IN-PERSON is a podcast series that tells the stories behind the world's most daring events and the people who make them happen.

Music by Winesap.

 

GUEST SUBMISSIONS
By Industry
By Topic
By Role
feather_search

23 | Karen Merritt, LinkedIn: Talent Connect, Customer-centricity, and Space Mountain

  • November 20, 2019
  • 43:04

Karen Merritt (Head of Owned and Operated Events, LinkedIn) shares a behind-the-scenes look at Talent Connect, how she and her team take a customer-centric approach to events, tips for creating networking opportunities, thoughts on segmenting audience data, and what marketers can learn from Disney Land.

You can also listen on these platforms:

Top Takeaways

1

TAKING A CUSTOMER-CENTRIC APPROACH: LinkedIn hosts over 200 proprietary events per year. The success of their event execution is a laser-like focus on customers and attendees. “[Every] decision that we make through programming, attendee engagement or event flow, how we're moving people through a given convention center or hotel is very thoughtfully planned. We want to make sure that we are a step ahead of any anticipation from our attendees."

2

CREATING NETWORKING OPPORTUNITIES: To spark conversations, Karen’s team used a concept called “Common Threads” inspired by LinkedIn's product marketing organization. At an event, the events team would set up tables with different topics, allowing anyone in the event area to chime in and potentially foster a deeper conversation. The concept proved successful and allowed attendees to, “make connections and continue the conversation even after the event.”

3

DRIVING EVENTS WITH DATA: Karen and the LinkedIn team rely on data to inform event decisions like where to host events or what topics, content, or speakers resonate with attendees. “There’s always a fine-tuning year over year to make sure that we use this data, continue to hit the mark with our attendees, and create that value.”

ABOUT Karen Merritt

As the Head of Owned and Operated Events at LinkedIn, Karen oversees the strategy and execution for many of LinkedIn's roughly 200 events across the globe. Prior to LinkedIn, Karen had the opportunity to lead events at companies like Cisco and Splunk. 

Episode Transcript

BRANDON:

Karen, you are the Head of Owned and Operated Events at LinkedIn. I think pretty much most of our listeners are familiar with LinkedIn. However, could you share with us a little bit more about what your responsibilities are there and how your team is structured?

KAREN:

Our team really focuses on proprietary events. In the events world, it's the events that are really delivered through the corporate lens, extends the brand footprint. We own the audience segmentation and invitation strategy, the branding, the entire customer journey and experience, and we bring that to life. Our planning cycles are longer and really run from roughly nine to 12 month planning cycles.

When we are in a down cycle, we're already looking at future forward and oftentimes five to ten years down the road. For my team, we're structured as a team that is the liaison and the interface between our external partners. We work in conjunction and in partnership with our stakeholders that come from our internal business units. What we do is we take that vision and strategy and we make that come to life and execute in a really well-oiled machine type of way.

We're the interface with our external partners and agency friends that we like to call them and family that they eventually become. We run from event strategy, to program management, to operational focus and also registration.

BRANDON:

I know we're going to be talking about one of the owned LinkedIn events in just a little bit, Talent Connect, but could you give us a ballpark of how many other events LinkedIn runs in a given year?

KAREN:

I would say it's upwards of 200 plus that is run through our centralized global event marketing organization. Then we also have our regional teams that are in EMEA, APAC, so on and so forth that are also supporting events that really are focused to help our field and sales organization to continue to engage with our customers and have that touch point with them.

BRANDON:

I would love to talk about your career before LinkedIn. Beforehand, you worked at Splunk, you worked at Intel, and Cisco. All these are hugely successful companies. I'd love to learn a little bit more about what your journey was like through those different organizations and how they led to where you are today.

KAREN:

I by happenstance landed in events. I actually started at Levi's and I was just out of the dotcom bust and managed internal events for them. Company meetings, our volunteer day at Levi's. It's a great organization that really gives back to the community and unfortunately was laid off and landed at Cisco. Cisco was where most of my career really spans. I like to say I grew up at Cisco in the events world and really went to the Harvard or the Yale of event execution and strategy, which to me I think is so fortunate and I'm so grateful for that time there because it allowed me to be exposed to various types of events.

I would have to say that I started from the bottom and made way up to leadership positions, which has propelled me to be able to extend my reach and skillset to other companies. As you mentioned, I did a small stint at Intel, which wasn't for very long, but it gratefully propelled me to my position at Splunk.

At Splunk, I was able to actually pivot and I started to help them grow their EBC business and that's the Executive Briefing Centers. It was a slight departure from what I was doing at Cisco, which was more corporate events and yet it added to my lens in working more directly with the sales organization. So really being closer to demand generation and the sales funnel.

At Splunk, it was great. I was able to build from the ground up, which was something that I had not done at Cisco. Cisco is a very well-oiled machine. Each year, we were absolutely adding events, but we had the infrastructure, and we had the resources, and we had the tools. While at Splunk, it was a three year old public company and so a lot of those things needed to be integrated. It needed to be added to the processes where processes may not have existed.

At Splunk, I grew in that manner and it really broadened my career skill set and experience in that now not only do I have the corporate marketing background and understand about the extension of brand, but now truly understand how we can help the sales organization and their pains and really focus on ROI. So, two pieces of the puzzle and having both that marketing and sales lens has really helped in a lot of the strategic work that I've done as well.

BRANDON:

That's so cool. I mean, I just love hearing about how you land into events over at Cisco. As you said yourself, you started very much at the bottom and you had experience and exposure to all the bits and pieces that go into making a successful event campaign happen. Hearing about how you're able to leverage that elsewhere, building the program at Splunk, it's very exciting. If you were to look back at either each of these companies or just in general, what's one lesson you may have learned in the process?

KAREN:

Patience.

BRANDON:

Yeah.

KAREN:

Patience. That is patient with yourself and patience in trusting the process. When you come from a well-oiled machine, like a Cisco environment, what I learned was patience, in that not everyone is going to immediately come on the train and follow just because you have a process document. There has to be a certain way to create belief and to really bring teams along where potentially processes don't exist or they're used to doing it a certain way. I think with that experience that I had at Cisco and working on multiple programs, I was able to really kind of see the end goal, and the steps to the end goal, and the easiest way to get there, fewer steps done better if you will. I think that I learned and continuously learn as well.

BRANDON:

You had a great deal of experience learning how to exercise patience among other things at all these amazing companies. Then you eventually ended up at LinkedIn.

KAREN:

LinkedIn has been a culmination of, I think, both experiences. Our global events team is about a two and a half year old organization within the companies. When you think of that in that regard, we are still ourselves building. However, we are established in other ways. It's a nice culmination of the experience that I had working in a Cisco environment and the experience I had working in a Splunk environment.

BRANDON:

Let's talk Talent Connect. This is LinkedIn's annual flagship event. It brings together thousands of global talent leaders and it also features some pretty amazing speakers. I know that this year you've featured a number of speakers including Michelle Obama. For our listeners who are not familiar, could you briefly describe what Talent Connect is and the type of audience it speaks to?

KAREN:

Talent Connect by far is our marquee event from a corporate perspective and it's really where we bring together a culmination of the world's top talent leaders, some key innovators and influencers in the talent industry and focused on talent acquisition, decision makers, learning and development decision makers. We bring together an event where they are able to not only learn but they are motivated and we have discussion pieces that help them do their jobs better when they go back to the corporate world.

BRANDON:

I understand that you take a very customer specific approach to planning an event like Talent Connect. Could you share with us what that approach looks like?

KAREN:

Customers and our attendees are our central focus, so they are our beacon. Every decision that is made from a programming or even attendee flow perspective is with them in mind. We do that in various ways. As I mentioned, it's through content and really understanding who has a voice currently and who is going to inspire and also motivate the audience. We look at other speakers on who is going to really shed light or talk about topics like the future of work, so on and so forth. Then we also have engagement in our product and technology focus and so how they can use LinkedIn in their day-to-day jobs.

First and foremost at the heart of all this is networking. How do we create experiences for them that allow them to meet others in their similar line of work or folks that are not in their line of work where they can glean some lessons or experiences or even make connections so that they can continue to have conversations even after the event. Every decision that we make through programming, attendee engagement or even flow, how we're moving people through a given convention center or hotel is very thoughtfully planned for. We want to make sure that we are a step ahead of any anticipation from our attendees.

BRANDON:

Could you give us a few examples specifically around networking experiences, how you and your team are crafting these opportunities for people to connect?

KAREN:

We really focused this year on a concept called common threads, and it was come out of our product marketing team and in that organization. Common threads was a concept where we created a whole area in what we called our In lounge. Our In lounge was really part of a hall that had product showcase. We had a theater that was located there. We also included our rockier profile concept where folks could come take a photo for their profile on LinkedIn, and then also meet with LinkedIn subject matter experts to update their profile on the platform.

But going back, common threads was something that we integrated and tried this year and a new concept in where there were topical discussions and tables and the tables on themselves had topics where people could come in, meet anyone that was in the area and wanted to also discuss that particular topic, and then have deep conversations about it throughout the event. This year, it proved to be successful in that we were able to prompt them and give them some topics that were hot right now or even top of mind.

I think next year what we found was there is perhaps a bit more facilitation that we could do because a lot of people are coming in. They kind of sniff what's going on and then either they engage if they're really outgoing and if not, they tended to kind of go elsewhere. But this concept, overall, was highly utilized and folks are really excited that we actually introduced it.

BRANDON:

In other events, I've heard about something similar typically around a lunch experience. Is this throughout the event day?

KAREN:

It is. There's pockets of time that's dedicated, so we have open networking time where they could come in and enjoy the In lounge and all that we have to offer in there. Then sessions were... there wasn't anything happening. We actually shut this area down so that all they had to do was go to sessions and choose from the different breakouts that we offered in those topics.

Again, we do that so as not to create somewhat of a panic in folks so that they don't have to be in a position like, "Oh, I have to do this and then I have to do that." But it's more how we flow the day where this timeframe is really focused on breakouts. This is focused on networking, this is focused on evening event networking, so on and so forth. They don't feel that pain of having to make a decision on site.

BRANDON:

Another thing that you mentioned was creating this very much a white glove experience for the attendees. They're making sure they feel taken care of at every step of the journey throughout the event. When you and your team are thinking about this, how does data enter the picture, if at all?

KAREN:

Data is huge and coming from my background at Splunk and the experience of the power of data. All through events, even at Cisco, data was the centrifical force behind every decision we made, right? We wanted to measure every experience to make sure that it was relevant for our audience. We wanted to make sure that it was satisfactory and that they felt value in that particular experience. I'd say that data for us is extremely important. We continuously want to ensure that decisions we make for anything if it's even an activation or a decision to go to particular city as far as where we'll host the conference data is definitely something that we glean and look into very heavily.

BRANDON:

I think a lot of our listeners are hearing about just more and more opportunities to leverage data in order to shape experiences that are more personalized, basically more targeted. With that said, what other data points do you consider?

KAREN:

For us, LinkedIn is in a unique position because we have so much insight from our platform that we can actually bring to life. One of the biggest initiatives that has come out from our leadership, specifically Jeff, is our uniqueness in sharing an economic graph. It is worldwide data based on where the hottest markets are from a job perspective, the trends that we're seeing, the types of jobs that are recruiting the most, where the declines are.

For LinkedIn, that type of data is something that we culminate and like to share with our attendees because again, it is such a unique position to have data from 650 million users on our platform and ensuring that it is fresh, and relevant, and up to date. That is continuously something that we're looking to leverage. That is a distinguishing differentiator, I believe, for our events in that we have the power of all these insights to share with people and really at their fingertips.

From an event's perspective, we use data as well to help make decisions on, as I mentioned earlier, which city to go to. That could be, where is the biggest opportunity from a business perspective, where are most of our attendees located? There are those things that come into play. We also use data anecdotal at times, where our attendees really interested in visiting. Those types of questions really help in our decision making. But a lot of it is how we evaluate certain sessions, how we evaluate certain experiences.

If certain topics really didn't resonate, that's something that we look into and we look into, is it the topic or was it the speaker or was it the content? What you'll find these days in events is there's so much that you can measure and what you measure and how you measure is equally important. For us, there's always a fine tuning year over year to make sure that we use this data because it's important that we continue to hit the mark with our attendees and really create that value.

BRANDON:

There's a lot of technology that's going on, on the back end in order to make these events happen and make them very relevant to the people who are attending them. I also understand that at the event, you are a strong believer of leveraging technology to make event experiences more meaningful for both attendees and organizers. I'd love to hear your thoughts on that. But first, I understand that you've had an experience with some attendeeish technology over at Disney. Could you tell us how they're handling this whole entire mobile technology thing well?

KAREN:

Yeah. Actually, Disney is quite innovative. They really are focused on that attendee experience and creating something where attendees or visitors to their parks really make the best use of their time. One of the things that was extremely helpful and I found out from Uber, Disney visitors is a mobile app and they use a mobile app, which allows you to use your time wisely while you're at the park. What they include are wait times, they include information on areas to visit during down cycles, the best restaurants to go to depending on your flavor of choice.

There's that from a mobile app perspective, but they're also using RFID technology as well with their Disney bracelets. One of the features that they have is if you are a member of their annual pass holder system, they offer you some specific perks. It's great to have some sort of personalization as you arrive at the park and some sort of VIP level experience.

From that perspective, I thought, "Wow, Disney is really doing it well in that perspective and really trying to ensure that not only are you visiting the happiest place on earth, but you're also creating it in a less stressful way."

BRANDON:

I have to ask favorite ride?

KAREN:

Ooh, Space Mountain.

BRANDON:

Space Mountain?

KAREN:

Mm-hmm.

BRANDON:

Why is that?

KAREN:

It's one of those that are fast, it's in the dark, there's this cool laser show with music. For me, it's one of those growing up rides that's always been the favorite. Every time we go, Space Mountain is absolutely part of it.

BRANDON:

Awesome. We heard a little bit about how Disney is using technology to improve the visitor experience. So, how about at Talent Connect? How are you and your team leveraging technology to improve the experience of the attendees?

KAREN:

We absolutely have a mobile app. Our mobile app is again, that beacon of light that people use while they are on site. They were able to select sessions that they were interested in, find out the current flow, and things, and areas that were open during the program. That's definitely one way. We also integrated technology in what we call our In lounge, just not necessarily an exhibitor showcase or product showcase, but really an area for folks to either take or see network and also see some product installations.

But this year, we did try and integrate some really cool activations. One was done in partnership with a company through Freeman and Helios, and it was really an aggregate of all data worldwide based on certain jobs and things like that. That was an investment on our end to ensure that there was relevancy and key learnings. I'm calling that one out because there was a lot of integration with regards to the data that we were mining within LinkedIn and how we could make that come to life through a visual and interactive way.

What it was, it was a tabletop format and people could kind of click through any part of the global world and certain data points would show up and you could kind of drag and drop and ensure that, again, as folks came by, whatever they're at ground or skill, they will come up and actually learn about a new data point. Again, something for them to take back to the office and kind of mine and keep in the back of their heads as part of another interactive experience on site.

BRANDON:

In the past, you've said that consistent measurement is something that the industry as a whole has not yet invested in enough. What strides is your team taking to measure the success of Talent Connect?

KAREN:

We have a great team this year that took that on and it was a robust collaborative experience internally to ensure that the questions we were asking, we're hitting the mark. What we base our evaluations on for our events is really based on NPS, fairly different from where I've been before, where oftentimes we're using the Likert scale. But here, the investment is with NPS.

From a consistency perspective, we're heavily invested in those questions as we continue to data mine year over year. The efforts that we're taking is ensuring that we are measuring apples to apples. How we phrase the questions across speakers, how we phrase the questions across relationship questions is something where, again, we could show the trends and make deductions through that.

The other thing from a corporate event marketing perspective that we're doing is across the board, so not only for our proprietary events is a consistency across. Taking what we're doing at Talent Connect and also leveraging that for other programs, and then even on the sponsored side as we go to other conferences, what are those unique data points that we're capturing and ensuring again that there's apples to apples?

It's something that is continuously evolving to ensure consistency, but it's super, super important. If certain groups are asking questions in a different way, it's hard to see the trends and it's hard to really use that data in a really effective manner. Consistency across specific questions, we could have unique questions by event, but there should be some foundational questions that we are asking event by event for that measurement piece and apples to apples comparison.

BRANDON:

Are there any tactics you have found to be helpful for getting people to participate in these surveys?

KAREN:

Incentives are really, really great. I think that is always a great way. However, I think it's really what we use this year is including it in our thank you email and thank you for coming. That's a great way to engage. We also use a lot of the mobile app, using mobile app and having folks provide their feedback there. I think in the age that we live in, there is no short supply of feedback. The mobile app was a great temperature gauge in real time for us to see how people were reacting to the conference. I think there's various ways that we're doing that.

BRANDON:

It sounds like 2019 Talent Connect was a great success. Going into 2020, what are some lessons learned and new things that you are planning on implementing?

KAREN:

We are currently in a review cycle right now. I think there's always some tweaks that can be done on the event. Nothing I think staggering truly stands out right now. I think there's some operational things for us that we can continue to work on. However, for next year, it's really... And I think every conference goes through this, but how can you top the last?

For us, it's at the evaluations on the data points from what our attendees provided to us and making sure that we take that into consideration with all of our decision making. I think as conferences continue to evolve and innovate, it's useful for us to continue to visit other conferences and see what's out there, what's trending, so that if there is a way for us to incorporate it, we can add that to the experience.

As I mentioned, it could be a tactile engagement or it could be a digital engagement. I think it's really balancing the appetite for your attendees and making sure that you don't over index in one way or the other.

BRANDON:

I'd love to talk a little bit about activations and experiences outside of Talent Connect, specifically South by Southwest. This year, LinkedIn stage its first installation ever at South by Southwest and as some of our listeners may know, South by Southwest is a huge, huge event that is known for being a particularly viable platform for tech companies.

Twitter was launched there, other companies have been launched there as well. With that in mind, could you tell us a little bit about the decision process to exhibit this year and maybe a little bit about the main goals, and how the experience was crafted? Now, I'll caveat this by saying that I know this activation was not run by your team but by the sponsorship's team.

KAREN:

This is a great example actually of LinkedIn coming to market with all of our solutions in one place. Shout out to my counterpart at the time, Rena Lindell. She led the effort and really created a program where our attendees could understand where we're coming from a talent solutions perspective, really see what we're doing from a learning perspective as well as sales and marketing. It was a great way for us to finally come collectively, whereas previously, a lot of our go to market strategies from an event's perspective, were really focused on a specific solution or a specific audience profile.

As you know at South by Southwest, it is a huge conference with multiple audience profiles and demographics. For us, we could hit quite a few of not only our users but folks potentially that aren't even customers just yet, or customers that we certainly have but may not know what we're for instance doing on the talent side if they're part of sales and marketing or vice versa.

It was a great way to kind of culminate all our solutions and show the power of our platform that it really isn't just a place where you can connect with other professionals, but it's a place where, hey, you can actually use this if your sales organization has some quotas that they need to fill. There's some data points that we can help provide to you and some assets. That to us was a huge, huge win. I think met with kind of anxiety internally like, "Is this the right decision?"

Ultimately, with the success of it and all of the accolades, and the media coverage, and folks that we're actually hosting on social media, it turned out to be one of the best decisions in a long time as we look to really position LinkedIn in the way that I think moving forward, we realize it's important that we do need to get the message out, that we have so many product solutions for a given organization. Tapping into it is a powerful way for not only your employees but also for you to attract your customers and maintain your customers. So really, really great positive outcomes and we're really looking on how we can continue to hone in that presence next year in 2020.

BRANDON:

It's definitely a unique situation that LinkedIn is in because on the one hand, it's somewhat of a B2B platform, on the other hand, it's very much B2C. An event like South by Southwest definitely straddles the line between the two itself. But it sounds like this was a great opportunity to speak to both of those audiences.

KAREN:

That's correct. That's correct. We had a really nice area at Brazos Hall. It was one of our executives called pole position, it was in a great area, and a very widely sought venue, and so we were able to say that. Then this past year, we also layered that with Mindy Kaling, who joined us for a really nice discussion with one of our key execs focused on diversity inclusion, and that was a great conversation.

To your point, we absolutely had a lot of flow throughout the space that whole week with users and then towards the evening, our sales and field executives also have the opportunity to host customers. At some really intimate and strategic dinners, we also hosted customers and provided networking opportunities for them as well.

BRANDON:

Did you have the chance to steal away at all and check out some other installations there at South by Southwest?

KAREN:

We did very minimally. I'm sure you know it's super hard when you're at an event and you're working and helping out and supporting the program, and so we did. We had some opportunities to kind of slip away here and there. I'd say, gosh, South by Southwest is such a huge conference and there's so much going on and it's a two wave scenario where, it's focused on the technology piece one week and then secondly at the entertainment. It was quite overwhelming in that regard, but I had a chance to see a Sony installation, which was quite impressive coming from that consumer lens and hardware area. Then Netflix was quite awesome.

Netflix had an installation. They were focused on a lot of their upcoming new series, and they just do great installation and popups. That was another one that I think was pretty memorable.

BRANDON:

Could you tell us a little bit more about the popup and kind of what stood out about it to you as an event professional?

KAREN:

I think it's the use of digital and the engagement and really the real estate that was used as well. I think super clever and engaging folks. I think you've seen some of the popups at Netflix. That's where they really immerse you in the story of that particular series, for instance. Really, really good in that regard.

BRANDON:

We talked a bit about Talent Connect, we talked a little bit about South by Southwest. What else is coming up in the LinkedIn event pipeline?

KAREN:

Oh, we are super, super excited. This year, we are looking to host a net new event that will be focused on sales and marketing executives in April of 2020, actually in New York. We are working fast and furiously right now to ensure that we have the right attendees, so going through that audience segmentation planning process and also ensuring that our creative is spot on and relevant and really working on a solid agenda. That's the next thing that we're brewing at LinkedIn. Everyone is incredibly excited and behind it because it's the first time that we are really looking to tell a bigger story from our sales and marketing solutions perspective and really positioning the thought leadership out there and bringing some external perspectives and internal tidbits from LinkedIn that we can help evangelize out there for all of our attendees.

BRANDON:

You said that an event is like a Thanksgiving, which when this episode publishes in November is going to be right around the corner. Why is that?

KAREN:

I say it's like Thanksgiving because you are literally sharing your life with a team and group of people for a, like I mentioned, nine to 12 month planning cycle. Coming on site is really that culmination and I liken it to Thanksgiving because everyone has to bring a dish to Thanksgiving. There's a lot of coordination around Thanksgiving. There's a little bit of stress around Thanksgiving. There's a little bit of strife because everyone is very stressed about ensuring we have the right dishes or so on and so forth.

Similar to event, I'd say it's that experience. Ultimately, you are a family when you come onsite, you are a united team, and you are coming from disparate parts of the country and everyone's flying in. When you see people on site, there's always this moment of that time during setup of like, "Oh my gosh, it's so great. Here we are." This level of comradery where it's a culmination of everyone's hard work, and so that's why I liken it to Thanksgiving. You spend five to seven and sometimes more days together on site. You give your heart and soul to it and then everyone, at the end of the program, is just grateful, right?

When you think about it, everyone is grateful for a successful event, grateful for the time, grateful for executing, and no fires were had, so on and so forth and just grateful that the attendees had a great experience. In my mind, I always think of it as a professional Thanksgiving and that's how I have defined that.

BRANDON:

I love it. I think that's especially important when you're working in a distributed team like you are, having that opportunity to come together, and see each other face-to-face, look at what all of your hard work has led up to.

KAREN:

That's right. That's right.

BRANDON:

On that note, how would you describe your approach to managing your team within this distributed framework?

KAREN:

I do have a team that is located in different parts of the country, which to me is actually I think a non-issue. At Cisco, again, we had great technology with video and WebEx and all those technology features that it's not as difficult. For us, we have a lot of team engagement meetings. We also use teams in order to keep in touch. I also have one-on-ones with my team separately on an individual basis. When people come to town, we tend to want to get together for a lunch or a dinner. That's another way that we keep that team mentality and ensuring that there's that chemistry within us. We also do offsites.

Offsites could be once or twice a year pending our schedules. But that's another opportunity for us to come together and learn more about each other as well as ensuring that there's some continuous learning and career development that's involved. But for me, I really am not a micro manager. I like to allow people to take a project or program. I'm there for them as far as that initial download. What I like to see as people spread their wings. I like to see how they can, on their own, deduct certain decision making. What I always say is, "I'm always here for you. If you have questions, definitely ping me."

I'm easily accessible through all mediums and with them along the way. I would say that's my approach, and it's been quite successful. I think oftentimes micromanagement is necessary, but I think for the most part, for people to grow and really be independent and move forward in their careers, there's a level of autonomy that should be given and certainly with that foundational support.

BRANDON:

You've had a lot of experience working at different tech companies, at different stages of growth, different aspects of events.

KAREN:

Yeah, and I think I've had lots of different experiences with management styles as well.

BRANDON:

Right.

KAREN:

I've seen what works and what doesn't. For me, I've kind of taken the best of those experiences and have kind of built my style along the way and still ever evolving, right? I think from a manager perspective, you're always learning and you're always finding what works for different people and different teams.

BRANDON:

When you think about scaling your team in the future, what sort of skill sets do you believe will be needed?

KAREN:

Soft skills. I think soft skills is coming to be a focus and level of importance. I think that is an area that, for me, will be continuously top of mind and ensuring that not only do folks understand process, but you have the soft skills around managing yourself in a corporate environment and so on and so forth.

BRANDON:

Who's someone within your organization or outside of it who has had a major impact on your career?

KAREN:

I would like to say it was my manager at Cisco, Jeanne Robb, who... actually she's now the VP of Strategic Events at DocuSign. She has been such an amazing manager and mentor, and she really taught me that treating everyone on the team inclusion and ensuring your vendors were treated like team members and not a vendor, if you will, and really providing those talking off the ledge conversations and actually believing in me. She was the one person when... As I mentioned, I started from the bottom at Cisco and she was the one that actually pushed me into the leadership position and I was defiantly saying, "I'm not ready, I'm not ready." She said, "But Karen, you so are."

She was the one that pushed me outside of my box and outside of my boundaries. For that, I am eternally grateful, eternally grateful. She had a wonderful team at Cisco and in one of her review she mentioned that all of us said that we would really do anything for her. It was just quite endearing. She's absolutely one of the best.

BRANDON:

Well, it sounds like a great role model to have as you've progressed in your own career.

KAREN:

Absolutely. Today, I still text her or call her and I'm like, "Hey, I just need to run something by you and get your thoughts." It's really nice.

BRANDON:

We talked patience earlier. If you could go back earlier in your career and give yourself one piece of advice, aside from that, what would it be and why?

KAREN:

From a career perspective, I would say don't be afraid, don't be afraid. I think earlier in my career I was afraid to speak up, I was afraid to participate in meetings, and I would lend that to my younger self, for sure. Why is because why not? Why not share your ideas and your thoughts?

I think that's something that I, throughout my career, have learned and have really honed in on that I do have thoughts and I do have some relevant things to say and have really paid off tremendously. I would say, don't be afraid.