Marisa Valdez shares how she learned to “believe in yourself” along her path from school teacher to Learning & Development Manager at BuzzFeed and what companies can do to help build a feedback culture.
Marisa is part of the Learning & Development Team at BuzzFeed. Though she has a formal background in elementary education, she has enjoyed being in the HR/Learning space for the last 10+ years.
Marisa loves connecting with people and creating meaningful, lasting relationships. It is in her nature to help others navigate their journey and reach as well as realize their full potential. She enjoys exploring New York City, spending time with family and friends, watching reality tv and most recently: becoming a first-time mom to her son, Jack!
Troy Blaser: 0:05
Hello, welcome to today's episode of simply feedback. I'm your host, Troy blazer. We're excited today to have our guest. Marisa Valdez with us. Marisa is part of the learning and development team at BuzzFeed though. She has a formal background in elementary education. She enjoys being in the HR learning space for the last 10 years. Marisa loves connecting with people and creating meaningful lasting relationships. It's in her nature to help others navigate their journey and reach as well as realize their full potential. She enjoys exploring New York City, spending time with family and friends, watching reality TV, and most recently becoming a first-time mom to her son, Jack. Marisa, it's so great to have you with us today. Welcome to Simply Feedback.
Marisa Valdez: 0:51
Thank you so much, Troy and team, for having me. I'm so excited to be here.
Troy Blaser: 0:57
Well, we're excited to have you. I was especially excited to learn that your, your son's name is Jack. I have a son named Jack, so right away, we have something in common. It's great. You, you have formal education in elementary education. Um, that's exactly what my wife has been doing for the last several years as well. And so all kinds of things in common
Marisa Valdez: 1:21
Troy Blaser: 1:24
But welcome to the podcast today. And as we get started, maybe I wonder, could you tell us about a time that somebody gave you feedback, um, and maybe this is feedback that had a significant impact on your life. Tell us about that.
Marisa Valdez: 1:36
Alright, believe in yourself. It's so simple. And I probably have heard it quite a few times throughout my life. Yet it was told in this particular instance with like such sincerity and compassion, and that's really when I took this to heart. And I really never did for most of my life, you know, um, it's sometimes small, but that self-doubt would usually creep in and just take over my brain. And it really, this particular piece of feedback just came at the absolute most right time in my life, you know, exactly when I needed to hear it. Uh, you know, I completely switched careers, as you said, you know, I have a background in elementary education and I just didn't always believe that I could do anything else or make it in corporate America, doing what I'm doing, you know. And I can honestly say that by believing in myself, I really truly have grown my confidence. Uh, I have never felt more supported than I do now. And I'm truly the most fulfilled and really happiest I've been. And I think, you know, one of the key points as it relates to feedback is that it's really not always what is said, but how it is said. And that can really, truly completely change that the way, the way it is received, you know, as it did in my case.
Troy Blaser: 3:19
Yeah, for sure. You mentioned, um, it was this particular time you'd heard that feedback believe in yourself many times, but it was this particular time that it seemed to really sink in. Um, what was it about how the, how this person said the feedback to you that really helped it sink in this time, do you think?
Marisa Valdez: 3:40
I think it was just, again, it was said with just such compassion and sincerity and care, um, as well as empathy. And, you know, not only, you know, did this person speak it and say it in that way, but they were able to just share with me their experiences that they have had with me and to really kind of further hone in and prove that point. And sometimes, you know, you, you know, the things you've done, the things you've said, what you've accomplished, it's in the back of your head. But to actually hear someone else say it and to really have it come to life, and it's kind of that light bulb it's like, "Oh, wait a minute. Maybe I really did do that really well. Or I had that impact." And it's clear when someone else can say that to you and pinpoint certain examples. Uh, and I think that really is what made the difference for me.
Troy Blaser: 4:37
That empathy, that compassion you, it really allows you to truly believe what that person was saying to you because of that extra empathy and compassion. Um, this person that gave you the feedback, what was your relationship to that person?
Marisa Valdez: 4:52
Yeah, this was, I would say a mentor of sorts in, you know, a previous working world. Uh, and we had, you know, obviously a very close relationship and I truly, of course, being in that type of mentor, mentee relationship, truly valued what this person said. So I, you know, I think just hearing it from them, someone who I, you know, looked up to and hearing from them, this feedback, what I have done, you know, truly made such a difference.
Troy Blaser: 5:28
Cool. That's fantastic. Do you find yourself then sharing that feedback with others in your, in your job, and your interactions with, with those around you?
Marisa Valdez: 5:39
Mmm hmm, absolutely. Uh, I, I try to instill in that, uh, that empathy, that compassion, that support in, you know, all of the employees that I come across,
Troy Blaser: 5:53
Really a chance for you to sort of pay it forward, right. This confidence boost that you received, um, to share that with others, as you see them, maybe in need of that a little bit sometimes. Well, so, you know, reading through your bio earlier, um, you started in elementary education, but, uh, tell us what, you know, what was the turning point in your career that sort of led you from that field to where you are now?
Marisa Valdez: 6:21
Yeah, so I grew up wanting to be an elementary school teacher. I had my little classroom set up in the basement with all my stuffed animals and also occasionally for my baby brother. So they were my students. Uh, you know, I also grew up watching my mother who was a successful, special education teacher. She eventually became the department head. She also won teacher of the year one year, and it was just, it was all I knew. It was how I grew up. There was nothing else, you know, that I could see myself doing. I, you know, when I was old enough to start working, I started working at various different after-school programs during the year and every summer I was a camp counselor and, you know, it just brought me so much joy. I absolutely loved it. I went then to Indiana University in Bloomington. Got my bachelor's degree in elementary education. Uh, so it was really hard for me to digest that there weren't so many full-time opportunities upon graduation. And, you know, I graduated college. I moved back home and with my parents. So that already was kind of this tough transition, you know, I'm missing my friends, I'm missing college life. And then kind of that, the pressures of, okay, well, you graduated, what's next? Like when are you getting a job? Like all of that really came to a head and, you know, it was just, again hard for me to kind of digest that. Maybe I'm not going to be able to do this. And, you know, maybe just, it's not the time right now for me, just because there were so few full-time openings when I graduated. And, you know, with the encouragement of my parents and, you know, being home with them, then seeing what I was going through, you know, I decided to apply to jobs in the corporate world and. You know, they, they said to me, you know, your skills can really transfer. You don't even realize that again, that's back when I, you know, didn't really have that confidence. Couldn't really see, you know, uh, you know, outside of all of that. And they said, you know, you really, I think could be really great. And I was just, I was really, really scared. I was nervous, again, I just couldn't see past, you know, spending my whole life thinking about teaching. I, you know, had just spent the last four years of my life studying it and like to not do it, it was just kind of a punch in the gut. Uh, so, you know, I think taking that leap of faith, you know, building and again, constantly working on and building up my confidence in, you know, believing in myself has really helped me to get where I am today.
Troy Blaser: 9:25
So it was, it was almost, um, like you said, it was the lack of career opportunities after graduation, not being able to find the right job, an ideal job, the place where you wanted to land as a teacher; you said, okay, uh, I'll, I'll start to look around in the corporate world, which is a scary--can be a scary thing. Did you go into the corporate jobs with this idea that, "Well, I'll do this for a little while and keep looking for a teaching job," or was it, "Hey, I've started doing this, and I really like it. Forget the teaching stuff." You know...
Marisa Valdez: 10:01
Yeah, I did, I, I started to do it and I was trying really hard not to allow myself to wallow in that and to really take the bull by the horns, so to speak and just run with this. Uh, so, you know, I eventually landed a really great position at a publishing company, and that's really where I kind of flourished and got into this area of HR. And I had a few different roles there. Eventually when I found the learning and development field is when I was like, "Okay, like this is starting to click. Like, this is making sense."
Troy Blaser: 10:41
Still, some of the same teaching skills or that you're having to, to apply just hopefully not to, uh,
Marisa Valdez: 10:48
Troy Blaser: 10:48
Not, not having to write anyone's name up on the board because they were talking out of turn or anything like that. That's that's awesome. So, um, you know, it sounds like you've had a chance to work in several different organizations, the publishing company, where you're at now at BuzzFeed, other places, what, as, as you worked across these different organizations, what are some of the biggest difficulties that you see? Um, and, and in particular with feedback and how feedback is used in an organization, what are some of the challenges?
Marisa Valdez: 11:23
So from what I've seen, and from even talking to some of my colleagues within the field at different companies as well, some companies just simply do not have that feedback culture. It's just not really there. So, you know, you know, I feel with proper training, uh, and resources that could really help. And some of these companies, they just really aren't even implemented. And it's just often not spoken about enough, you know, giving and receiving feedback are almost like these foreign concepts to some employees. They often get scared and nervous to give it as well as receive it because, um, it's just not part of the culture it's not spoken about. They're not trained on it. Um, opportunity, you know, I feel opportunities can be missed and, you know, growth and development can even be halted without that support, encouragement, and the proper implementation of a feedback culture.
Troy Blaser: 12:29
That makes sense. It definitely, if it's not ingrained into the culture, that idea of giving or receiving feedback can be very scary. Uh, it can bring a lot of anxiety, you know, but there are definitely ways to make it easier. And part of that has to do with that, implementing that feedback culture, like you were talking about. If, if a company doesn't have that culture, um, are there some ways to begin to change that? Are there some things that you could suggest or simple steps that could be taken to, to start down the road of encouraging that feedback culture? Yeah,
Marisa Valdez: 13:04
Of course. You know, I think it's, it's really important that, you know, top leaders are encouraging and supportive of this and sharing their thoughts and experiences. I think having proper training, um, you know, especially around performance review time, although I always say, and we advocate for constant ongoing feedback throughout the year. Uh, you know, of course the majority, a lot of it is seen a majority of conversations happen at the review periods, but we are, um, a culture of having those ongoing year-round conversations. So we also provide various different trainings on how to have these types of conversations, how to lead effective, one-on-ones how to give and receive feedback. Uh, I also think too having proper resources in place so that someone at any place at any time can simply just whether it's a running document or it's a quick online training, having access to those types of resources and guides and documents can be super helpful as well.
Troy Blaser: 14:21
For sure. I really liked that. Um, as, as a way, you know, performance reviews come up, but they add a whole level of stress and anxiety to the feedback process. But if it's constant feedback, if it's happening at other times throughout the year with the objective, not of a performance review, but just of growth and improvement, um, that can remove some of that anxiety and just allow the feedback to be heard to be received. So that real improvement can be made real growth can happen.
Marisa Valdez: 14:52
I love that absolutely a hundred percent.
Troy Blaser: 14:55
So that constant feedback is important.
Marisa Valdez: 14:57
Exactly. And, and also too, you know, centering it around, you know, career conversations is sometimes what we call it too. And, you know, especially having those dedicated one-on-one meetings, uh, you know, it, just to your point, it just, it gets a little more comfortable and a little bit easier, and it will, you know, automatically, you will be thrown into it and just you'll feel that sense of comfort, u m, by doing it on a more regular, consistent basis.
Troy Blaser: 15:34
Yeah. I liked that. Marisa, tell us what, what are some of the ways that you overcome challenges in your organization, you know, as you've had some of your own objectives, obviously there can be obstacles in the way. Um, what are some ways that you overcome those obstacles as you've worked towards a goal?
Marisa Valdez: 15:51
I think by speaking up and being proactive, uh, which believe me, wasn't always so easy as you all know now. Um, and I, you know, I've always also just been a little bit more quiet and on the reserved side. So it's not typically in my nature to really kind of speak up and be proactive. So over the years, you know, I have learned to be, sorry, I probably sound like a broken record now, but to be more confident in myself, but, and also in my abilities. You know, in what I can do. What I can produce. Uh, what I can achieve. Uh, you really truly don't know if you don't try.
Troy Blaser: 16:37
Yeah. I would imagine as a, as an elementary school teacher, you have a teacher voice that you can put on, right. When you need to get the attention of the whole class. And you're not that you're speaking to a group of employees necessarily, but you sort of acquire that confidence. You put on that teacher voice to get everybody's attention and say, listen up, I have something useful to say, and maybe that's some of the proactivity or the confidence that you're talking about to sort of put on that teacher voice a little bit, right.
Marisa Valdez: 17:06
Totally a hundred percent.
Troy Blaser: 17:10
Um, you shared earlier, you shared a great moment where you personally received some feedback that changed, you know, changed your career was a turning point for you. Um, but is there a, is there another, maybe another time when you've seen feedback cause a point of inflection in someone else's career or someone else's life?
Marisa Valdez: 17:31
Yeah, so actually a really close friend of mine was feeling just a bit conflicted about her current work situation. And it's because she had actually received some feedback, which ultimately led her to thinking about what her overall career goals were, what her purpose was, what was her passion. It came up in conversation that perhaps, you know, right here right now where she was just wasn't it for her anymore. And then guiding her through that and having her realize that that's okay. You know, she thought maybe she was going to be a lifer there. Uh, and you know, she came to me just knowing, you know, my role and my background to just talk through this and for some advice. I provided her with some self-reflection questions that I wanted her to think about to help guide her and really to help her realize her "aha" moment, thought, her decision. I actually ended up, you know, it was a few weeks had gone by chatting with her again. And she told me that she put herself out there, uh, and had started to apply to other roles. Uh, and she was actually offered a wonderful opportunity outside of the current company she was at. And, you know, I was just really beyond excited for her. I was so thrilled. I knew really that she had been struggling internally with these thoughts, feelings, and decisions. Uh, and while I'm sure, you know, her previous company, you know, was sad to lose her, I know that she had made that ultimately the right decision for herself.
Troy Blaser: 19:31
Yeah. That makes sense. And, and it's, it's fantastic that you were able to sort of be someone who could listen and just be a sounding board. Uh, you say you provided, you know, some self-reflection questions to really help the thought process, um, for her, for your friend. What are some examples of, of those self-reflection questions?
Marisa Valdez: 19:56
So my favorite is like, what is it? You know, so often we hear what gets you excited, but I love this little twist on it, of, you know, what gives you the most energy? Like, what do you get really, you know, it's like, what gives you that, that smile, that energy like, that really get like you want to keep going. Um, so I love that one, you know, I love, you know, what are--really thinking about what it is, uh, even if it was like a previous role or a current role, what are the things about it that you truly enjoy? And on the flip side of that, also thinking about what are, you know, the certain, uh, aspects of the job that you don't really enjoy, and that may be in your next role, you want to make sure you're not doing it. Um, uh, and also too, I love if I were given the opportunity to blank, I would do that in a heartbeat. Like I just know, um, that's something I would jump at. So those are a few of my, my favorites.
Troy Blaser: 21:11
Those are good questions that I, as I listened to you share those, I think, uh, I think honestly, my wife has asked me some of those questions sometimes, especially the last one. You know, if you weren't doing what you're doing, what would you, what would you jump at the chance to do? And it's been, uh, a wonderful experience for me actually doing this podcast at LearningBridge, because I, you know, I'll tell my wife, this is something that's totally outside of my day-to-day, you know, computer programming, database administration, technical stuff. It's so nice to sort of switch roles, um, into a conversation and hosting a podcast and, you know, um, and so while it's probably not something I would try to do as a career to, you know, it sure is nice to be able to do it, um, you know, on a monthly basis, like we've been doing it here at LearningBridge.
Marisa Valdez: 22:02
Yeah. That's awesome.
Troy Blaser: 22:04
And then your other question, you know, sort of what is it that you're passionate about or that you really have that enthusiasm for? Um, I wanted to ask you sort of something along those lines, "What, what projects are you passionate about that, that, that you've been involved with right now that you can share with us?"
Marisa Valdez: 22:26
I would say our emerging leaders program. So BuzzFeed has what we call the emerging leaders program, also known as ELP. And it's a learning experience that helps our high potential individual contributor population hone and develop their leadership skills, provides insight into BuzzFeed's business processes, offers exposure to senior leaders in different parts of our business. And this is really a valuable opportunity for anyone who wants to prepare for that next step in their career and future leadership roles while they're here at BuzzFeed and beyond. So this, you know, this opportunity is also just such a great way for employees to meet other employees from other parts of the company that they might not necessarily have gotten to meet or work with otherwise, and really starting to form and build those internal connections and networks. Uh, a few months ago, it was my first time as the program manager and facilitator. And it was just the best experience I've had. It was just so wonderful, uh, for me to, to be so involved in a program like this. It really truly helped with, you know, my personal growth and development. It helped tremendously, you know. I was able to make those connections as well with all of these employees around the world who I, I may not have gotten the chance otherwise to meet or talk or work with some of these employees. And I just, I'm so thankful I was given the opportunity to be such a big part of it.
Troy Blaser: 24:19
You, you get that opportunity to be the, be the program manager, to be the facilitator, and that really forces you to dig in and, and grow yourself in order to be able to do that right in that new experience. Um, how long is the program? How long does it go for?
Marisa Valdez: 24:36
So it's about a 12-week program. And throughout the program, we offer various different workshops. We also offer peer coaching. So a peer coaching experience, really giving the chance for the participants to connect on a deeper level with someone. And I think this last go around, we, it was really great because we, of course, had to switch and make everything virtual given our current world situations. But I think it worked in our favor because they were able to truly connect on their own time and just get to know, uh, their colleagues and other participants in such a different, new, special way. Uh, and it was so successful that, you know, some of our participants have continued that peer coaching experience, the, the participants also get a one-on-one coaching or career conversation with me as the program manager. So that was just really wonderful for me to be able to connect with each participant in that way, uh, get to know them a little bit better and help, you know, guide them on whatever they came to the conversation with.
Troy Blaser: 26:00
That's really cool. I'll bet you get to see some real growth as you know, from the beginning to the end of that program. Absolutely. Well, okay. Let's switch gears for just a minute and, and play book club for just a second. Tell me, have you read any good books lately that you would like to recommend to us?
Marisa Valdez: 26:20
Yes, actually. Uh, so I just read, Find Your Why by Simon Sinek. And I have to give a shout-out to my manager who actually bought the book for all of her teammates, uh, her direct reports. And she told us to read the book, and then we were going to work on a find your why statement exercise. So I just, you know, I give a shout out to her because she is such a tremendous leader. And for her to take the time to do this exercise with us to, you know, not only purchase the book too, and, uh, to take time to do this with each one of us is just, it really speaks volumes. And I thought that this exercise really provided me with an opportunity to do some real deep self-reflection. And the conversation that we had was so impactful. You know, the why is the purpose, the cause or belief that drives every single one of us, and the exercise truly helps you to find clarity that meaning that sense of the fulfillment. I am still working on drafting mine, but you know, it's something along the lines of, "to empower growth and development so that others feel valued, but I really truly encourage everyone to discover your why, and really live in alignment with your purpose."
Troy Blaser: 27:57
I like that. And, and, you know, your draft, even thinking about your growing up as, as wanting to be a school teacher and going to school to study it even gets at the, you know, empowering growth and development so that others feel valued even for elementary kids, that would still be your why potentially.
Marisa Valdez: 28:16
Troy Blaser: 28:18
Um, that's interesting to me, I, I volunteer as a coach with my son's, um, high school mountain biking team. And the league has this sort of motto, uh, or you know, something that they come back to. The name of the league is Nika, and they always say, find your Nika Hawaii. And it's very similar, you know, what's your, why, why are you mountain biking? Why do you, why do you want to be on the team? Why do you want to do it recreationally? And so I probably need to do some of my own thought work in terms of my own, why for my career, but at least for mountain biking, I've thought through that a little bit.
Marisa Valdez: 28:58
I love that there's a mountain biking team. That is awesome.
Troy Blaser: 29:01
It's fantastic. We have a lot of fun and it's been a great chance for me to, to do something I love, but also to share it with my son. Who's also enjoying it. Well, Marisa, this, this conversation has just been a pleasure for me. Um, I've enjoyed getting to know you a little bit better finding so many things that we strangely enough have in common, But, um, you know, as, as our listeners hear this conversation, if they're interested, um, in, in wanting to know more or wanting to continue the conversation with you, is that something you would be open to?
Marisa Valdez: 29:36
Oh my goodness. Of course, absolutely. I am such a people person. I love meeting new people and making new connections. I would absolutely be open to hearing from your listeners. So please feel free to drop me a line via LinkedIn connect with me. I would absolutely love that. And Troy, you have been such a pleasure and this whole experience has been so amazing for me. I, I truly appreciate you and the team for making this so seamless and so enjoyable.
Troy Blaser: 30:09
Awesome. Thank you very much. Thank you so much for joining us today. I appreciate it.