For Citrix, it reshaped our core markets for virtual apps, data, and workspaces, and also led us to sell one of our top-tier product lines, restructure our entire organization from business units to functional groups, and redefine our mission, strategy, values, and culture. You could see all this change as nerve-racking and disruptive, and honestly, that’s how it felt some days. But you can also see change itself as a bright spot, representing new ideas, new growth, new forms of value. Learn from the past and value your history, but keep your eyes on the road ahead and maintain a spirit of curiosity, excitement, and willingness. What will you bring into the world today? What about tomorrow?
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Unleashing the power of all people. I’d like to see a world where anyone, anywhere, can do anything. Imagine if anyone in the world could access their own platform to bring their ideas to life, whether a disadvantaged student in a major metropolis, an employee whose factory has closed down, or a person with a dream living far beyond the traditional power grid. The elements of this vision are already either in place or tantalizingly close, including low-cost connected devices, easily maintained personal solar panels, simple-to-use cloud services, and so on. There’s so much untapped human potential in this world, so many ideas just waiting for a way to find an audience, an investor, a customer, a market. The more connected and more digital the world becomes, the more we can put that potential to work for the common good.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.” — Zen Master Shunryū Suzuki. This reminds me that it’s ok to be an expert but we must find a way to always stay open and curious. It’s having that humility to believe we don’t know all the answers. It’s why we need to listen to others and be receptive in order to do well and to do good.
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