Formerly Berkeley Food & Housing Project

Leading Authentically with Kimi Omi: New Board Member Welcome Interview

With a 21-year tenure at Kaiser Permanente, Kimi Omi brings a wealth of experience to the Insight Housing Board of Directors. In this captivating interview, Kimi shares her perspective on the importance of servant leadership and fostering connections on a team to promote growth of all the players.

An Oakland native, Kimi brings an unwavering dedication to serving her local community and making a positive impact. Kimi’s perspective and passion will be a valuable addition to the board. We are grateful to have her on our team. 

Welcome, Kimi, to the Insight Housing Board!

Can you tell us more about your background and how you ended up at Kaiser? 

Professionally, I joined Kaiser right after graduating from UC Davis. I majored in Human Development with a minor in Social and Ethnic Relations. Initially, I thought of taking a year off before going to grad school and becoming a kindergarten teacher. But as fate would have it, I joined Kaiser, thinking it would be a temporary gig to make some money. Little did I know it would turn into a 21-year journey. 

I started at Kaiser Oakland in volunteer services, coordinating the adult and student programs. It was a fun experience working with high school students and providing mentorship. Then I had the opportunity to work downtown for the regional president, which gave me a broader view of the organization and its complexities from the 50,000-foot level. I learned a lot about leading with heart and authenticity from her, which has shaped my leadership style. 

How did your career progress within Kaiser? 

After working with the regional president, who was retiring, she encouraged me to explore other opportunities and not stay as an executive assistant forever. So, I tried project management and ended up supporting services in Oakland for seven years. I worked on operational improvement strategies and participated in the opening of various buildings and hospitals. Then I returned to the downtown office as the Chief of Staff and Executive Consultant for the Northern California Chief Operating Officer. 

During this time, I was also pursuing my master’s degree. I wasn’t sure if healthcare would be my lifelong career because I’m not a clinician. I even tried working at Genentech for a short period, but it didn’t feel like the right fit. I missed the patient interactions and the energy of a medical center. When another opportunity came up, I joined the Permanente Medical Group in Walnut Creek as the site leader of the medical center. 

Now you’re leading Support services at Kaiser. What does that entail?

Support Services includes environmental services, building engineers, landscape maintenance, minor work construction, nutritional services, volunteer services, security, and emergency management. They all play crucial roles in creating a pleasant, safe, and comfortable environment for patients. Everything that you see, feel, and smell in the medical center environment is managed by these teams. 

Our teams are often seen at the bottom of the totem pole because they are not direct patient care givers. But after the pandemic, it’s clear that they have the most important job at a hospital because their work stops and prevents infections, they keep our buildings operating, and ensure a safe environment. It’s a big part of the human side of what we do.

How do you balance your roles in leadership and representing the frontline staff? 

Balancing these two worlds comes down to leading authentically. Growing up in Oakland and being a product of the public schools, I have a deep connection to this community. I understand the real-life challenges people face, such as crime, homelessness, and food insecurity. This connection helps me relate to the frontline staff and advocate for their needs. 

At the leadership level, I translate their concerns and perspectives, ensuring their voices are heard. It’s like speaking different languages and bridging the gap between the two. I’m fortunate to have a unique perspective that allows me to navigate between these worlds effectively. 

You mentioned dealing with imposter syndrome and always striving to be better. How do you manage those feelings in your role? How do you balance the need for perfectionism with the wide range of responsibilities you have? 

I think all of us experience imposter syndrome. Regardless of what my bosses say, I always feel like it’s never good enough. It’s a constant drive to be a little bit better. Having kids actually helped me with that because I used to be a perfectionist and have OCD tendencies. But when you have kids, you realize that you can’t control everything. You have to let go and accept that things will be as they are (laughs). 

That being said, prioritization is key. I focus on growing my team and empowering them to take on tasks. I can’t do it all by myself, nor do I want to. I provide them with tools, such as project management skills and performance improvement techniques, to help them prioritize effectively. We openly discuss next steps that help foster accountability. It’s important to establish a foundation of teamwork and ensure everyone understands what falls under their control and what doesn’t. 

How do you break down the silos within the support services team and foster communication? 

I’ve been fortunate to inherit a team that already had good pieces in place. One way I foster communication is through our daily morning huddles, where we connect as a group and discuss the tasks at hand. We also have a tracking spreadsheet that keeps everyone accountable. I meet regularly with the directors and managers of each functional area to ensure open communication. Breaking down silos is a continuous effort, but by promoting teamwork and providing a platform for discussion, we’ve been able to bridge those gaps. 

I believe it’s essential for my team to understand the significance of their roles. We discuss how our work in support services impacts the overall functioning of the medical center. From environmental services that ensure cleanliness and prevent infections to nutritional services that provide food to patients, every department plays a crucial role. I emphasize that our work directly contributes to patients’ experiences and well-being. By connecting their daily tasks to the bigger picture, my team gains a sense of purpose and a deeper understanding of their impact. 

With such a large team and multiple locations, how do you ensure a shared spirit and sense of accountability? 

Growing my people has been a priority for me. I trust my team and their expertise in their respective areas. I make it clear that my role is not to micromanage but to ask questions that stimulate their thinking and kindly hold them accountable. My job isn’t to be the expert, but to ask questions that stimulate thinking, ensure we’ve thought through everything, and then hold my team accountable to getting it done. I trust my leaders because they are the experts of their functional areas.

During our morning huddles, we address accountability and next steps together. It’s important for everyone to understand that we’re all ultimately responsible for our actions and the success of our team. By fostering a culture of trust and providing a platform for open communication, we build a shared spirit of accountability. 

How do you handle decision-making within your team? 

Empowering my team members to make decisions is crucial. While there are certain decisions I should make, I believe in giving my team the autonomy to make day-to-day decisions. I want them to feel trusted and confident in their abilities. By doing so, I not only lighten my own workload but also allow them to grow and develop as leaders. It’s about creating an environment where decisions are made collectively and everyone feels empowered to contribute their expertise. 

The most rewarding aspect has been witnessing the growth and development of my team members. Seeing them take ownership, make decisions, and excel in their respective areas brings me immense satisfaction. It’s gratifying to know that I’ve played a part in fostering their confidence and helping them realize their potential. Building a strong foundation of teamwork and seeing the positive impact our work was on the medical center and the lives of patients is incredibly fulfilling. 

What are you most excited about being on the board of Insight Housing? 

I am most excited to get involved with another organization with a similar mission and value-based work. I’ve been at Kaiser a long time (we call it “Kaiserized”) and I’m excited to step out and be more involved with my community.  I love the Bay Area. And I have seen it shift over the last couple of years. It’s been hard, especially having kids to raise here. It’s sad to see the divide happen almost overnight. To serve people, I truly believe in the servant leadership philosophy and think that’s how I would hope to lead people here. 

I had no idea that Berkeley Food & Housing Project (now Insight Housing) existed. I volunteered with Big Brothers, Big Sisters and at the Alameda County with the food bank. I took a bit of a hiatus with the two kids and this job, but now I feel like it’s definitely the time to get back out there and serve my community.  

And finally, what does home mean to you? 

Home means warmth and safety, both physical and psychological. It means connection and happiness. 

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