“The Harder I Work the Luckier I Get” and 4 More Insights into a Fulfilling Career Path
Moving from senior manager to senior director in a new function within four years is an impressive feat. See how Maja Frigelj, who connects luck with hard work, is paving her career path with meaning.
Career Development at adidas
When working at adidas, it can feel like the possibilities are endless. In a dynamic company where innovation and collaboration are prioritized, watching career paths unfold is generally inspiring and fascinating. Still, some stand out.
Maja is the captivating combination of being comfortable where she is and having an eye on alluring possibilities. Within four years of moving to a new company in a new industry in a new country, she was promoted twice. Her career moves show versatility and ingenuity: from a senior manager in communications to a senior director of workplace experience.
In talking with Maja, I wanted to pinpoint how she has managed such a successful career already, before even making it through her thirties. Here are some best practices from her career path that can be adapted to our own.
1. Start with intention
One thing is clear: Maja’s career path is guided by purpose. This shows in her commitment to creating cultures of inclusion and belonging in each role she takes. When describing her first position at adidas in strategic executive communications, she admits, “Representing employee voices was not in the job description.” Her manager gave her freedom to do her job in her own way, though. “As long as I was showing results, he was supporting my work.”
The fact that prioritizing employee engagement and experience in communications brought results was no surprise to Maja. Establishing what people care about offers a baseline for creating connection and belonging.
“For me, it is important to do more than push messages. I want to be sure that people feel represented.”Maja Frigelj, Senior Director Workplace Experience
In a move to the Global Workplaces team, a focus on employee experience was an integral part of the job. “In Workplaces, we create spaces and services that support our colleagues so they can come to work, be comfortable, and perform at their best. Our focus is on understanding their needs and fulfilling them.”
“I want to do what I can to create spaces that foster belonging.”Maja Frigelj, Senior Director Workplace Experience
When asked about the origins of her commitment to employee representation and belonging, Maja connects it to her background. “My worldview is informed by the opportunities I’ve been given. And now I want to do what I can to create spaces that foster belonging. One way my team and I do this is by staying up on trends and research. This enables us to advocate for holistic approaches that support the success of every member of our organization.”
“I’m from Bosnia,” she continues. “As refugees, my family and I were lucky to escape war by moving to Germany. Then we had sponsors who helped us integrate into life in America. My parents have had to start over twice. In part, they were able to do so because of their education but also because of the help of others. Throughout our lives, a lot of people have sponsored us and that’s what drives me. Workplace experience is what I can now impact.” It also affects Maja’s approach to how she moves along her career path.
2. Look for opportunity in change
Within six months of joining the Global Workplaces team, Maja’s boss and her boss’ boss had moved on to other positions. “At that point, I was put in charge of the team I was initially a member of. It wasn’t the best part of my career,” she admits. “I was suddenly a people manager for the first time, while still figuring out the new role and function.” As is often the case, she found that change and development go hand in hand. “I had some really, really good mentorship that got me through.”
Besides the personnel changes that required fast and massive learning, the pandemic started less than a year after Maja joined the team that was responsible for ensuring employees had secure, safe, and supportive conditions for optimal performance. Ongoing ingenuity was necessary from Maja and her team as tens of thousands of employees moved to remote working and, eventually, to our current hybrid model.
“During the pandemic, we used the research and problem solving we were doing as a springboard to prepare for the future of work.”Maja Frigelj, Senior Director Workplace Experience
Maja and her team did more than come up with creative solutions to ensure positive working conditions as degrees of remote work fluctuated. “Since we were looking at new ways of working, we decided to look further ahead. Beyond supporting our colleagues with innovative working solutions during the pandemic, we used the research and problem solving we were doing as a springboard to prepare for the future of work. World trends 2030 became our focus as we now look to how we plan for employee needs in the future.”
Guided by her own sense of purpose and initiative, Maja’s career path is heading into new and exciting terrain. Her team has been inspired by what they are learning about evolving working models and are collecting data to support adidas in being more agile and ready for changing workplace needs. Maja’s commitment to employees, paired with her celebration of how change and development bring new opportunities, is enrichening her outlook on the best workplace options ahead.
3. Plug your ideas into something bigger
“Drawing from projected data and a network of experts allows us to influence a greater, more impactful picture.”Maja Frigelj, Senior Director Workplace Experience
Thinking holistically is another practice that has enabled Maja to thrive during extensive transitions. When greater responsibility fell into her lap, she proposed that the Global Workplaces team be plugged into the HR strategy pillar. She argued that workplaces played an integral role in supporting employee performance and was, therefore, integral to its strategy.
As she puts it, “I knew that our work would be more productive if it were plugged into something bigger.” This strategic mode of thinking extends into the various projects she contributes to. She continued, “It became clear that a holistic approach was the way forward. Drawing from projected data and a network of experts allows us to influence a greater, more impactful picture. That motivates me because it’s meaningful.”
4. Know why you’re in a room
Maja’s quick progress along her career path has put her into many situations before she felt ready, and she has developed ways to deal with the lingering threat of imposter syndrome.
Doubt creeps in especially during meetings where topics out of her area of expertise are focused on – like buildouts and legalities around real estate. A trusted advisor throughout her career at adidas once told her: “Know why you’re in the room.” Keeping sight of her strengths is essential at times like these. “When it comes to keeping up on trends, creating strategy, and interpreting data, I can lead those conversations. Knowing this informs how I approach the meetings I attend – and the ones I choose not to.”
Working with others who are experts in areas different from her own – architecture, operations, accessibility, and sustainability – frees her up to focus on the topics where she shines. Beyond that, she points out what a privilege it is to work with such an accomplished group of people. “What we are accomplishing as a team seriously amazes me. We’re creating equity, accessibility, and safety across divergent spaces around the globe. But that isn’t all. We also want these spaces and services to inspire, to bring the best to and for our colleagues.”
“Knowing what you can contribute and realizing that the rest can be covered by your colleagues is not just a relief. It’s empowering.”Maja Frigelj, Senior Director Workplace Experience
“The Harder I Work the Luckier I Get” and 4 More Insights into a Fulfilling Career Path - Miracoup