Karen Weeks is a people and culture advisor, speaker, certified career coach, podcast host, and published author. She is passionate about helping people in their careers, and therefore their lives while helping companies create a safe and supportive culture where people can thrive. She is the author of Setting the Stage: A Guide to Preparing for any Feedback Conversation and the host of the podcast Getting Off The Hamster Wheel. Weeks is currently the senior vice president of people at Ordergroove and was named one of the 2020 Notable Women in Talent by Crain’s New York Business.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I was born in Keene NH and then in 4th grade moved to North Andover MA. It’s funny, I’m not someone who remembers a lot from my childhood, other than lots of music! But more of my memories are from stories being told about me.
One story was how I had a hard time at age five because there was a lot of change and disruption and I didn’t deal with it well at all (disruption for a middle-class, white girl in NH – looking back on it, nothing dramatic!).
I don’t remember any of it but I have heard the stories so often that I think it shaped my opinion that I was afraid of change or needed things to be regimented which as I have gotten older is just not the case. But it’s interesting how things stick with you and form who you think you are until you really get out into the world and evolve into the person you want to be (or were the whole time).
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
It’s ok to not know the answer and it’s ok to change your mind. Now as a coach and HR leader, I talk about this a lot internally with my teams and people I coach who are making career changes!
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I actually think HR has evolved a lot over the years. We used to be the people that said “no” to things because it created risk. I think that has subsided over the years. But outside of legal concerns or union rules, I think we need to be more advisors than police.
We can give the best advice and help people think through a decision and potential impact. But then empower them to be the owner of their decision. That way when we do raise the red flag because something is too high risk, it stands out and people take notice.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
Almost 12 years ago my partner and I got into a lot of financial trouble. We were trying to start a business that was taking a lot of time and money, putting many things at risk. It got really bad.
What we learned is that we have to work together as a team, be honest with each other, not take things on just on our own (aka ask for help) and also be honest with ourselves about what was important to us, and not what was important to others.
We have tried to live our lives more in a way that is genuine to us, not worried about social norms, and we have much stronger communication and partnership as a couple because of it.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Saying yes to things and raising my hand. Whether it’s ‘projects’ that came my way that I wasn’t sure I wanted to do but tried anyway or me speaking up to say I wanted to try something, those have been the biggest moments of growth for me. You end up learning something new that you didn’t realize you like (or learn what you don’t like, which is just as important). And if you don’t raise your hand, it’s always going to be a “no”. At least if you ask you have a chance of getting a “yes” back!
What is your morning routine?
For most of my career, I got up at 6 am, took care of the furry babies, showered, and commuted to the office. End of morning routine. Now that I am working from home, the babies still get me up at 6 am but I then either read (or sometimes nap) or work on something I want to do. Then around 730 I shower, eat a casual breakfast, meditate, listen to music and start my day “at work”. This is a much healthier way to start my day in my opinion! I can’t imagine going back at this point.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Running (now biking on my new Peloton). I have found I love doing things like Spartan Races and Tough Mudders. I originally was going to do my first half marathon this year. The focus on the new exercise routine (especially since Peloton has other classes on the app) has really helped keep me motivated. And obviously has a big impact on my health, both physically and mentally.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
It’s all about my to-do list. I come up with a monthly goal, then break it down by week and then by day. And I have a list of must do’s so I don’t lose track. I’m still a pen and paper gal. I keep trying digital apps but at the end of the day, post-it notes and a notebook are what work best for me.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Professionally, Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute is a book I still turn to 10+ years later. I think the message of remembering to put yourself in other people’s shoes and to assume good intentions is so important especially in a year like 2020. Personally, I am a big fan of mystery and thriller books and I think that stems from reading Agatha Christie as a kid (thanks to my Dad and Grandmother also being big fans!)
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
My other grandmother was in AA for 32 years and she ingrained in us the message of the Serenity Prayer. “Accept the things you cannot change, courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” That has really guided me throughout my life, especially when it feels out of control or when I was struggling with something.