Kim Malm is the only woman in CalPERS’ history to serve as chief of its Operations Support Services Division, a role she held for 13 years. She’s since held various leadership roles across the organization, and recently celebrated 35 years at the state — nearly 25 of them at CalPERS.
She credits her success to her work ethic, her ability to “do what has to be done,” and her love for the organization. While she could have retired almost three years ago, she’s stayed for the work, the people, and those she works for.
“Some at CalPERS will say I’m aggressive and assertive, but I’m also known for getting the job done,” says Kim. “I understand my strengths and take full advantage of them, while recognizing the strengths I don’t have.”
Kim’s experiences have become lessons she’s more than willing to share. She recently sat down to discuss some of her career tips:
- Be seen. By Kim’s description, this means show up for others in a genuine way. “Be there for people during their time of need,” she says. “And be there for the fun events. Support each other and your team.”
- Get things done and keep your word. Kim says, “Definitely use your team members, but get up and go find answers, don’t just sit at your desk sending emails,” Kim says. Also, when someone in a more elevated position in the organization asks for help, Kim advises, “Do it, whether it’s your job or not. Because that’s how you get noticed.”
- Create and nourish your network. It’s really simple, Kim says, to get coffee with colleagues or to stay after, once a meeting is over, just to chat. “You need your peers to be successful,” she explains. “So, when they need something, help them, and when you need assistance, they will be there to help you.”
- Act for the job you want, not the job you’re in. “If you want to be in management, think like a manager,” Kim says. “Consider how you would behave in every situation as though you were the manager. If you want to promote, think about what is necessary to make that next step. For example, if you want to move from an entry-level analyst to a seasoned analyst, learn to work alone and make your own decisions.”
- Find value in your job. “If you don’t, your job is just a job. And it will be boring and you won’t look forward to the next day,” Kim says. “I encourage you to find value in your job. Look for ways to improve yourself or the process. If you’re not happy, go find happiness elsewhere,” she advises. “There are too many hours in the workday to be unhappy.”
- Turn challenges into opportunities by raising your hand. Early in her career at the California Department of General Services while she was a word processing technician, a new computer system was implemented. “No one was happy about it,” Kim recalls. “Change is hard, but I learned the system. I took notes and put together a basic training manual for myself.”
Her bosses took note and sent Kim to other locations outside of Sacramento to train other people on how to use the new system. This, Kim notes, all took place while she was an entry-level technician. “Those who say, ‘I want to learn and add value to the organization even though it’s not on my duty statement’ should definitely raise their hands” to new opportunities, Kim says.
- Overly communicate. When you think you’ve already communicated something, make a point to do it again — and especially if the outcome affects other people. “If the bathrooms or parking garage are going to be closed, say it many times, using different channels,” Kim says. “People can miss one communication, but they won’t miss many. If they do, you can show them all the ways you communicated the change. Hopefully, that ends the complaints.”
- Find a mentor who holds you accountable. Though mentorship wasn’t common when Kim began her career, she’s a firm believer in the value of having a mentor who’s honest and tells you like it is. Still, having a forthcoming mentor is not for the faint of heart. “There have been more times than I care to count that I’ve been in tears in my mentor’s office,” she says. “A lot of people don’t want to have those hard conversations, but doing so will only benefit you in the long run.”
- Move past your bruised ego. The trick here is to not hold on to a negative interaction. “When you’re upset at somebody and you hold on to that negativity, you’re giving that person your power,” Kim says. “Take your power back and refocus on how to get to where you want to be.”
- Have a reason for your decisions and be consistent. Unless, of course, you made the wrong decision last time. Then, Kim suggests, you need to make a better decision the next time.
Much of Kim’s success can be attributed to her attitude, which is as noticeable as her high heels and the bright fabrics she wears regularly. She believes that positive attitude helped her recover quickly when she battled breast cancer over five years ago. “As a survivor, I believe you should make every moment count, whether at work or at home,” she says.
We all have gifts, or strengths, Kim says, and it’s up to individuals to use them advantageously. “Don’t hide your light under a bushel,” she says. “Use all the gifts that God gave you.”