3 May 2017
Kim Merrifield is in her 16th year of working as an IT professional, with the majority of those years at NRG/Reliant. Beginning as a hairdresser and a stay-at-home mum, she decided to go back to school in 1998. She graduated in three years while raising three children!
When she’s not making strides in the Project Management world, she enjoys spending time with her husband while gardening or lounging by their pool. They love Hawaii and someday would love to have a house on the island of Kauai.
Read on to see Kim’s advice on staying driven in your career, and her tips on managing high performing teams.
Tell us about your career progression into your current role.
I started out at NRG 15 years ago as a software developer. When the big 'outsourcing' trend hit, I was afraid of losing my job, so I moved over into a business area (load forecasting) which I had supported as a developer. My intention was to wait out the outsourcing crusade and move back to IT. I stayed there for a couple of years forecasting ERCOT load for our day ahead and real-time trading desk. Wanting to get back into the web world and no openings in IT, I moved to a business analyst position in our online marketing group. There, I worked on reliant.com, writing requirements for system changes and user experience. From there I move into a PM role and eventually found my way back into IT as an IT project manager. Having been in that position for a couple of years, I felt I was ready to move up to a management position.
With virtually no opportunities, I decided to move to the Oil and Gas industry and went to work for Chevron for about eight months as a project manager, overseeing a team that rolled out competency management software. After about eight months and moving at the pace of an Oil and Gas giant, I needed something more high octane so I ended up getting to come back to NRG, but this time reporting to our CIO. She put me on two projects immediately, one a tactical project, the other one a strategic program called Home Solar where we were to streamline the financial reporting systems. We succeeded in every endeavour we made, even with push-back from those that didn’t want us in their business. I eventually became the IT manager over the Home Solar IT team, have had the amazing experience of having one of the smartest women at NRG be my mentor and have grown immensely from that experience. With the closure of the Home Solar business, I will be focusing on strategic projects under the IT leadership team.
You've held multiple positions in different departments at NRG/Reliant. What can IT professionals do to keep themselves current, and make sure they have the desirable skills to keep their careers moving forward?
Always, always immerse yourself with your business partners. Understand what they do, how their business runs, what their challenges are and how you can help drive the business forward with technology. Also, always be transparent, factual, and do the right thing.
What do you love most about project management?
I am very goal-oriented and I hate ambiguity. Project management is all about the end state. I enjoy organising and planning as well as executing on a plan. Probably the most rewarding aspect for me is seeing a team succeed; delivering something that’s of value to the business. IT people love nothing more than seeing their work being used.
What factors do you think contribute to the low number of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) careers?
Well I’m not really sure. Speaking personally, when I was younger, I wasn’t really interested in the sciences and math areas. I started out as a hairdresser out of high school, as during that time young girls really weren’t recruited for STEM education and careers. But this has changed in the past few generations. The only thing I can think of is that young women really aren’t raised to be engineers, scientists and mathematicians, thus technology, based on the other three, loses out. One of my college professors tried to get me to change my major from computer information systems to computer engineering, but I told him I didn’t want to go through calculus 2, 3, and differential equations. Otherwise I would have. I just didn’t want to put myself through the misery of advanced math.
What is the key to creating, managing and maintaining a high-performing team?
I’m all about creating self-actualisation – I’m a huge believer in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I’ve been in every one of those stages at one point in my career, actually multiple points in my career. I’ve even gone back down a level or two after reaching self-actualisation due to volatility of the company, but helping others reach that stage is my goal. It’s so very important for teams to be able to communicate, collaborate and feel accomplished.
I try to facilitate open discussions and encourage my team to do the same with their reports. I tell my team members constantly how much I appreciate what they do and do things for them to show how grateful I am, for example: an email to the leadership team at the end of a project recognising each individual for a job well done and calling out what they have contributed to the business. Also, driving home that we are a team and we have each other’s backs. Promote transparency and integrity always.
If you had to attribute your career success to one factor, what would it be?
Perseverance, work ethic, attacking opportunities to perform with tenacity, taking new challenges eagerly. I’m a people pleaser and I need to feel like my skills are needed and appreciated. Every new opportunity or challenge I’ve been asked to take on, I jump on and do my very best to far exceed expectations. This has gotten me into a rut at times as the ‘person who gets things done’ and it’s held me back because I’m good at something, but proving that I can handle anything that’s thrown my way has been a huge key to my success.