As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Mellon, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer, Omnicell.
Christine Mellon is a transformative leader with more than 30 years of human resources, operations, and sales management experience. She has consistently achieved high levels of success and earned recognition and executive status in multiple industries. As Chief People Officer at Omnicell, Christine is responsible for reinventing the people function to better serve the vision and strategy of the business. She also leads the employee environments and internal communications functions, tying all efforts to delivering an exceptional employee experience. Christine focuses on talent optimization through building employee culture and engagement, developing and orchestrating talent, and fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I majored in Psychology and was trying to find a way to use that degree to work in a business setting. I did some research and it pointed me to an Industrial/Organizational Psychology masters’ program, following which I landed in my first Human Resource (HR) job with a pharmaceutical company. But along the way, I’ve moved back and forth between sales and operations roles and HR. I always felt drawn to customer engagement and loved working in the business to sharpen my HR skills.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I would say the unexpected need to lead during a pandemic would be at the top of my list, in both Omnicell and my prior company. I’m someone who will jump in if I see there is confusion and uncertainty and that’s exactly what I did in my previous organization. Someone has to be willing to step up and lead, even into the unknown, and I found myself in that position for a company of 4,500 employees around the world. It was an incredible responsibility and a true learning on leading during crisis. At Omnicell, I’m fortunate to have stepped in behind an exceptional team of people who managed through the past year plus flawlessly and kept the company on course. Now my challenge is managing how we return to the office. It’s a whole new game and finding a way to strike a balance between employee and organizational needs is imperative.
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?
When I was a new manager in a sales organization, I was really nervous about my first team meeting and I was obsessing over every detail. We had a fantastic meeting planner, but I kept second guessing everything and I was trying to micromanage every detail, including all the calendaring. I’m sure I drove her crazy. The meeting was set for a hotel in Napa Valley California, and I was living in San Diego. When the time came, I flew up, got my rental car and drove to the hotel, only to find they had no record of the meeting, the reserved room block or even my name. I proceeded to freak out and called the meeting planner who patiently listened, waiting for me to finish. When I finally did, she said “The meeting is next week.” I learned right there to let other people do their jobs and stop thinking I had to control everything. The upside was I did get some great wine before heading back to the Oakland airport.
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?
One of my first managers was someone who taught me about being thoughtful in decisions and how to be detail oriented. I’m a creative thinker, and his coaching helped me understand how to corral that in how I would present ideas and information. That tutelage was invaluable to me through my entire career. Even though I think in a non-linear way, I know how to present logically to gain understanding and support. He also was a fantastic role model for maintaining a great sense of humor. My profession — HR — is one that can be very emotionally draining and being able to find the humor in some ridiculous and bizarre situations helps you keep your sanity. He was this quiet presence in many ways, but he had such a sharp wit and could just make one well-timed comment and you’d be doubled over, laughing!
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I’ve developed a great appreciation over the past year for mindfulness and meditation. I try every morning to use an app and get 20 minutes or so of solid meditation time in. And before any big meeting or presentation, I’ll practice some breathing exercises that help me focus and relax. Also, I mentioned humor before — I have always found this to be so helpful in business. No matter what the presentation or meeting, there is usually (not always, but usually) an opportunity to insert some humor. That’s the great equalizer. No matter how intimidating a setting or a person may be, if you are laughing together, it lessens the stress.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
I was one of those college kids who backpacked through Europe with a Eurail Pass and a shoestring budget. That made me acutely aware of diversity in a global way. I was embarrassed to find so many non-US travelers and European citizens who spoke English, because it was mandated in schools, and there I was, struggling to string a sentence together in French. That was my first true understanding of entitlement and ignorance. Looking at Diversity Equity and Inclusion from a business standpoint, it’s been a slow road to getting more women and people of color in top leadership roles, which I believe shows we still operate within an entitlement culture. No question there are brilliant and capable managers and leaders in every industry, but look at how few diverse CEOs there are of Fortune 500 companies…still! It defies logic to not create diversity in your organization’s leadership team, because it limits your ability to understand your market and to respond to unique demands in your customer base. Most people know equality and inclusion are the right thing to do, but we still struggle in the U.S. corporate world to balance the composition of boards and leadership teams. Companies that build diverse senior teams with the right intent, set themselves apart and are a magnet for top talent.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
So much of being inclusive is about active listening and listening when nothing is being said, and I’m not sure many people understand that. Often those disenfranchised or silenced employees are the ones who don’t speak up in meetings. The last thing you want to do is call them out or make them uncomfortable, but being sure to ask, “have we heard from everyone?” or even requiring that all people in the meeting have a moment to share their point of view, is important to encourage participation and make all employees feel their voice matters. To be representative, I believe it is critical to understand your industry and the locations where you operate. Companies may not be in major metropolitan areas with great representation of diverse talent. However, if you know where you are starting from and what your talent markets look like, you are much better able to craft a real plan that you can execute. Equity is a challenge that I believe artificial intelligence can and should help us with more as we move into the future. People are fallible and no amount of training, as well-intentioned as it may be, can mitigate people’s biases and stereotypes. We have more of an ability now to use data to analyze and diagnose areas of inequity, such as pay, promotions, hiring data. This is a must to make a greater impact in this critical deficiency area.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
Well, aside from the day-to-day responsibilities, executives have to inspire, motivate, coach and communicate at a level that is very challenging. You are regarded as a role model and an example of what leadership looks like in your company and each thing you say and do is evaluated by more people and more critically. You also regularly make decisions that impact the welfare, health and future success of many people, as well as the organization as a whole. That is a great honor but also a great responsibility. And you constantly must scan the internal and external environments to understand how to quickly respond to changes and adapt to new needs — that’s a competency often referred to as “seeing around corners,” and the best CEOs and executives I have worked with are truly exceptional at this.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
I think people sometimes believe that the higher up you go, the more you get to kick back, relax and do less work. That’s hilarious! CEOs and executives I know are always “on.” Even when taking vacations or attending important family or life events, many execs have had situations where they have to stop everything to deal with hairy, stressful organizational issues. I remember flying to a company location on New Year’s Day, when I had family in town, because a critical issue required it. You do what the job requires.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
When I was younger, I thought women had made so much progress in the business. But as I’ve moved further in my career, I’ve realized how wrong I was. We often still have to fight for opportunities, pay, recognition, promotions in a way men don’t. We still encounter blatant, systemic and (almost worse) quiet discriminatory practices and behaviors that are discouraging and frustrating. Men can still cut women off when they speak; they still can repeat something a woman on the team just said and get acknowledgment for it. Pay equity continues to be an issue and women’s contributions can still be undervalued. Sounds bleak, I know, but we need to be realists to change things for the better. And many organizations and male executives have become much more aware of these issues and are actively trying to make improvements.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Like many people still think about HR, many years ago, I did think it was largely about hiring and maybe even firing employees. The reality is so different, especially today. The hiring part of the role is unbelievably critical. There is intense competition for talent and you have to work to be a step ahead to get the top people you want in your organization. Beyond that, everything HR focuses on is around the Employee Experience. How do we onboard, grow, develop, incentivize, reward, coach and orchestrate talent effectively across the enterprise to engage our people, retain them and deliver the company strategy? That’s an enormous responsibility and it’s constantly changing. You have to be fresh in all of it to hire and keep top talent.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
In my view, to be successful and make a positive impact, executives need to be selfless to a large degree. They have to be focused on how to empower and develop their teams to their full potential. Certainly, there are executives out there with huge egos and they are often successful. But I believe in legacy and positive influence. So, understanding how to help people perform, sometimes by challenging them, sometimes by being a tough leader with high standards, sometimes by just giving them runway, all of those things help ensure your success. Resilience is also critical. You will have difficult situations and you’ll sometimes go through the fire, but you have to have the strength to rise from that and keep going forward. Finally, I think candor is crucial for an executive to be successful. Clearly communicating and speaking the truth earns you credibility and trust.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Find your authentic voice as a leader and don’t let anyone tell you what standards or culture a woman should “conform to.” Listen to your people and hire talent that’s better than you.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You can’t please all the people all the time. Particularly in my field, you can spend a lot of cycles trying to find a solution to something that all employees will cheer for. It doesn’t exist. You have to strive to find the best approaches that serve the greatest majority of employees. Not everyone is going to be happy. And you can’t over-index on the “squeaky wheels.”
- You cannot avoid politics in business. If you believe you can walk “above” the politics around you, that’s a mistake. You need an awareness of what’s happening around you, what people’s motivations are (which are not always good), and where you gain leverage and support to advance your ideas.
- Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the great. Business moves fast, and if you are focused on perfection, you will sacrifice momentum. Also, even if you could get something “perfect” out the door, that perfect state doesn’t last. The ability to iterate and innovate fast trumps perfection.
- Burning yourself out is never worth it. I started my career with tremendous intensity and an unbalanced work ethic because I wanted to go places. I remember a sales manager in California calling me in the office one night in Philadelphia at 9 p.m. and when I asked him how he knew I’d be there, he said “you’re always there.” I can honestly say that those years I spent killing myself didn’t get me any further ahead. I worked smart as well as hard, and I could have had far more balance in my life and still been very successful.
- Find mentors throughout your career who can shoot straight with you and inspire you. It’s so important to have at least one person you can trust completely to have your best interests at heart, who will give you advice, challenge your thinking, call you on your “stuff” and also shore you up when you need it. These individuals can show up unexpectedly and you need to recognize them when they do!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
My idea would be facilitating corporate advocacy for solving our homelessness crisis. There are so many individuals on the streets who do not choose to be there but have had their lives upended by horrific events. Serving on the board of a nonprofit focused on family homelessness a few years ago was heartbreaking. If we could build a corporate-funded infrastructure that would be almost university-like, with housing, education, skills training, and childcare, we could create a new population of American workers who would serve as a talent pipeline for sponsoring companies. This really could be done in a smart way, where these students apply, are approved, must test clean of drugs/alcohol, are assigned jobs on the campus to help it run and to earn housing and food allowances, etc. I think the top talent at some of our most powerful and successful companies could solve our homeless crisis, in large part, if they were given incentives to do so.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have a really short, simply saying I’ve found over the years to have multiple meanings: Get Up. Whether it’s feeling defeated or frayed and needing to rise back up again, or standing up against an injustice, or having the courage to disagree with something, or even just when you might feel sorry for yourself. Just get up. Nothing happens when you don’t.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Probably Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, so I could get their attention on that great idea to address homelessness!!