Episode 10

Katarina Berg

Season 2

Being A Part Of The Band, With Spotify’s Katarina Berg

In this last episode of Season 2, Katelin sits down with Katarina Berg, Chief HR Officer at Spotify. They discuss the difference between having the “right” culture and having a “strong” culture, Katarina’s famous “walk and talks,” and the two laugh over Katarina’s latest productivity hack.


"There's a big difference between having a strong culture and having the right culture. And if you believe in having the right culture, you understand that it changes."

Katelin: Welcome back to season two of All Hands, brought to you by Lattice. I'm your host, Katelin Holloway. If you were with us last season, you know we focused on sitting down with C-level execs to chat about how people strategy is good business strategy. But this season, we're doubling down. We're not only talking to CEOs and founders but a wide range of people leaders, from heads of people to chief diversity and inclusion officers, to really get into some of their core practices, principles, and beliefs when it comes to putting your people first.

I am so excited to be sitting down with Katarina Berg, Chief HR Officer at Spotify. She's been leading talent transformation at Spotify since 2013, where the employee size has grown from 900 to over 7,000. Prior to Spotify, she held various high-profile HR roles at companies like Preem and Swedbank. She's known for creating an environment at Spotify where creative and passionate people can perform at their very best. On a personal note, Katarina's been one of my most precious mentors, and I am lucky enough to call her a dear friend. We met at a conference, I mean, ages ago, and I was instantly smitten. Not only is she an absolute HR bad-ass, but she truly walks the walk when it comes to lifting others and supporting women. After we connected in Vegas, Katarina invited me into her international speaking circuit, opening the door for me for many incredible opportunities, and I am forever grateful to her. But more than that, she's always carved out time to talk shop with me. Whether it's a complex HR issue or walking me through my own moments of doubt in my own career, Katarina shows up. So needless to say, this is the episode I had been waiting for.

Katarina, welcome to All Hands.

Katarina: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

Katelin: All right, let's get started. I'd love for you to share what initially drew you into HR as a career.

Katarina: I think to be 100% open and transparent, and that usually works the best, right, is what we would in Sweden call a banana shield. It was more an accident, to be honest. I didn't really know what to study. I was choosing between three different things. Doing what we call HR management in university in Sweden had everything that I was interested in, especially within the behavior scientists area. So that was the main reason. And then after graduating, the first job, I really fell in love with the job, and I never fell out of love.

Katelin: There is absolutely a trend of some of my favorite, favorite people practitioners who have accidentally fallen into this as well. Tell me again, what do you call it? Banana shield?

Katarina: Yeah. So you slip on something and you don't really know where to end up. Usually, it turns out really well. It's not too well-planned and then, therefore, you can not be disappointed either, right? It's only going to be happy surprises.

Katelin: It's so true. I have not heard that expression yet, but I'm going to use it all the time now because I feel like that is the story of my life, the banana shield. Is there anything else you'd like for our audience to know about your identity before we jump in?

Katarina: Well, maybe it's more things that I don't want them to know. But I guess I usually stress in Sweden because I am not necessarily what people mark as a typical Swede. I'm very direct. I might even be blunt. When I say the reason for that is that I'm half Japanese, half Swedish, people get even more puzzled because I don't think that is traits that you put in Japanese people either.

Katelin: True.

Katarina: But that is what I usually, I think, explain my behavior or my way of working, and also my way of being, I guess.

Katelin: Well, your bluntness or your directness or straightforwardness has actually been very, very beneficial to me in my journey, so I think it's fabulous. Wherever it comes from, I'm grateful for it. So let's talk a little bit about Spotify. Spotify is a place that you have called home in your career for many, many, many years now. You've seen the growth and the transition from literally the beginning to where you are today, which is a phenomenal achievement. But let's talk a little bit about your culture. You all refer to yourselves as a band, which is, in my opinion, a really powerful translation of the Spotify brand and product itself. Which I always think that that's the best manifestation of culture, when you can really, really mark it and identify it as your own. And so you've even gone as far as to creating what you call a band manifesto that outlines your mission, your beliefs, and values. To me, it's very obvious how much belongingness really matters to you all. So can we talk a little bit about this manifesto? How did you go about actually creating it? What does it look like?

Katarina: So it didn't start as a manifesto because we did something, I think, exactly... Well, 2014, that we call The Passion Tour. It was more or less set up exactly like Lady Gaga's coming to town. You had tickets, you had t-shirts, you had the touring kind of on the back of the t-shirt. We did a workshop on the direction, the vision and the mission, the why, the purpose. That was what all the teams spent the morning on, and it was facilitated by my team. So it would look exactly the same no matter if we were in Rio or we were in Tokyo or we were in Sydney or we were in Stockholm. They all had a chance then to chew on it and let it simmer and also digests and spit up the things that didn't really make sense to them.

And then my team report directly back to the executive and Daniel... well, Daniel's team of, "We get this. We don't understand that. It doesn't help us with direction. Doesn't help us with decision." And in the afternoon, it was crafted in that way that what are the values, what are the playing rules, or what are the guidelines that is important for you to have fun, to grow and develop, and also to do a good job here? We had a homepage or a site because we truly believe in openness and transparency, so you could follow the tour. You could also see in every location where we have office where we have our band members what five values that were most important, not necessarily only what is important today, but what they also thought was important where we were going.

And then after doing that tour all the way out, and we started in the most remote offices and worked ourselves back to the mothership. So that was kind of the embryo to what is the band manifested today. Give everybody a voice, trust the process, and have conversations and dialogue. Then we wanted that to be something stale or something that would be there forever. So for every Intro day is where we bring all the new band members, which is more or less 350 people every quarter that we onboard into the organization. We did The Passion [inaudible 00:07:21] Tour so they could also be iterating and also pressure testing those values if they are still correct, right? Do we need to leave some because we're already there? Do we add anything?

And then last year, 2020 going into what we didn't know what we know now, we then launched the bad manifesto, which is a smaller thing, a smaller piece. Why don't we don't have them digitally? Well, obviously, we do that, and it's more about, again, how we behave ourselves and what is important. Again, we gave everybody a voice, and then we massaged it together, which is important to us in a way of, what are the direction and what type of behavior do we want to see? What type of behavior don't we want to see? And really manage expectations both before people decide to join up and be part of the band, but also when they are part of the band. Keep us real.

Katelin: You and your team do such a wonderful job of really pulling people into the culture. It is a co-created piece of work that is living and breathing. It's dynamic. This is not something that is stagnant or is published and then put on the shelf to sit and decay. I hear it when you're talking, a manifesto is something that is not stagnant. It's not stale. You are including it in your recruiting process. It sounds like you're including it in your development processes, and my assumption would be also talent development.

Katarina: Yes.

Katelin: Because if your values are something that are evolving... You talk about how they are not just the behaviors that you want to see, but the behaviors that you want to build and grow into the future. Can you talk a little bit about how you use values as a tool in the organization?

Katarina: Yeah, you're 100% correct. Everything that we design from leadership development to drive your own development, most of the things that we want to reinforce, because you know as well as I, the year of 2021 is also the year of re, right? Reinvent, redefined, reshuffle, rethink because it's a lot of things - that we got accustomed to we really need to rethink in so many ways. I think it has helped us also pivot. But before that, and when we started to do all these things, it was important that it wasn't something that either the executive team came out with or the brand and creative team put together.

Katelin: Right.

Katarina: I think it goes back to a couple of beliefs. One is, when trust goes up, speed goes up. When trust goes down, speed also goes down. And if you are in a very competitive landscape, and if you are true to where you started your roots and being a very innovative company, then I think everything that you do with your people processes have to be like that too. I think there's a lot of companies, and I worked in a couple of them, that you talk about how do you live your values and embody the brand. But here, actually, it's part of the way that we do things. The other thing that you also, I think, have to trust and believe is this: There's a big difference between having a strong culture and having the right culture. And if you believe in having the right culture, you understand that it changes. All your people are the culture, and the culture is your people.

So as you are, like us, in a hyper-growth and you add new people all the time into the organization, the culture and the values will change. They will evolve, and they need to do that. We have seen so many people, so many organizations, so many CEOs, and some founders too... I know you read the book Mice To Man, right?

Katelin: Yes.

Katarina: You love the mice so much so you want to keep it. But you hug it so much you kill it too, right? This is really, really important. When you do that, you also put your culture and you develop and the growth of your people and your company. You don't shift the load from the left leg to the right leg a bit too early, which is a good thing, right? Development should hurt. If it doesn't hurt, it wasn't development, it was something else. So you have to think of using and putting your values into action and to do that. And also, challenge them all the time.

Katelin: Yes. Yes.

Katarina: It's one of those hit, re-hit, and remind kind of work, and you're never done.

Katelin: I am smiling because I oftentimes have used Of Mice And Men as well, the analogy of loving something so much you cause harm. It just goes to show how aligned we are and how we think about culture building. Over the years of getting to know you and getting to understand the way that you operate within Spotify and the way you move through this world, honestly, is always so incredibly inspiring. The way you share the shifting from the left leg to the right leg, shifting that weight and really being that astutely aware of the organism, right? Of your culture and how dynamic it is and how it's shifting and changing with time, understand that it's being co-created. What are you, 5,000 employees now globally?

Katarina: Well, we're close to seven, I think.

Katelin: Oh, my good golly.

Katarina: Yeah.

Katelin: Yeah, 350 new band members a quarter. My goodness. Well, first of all, congratulations on that epic, epic growth. That's insane.

Katarina: Yeah, it is.

Katelin: So you have to keep up with your culture, and your culture has to keep up with you. You don't have much of a choice now, do you?

Katarina: I think that is both a blessing and also maybe sometimes not so much. I almost said the opposite. But it keeps you on your feet. It keeps you also not doing easy, blue copies of yourself, and it keeps everybody trying new things. Not just because you get bored, because there's no time to get bored. But it's very hard to get complacent, which I think we all have a tendency to do, right?

Katelin: Yes.

Katarina: So I think that's been one of the things that I think my team but the whole band has been very good at. And it's very early days. I mean, if you talk baseball language that my boss sometimes do, maybe we're at second inning. It's very early days.

Katelin: That actually leads me to my next question, which is more around a specific value. Most companies have experienced some sort of fairly extreme either growth or reduction in the last year and a half because of the world at large and all the things that are happening. Spotify has to be one of those companies that has just absolutely taken off. But as you are both growing and developing your product and what you're putting into the world and the impact that's having on people, you also are that parallel path that implies that you are also having to grow and develop the team, the band. And so, using your values as a guidepost, I think that in this time of epic growth for you all, I know how much you lean on your values. One value that particularly stands out to me is this notion of controlled chaos. Can you talk a little bit more about what that means to you?

Katarina: For me, personally, I used to welcome everybody on that Intro day that I mentioned before, "Welcome to chaos." I was so happy the day when I really relieved and also believed that I could say with 100% confidence, "Welcome to controlled chaos." Because in the early, early days when we were a startup, it was so much about trying to put the pieces in the right place and at the same time find you really good, really smart, and the right bodies to join the band all the time. But obviously, that was a lot of things that we did, like most startups, that you start to build the house on floor 4, 5, and 6. All the sudden, we realized that we needed to get the foundation in, but at the same time do 7, 8, and 9, 10.

That is not a small feat, and this is where a lot of companies with great ideas, even excellent ideas, this is where they go finding themselves drive down in the ditch instead of excelling. Because then it's kind of all about org design, leadership and talent acquisition, which is things like you and I, that's our forte. But if you go back, and especially in the tech area or other areas, this is not necessarily where you put most of your trust, in the CHRO role or the people department. You say that people is your most valued asset, but what you don't really act and you don't lead by that. So I think the things that was important to us the company was to realize a couple of things that Daniel has been very clear on from the get-go.

One of the questions that we do get then in the Intro days when I talk about controlled chaos is this: "Are we a tech company, or are we a music company, or are we a media company? Or what are we"? And he always, because I think that is my question to answer, he usually take their microphone and says, "No, we are a talent company." First of all, that is music to my ears because, you know, the things that we do. But the second thing is when you start to really believe that, and if you have a founder and a CEO that believes in that, anything is doable if you have the right people, you treat them right. And you know, I know that the hardest thing any organization can do is stop doing stupid things to their people and their customers, right? If you crack those two codes, you're home safe.

What I then thought with the controlled chaos I needed to tell people already before they were part of our recruitment process, "This is what you should expect. This is what's going to happen. Change will be our constant. Not because everybody says so, it's going to be our constant. It's going to be controlled chaos. We work with polarities. It's never either-or at Spotify, it's always both of them. A lot of things that are not necessarily all nice or neat or professional, all of these things that you can expect, we wanted to tell their story over and over again, so that people that don't hate change or get anxiety or burnt out of that, that they would not, even if they are super smart, super cool people, they should not apply. For all those things are trying to be responsible, trying to over-indexing communication, trying to be clear on the EDP, trying to make sure that everybody that joins are as equipped as possible on what they would face when they come in so they will not be phased. And it is a controlled chaos.

We also are quite loving it because we think as soon as it is a bit too clean, a bit too nicely-run processes, everything is in order, this is when we also might, we might, we don't know, we think there is a risk that we then lose innovation, which is part of our DNA.

Katelin: Yeah. There's so, so much in that response, Katarina. This is what I love so much about talking with you, especially when we really get deep into talking shop. Things that I heard in there that I want to make sure that we call out for our audiences, one, invest the time in being open and authentic and honest about your culture before people actually become engaged. I say this all the time. It is actually not in my best interest to sell you a bill of goods that does not exist. Let's be very open about this. I know that you and I have talked previously about this notion of the company obviously has needs and employees or candidates have needs. It's our job to try to find that point of intersection. It's really important to find that idea of, "This is what we have to offer. This is how we operate. Is that something you're interested in?" Because it's not going to be right for everyone.

The other thing that I want to talk about is you talk a lot about your relationship with Daniel here, actually, your CEO, and how you believe and you've said together enough that you are a talent organization, which is a really, really powerful thing to say, and something that I know that our listeners are very keen to learn more about. And particularly for you Katarina, I think that you are the gold standard for what that relationship should look like. But really, I think a lot of HR practitioners and a lot of people in people roles really look up to this dynamic and this relationship that you have. I suspect that this is probably why you have been at Spotify for so long.

Can we go back to the beginning? I know that you two have such a strong and trusted relationship that's developed over a long period of time. That's with any relationship, but what did it look like when you first met him? What about that relationship or that first conversation or those first few conversations could you look back on and say, "Yeah, this is going to be a place for me."?

Katarina: I actually turned the man down three times, and not because I didn't understand that this could be one of the coolest, if not the coolest, HR jobs out there. It was just a bad timing. I learned a couple of things very, very quickly because he didn't give up. He kept calling back. One, he's very stubborn. I like that. He's very, very, also persistent. I like that too. He's a very, very smart person, and I love to learn things. I realized I would learn a lot of things because if he's not brilliant, he's very close to brilliant all the time.

When I actually signed up, he said something that really spoke to me, and it was him saying this eight and a half years ago, he said, "You know that music changes and enhances every moment of your life?" And I'm like, "Yes." You wake up, and especially in the part of the world where we live, Sweden, it's dark a lot of months. It's quite cold. And he said, "You know you wake up and you might not be your best you, and you're maybe a bit cranky mood. And you hear that song, well, we all know what that song is for us, and there can be different things over time. And you go up and no matter if it's the radio or if it's Spotify, you go up and you crank it up and something happens to you. Everything changes, right?" And then he said, "Why wouldn't you want to be part of spreading the joy of music to the rest of the world?" And I'm like, "Boom, why wouldn't I?"

Katelin: There it is.

Katarina: Right? There are so many companies that are looking for a mission or a purpose. I think it's been very clear for everybody that joined this band that, yes, music actually enhances every moment. No matter if you're on your way to a funeral, if you falling in love, if you're breaking up, if you going to an interview or anything, it really enhances. It's been the beginning together with poetry and other types of culture attributes, a lot of revolutions. So music is very essential to who we are, to culture, and it has that effect. So I think that was the main reason why I decided like, "Hey, okay, so I signed up for something else. I really liked that manager. I liked that Johnny, but this is something else." So I had to work with this very young, back then, he's still quite young, but this young Daniel Ek, and I have never, ever regretted that.

Katelin: I've been faced with a few people who have posed questions like that to me as well, where you just can't come back with a good answer. And being very rooted in logic as I know that you are, I can imagine what that feeling was like. Obviously, your reaction, I think, was very appropriate. I also know that our audience here today, not everyone can find a Daniel. There are fortunately or unfortunately very few Daniels in this world. Can you think of any advice off the top of your head for folks that are in the field or are looking to build a better relationship with their CEO or their founder? Any advice to help build and strengthen that relationship?

Katarina: Yeah. I would go to the extent to say this. There's no two other roles that should choose each other as much as the CEO should choose his CHRO, and vice versa. Because that chemistry and that foundation of values, back to the values, need to be the same. The way that I see my job, my role, and what I do on a daily basis is much of being the translator or the FX of the currency of what is he, in my case, he, what is he trying to build? What are we trying to do? What is the purpose in the company? The way he expressed that, no matter if it's, in my case, a very humble, introverted, much more of a product person, how do I put that into programs? How do I put that into processes? How do I create and amplify a culture on what his whole mission is, right?

If he would then have inherited me, right, if he wouldn't be the founder, if I was here when he joined, we didn't make that repurpose so we could also repurpose. I think that would never, ever. So when people sometimes say, "You're lucky with Daniel." I am, for sure. But maybe he's my 10th CEO, and I think I've been lucky like that with... I'm not going to say all because that would be a lie, but eight of 10, and they were totally different, and they were not all men. He's the first that is younger. I've been in all types of businesses, but I have made sure that I choose the CEO and that the CEO chose me and taking some time not to evaluate so much the package or this or that, but more of the relationship, the way that we speak, and that we want to do the same thing and that our value compass is the same thing. Not saying that we are on a higher ground, but the same. I think that is important.

And then, I think, you can build that relationship from there. Again, it doesn't mean that you need to see eye to eye or you agree on everything. I think a good relationship like in your private life is actually when you can lower your voice, but you can also get upset and a bit emotional or call bullshit once in a while. Maybe not first week with a new boss but quite fast. And keep each other real. I think that is important, and really challenge, pushback, and not just go, "Yes, yes, yes, boss." or, "Ooh, I think that is wrong." I think that is a very healthy dynamic I would look at as a very important relationship in that sense that like, "Okay, I ended up with this CEO." You should choose.

Katelin: I think that's phenomenal advice. I have gotten it very, very right in my career, and I've gotten it very, very wrong, and for many different reasons. To your point, it's like any relationship that we have. But I agree, within organizations, that relationship between the person running your HR teams, or whatever you call them, and the CEO and founder team is absolutely critical. Something that I really love that you do is your HR walk and talks. So if anybody follows you on LinkedIn, they will see these lovely, beautifully, candid photos of you and some random HR person out in the real world walking and talking. And of course, the pandemic has shifted that a little bit, but I'm curious to hear from you, what inspired these walk and talks? How did you start those up?

Katarina: I started with walk and talks 17 years as a part of the leadership training of designing because I love designing trainings and programs. I thought it was back then it wasn't 100 kids, it wasn't digital at all. It was a lot of classroom. But I wanted people to get out, and I wanted them to walk because I do most of my best thinking when I'm walking. Second, it's very hard to see hierarchies when you are walking because you are not necessarily looking. Clothes are also taking away a lot of that typical signs of who's the boss and not boss and who's a bit younger and all that. People also tend to think much more freely and be a bit more creative when you're out walking. And if you come to think of it too, very few meetings where you take really smart notes. When most people scribble on a whiteboard, I do that because I think I have too much energy and I guess I think it's part of my [inaudible 00:29:00], but it doesn't make sense for my team. I'm pretty sure that they go, " [inaudible 00:29:04] I don't know what your... What is that? It's scribble." And I'm going like, "It's super clear, but it's clear here."

I think it's easy for me to discuss that. So I started to put walks and talks into all the leadership training to get to know, but also to make sure that everybody got time with each other with one easy question, and it started with, "How are you doing at work?" And then I just brought it into the HR world too, because there is a lot of younger colleagues out there that you don't know. And that I think we owe it to to have conversation and take. But how do you do that in a very busy schedule?

So when they ping me on LinkedIn or they ping me somewhere else, and they're like, "Can we go for a walk and talk?" It's like mentorship. You think that you will be the one that is generous and you will give your time and you will use all your experience and the smartness. It's always the opposite. You learn from all these people. You get new inspirational things. They have put one and one together in a different way, which make you start to think about three and four and five. So it's a win-win in so many ways, but you also get out of the office, or at least what we used to call the office.

Katelin: I miss our walk and talks. We are so long overdue. My next question was going to be exactly that. Did you or were you able to successfully translate that into the virtual world over this last year and a half? Were you able to keep the spirit of that alive through the pandemic, or did they fall off?

Katarina: Yeah, so we've been very fortunate in Sweden that we were not in lockdown in that way or we were quarantined. We had to, obviously, distance and we had to do all the other things that was necessary. But also, we are not that many people in a quite big, in that still spacious country. Even if we live in the capital, it's a lot of forest, it's a lot of parks, it's a lot of space. So I think I put up on LinkedIn, it might be 10% of all the walks and talks I do. And one of the persons that I walk and talk with at least once a week is my boss because he's a big fan of walking a lot too. I kept that up, and that also, I think, kept me healthy.

I miss my team, and I needed to walk back into better health. I think we all struggled. The people that said that they didn't in one way or another, I think they are either delusional or lying to themselves or trying to be strong in a very strange way. This last 17 months have just been awful to all of us, but there's been some blessing in disguise too. The walk and talk has, I think, spread in a positive way, and I hope people will keep them no matter who they are or in what purpose they use them. But for sure, just to get away from screen and not get screen fatigue and take more meetings and more calls on the phone has been really, really good... digital too.

Katelin: I'm so grateful that you are able to prioritize and carve that time out. Like I said, not just for your team and the folks that you've been able to connect with, but really what you're putting back out into our community is a really lovely thing. So thank you. I know that every company has had deal with its own sorting out and finding its sea legs of how do we go from working in one office or a few offices to this idea of remote work or virtual work. Spotify, being a global company, I think that you all did a great job of really getting ahead of it. You've launched this program called Work From Anywhere. I read up about it on your blog, so if anyone out there would also like to read about it. You've well-documented it which, again, the community is very grateful for. But can you share a little bit more about this program and why you decided to roll it out?

Katarina: So there was a couple of things that we started to talk about five years ago now. First it was just Dan and myself. Again, if I'm going to confess to something, he thought that we would be distributed or remote or work from anywhere company already back then. And I'm like, "Okay, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. I don't think our managers, leaders are ready for that. I'm not really sure if our people also would really enjoy that 100%. I think most people will get confused. What do we do with all our offices around the world?" And so I saw a lot of problems rather than opportunities.

But then we started to have this as one of the things that we had on all our walks and talks. So every week we debated on what does it actually mean? One of the things that we started to talk about before COVID was we are actually already distributed first. As soon as you are on more floors than one, you are distributed. As soon as you have more than one office, you are distributed. When you start to have 73 offices in all times zones of the world, obviously, you're super distributed. So why don't we solve for that? The second thing is, okay, why would you do that? Because you can tap into new talent pools. So you could attract people that might not want to go exactly where we have an office, don't necessarily consider their job to be nine to five, or go to a specific building. They might want to do work when it's suitable for them depending on what their kind of life look like.

And then when we started to think about, okay, so attraction could be good, tapping into new pools of talent could be good, retaining people that might not want to stay in a location where we have an office, and where we already have built up relationship, why would we then lose them just because they want to move back home or want to be closer to nature, or now everything changed because they're becoming parents and all that? So retention, that would be also good for that maybe. And then I think the last notion that work, it's not a place you come into, it's actually something you do. And then there were no reason for us not to look at what would then a Spotify Work From Anywhere or Manywhere program look like?

So I tasked Alexander Westerdahl and [inaudible 00:35:44] in my team and said, "Hey, can you look into every aspect, including borders, labor law, global salaries, whatever insurance, all the blockers, look at them, but they cannot be a reason why we say we need to wait or we can't do that. There's nothing that you find that will sell. You can't be like me with Danny, like, 'No, too early. No, we're not ready for you.'" What we had asked in our people and serving all our people during COVID too was this, because that really pivot or accelerated it or fast forwarded it for us was this: we want the flexibility. We want the freedom. But we also want to come into something to find that connectivity, that social glue, that tissue that is community, that I have the club blazer of this team rather than another team, which is not a bad team, but this is the team. So where do we do that if we don't keep an office or a specific place, and whatever we call it in the future? Can we have those collective places where we come together, reinforce a couple of things, but also reimagine the offices in a different way?

We used the last 12 months to then use that input from the teams and from all the band members of really rebuilding, redesigning the offices in the way that we foresee that we're going to use them. We're going to keep asking them and keep tweaking because, as we said before with the values, this will change over time, and we will not get it right. It's important to really stress that we are humble about this. We don't know it all. When everybody's like, "But science says this and science says that." Science can't say anything because we've never been here before. This is a big experiment. This is the first time we are here. So what you do is you invite scientists to be part of this, and then you are open with your input and your data and your conclusions, and share that with other companies that are interested and also have maybe the same type of jobs. Because this doesn't work for every company, this works for us.

Katelin: It's so smart. I am chuckling to myself a little bit here because I too was the one who said no many, many years ago to my leadership team, and I held the line. I'm pretty sure that if I had been in a practitioner role at the start of 2020, I think I would have had to have gone through the exact same process that you did. I think that the lesson that I'm hearing here and the thing that I want to highlight or underscore for our audiences, really when you are feeling like you are moving very fast and there are so many moving parts, to sit down and take the things that you are underlining as problems or challenges and just for two seconds, taking that moment to whiteboard for yourself, even if it's just mentally or with someone on your team to say, "How can we turn those into opportunities?" I know how hard that is to do. Again, something that we're sharing but it's much easier said than done. But hearing you say you were put in a position to more critically look at all of those blockers with a different lens and a new perspective, I can imagine how not only exhausting that was, but how rewarding on the other side.

Katarina: Very much so. The team has been really good, but also how they work with our diversity, inclusion, belonging teams. What are the pros and cons, what will that affect? But also with the compensation and benefits team, what does that then look like? Obviously, can we ensure people if we would like them to be 100% digital nomads? Can people move everywhere and then if you want to be, and you say you are, and your ambition is to be a people-first company, will they be safe? And can we provide for them in that way? There are a couple of things that we can't do 100%, but the guard rails are not ours, it's actually the way that it's set up.

But you can always do this. You can hide behind that, or you can go fast and you can just be back to being open and transparent, over-index on communication with your team, and then say, "We will do some couple of things that are even maybe close to stupid, but we will iterate, right? We will [inaudible 00:40:36]. We will make this right with the help of you, and it's going to be a dialogue. And the things that don't work, or if people are getting hurt, so we have to pull back on things and we can push on other things. But by not understanding that the train is almost leaving the platform and not getting on the train and not understanding that you can get off on a different station, I think that's a very, very, very reactive and not necessarily all that fun, but not smart either.

Katelin: Right. Right. A question that I have found myself asking of leadership teams in this advisory role as an investor now, a lot over the last year and a half has really been... The first question is, is this decision irreversible? And the answer to that question, the majority of the time, every decision is reversible. You can get off of that train at a different stop.

Katarina: You can always change your mind, right?

Katelin: Absolutely. Absolutely. And it's so important for whole leadership to remember that, not just folks in the HR field, but all leaders to remember that. Another mantra that I say often is, "Be very, very sober about the present and be incredibly optimistic about the future." It's the only way we're going to move and develop and evolve together over time. Because if you get either one of those wrong, it makes things very, very painful. It's not that you can't do it, it just makes it a lot less of a fun and graceful experience for everyone.

Katarina: No, but I think that is super important what you were saying because being negative, it's easy. Pointing out where the risk or the weakest point, super easy for anybody. But being positive, that is real leadership because you have to be courageous enough to say that I believe in this. Because you know as soon as you do that, people will have the opportunity to pull you down, right?

Katelin: Yes.

Katarina: You put yourself at risk when you're positive. For the longest time, when people were positive or nice, you were gullible, or that was not strong, or that was not this and that. But I think everybody needs to rethink that. Being nice is pretty cool and being optimistic or positive, that is true leadership, and I think the world needs that more. The thing is as long as you know that you will not get anything 100% right. But there are always chances to iterate and also tweak and get it right. It's a lot about also staying passionate, curious about things. And it's all about learning all the time.

Katelin: 100%. I am getting very re-inspired to go out and do new work, but that's not where I am right now. So thank you for that. Okay, so I think that this is going to bring us now to the rapid fire section because we are quite literally at the present. Are you ready for the rapid fire questions, Katarina?

Katarina: Well, I almost said I was born ready, but let's see if I'm ready.

Katelin: I'm going to ask you a few easy ones, and then I'm going to go a little bit more challenging. So, are you ready?

Katarina: Yes.

Katelin: Okay. What song is at the top of your Spotify playlist right now?

Katarina: Right now, my most played song that everybody would understand what it is is Take My Breath with The Weeknd.

Katelin: Yes. Yes. That's a good one. That's a good one. Next question, looking at the desk in front of you, what item in front of you sparks joy and why?

Katarina: I have a juggling... What do you call them? Do you call them jumping balls?

Katelin: Yeah.

Katarina: When you juggle?

Katelin: Yeah. Why does that spark joy?

Katarina: Because I enjoy juggling. When I get antsy, I get up and juggle.

Katelin: I would love to see that one of these days. Here's a fun fact, I'm totally derailing our rapid fire, but did you know that when I was a little girl growing up in Alaska, my parents were actually professional jugglers in addition to many other wild things? I can barely catch one ball.

Katarina: Okay. My mom could do eight, but I can only do three.

Katelin: Oh my God. This is very new information for me, and I'm enjoying it very much. Okay, next rapid fire question. What is your favorite productivity hack these days?

Katarina: Okay. So I usually say this and people laugh, but this is very true. I do everything hard. My biggest hack is when I go and use the restroom, I do that very hard, which means I do that very fast. I know you shouldn't say this when people hear you, but I do everything very... I sleep hard. I eat hard and fast. I also use the restroom very, very, very, I do think, hard with pressure.

It saves a lot of time. Don't try this at home, kids, but for this [inaudible 00:45:33].

Katelin: I am absolutely going to do this today.

Katarina: Yes.

Katelin: 100%. And this is my favorite question of the podcast simply because I'm trying to collect all of these things and that was not on the list yet, so I'm absolutely going to go to the bathroom hard today. Thank you for that. Okay, thank you. I thought that those would be easy, and they turned out to be far more entertaining than I expected. I'll bring it back on topic for our audience here. What is one tactical thing that leaders or HR teams can do today to support hybrid and flexible work with their teams?

Katarina: I usually say this: the most strategic thing that you can do is be more operational that you want to. What I mean with that is being really tactical is saving you a lot of time and really not trying to be uberly smart or go, "I done this now for 15 minutes, so now I need to work more strategic." I think that is one of the biggest mistake you can do if I'm going to mention one thing.

Katelin: I think that's wonderful advice. Okay, this one might be a little challenging, but it's something that is important for me to ask of you today, which is, when was the last time you were deeply proud of something you have accomplished?

Katarina: You are right, that is really, really tough. When was I proud last time? I think one proud moment was, and that is 2015, so it wasn't yesterday, and it wasn't last year. 2015, the team launched our global parental leave, and that made me feel really good. And why it's still is one of my proudest moment at Spotify is because Danielle and I get at least one email a week from parents going like, "This was life-changing." And then makes me all warm and fussy. They send the cutest pictures with kids in onesies because you get a gift box from us with different things. What do you call those headphones so you can go to concert with kids, babies? You get the onesies with the, "I'm part of the band." And then they send the pictures, and that makes me so warm and happy and proud. And then I send it to my team because they did all the amazing work with that program. So 2015 was the last time I was really, really proud.

Katelin: I love that so much. And I will say that when you rolled that out, that inspired the entire industry to rethink what it was that they were doing. And so I'm glad to hear you say that. That is something that I am also proud of you for. So thank you for sharing that with the world. What a lovely, warm note to end on. But Katarina, I just want to thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us today and for always being such an incredible friend. I said I wouldn't get emotional, and I'm going to keep it pulled together here. But thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us here today. The ask as I leave here with you is just please keep leading authentically. It is so needed. So thank you.

Katarina: My pleasure. And thank you for having me.


Thanks so much for joining me on this week's episode of All Hands, brought to you by Lattice. I'm your host, Katelin Holloway. This episode was produced by Lattice in partnership with Pod People, Rachel King, Madison Letsby, and Samantha Getsick. Learn more about how Lattice can help your business stay people-focused at lattice.com. Or find us on Twitter, @LatticeHQ. Don't forget to subscribe to All Hands wherever you get your podcast.

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About the Guest

podcast guest

Katarina Berg

Katarina Berg has been heading up Spotify's global HR team and she's also head of the  company's Global Workplace Services and Strategy Operations teams. She’s been with the  company since 2013, leading the talent transformation during the business transition from  startup to a mature international company.  

Before Spotify, Katarina held high-profile HR roles in various multinational companies, such as  Preem, Swedbank, Kanal 5 (SBS Broadcasting) and 3 (Hi3G Access).  

As well as catering to the people needs of a diverse, nimble and ever-changing organization,  Katarina is also focused on building teams and reinventing processes to establish an  environment where creative and passionate people can be their very best, have fun and  develop great careers. Outside work Katarina loves to spend time in the archipelago. When she  is not eating her way into new cultures or cooking for friends and family, she dreams of the days  back when she travelled the world whitewater rafting.

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