Pandora CEO & HR Chief Focus on Culture, Principles, Music

Rapid Growth & Diversification Means More Complexity & Collaboration

SANTA CLARA—May 12, 2015—With 80 million people listening in to any number of Pandora’s personally tailored music stations each month, the rapidly growing internet music company is intent on finding the right kind of people to fit its uniquely creative culture.

“When I think about scaling, it’s not just volume,” said Kristin Robinson, Chief Human Resources officer at Pandora. “It’s also complexity in our business.”

Robinson, who joined the company last year from Yahoo!, was on the HR Symposium stage recently with her boss, Pandora CEO Brian McAndrews, for an informal discussion about HR strategies that have made the most difference to their company. They talked about challenges, principles, culture and, of course, music, before answering questions from a packed audience of nearly 600 people at the Santa Clara Convention Center.

In addition to his title as CEO, McAndrews serves as president and chairman, He joined the company in 2013. Formerly a venture partner at Madrona Venture Group specializing in early stage technology companies, McAndrews said it was the unique culture at the music company that drew him to the new job.

“Pandora is a place where people live by principles,” said McAndrews. “Our purpose is to unleash the infinite power of music. We as a team articulated that. We obviously believe music has incredible power.”

Pandora, with more than 250 million registered users and more than a billion dollars in revenues, is the fourth largest mobile advertising company in the country. The company has recently launched a new initiative to serve the music industry. The new Music Maker products include an artist marketing platform that helps artists better understand their fans and message them. The initiative also includes live stream performances and ticket sales to music performances. The goal is to reach a billion users.

“It’s an expansive vision,” McAndrews said.

As a new CEO, McAndrews’ top priority has been to learn the business and make sure the company has the right skill set to move forward. Six of the 10 people reporting to him, including Robinson in HR, are new and each of them has experience at companies larger than Pandora.

“They had seen where we want to go,” McAndrews said.


Pandora Growth

The company, which employed about 1,000 people at the beginning of 2014, now employs more than 1,600 people and is expecting to continue hiring at a rapid clip. New skill sets are needed to develop products for its millions of listeners, advertisers and, now, Music Maker customers.

“It’s not just a listener product anymore,” Robinson said. The challenge, she said, is to find candidates who can span a portfolio of products versus just a single product. “That has an impact on how we’re working together as an organization.” Communication and decision-making are the key things that come up, Robinson said.

“As you get much bigger and more distributed, it gets much more difficult.”

One of the things that has been most surprising for Robinson, who joined the company last year, has been the large amount of time devoted to recruiting, networking and interviewing.

“Every single day it’s about hiring,” she said. “It’s one of the top strategic focus areas and initiatives for HR this year.”


Refining Core Principles

Among the helpful strategic tools for recruitment has been a set of clear, unifying principles and a commitment to the uniquely creative and collaborative culture at Pandora. It is a company where people identify themselves to each other in part by revealing their favorite Pandora station. For McAndrews, an avid Elton John fan, the station these days is pointed at a Spanish guitar station and Sam Smith. For Robinson, it’s Miles Davis for the contemplative moments and the Black Keys for workouts. Music of all kinds and a reverence for artistic creation is at the heart of the company’s culture.

Last year, with the support of the company’s founder and other early executives at the company, McAndrews brought the senior team together to discuss the company’s core principles and vision. He wanted to simplify and clarify principles so they were reflected throughout the company. No one, he said, knew all 15 of the company’s principles and they were not always articulated the same.

“I felt as a CEO I have to be able to stand in front of the company and believe in the principles and articulate them,” McAndrews said. “Principles are really core to what a company is. You want people who are attracted to the mission or purpose. You want people who believe in the vision and you want people who behave according to the principles.”

Robinson was at the company barely a week when she stepped in to facilitate the process. The result was a “very clear purpose and a vision to guide you,” she said.

The senior team crafted seven mission principles, including one that values music and the people who make it and another recognizing the power of personal. Others involve putting the company’s interest first, trust, teamwork, humility and an unapologetically profitable revenue-building model.

“It was a great team-building exercise,” McAndrews said.

With the newly refined company principles in hand, recruiters had a critical tool for sifting through Pandora candidates. They guided the hiring of a new general counsel and the chief product officer.


Retaining Culture

With the rapid growth and more than half the company now located outside of the Oakland headquarters, how do you retain that unique culture? How do you hold on to what is special?

“When I first came to Pandora I said to people that there’s not a day I don’t think about culture,” Robinson said. “Now, I tell them there is not an hour in a day that I don’t think about culture, how we’re making decisions, how we’re communicating to the organization. What we’re not saying says something about culture and what we are saying.”

In Silicon Valley, where competition is fierce to hire the top engineers, Pandora has an added filter. It’s not just about hiring the smartest and brightest, but to hire people who believe in the power of community, collaboration and are grounded in themselves. The idea is to hire culture enablers who will press the company forward even in a downturn.

Candidates participate in “tons of interviews with different people in the company. There is no one litmus test, but Robinson listens for the use of “I” vs. “we” and if people recognize collaboration behind their achievements or simply talk about what they accomplished. If people are interested in a new title, it’s not enough.

McAndrews says he also looks for good listeners, people who are paying attention to cues and people who have a passion for music and the industry that helps carry it.

“The number one thing I can do for culture is hire the right people,” Robinson said. “Not just people who are going to fit with the culture, but people who are going to amplify it, people who are going to make it bigger and better than it already is. We did that in our search of executives.”


Diversity & Outreach

Pandora approaches diversity from different angles. A secondary principle at the company is trust—to be yourself and to help other people to do the same. Nearly half of Pandora employees are women. Pandora was one of many Silicon Valley companies to report diversity statistics last year and the company recently hired a new diversity program manager last year to help with outreach. Lisa Lee, diversity program manager, is reaching into local communities, including high schools.

“If you walk into Pandora people look really differently,” Robinson said. “We have a lot of diversity of opinion.”

Part of the company culture is the recognition that people play different roles outside of work.


Enlightened Practices

In the last year, Robinson and her team have had to create a new compensation framework. They are working on a better service delivery model and establishing new “people practices” vs. “policies.” The focus is on “enlightened practices” with language that reflects the culture and effectively addresses the more than 60 percent of the workforce that is younger than 34.

“We’re reinventing a lot,” she said. “They expect something different. I have had to step back and ask, How do you do this for the 21st century?


HR Executive Panelists Discuss the Future of the Profession

Trends, Titles, Technology and Tips


SANTA CLARA—May 12, 2015— In a lively discussion at the annual HR Symposium in Santa Clara, a panel of seasoned San Francisco Bay area HR leaders discussed industry trends, the changing expectations of HR professionals and new technologies. Then, with 20/20 hindsight, they looked back at their careers and offered up some golden tips for their colleagues who are still new to the profession.

The panel, moderated by Terri Griffith, an author and chair of the Management Department at Santa Clara University, included top HR executives from Hitachi Data Systems, Lam Research, Plantronics and GoPro.

The executives urged newcomers to the field to read business publications, network more than they are, particularly where their CEO is networking, and look at other industries for new trends. Consider how you are going to impact the workplace with your unique brand.


People vs. Resources

Among the many topics covered, panelists considered how the evolving titles of today’s HR leaders, such as Vice President of People Operations and Talent Chief, reflect changing expectations for the function.

Jeff Ryan, vice president of People at GoPro, noted that Google pioneered the use of people in place of the term human resources to emphasize an expanded role for HR.

“Particularly in technology organizations, (there is) the desire to do something a little bit different,” Ryan said. “These days, great benefits and solid management and hiring great people is sort of the ticket to play.” The focus is increasingly on business strategy and, particularly in competitive markets, on providing an exceptional employee experience. It is an evolution, a shift to se employees as people and individuals rather than resources, Ryan said.

Your title is an opportunity to express what you’re about to your employees, said panelist Susan Lovegren, senior vice president, Human Resources & Facilities at Plantronics. “Externally it also signals what your company might be striving for.” The shift reflects a growing accountability for the entire portfolio of HR-related services.

“HR is becoming more interdisciplinary and that includes being good business people,” Lovegren said. It reflects a stronger brand identity as well. “The terms will continue to evolve. Whatever you call it, you have to deliver on that promise.”


Changes in Organizational Design

How to implement shifts in organizational design is part of that growing responsibility, panelists said, citing several nontraditional structures such as the Gap’s implementation of Results Only Work Environment and Zappos’ manager-less, employee-centric holacracy. Elancing staff and new outsourcing platforms have been implemented to support business units.

Scott Kelly, senior vice president, Human Resources at Hitachi Data Systems emphasized the need to be aggressive in getting rid of extra transactional work. Some new structures may provide opportunities to do work differently, but HR leaders need to really understand what they need at their company to drive business strategy. Don’t focus on what other companies are doing and miss what will actually fit with your company’s needs, Kelly said.

Panelist Terese Kemble, senior vice president, Human Resources at Lam Research, also urged caution in adopting new things that might not be practical or appropriate for a particular culture.

“There are so many new things coming out,” Kemble said. “It’s really important for us to understand the business strategy. Until I understand the company and what this culture is and what we’re trying to achieve—it’s not a one size fits all.”

One example of an initiative that reflects a company’s unique culture is GoPro’s Live it Eat it Love it, a program that encourages employees to leave work two hours a week to pursue their passion and capture it on their GoPro camera. One employee may head to a soccer game and another, to a surfing venture. The initiative supports the company’s visual and action-filled culture. It’s aimed at supporting a more deeply engaged workforce that is more connected to the company’s product and services, Ryan said.

“It wouldn’t work necessarily at another organization but it works for us,” Ryan said.

It really gets down to how you are going to get work done, said Lovegren, who was tasked by her CEO with discovering a way to have “smarter meetings.” At Plantronics, a communication technology company, smarter meetings initiative was a way to explore how to get things done in new ways and map out the future of work environments. What Lovegren found is that while hierarchy has its place, the more efficient (and energizing) solution involves accessing the community more directly, involving interns and executives, globally and virtually, to get the work done. It’s really important, she said, to not think about those barriers that obstruct nimble action.

“It’s very much the way of the future,” Lovegren said. “There’s just too much work to get done.”

We all have those “Stop. Look. Listen moments” when we pause to consider the bigger picture and ask ourselves what are we trying to achieve? Griffith said. It’s important to consider all the parts someone can bring to bear on the business.


Keeping up on the Latest

As enticing as new HR technology can be, it needs to be the right technology at the right time, panelists said. HR leaders have to decide which tools to try and how to integrate them into their processes, always looking to minimize transactional work and move the business forward.

When adopting a new program, having leadership support and understanding pain points are important as well. Consider how different organizations within a company are going to adopt a program. Sort through the analytics that will be valuable to their particular company, panelists advised.

“Adoption is the sexy thing and the implementation is the afterthought,” said Griffith who authored the book, The Plugged-In Manager: Get in Tune with Your People, Technology, and Organization to Thrive.

In a recent survey, 14 percent of companies were involved in some kind of predictive analytics, such as the use of an algorithm to indicate when someone might leave a company or who might make the best recruit. At Plantronics, a pilot software program has helped match mentors with mentees.

“It’s kind of a for mentors and protégés,” Lovegren said. “It’s a way to personalize a development experience. You can scale that globally.”

With any large program, however, the inflection point is when it can be personalized for your business. There may be predictive software to alert you when employees are likely to leave a company, but, for some, it might be more advantageous to handle things more traditionally by simply asking someone their plans, Kelly said.

Panelists said they each have worked to prioritize tasks, streamlining and eliminating as much transactional work as possible. Lovegren suggested that instead of analyzing each policy, a time-consuming venture, HR leaders should simply ask, What are the core things that are helping the business move forward?

As hard as it is to let go of long-held processes and policies, consider the time that could be devoted to coaching and developing employees.

“That’s where we want them to spend more time, not doing paperwork.” Kemble said.


Diversifying the Workplace

Under pressure to find the right talent and get new hires from more diverse pools, companies have been examining traditional recruiting practices to avoid unintentional bias. They are broadening their search of talent pools, developing outreach programs and augmenting family benefit perks. One panelist recalled finding a great candidate with poor English skills who they helped by providing communication assistance.

“There’s an opportunity for companies to think differently about styles, about backgrounds, about capabilities and really broaden that net more,” Lovegren said.

The culture of a company that starts programs with inclusion first helps people start thinking about how I can be different?

Panelists urged applicants to network, to learn from others, to keep up with current events and consider what is their unique contribution. A lot of it is figuring out where you are relevant and where your skills can best be used, they said. Stay curious and become a better critical thinker.

What is your unique contribution and how does that become part of your brand? What problem am I going to solve? How is this service I’m providing relevant to the business?


The Power of Storytelling

Communication is always one of the top challenges for growing companies. Companies are using more multi-media modes and social media platforms and have experimented with making the traditionally one-directional all-hands-on meetings more interactive.

“We’re always challenged to understand what do employees need to know and what do they want to know?” Kemble said. Traditional modes don’t necessarily communicate as effectively as they used to.

“At end of day you can use lot of different mediums, but what people like is face to face,” Kemble said.

Kelly emphasized the importance of a clear message that is repeated and repeated again. “Seven to 17 times,” he said.

GoPro uses a number of different channels and quarterly meetings. It really has to be deliberate,” Ryan said. We’re not there yet, but it’s certainly an important priority for us.”

Plantronics tried for a short time to make monthly town hall meetings more interactive. The CEO asked everyone to read The New York Times bestseller, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip and Dan Heath. Unfortunately, the book club format failed to generate a hoped for discussion and turned into an uncomfortable pop quiz by the CEO. The company opted to pan the experiment after a couple months.

“In these town hall meetings people are looking for context, reassurance and what’s going to happen with the company,” Lovegren said. “The preference is to ask questions beforehand or in private.” Time would be better spent on helping senior executives to become better storytellers, she said. The power of storytelling is that it helps people be more comfortable with information.


Tips for HR Success

With hindsight, the panelists had some tips to offer HR professionals still early in the careers: network, ask for help, and take more risks.

Panelists said they start their day with a business publication to keep up with global news. They go outside their particular expertise to study trends and technology that might affect the workplace.

Your brand is about your work, Lovegren said. “If you’re passionate about what you’re doing it’s going to show. People are going to gravitate to that.”

  • Early on, look for structured development opportunities such as certifications to build a strong foundation.
  • Take more risks.
  • Ask for what you want.
  • Keep developing yourself. Have curiosity.
  • Network with others in and out of your profession.
  • Understand what motivates people.
  • Be curious. Ask people how they experience HR.
  • Look outside the company and even the industry to consider new trends.
  • Develop a global perspective.
  • The language of business is numbers. Understand the business and make sure you are comfortable with numbers.
  • Find out where your CEO networks and what s/he reads.
  • Be nimble.
  • Celebrate what’s unique about what you’re brining to the table.
  • Be clear with what you don’t know.
  • Go to people outside the function and inside the function for help.
  • When you look at your work tasks, remember: if it’s not connected to the business, it’s probably irrelevant.

Kemble suggested saying yes to new opportunities—even if people aren’t confident in something. “Take the opportunities that present themselves,” Kemble said. “It’s amazing what can happen.”


HR Symposium Honors Leaders For Excellence

2015 Award Winners: Susan Ramirez, Richard Morse and Noël Kreidler

SANTA CLARA—May 12, 2015—Human Resources leaders who launched successful new healthcare and coaching programs and overhauled their departments were honored with the annual HR Symposium Awards of Human Resources Excellence, an annual celebration of vision and execution in the field of HR.

This year’s award recipients—Susan Ramirez, Richard Morse and Noel Kreidler—have each contributed to the success of their organization in meaningful ways.

“The Symposium Awards of Excellence were created to recognize extraordinary achievement and advancement of our profession within the greater Bay Area,” said Jeff Jacobs of Juniper Networks who partnered with Deborah Huff of Lee Hecht Harrison to lead the Awards Committee. This year, the committee received nominations from throughout the Bay area as well as a nomination all the way from Tanzania. Each year’s winners are chosen by the prior year’s award recipients.


Susan Ramirez, Senior Director, Total Rewards Americas

Hitachi Data Systems

Susan Ramirez, senior director of Total Rewards for the Americas at Hitachi Data Systems, received a 2016 HR Symposium Award of Excellence award for her multi-year initiative to overhaul her company’s healthcare strategy. The project, which started five years ago, resulted in remarkable employee participation and a drop in healthcare costs for Hitachi.

Despite initial resistance from several fronts, Ramirez had impressive results. She saw that the company’s healthcare costs were increasing by 7 percent per year and led a team to design an Employee Healthcare Consumerism strategy that included Hitachi’s first Health Saving Account option.

“Employee participation in this voluntary program grew to over 87 percent, resulting in savings of many millions of dollars to apply to other employee programs,” said Carol Dixon vice president of Global Human Resources at Overland Storage. Dixon received the award last year. Ramirez’s efforts contributed to a 4 percent drop in annual healthcare cost increases.

“Her passion and commitment to healthcare consumerism and the impact that it will have on our company and our employees over the long term is unwavering,” according to Scott Kelly, Hitachi’s chief human resources officer. “Her steadfast determination is the driving force behind the successful execution of the strategy and the cost containment we are experiencing today, and will continue to experience for years to come.”

“One of the main success factors is that we had our leadership behind this program,” Ramirez said, noting that it took some convincing initially to get the CEO on board. “But, once he was, he was the true champion. We led with the data; the numbers don’t lie.”

Ramirez credited the hard work of her team and said they worked to put a vision in place and hold steady to it.

“We’re on a journey,” Ramirez said. “We’ve made lot of progress, but we have a long way to go.”


Richard Morse, Associate Director, Learning and Development

Brian Miller, Senior Director, Learning and Development

Gilead Sciences

Richard Morse and Brian Miller, associate director and senior director respectively of Learning and Development at Gilead Sciences, shared the second award for their work in launching a comprehensive executive coaching program for Gillead.

“What they found with their historical approach to coaching was a lack of visibility into selection, quality control, expectations and costs,” said Eric Severson, senior vice president of Global Talent Solutions for the Gap. Severson, who presented the award to Morse, received a 2014 Award of Excellence.

The Learning and Development organization established processes and guidelines for effective coaching, outlined key responsibilities, identified and shared best practices, and implemented an assessment process following all engagements. Formal coaching goals are now set at the beginning of each engagement and progress reports are generated mid-engagement and at the end of engagement.

“While this is a simple summary of all the steps taken, you can imagine all of the moving parts and stakeholders involved in such an undertaking,” Severson said.

The new processes have had results. All functions in the organization are participating in the executive coaching process. In 2014, 21 percent of active coaching participants were promoted during their coaching experience. L&D accounts for 95 percent of coaching engagements compared to about 30 percent before.

It is “one of the most comprehensive and well-managed offerings to senior leaders that we have observed in our almost 20 years of working with over 100 client companies,” according to Mariposa Leadership.

The simple purpose of the program was to help leaders continue to make a difference and to help Gillead be the best place to learn, Morse said.

The award recognizes that “excellent coaching can be and should be an integral part of developing leaders,” Miller said, thanking business partners and the team of coaches that helped launch the program.


Noël Kreidler, Human Resources Director

Project Hired

The third award winner, Noël Kreidler, human resources director at Project Hired, was honored for the rapid transformation of an underserved department at a 35-year-old nonprofit agency.

In just a year, Kreidler created an employee handbook, a consumer/client handbook, a job safety handbook including an injury and illness prevention plan, and guidelines and requirements for employee record keeping, on-boarding new hires, issuing offer letters, and vetting and documenting employee performance concerns. Kreidler completed a full company climate survey from administration to action planning, trained corporate staff in assessing and bringing in talent, designed and launched a performance management process, established and managed vendor partnerships, completed a full review of benefits for call center operators, and supported her CEO through a grueling certification process with the Department of Rehabilitation.

Kreidler also volunteers to coach and support Project Hired clients, noted award presenter Eileen Nelson, Cupertino Electric senior vice president, who received the award last year.

“While this is an amazing list of what she accomplished, she is also recognized for how she accomplished it,” Nelson said.

Project Hired CEO Sharon Winston credits Kreidler with helping to strengthen and revitaliz the organization.

“I was looking for a leadership partner who would challenge traditional concepts and me, seek clarity on all matters, and practice the skill of focusing on goals while always doing the right thing,” Winston said. “She brought her brand of authenticity, honesty, intelligence, inquiry, learning, and discourse to the agency. We are all better workers for her being here.”

“This is quite an honor and one that I was completely surprised to be nominated for,” Kreidler said. Kreidler said she is grateful to bring her personal experience as a person with a physical disability to the organization, which is dedicated to helping people with disabilities find employment.


Nominations for Awards of Excellence 2016 are welcome year-round. For more information, visit


HR Symposium 2015 Welcomes Nearly 600 HR Professionals

SANTA CLARA—May 12, 2015—Nearly 600 human resources professionals refreshed their perspectives with wisdom from some of the top HR leaders in Silicon Valley at the annual HR Symposium held recently at the Santa Clara Convention Center.

“Today is meant to be a special break for you, away from work,” said Sharon Winston, a member of the Human Resources Inc. Board of Directors, chair of symposium committee and event emcee.

The annual event, which draws an enthusiastic crowd every year, is a forum for human resources professionals and students to hear about the latest trends and best practices from leaders in the field. They celebrate the recipients of Awards of Excellence and scholarships and, during the breaks, burst into a roar or networking. Some attendees participate in luncheon discussions on various topics, win prizes and exchange business cards at sponsoring information tables.

“Our purpose is to advance the human resources profession,” Winston said. Volunteers contribute more than 1,000 hours of service to the event.

It is an event to inspire newcomers to the profession and renew those who are more seasoned.

“You all make a difference,” Winston told the audience. “You may not know when that difference is happening. But, everyday that you show up to do this job and, when you do it really well, you literally change lives and sometimes you save lives. So don’t ever underestimate the power of the opportunity you have.”

The next HR Symposium is slated for April 28, 2016 at the Santa Clara Convention Center.