In Episode 8 of Scaling Success, Sean Cantwell invites Lynne Oldham to the podcast to discuss hiring in a post-pandemic world. Zoom was one of a handful of companies that experienced hyper-growth due to pandemic demand. Almost overnight, Zoom went from 10 million daily meeting participants to 300 million daily meeting participants. This, coupled with the shift to working from home, presented many challenges — and opportunities to the Chief People Officer at Zoom. Now that the world is in the process of transitioning back to a “new normal,” Lynne has some lessons for hiring that everyone can benefit from. Check out the full episode here and on Spotify.
About Lynn Oldham:
Lynne is a successful global Chief People Officer and business leader with 20 years of progressive experience in strategic HR leadership and key talent acquisition in various industries, driving profitable growth strategies for startups, private and public companies, and international organizations. She is currently Zoom’s Chief People Officer, joining just prior to IPO, and navigating continued business scaling, employee engagement and safeguarding culture through COVID and the racial/social unrest of 2020.
Lynne serves as a key advisor to C-suite executives, identifying transformational necessities and clarifying the leadership profile required for an organization to pivot business strategy and develop change initiatives to achieve sustainable growth. She is an inspirational and successful developer of talent with a passion for instilling leadership that improves organizational culture, company bench strength, business operations, employee morale, internal communication, recruitment strategy, and diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Lynne holds a Juris Doctor from Seton Hall University School of Law and a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance and Business Administration from State University of New York, College at New Paltz.
Hiring in a Post-Pandemic World - Podcast
Hiring in a Post-Pandemic World - Video
Sean Cantwell: Hi, I’m Sean Cantwell, and this is the new Scaling Success podcast, we started Scaling Success to provide a space for entrepreneurs and business leaders to discuss the important topics that contribute to building a valuable and long-lasting enterprise. And to juxtapose our view as investors with that of entrepreneurs, founders, and CEOs who are on the front lines. Episodes are now on Spotify.
Sean Cantwell: I am very excited about today’s discussion. Our goal with the Scaling Success podcast is to cover the topics that are most critical to scaling a startup. One of those topics is scaling the team and building an organizational structure to support aggressive growth. Who better to have that conversation with than today’s guest, Lynne Oldham, Chief People Officer of Zoom Video Communications. If you weren’t familiar with Zoom before March of 2020, you certainly are now. As the world was disrupted, many turned to video communication and Zoom specifically to maintain continuity at work, in schools, and amongst family and friends. That led to exponential growth in the business, as well as dramatic growth in Zoom’s team to support the increased business. Lynne Oldham is a business leader with 20 years of experience in strategic HR leadership and key talent acquisition in a variety of industries, driving profitable growth strategies for startups all the way through public companies. Lynne has an undergraduate degree in finance as well as a law degree, which positions her well to partner with key leaders in developing revenue, impacting business and people plans. She has served as Chief People Officer of Zoom Video Communications since January 2019. Among her many accomplishments, Lynne has been recognized as a Top 100 HR leader. Lynne, welcome to the podcast.
Lynne Oldham: Very nice to be here, Sean. Thank you so much for the invite.
Sean Cantwell: Lynne, I think it would be helpful for our listeners to kick things off. I’m sure they’d love to hear a little bit about your career journey and what led you to pursue a career in HR.
Lynne Oldham: Oh boy. I think what was really interesting about my career is I didn’t set out at all to be in HR. I started as a nursing major in my bachelor’s degree, and I got to the point where we were giving shots. Sean, I was getting and giving and I realized, what am I doing here? I had in high school some business courses and I have a plaque on the wall. I think it’s still there. It’s pretty rusty by now, but I think it says that I had the highest average in business and I don’t know why I ended up where I did and when I course-corrected I ended up with a degree in business and finance, and then right out of the gate, I got a job in a company, a little company off the New York thruway, and I was the benefits administrator. And there began my career in human resources. And I like to say I’m a business person first and HR person second because I really don’t bring to the table something that’s not good for the business and where it wants to go.
Sean Cantwell: That’s great. And I want to come back to that distinction you make, Lynne, because whenever the topic of human resources is brought up, folks will say we want a strategic HR leader, so we’re going to come back to that. But before we do that, I can’t even imagine what the last 15 to 18 months of your life have been like and that of everyone at Zoom. Tell us a little bit about your experience as the pandemic set in what that meant for Zoom as a company and then more specifically for you in your role as leading the people organization.
Lynne Oldham: I love it. It has been quite a ride, Sean. In particular, we went in an almost overnight fashion from 10 million daily meeting participants to 300 million daily meeting participants. And from B2B to B2grandma, right? So, we really did see a very big shift and who was using Zoom, how they were using Zoom. And then, of course, with the pandemic, schools were unable to be in-person and we offered up our services free to schools so that just made the traffic all that much more and of course, a perfectly scalable product. But behind the scenes, you ask how we did in my function, we were having to help make sure we had enough people to do all the things that you need to do to support the product and our customers. So in the pandemic, we went from 2400 employees to 5000 employees in that period. So we were roughly bringing in an onboarding 150 to 200 people per month. So that was the big shift that we had to make. We were certainly doing pretty decent numbers before that, but the pandemic really just made that all accelerate. And it’s been an interesting and exciting time because it has been hard. I don’t want to make light of that. But at the same time, I think our employees have really benefited from watching and feeling good about what we were doing to help connect the world.
Sean Cantwell: Yeah, I can only imagine. I’ll share a personal anecdote, and I’m sure everyone has these. I have four children. Every one of them was taking school on Zoom. In the early onset of the pandemic, there were virtual happy hours amongst family and college friends, and Zoom became a verb all of a sudden. I’ll even say in a business context, we were Zoom users pre-pandemic, but the rate of usage has just had a multiplier effect, which I think will continue long into the future. When you talk about hiring that many people in, there’s so much that goes into it. There’s the logistical challenge, there’s the identification of people, there’s the interviewing, there’s the onboarding. What are the tricks of the trade that you’ve learned? I’m sure you had a good playbook even before March of 2020, but I suspect that had to be refined in order to accelerate the time frame to hire and onboard folks.
Lynne Oldham: That’s exactly what had to happen, and in fact, Sean, we went from in-person and interviews and bringing people to offices to all virtual at the same time, too. So not only were we having to bring on this many more people, we had to do it all in a virtual environment. And Zoom, I think it’s kind of interesting because I’m not sure everybody knows this and who’s listening to this, but Zoom was only about 15% remote before all this happened. So as you had to all end up back at your homes working, so did we. So we had to make the transition ourselves and then transition all of our processes to virtual as well. So that’s been part of it. I do think we had a good engine built, but I do think that we’ve had to make some adjustments, especially in moving to virtual. And then I would say the good in all of it is that we’ve opened our aperture so we can recruit anywhere. We’re not stuck in San Jose or in Phoenix or in Denver. We really had an opportunity to say does this position need to be in California? Does it need to be? So it gave us real access to a different and more diverse workforce, which has been really exciting as well. So yes, some adjustments, but some good adjustments along the way. And I definitely think we will not go back to the volume of in-person interviewing that we had before. It’s just so much easier this way. It’s quicker. I don’t think we could have hired as many people as we did if we were doing in-person interviewing.
Sean Cantwell: Yeah, it’s great. And we’ve seen and experienced very similar things across our portfolio. It’s interesting and surprising. I actually did not know that stat that only 15% of Zoom’s workforce was remote prior to the pandemic. I’m sure you get asked this question all the time, and it’s something you have to wrestle with. What does the workplace look like going forward? Maybe more broadly as you dialogue with colleagues. But then even specifically at Zoom, as you think about plans going forward?
Lynne Oldham: Yeah, Zoom belongs to a consortium of companies that are a little bit smaller. They’re not the Googles or the Facebooks, they’re Palo Alto, Uber, Splunk Box, and ourselves. And we are contemplating that question every day together because we believe that nobody has the right answer. That experimentation and looking at what works, what doesn’t, what’s happening during the pandemic that we want to carry forward. So we’re working on it through the lens of that consortium. I think for Zoom, we think about it this way. There are really three pillars to coming back and how that works for you. Because again, I don’t think there’s anyone answer that’s going to work for everybody. I think it’s talent. So leaders are going to need to embrace the concept of radical flexibility because employees want it. We’ve seen enough out there in the news that our employees are demanding it. They’re going to vote with their feet if they don’t. So that’s going to be critical. I think the idea of transformation, how do you take your processes and ensure that you’re delivering your services and developing your workforce in a way that works across this new world order, whatever it is, right? We’ll call it hybrid or flexible.
Lynne Oldham: And then I think the last piece is leadership. It’s how do we ensure that there’s a culture of trust and that starts with leaders, right? We have to support our workforce, our customers wherever they are and ensure that they’re not only physically safe but digitally secure and private. So I think it’s the three pillars. It’s talent, transformation, and trust/leadership that really are going to make it work. And again, one size does not fit all, but I think we’re going to figure out what works for us. And at the end of the day, keeping our employees involved in the journey and listening is going to be mission-critical because if we’re not listening, we run the risk of not being able to deliver what our employees want. And then we’re going to be back to the drawing board on the talent acquisition front and nobody wants to be there, right?
Sean Cantwell: Yep. Lynne, you make a point that I’ve heard from some of our portfolio company CEOs, which is in a distributed environment the talent pool is broadened and you have the ability to attract talent that maybe you wouldn’t even pursue if everyone was centrally located. The flip side to that argument, or maybe the challenge, I’ll say, is how do you get those remote folks integrated into the organization, and how do you make sure that relationships are established in such a way where they can be productive and maximize their potential? And how do you transfer the institutional knowledge of the organization when folks are remote? I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you’ve tried to manage that onboarding process for distributed team members.
Lynne Oldham: No, I love it. We actually revamped it, Sean, during this time because we felt that what we were doing, flying everyone to San Jose or Denver, depending on weather, we were taking people from Australia and bringing them in. And you know, what are the first two days when you fly like that, you’re not absorbing anything, right? And we do that for a week and we decided that obviously, we couldn’t do it in a pandemic, but we really thought that it was more important to sort of grab the new employee on the culture side, really making sure that they felt like they picked the right company. And so the first day became a day about emotion really and connecting up to our delivering customer happiness, employee happiness and we played with the tool the whole time. We’re annotating, we’re polling. But for the most part, were emoting around this idea of delivering happiness. What does it look like, where you’ve done it before? How does it feel? So it’s really all about our values and our mission as opposed to what’s our product suite? How do you sell it? What’s your elevator pitch? That comes in week two and week three, but we really wanted to change that feeling.
Lynne Oldham: I’d say the other side of this, and I’m good friends with Darren Murph of GitLab who is all remote and has been for a while, and his big thing, he says, and I do believe it makes your knowledge shareable so that it doesn’t reside in Sean’s head or Lynne’s head. It’s somewhere for all to see so that you’re not making it a mystery. And then there are other things you can do just tips and tricks in terms of opening a big Zoom meeting. It doesn’t have to be a “meeting meeting” with an agenda, but giving people an opportunity to work while the Zoom meetings open. And you’re pinging folks or your ideating. So there are things you can do and there’s way more coming. You know it. We’re going to launch Zoom apps this year. Zoom apps will be an opportunity for us to integrate, embed software that actually allows you to do work while you’re together like this and you’re not just talking about work, you’re working. So there are so many things coming. You know it. People have been in their garage. This is what you guys do. They’ve been thinking of new ideas and they’re all going to come to light now as the pandemic recedes.
Sean Cantwell: Lynne, you mentioned earlier just the sheer volume of people that Zoom has brought on to the team over the last year, which is staggering. I have to imagine when you’re hiring in those numbers, you have to have a streamlined and efficient hiring process. If I just think about our portfolio companies, some are better than others, but generally hiring is something that’s pretty hard to do well. And I don’t think any company is ever satisfied with the success rate of hires. You always feel like there’s room to improve it. I’d love to get your thoughts on just what you’ve learned over the last year. When you’re hiring in those numbers, you have to streamline it, you have to get pretty good at it. And I think most importantly, you have to decide what is most critical and then screen for those attributes. So that’s really where I’d love to get inside your head a little bit and understand what you’ve learned around what is most critical to screen for in potential employees.
Lynne Oldham: Yeah, I think in terms of process, we definitely had to go after it and make sure that it was as tight as possible and a lot around who decides and what kind of questions we get that settled all before we head out the door to talk to candidates. I think it’s important that you’re screening for not only skills and abilities, but culture additiveness, right? Not just culture fit, but can they add to the culture. So one person or multiple depends on how we structure it, has culture questions on their agenda. Each person is doing their part, and then we bring everybody together at the end to say, OK, one, two, or three. Let’s talk about it. And we try to do it in a very structured way such that you’re not asking sort of questions that you’d carry down a path with one because you have something in common with them versus the other. So we’re really trying to keep it nice and clean. The other thing I would say is we instituted was what we call “license to hire,” like license to kill James Bond. We have license to hire. And license to hire is what we put any hiring manager through. So that they’re prepared for our interview process and they’ve got to check the box on that. It’s like getting your driver’s license before you can hire here. So it’s been a path. It wasn’t like this when I got here, we had a lot of work to do and I’m thankful that we did the work pre-pandemic so that during the pandemic it was a lot less clunky.
Sean Cantwell: That’s great. Lynne, one question I get a decent amount just from our portfolio company CEOs who are trying to aggressively scale their teams is trying to find that balance between employee satisfaction, people feeling good about what they’re doing, their work environment, et cetera, and productivity. In some ways, this ties back to the whole hybrid work discussion in some ways. Whereas I think there’s an old school way of thinking which is, gosh, I need to have everyone under my nose where I can see them know that they’re productive. There’s the other school of thought which is to treat people like adults and they’ll act like adults. And you want people to feel satisfied and engaged and excited about what they’re doing. And I’d love to hear your thoughts as someone who oversees the people side of the house of a large growing business. The connection that you’ve been able to find, if any, between employee satisfaction and productivity. If that exists, what sorts of things can companies do to drive employee satisfaction?
Lynne Oldham: Yeah. So can I switch your words, Sean? I would say employee engagement. Because we all go through our moments of not being satisfied, right? But is it an overall picture that engages you and makes you want to do better than your best? Right? And I think that’s a combination of, tracking to that, you want to know where that is. So we do regular surveying to ensure we know if we’ve got a problem spot, we need to help a manager out. But a lot of that is your line manager and the person who is directly involved with it. So when I got here, the first thing I started, which we had none of was how to engage the manager in engaging their employees. So we did things like what we call leading happy, sustaining happy. We have a whole happy series. I think it really got the manager because we were growing as we did, we did a lot of internal promoting. So when you promote internally, this might be that person’s first management role, so you can’t just leave them to the wolves, you have to help them get where they need to be. And that’s really what I focused on when I walked in the door because I saw that as something that was missing after when I came here in 2019, we’re 10 years old this year. So eight years had passed and we needed to get there. So we did that pretty early on, and I do think it is very much the line manager, the person you see every day that directs your work and helps you survive and thrive is the person who’s going to be at the helm of responsibility for that. That’s my job is to make sure you’re ready.
Sean Cantwell: Lynne, when you were providing a little overview of your background, you mentioned that you view yourself as a business person that happens to work in the human resources function. That led me to think about the common discussion that happens with every one of our portfolio companies, by the way, when it finally comes time to hire a head of HR, or maybe it’s a VP of HR, it could be a chief people officer, and there’s usually this debate and discussion with the CEO about the role they want that person to play in the organization, and everyone wants a “strategic HR”. What does that mean to you and how do you view your role inside of Zoom? When you say you’re a business person, what do you mean and how do you really think about success for you in your role at Zoom?
Lynne Oldham: So first I would say when you’re debating when to hire them, you don’t debate when to hire your CFO. This position is as important. I think if I were not able to afford it right away, I would look at the fractional market. There’s plenty of fractional folks out there who could really help you get things in place. What does strategic mean to me? It means that if you could look behind my background, I’m a Wonder Woman freak. I’ve got Wonder Woman cookie jars and all kinds of things behind me. Anyway, I’m going to use a Batman reference, though, it means that I’ve got a tool belt of things that I could pull out and use to help a business get better. But first and foremost, I need to understand the business, how it makes money and where they need to go. Where are they trying to go? And then I have to think with my business/HR hat about how can we through a people lens, help the business get to that end goal? And what things do we need to pull out of that tool belt to facilitate that? That’s what I mean by strategic. I know a lot of people over the course of my career that would say, well you need a performance appraisal system and not know the why. And for me, I don’t start with what have I got in my tool belt? I start with, where do you want to go, business person, and let’s figure out how we use our people lens to get there. That’s what I mean.
Sean Cantwell: First of all, I got to say, I love the Wonder Woman and Batman references. I have a six-year-old. Justice League is one of our favorite movies to watch together. I love the way you think about that, but I’m thinking about the outcome first that then drives the activities. I guess when you take an approach like that, what are then maybe the KPIs that you measure in order to understand if you are leading the organization in the direction that’s ultimately going to help everyone reach their objectives?
Lynne Oldham: Yeah, there are lots of KPIs in the HR space. The most important one that I care about is revenue per headcount. I like to know how we’re doing down to the individual person level. It’s a great way to watch the business grow. If you’re growing too much, too fast in terms of the people side versus the revenue, it’s one of my favorite metrics. The other ones that I use are the very standard ones like time to fill because, for every vacant seat, I’ve actually calculated vacancy rate too because, for every vacant seat, you’re missing or losing something. And my time to fill is really important so that our vacancy rates are low. So that’s another one. Employee engagement, which we talked about, is important to me. I think that’s going to be interesting as we move out of the pandemic. Those are the ones. Quality of hire I love, too, but that’s a little harder to get to, especially if you don’t have a performance metric that’s a little more guttural than numerically driven. But I do like the quality of hire. I look at retention and turnover rates, so those are the things I think that pop out at me as the primary ones.
Sean Cantwell: Got it. And how do you think about like the culture at Zoom? It’s one of the softer things, but it’s something that everyone always brings up and asks about. And again, I’ll reflect on our portfolio companies. And oftentimes the culture in the early days is a reflection of the founders and the senior leaders and their personalities and their priorities and et cetera. As companies mature, that culture tends to get institutionalized or maybe codified a little bit more. And then all of a sudden you start growing like crazy, and institutional knowledge perhaps is dispersed a little bit, becomes less concentrated. What steps have you taken to maintain and build upon a culture of success at Zoom, given the rapid growth of the employee base?
Lynne Oldham: Yeah, I think some of that is in how you hire and ensuring that you’re making culture part of the interview like I talked to you about before. I think part of that is making your knowledge very shareable and transparent. But you have to recognize that with every new hire, your culture changes just a little bit, right? And so culture lives in your people and not your four walls. So you’ve really got to ensure that everybody is on board and that you’re open and transparent. We still do every other week, all hands. We have not let go of that.
Sean Cantwell: While taking in the entire employee base?
Lynne Oldham: Everybody. You just watch that number come up and it’s crazy. We had to actually go to our webinar tool from the meeting tool because it was just more manageable with the size now. But I think all of the parts and pieces make up ensuring your culture is intact. Even the other day, Eric, our CEO, did what he called Manager 2.0, which was just an opportunity to get all the managers who have now increased in number as well around a table and talk about sort of his philosophies, which was very nice. And then we obviously pull them together in a slide deck and then they’re available. So that’s that knowledge sharing. So it’s just continuous touchpoints, and giving us an opportunity to do things like our happy crew. I don’t know if I talked to you about that. A happy crew is our grassroots culture-carrying group. It’s a couple of hundred people around the globe that have voluntarily raised their hand to be part of this group, and they bring us together around activities and events that solidify our culture as well.
Sean Cantwell: That’s great. Lynne, as you know, many of our listeners are entrepreneurs and executives of high-growth startups and they’ve reached this point or they’re approaching a point, or maybe they’re in the midst of living it where the company is experiencing rapid growth. They might be raising money, which is enabling them to grow the team to support the objectives and ambitions of the team. What advice do you have for the folks who lead the HR organizations of those companies? I’m sure you’ve learned some tips of the trade along the way. I’m sure you’ve made some mistakes along the way. For someone who has the mandate to go out there and grow the team aggressively, what advice would you provide for those professionals?
Lynne Oldham: Yeah, I think to build solid foundations. Ensure proximity to customers. I think even as you grow, you don’t want your teams to get far from the customer because the customer is what it’s all about, right? There are other constituents, there are other stakeholders that you also need to pay attention to, but make sure your teams are close to the customer. I’ve talked to, for example in the HR realm, if you’re not close enough to the customer, you don’t know how to make the employees better so that the customer is ultimately happier. So you have to be right there. We talked about transparency. We talked about processes, streamline your processes, automate wherever you can. That’s all about speed to market, right? The faster an idea can go from idea to execution in your organization, the faster you’re going to be able to win. And then we talked about knowledge share and good communication. Don’t take your foot off the gas of communication. It’s the lifeblood of the organization. You have to be talking always, always, always about the why and keep everybody focused on where you’re going and why you’re going there. That’s the best advice I can give.
Sean Cantwell: Love it. So much wisdom, in those words, Lynne. As you’ve been coming up and you’re facing new challenges and trying to solve problems, are there any books or resources or podcasts aside from the Scaling Success podcast, of course, that you look to for knowledge?
Lynne Oldham: Ok, so I’ll tell you that we have three books at Zoom that we ask everyone to read. One is an oldie, but a goodie, it’s called Speed of Trust by Covey. There’s one by Lisa Bodil called Why Simple Wins. It’s all about that. Make things simpler, easier, fewer steps. And then finally Delivering Happiness by the late Tony Shy. So those are the three mandatory books at Zoom, which are all good for us and our culture. The one I really like as well and is Radical Candor by Kim Scott, because when you have a culture that you want to be really nice and kind, it’s sometimes hard to be challenging. She talks about how to be both. Which I love. And then another one I love is Laszlo Bock’s Work Rules because he talks about trusting your people. If you’ve hired well, there’s no reason that people can’t do a great job for you. Just have to give them the freedom to do it. Those are my favorites.
Sean Cantwell: Great. There are a couple of new ones in there that I haven’t read, so I’m going to put them on the list and get to those. Lynne, this has been amazing. Thank you so much. Like hearing your perspective on all these topics, which are top of mind for every high-growth entrepreneur I think is so incredibly useful and valuable to folks that either are confronting these issues or will be confronting these issues. I always say when our companies and our executives are encountering challenges for the first time, it’s like, go find someone who has dealt with that before. And given the rapid adoption and continued success of Zoom, you’ve kind of been in the middle of it all and had quite a wild ride over the last 18 months. I saw a BCG study that noted a few things that I think bode well for Zoom going forward, is that 2.5-3x increase in employees working remotely, time spent on video conferencing increasing 3-5x. And then also 70% of managers surveyed or more open to flexible remote working models. So that kind of gets to this point of why, whereas perhaps the pandemic was an accelerant for the use of technology, it certainly feels like in the case of Zoom, it’s here to stay. So I wish you all the best of luck, Lynne. Again, thank you so much. Oh, I failed to mention, by the way, during your introduction, so I’m going to do it now. Lynne is a member of Volition Capital’s Strategic Advisory Board, so it’s always great to catch up with you, Lynne. I learned some new things today and enjoy the rest of your day.
Lynne Oldham: All right, thanks so much. Talk to you soon.
Sean Cantwell: Thank you, Lynne.
Lynne Oldham: All right, bye.