Spotlight Q&A with LinkedIn’s Erica Lockheimer

Erica Lockheimer has seen a lot of change in her time and she knows what works. Here she shares with us her key tips for creating awareness and motivation for action, building learning into company culture, and why upskilling is so important now, more than ever.

Hi Erica! Thanks for joining me today. Many companies that weren’t remote-first or hadn’t really implemented flexible working had to do a quick transformation at the beginning of the pandemic. Others, like LinkedIn, already had good practices in place already to make it work and are able to have more of a long-term outlook rather than a fight for survival. As a result, how is your focus shifting post-pandemic and moving into 2022?

When you think about it simply, there are two points, first, that the workforce is changing. It’s been talked about quite a bit and we have the data on LinkedIn to show it; we’re calling it ‘The Great Reshuffle’ because people are completely reevaluating their lives. When you go through such a dramatic experience, you start to question things including your work/life balance; you start to question what your desires are and if this career is the right one for you In response, what we’re trying to do from a platform perspective, is make sure that we can connect that changing marketplace in the most efficient way for both the recruiter and the job seeker. Having more precision is critical to creating better matches. So we’re working solidly on that. 

The world opened up to hybrid and remote work overnight and now they’re opening up job descriptions to match these criteria. So we have to make sure our platform puts that front and centre. Where before someone would be a job seeker in the Bay area only, what we’re seeing now is that some of those remote jobs in say, New York or other parts of the world are now available to them. It’s about liquidity of options. So we’re changing our product quite drastically, to make sure that those matches happen. And I’m super excited because we’re launching things every single week and A/B testing our way through it. 

The second part of it is people needing to upskill and reskill at this moment. So we need to make sure that we help and meet people where they’re at. Either we have LinkedIn Learning where people can take courses – we’re big on certificates – or we’re partnering with many other different companies so that certificates are front and centre. We’re also piloting working with some of the universities in EMEA. Then we will be going into other parts of the world and want to make sure that people have a way to develop and showcase their skills, and then they also have a way to be hired for these skills. 

You may have also heard that we’re launching the learning experience platform, and we also want to expand that into other areas and provide a career hub. Some people say it’s easier to find a job externally than internally within their company, so we’re expanding to make internal mobility a real thing. I’ve been talking to a lot of customers where retention is so important; keeping the people that you have, celebrating and promoting that, and doing better matching within the company. So those are things that we can also help with as part of our platform. 

On the personal side, we’re all figuring it out. And we’ve never had to be bigger leaders. I think in our roles what really matters is having empathy as everybody’s going through so much. In this vein, we’ve offered a lot of free courses on our learning platform to help individuals – we’re really all in it together.

Empathy touches on my next question. People’s needs are no longer what they once might have been – now that our professional lives have somewhat blurred with the personal over the last year. Or are changing quite rapidly as a result of the ongoing global situation; those who once had capacity might not anymore and peers – more so than leaders – are often stepping in and filling the gap. As a leader of your own team, what do you think they need most from you now? And how do you see your core role changing and bringing this empathy front and centre? 

You have to be more present and listen. Because the thing is, I could say, ‘No meetings on Wednesdays’ but that may not work for everybody. At LinkedIn, we have days and times where everybody’s off which is extremely helpful, but everybody’s situation is so unique. There may be times when people face personal challenges and are going to be at 50% capacity because life is happening and when life gets hard, it needs empathy from your managers. So the most important thing is to communicate that and be able to appease people and say as a leader, ‘I received that and listened’. Listening is core to understanding what that individual needs and what you need as a manager, maybe very different to what they need. 

People are dealing with all sorts of things: mental health issues, caring for a vulnerable loved one, or no childcare and homeschooling. There are so many different parts and challenges of the spectrum here. The more that we have empathy and the more that we listen and honestly, just give people the benefit of the doubt, because some people are not very vocal, the better leaders we are going to be. And that’s the hard thing, I had this conversation recently with someone who was managing someone who ‘used to be such a rock star’, And I said well, maybe it’s not a performance issue, maybe you should ask how are things going? There’s usually a reason why there’s that pivot, and that change in someone and there’s probably a route to find out. It is not that we need to know every personal detail of someone’s life, but ask a simple question: Are you okay? Is everything okay? Do you need some time off? You notice the difference. I’ve seen that happen to people because this has been a really, really tough time. So I think as leaders, it’s our responsibility to ask and to help in those moments and let them know it’s okay. Allow them to take some time off and reassure them that the world is not going to end. But it will end if you or your team are actually making bad decisions or the various negative things that can actually happen if you don’t take that pause and take a step back to return refreshed, looking at things with a different lens and with clarity. We all need that break sometimes and that’s okay.

Absolutely.  One of the things that has taken a back seat for many in the last year – especially juniors and first-time managers – is professional learning and career development. How do you ensure, in this remote world, that individuals on your team still have adequate opportunities for progression?

I think they’re all personal conversations; you need to get down to the individual and understand exactly what their needs are. And that’s why I make sure I scale my team in a certain way where every single manager can have a one-on-one with the person they work with, to understand what their career aspirations are. Yes, we’re all going through a hard time and trying to keep things afloat, but even in those moments, there’s been a tonne of leadership and a tonne of innovation, because we’ve all had to adapt, and actually, you see people rise in those situations as well. So all of that is credit to those people that were able to turn things around and point the ship in the right direction and head that way. But again, it comes down to connecting with the individual and having those conversations with them. What are their career aspirations? What do they see? What do they want to do? What skill are they trying to learn? It’s not necessarily all about promotion. And I think that’s where people need to shift the focus: what is the skill that you want to learn? I’ve had some front-end developers on my team who now want to focus more on AI. So it’s up to me to think about the next project that will give them that opportunity. That’s the responsibility of a leader. If you’re not listening and asking questions or failing to recognise when that employee plants that seed and therefore not finding or creating the next opportunity, you’re not being a great manager. 

There could also be a moment where someone is trying to work on a new skill, and there’s a conflict where someone is not allowing them to exercise it. It’s not that they’re being malicious, but it’s a matter of the opportunity not being as easy as it should be. In that situation, our job as managers is also about breaking down those barriers and making those paths easier as well. You may have given them the opportunity, but also look at how you make that development path happen as well; you have to continue to see that effort all the way through, not just say ‘Oh, here’s the opportunity, good luck’ and let them sink or swim on their own. Yes, it can be good to put people in the fire – they learn a lot through that – but you must give them support along the way to see it through. 

Promotion comes with hard work and demonstrating credibility. While someone could say they want that to be the next level, but they should be evaluated on the work they’ve done, what they’ve executed, how they impacted the business and their own team. It’s not going to just be about their desires, it’s also about the results at the end of the day,

You hit the nail on the head in terms of development not always being about promotion. However, how do you spot and nurture those engineers who may not see it in themselves, but have real management potential? And how do you ensure that the process remains unbiased when considering diverse candidates, and flexible and inclusive for say those who are more introverted, neurodiverse or face accessibility challenges? 

First, we know that there are different types of leaders. There are extroverts – the ones that tend to be extra loud – and then there are introverts, who can also be leaders but won’t necessarily be a megaphone for themselves. So, of course, the former are going to be seen and that’s probably going to contain bias i.e. ‘Look at how X shows up in a meeting. Maybe they should be leading the team?’ Those biases of what a leader looks like or should be, is part of the culture and something I’ve seen time and again in my 20+ year career. Those are the ones that tend to move ahead, but I think it’s changing because we are realising that there should be all types of different leaders who have different characteristics and the more diverse a team we have, the better. 

If you get a whole group of extroverts in the room, who will be talking? Everyone will be speaking over each other and just competing for airtime. It’s not going to be that great. If anything, I find it fascinating that some who are more introverted in nature and sitting back in a meeting and listening or absorbing, say some of the most brilliant things because they were able to synthesise the problem. I’ve actually had so many conversations with extroverted leaders, where I fed back to them after a meeting to flag that they didn’t receive what everybody else said because they were just waiting for their moment to talk. 

Essentially, it’s not about what you’re trying to say or your idea. It’s about how you are contributing to the conversation. I think there’s a lot we can learn from the quieter leaders in terms of how they bring things to the table and also how they’re thinking and taking that pause to listen and absorb before stating their opinion. We definitely need to recognise those differences and as leaders, it’s our job to pull the quieter voices through, elevate them, and particularly call on them. You know, it’s like ‘Hey, what are your thoughts on this?’ Create that space.

With regard to going from an individual contributor (IC) to a manager, that type of growth, I have found that some of the leaders that I promoted to management were the ones that didn’t realise they were doing it organically already. In those scenarios, I would tap on their shoulder and say: ‘You are already leading, have you thought about being a manager?’ And those are the ones that I actually think are pretty amazing. They’re natural leaders; they solve the right problems for the business and the right problems for the team. They’re just focused and don’t wait or ask for permission, they just get stuff done, which is important. I’ve found those people to be some of the best leaders I’ve worked with. And it’s sad to say, sometimes they don’t even know how great they are. 

Then there are some who raise their hand and say ‘I want to be a leader’, and my response to them is, it’s not about telling people what to do, it’s about influencing them. And so it’s almost about having to pull them back a little bit and say let’s talk about why you want to be a manager. Let’s understand that a little bit more. So I’ve definitely seen two different ends of the spectrum here of what makes great leaders. 

In terms of the inclusion perspective, how do you make sure that the voices being elevated are the ones that are not platformed as often? For example, shining a light on women in tech or other underrepresented groups to ensure that for future leadership and the future of tech, the pipeline is diversified?

We’re all trying to solve that problem. I can’t tell you how many companies that I’ve talked to just recently, where they’re all trying to hire for diverse teams. I can tell you what I’ve experienced and what has worked – because I’m really proud that 75% of my leadership team are women – and that doesn’t happen without effort. It takes someone to look at leadership in a different way; from my years of practice, both at LinkedIn and prior, I’ve seen firsthand that the first step is awareness. 

When I first started at LinkedIn, we were in the single digits when it came to women engineers working in the company and so several of us got together and began talking. When you’re in that community where you feel a sense of belonging and you get to share some of the challenges that you have and notice they are similar, light bulbs start going off. You’re like okay, I’m not alone here. And then it’s also when you start to realise it’s not about fixing us, it’s about the other people, and then bringing awareness to them and helping them question: How are they choosing leaders? How are they choosing teams? How are they choosing to give or create opportunities? 

One of the things we did [to raise that awareness] was interview several women at LinkedIn, then we brought the honest, but anonymous results to the leadership team and the CEO and said, ‘This is how they’re feeling and we need to do something about it’. A lot of them initially say they didn’t believe it because they thought it was an extremely great company. But we said they couldn’t argue with the results and eventually once they accepted it, then we started talking about how to change it.

It led to us doing different events in the company and that started with me leading a Women in Tech initiative, where we flip the ratio and have 20% men and 80% women in leadership, in the room. We get together and have conversations where the women are owning the stage and the women do the talking about the challenges they face and the men’s job is to just listen and learn. I even had some of the male allies ask, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ ‘What should I be telling or teaching in these sessions?’ And I explain that no, this is a moment to learn. Once they got that perspective and that hook, they wanted to then become part of the solution. For them, it was about coming to understand that next time they’re in a meeting or looking at their staff, and asking the question, ‘Do they all look like me?’. It starts to feel off in a way that wasn’t picked up before. 

There are steps that you have to go through to create change and motivation for action. Because you could say all the right things but it comes down to how are you going to act at the end of the day. I’m super proud of our prior CEO Jeff – he was always at every stage and in every conversation. Ryan Roslansky, our current CEO, is also amazing, and our head of engineering is super progressive in that way where he’s actually changing how we’re hiring at LinkedIn to make sure that we have a diverse slate of candidates coming through the interview pipeline before decisions are made. And that includes not only women but under-represented groups and saying that it’s going to take us longer to hire but that’s okay because we’re going to create a better company out of it. 

We’re going through those steps now and those were some of the steps I took before we even had those policies in place. I’m really proud of the makeup of the team that I have, but we can always have more diverse teams, we could always do better. It’s interesting when I talk to different groups now, Black and Latino communities are going through some of the phases I remember, you know, 15 years ago when we’re in the single digits. We need to have that same playbook and make a change there. 

A lot of other evolution needs to happen and people are out there, but there’s a balance to be had. Yes, we want to hire all that diverse talent but can you be strategic and tap the younger ones while also investing as well. And then you have the current population, mid-career, and maybe the numbers are not as good but the talent is there. With remote work and hybrid work, you could tap into different areas. Even here in Silicon Valley, if we’re always tapping on the same people, saturation is going to happen. We’ve got to look outside so I’m really excited about growing the team in New York – there’s a lot of diversity there. You have to look outside your box to create a different outcome for sure.

Absolutely. Hiring is such a big part of that but as you mentioned, investment is just as key. Investing in your people once they’ve landed in the company and making sure that actually, the culture fits them and suits their learning and development needs and that you have the resources for that. Some companies allocate a basic budget of £X amount per person or per department, but moving out of this one-size-all approach and creating the awareness of differing development needs, how do you budget for that, and who owns the budget within LinkedIn?

There’s a couple of different things that we do. We all have a development budget and I would own it for my line of the business and we’re able to distribute that across all employees. But what I find most impactful is actually some of the programs that we have, where we’re creating this sense of community and culture of learning and growing together. 

One is for Women in Tech where we have a team that comes in and it’s expected that for the next week, you’re going to take that whole time off for the purposes of getting executive coaching. A group of people is going to come together and they’re going to learn together, and their managers can even show up and there’s gonna be a lot of support. So we create that culture where everybody’s doing something at the same time and then that awareness gets people excited. It’s been running for many years. And I can tell you that the groups that go through that program have the highest retention and the most promotions. The data speaks for itself and shows it’s a long-term gain. Not something you see overnight. 

At LinkedIn, we’ve just finished doing what we call Career Week where we have a whole set of programs where staff can decide what they want to do for a day, or a week. Whether that be signing up for this public speaking or learning from other ICs in the company. And this is expected because it’s Career Week; everybody you know is doing it. If you’re going to participate, talk to your manager and they will add the time so you’re not overworking yourself or on any projects that are due. It’s part of our culture. And when you do that – and it’s something you celebrate at company level – and people have it in their Zoom background and they’re doing meetups, it’s exciting. There’s a whole marketing and brand thing that goes along with it which goes hand-in-hand. 

We also do other things like ‘In Day’ on the third Friday of every month. We give staff a whole day to do whatever they want to work on themselves and again that is core to our culture. It’s embedded so there is this ‘always be learning’ mentality and we provide definite forums, definite programs, and definite time to be able to do that and exercise it. It’s expected because the world is constantly changing and you have to keep up with the times. I remember around 10 years ago, the mobile era kicked off, and most of our experience was on desktop. Everybody had to learn mobile development, and quickly. We weren’t able to just hire a whole team of mobile engineers, so people had to learn either by us bringing someone in to help teach and lead them or giving them the time to do so. And now we’re seeing the same thing with the AI-driven approach and the many things we need to do around that. 

Development is so important and it’s exciting, and it’s why people stay. When people feel like they’re growing, learning new skills, and working with really great people, that’s what makes them stick around. And honestly? That’s what makes it fun. 

For my last question, can you recommend a book or podcast in the area of learning development you think every technology leader should read or listen to? 

I’m going to be totally biased here but I use LinkedIn Learning! I listen to it on my runs. One great woman – who’s actually sharing her advice on confidence right now in segments on LinkedIn – is Mel Robbins. She talks about giving yourself a high five in the mirror and has just written a book called The High 5 Habit. You know, we’re all going through things, and here’s a motivational speaker talking about some challenges she had and how she overcame them, so I’m a great fan of hers and would recommend.

Thank you, Erica!


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