Guest post by Michelle Sievers, Executive Development Program (EDP) alumni
I’m the community relations manager at PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company – the quirky Northwest company that’s a lot like you; a little different. PEMCO was founded by an educator, so it goes without saying we inherently foster a culture that encourages continuous training and education for our employees. As a community relations manager, my position requires me to creatively engage and influence colleagues, our leaders, and the organization to help our Northwest community be a better place to live, work, learn and play. I was achieving this, but I wanted more for PEMCO, my community and myself. I looked to professional development as a key to unlock my potential.
The opportunity to participate in the University of Washington’s Executive Development Program came at a time in my life and career at PEMCO when I needed a “disruption.” I yearned for a positive disruption that would challenge and push me both personally and professionally. I wanted to innovate. I wanted to think beyond the rules and authority that confined my professional role. I wanted to learn from others. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone.
On my first day in class, I had an overwhelming feeling of insecurity. As my classmates introduced themselves, I suddenly became intimidated by titles. Executive Director. Chief Executive Officer. Vice President of Operations. Physician. Is this the right place for me? Do I belong here? Mission accomplished: within the first thirty minutes, I was out of my comfort zone. It didn’t take long for me to realize that in the end, titles and positions were secondary to the people: their experiences, their perspective, their voice. And what each of them brought to the EDP for me completed a rich, comprehensive curriculum.
With the Executive Development Program, I gained a deeper understanding about business strategy, leadership, innovation, financial accounting, macro-economics, marketing, communication, decision making and organizational leadership. And specifically within organizational leadership, I had an opportunity to work closely with a subset of classmates to problem solve and recommend solutions on a real-life organizational problem. One of my biggest takeaways: organizational problems regardless of their size are mere symptoms of deeper challenges with an organization’s people, process and structure. Again, the opportunity to work and learn together with a diverse group of EDP classmates provided a perspective beyond the readings and lectures. The final group business case project pushed us all to think creatively, strategically and play to each of our strengths.
It’s been almost two years since that first day in class. In the past two years, I’ve continued to stretch myself personally and professionally. I’ve accepted leadership roles on two local nonprofit boards. More important, I’ve taken on more leadership responsibilities within PEMCO that has enabled me to innovatively improve our programs and positively “disrupt” our thinking and actions about what it means to be “a lot like you, a little different” in our community.
The Executive Development Program is a nine-month, part-time certificate program that explores each facet of business enterprise from an executive’s top-level view. The program focuses on practical business applications and provides a progressive, entrepreneurial learning community where students can access advanced business education without a significant burden to their work, travel and family schedules.