We’re doing a deep dive with KMA President and CEO Kim Anania. Some people are just natural leaders, and Kim has been honing her leadership chops since she was a little girl. While entrepreneurship does run in the family, Kim’s master plan never included owning a business – until necessity, opportunity and bold determination collided. In this Q&A, Kim details some of the most important career lessons she’s learned, her principles for success, and shares the advice she would offer to her younger self, or any aspiring professional.
Q: Can you talk about your career journey and what you learned along the way?
What stands out for me, looking back on my career, are those moments when preparation and luck coincided and presented me with opportunities – and there have been so many! I’m a big believer in being open and alert to the possibilities, and being willing to take certain calculated risks to move ahead. Any success I’ve had has been accomplished by following these principles:
- Know when you’ve outgrown your role, and make a change.
- Take full advantage of all the resources at your disposal.
- In every role, soak up everything you can learn like a sponge.
- Raise your hand and take on every leadership opportunity available to you.
- Be willing to evolve your mindset about your career when personal priorities change.
- Contribute your best work in a way that works for you.
- Be the leader you always wanted to follow.
All of these principles have coalesced into KMA’s mission, vision, values and culture.
Q: What are some key learnings that have shaped your growth as a leader in your field?
In HR, it’s important to never make assumptions and to gather all the facts before you make a decision. We walk a fine line of being an advocate for employees, but also for the employer. Having integrity, being truthful, humble, and truly trying to understand all sides has helped me get through many sleepless nights. I always try to put myself in the clients’ shoes and have a back up plan or two ready to prepare for the unexpected. The best learnings came when an employee or peer had the courage to give me feedback on something I said, a decision I made, or something I could have done differently. Listening, being honest with myself, applying the feedback, and having grace to acknowledge mistakes and move on is humbling but rewarding, and something most leaders experience at some point.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style and approach to managing teams?
Everyone has something to offer and I want to hear it. I want people to feel empowered to speak freely, influence the work they do, impact change, and feel good about themselves at work. I also want them to know that work is just that…work. While it is important, life outside of work is more precious. You only get so much time to be with the ones you love. Just as my team can be their best at work, I want them to be the best they can be in life. Honoring this synergy of work and life is a personal priority and one of my core values.
Q: Can you share an example of a challenging situation you faced as a leader and how you overcame it?
There have been a couple of misunderstandings between me and an employee or a client. My approach was to be direct and honest and admit what I could have done differently. Sometimes the result is a true break up. Sometimes it strengthens the relationship. Whatever the outcome, these experiences strengthen my character and integrity and always confirm that doing the right thing is the best action.
Q: What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment as a business leader, and why?
It probably should be some magic moment, but in reflection I would say it is relying on my own grit and intuition, hiring the right people, being flexible and flowing with constant change, setting goals every 90 days, following up on the success of the goals, and evaluating why a goal may not have been achieved. Controlling the financials in unbillable time and overhead expenses, and celebrating milestones like our 5th, 10th and 15th years in business.
Q: Can you discuss a time when you had to make a tough decision as a leader, and how you weighed the various factors to arrive at a solution?
I make tough decisions all the time that impact my three stakeholders: the employee, the company and the client. I look at the reason a decision needs to be made and then the timeframe in which to make it. If I can justify the why, benefitting all my stakeholders, it helps to align my head, heart and stomach, and the decisions and discussions become easier.
Q: What measures do you take to ensure effective communication across different levels of the organization?
Effective communication is everyone’s responsibility. I try to foster an environment where everyone feels safe to speak up, but this is a constant challenge, especially as the business has grown and my team is geographically dispersed. I rely on the leadership teams to be communicating consistent business information. We have invested in a suite of key technologies (Microsoft Teams, Sharepoint, Lever, Netsuite, Grayscale, Zoom, Constant Contact, Paylocity and others) that facilitate our internal and external communications. We have a monthly all employee meeting and try to bring everyone together in person at least once a year.
Q: Looking back at your career, is there any advice or key learnings you would give to your younger self, or to any aspiring leader?
- Never settle. Take on the hard projects or jobs that challenge you. This builds your experience and character.
- Find a mentor you can be vulnerable with who can help you through these times.
- Admit to mistakes, offer options to fix the mistake and learn from them. Nobody is perfect.
- There are two sides to every pancake, no matter how flat it is. Explore both sides before making a decision.
- Past behavior predicts future behavior. Don’t be disappointed when bad behavior continues in people you are trying to help. You can only change you.
- Birds of feather, flock together. Surround yourself with likeminded people who share your core values and work ethic.
- Understand the financials, set goals, and follow through.
- Show gratitude to the people who make a difference in your life. Write them, call them, text them, and be genuine in conveying the impact they have made.
- Weather the storm and ask for help. The personal storms that come along vary in degree (death, divorce, moving, a difficult client, friend issues, a mistake you made). These storms will dissipate over time, so when the rainbow comes, look for the pot of gold!
Thank you for these pearls of wisdom, Kim!