ALISON BEARD: Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Business Review. I’m Alison Beard.
Our goal on this show is to bring you the best thought leadership on managing teams, organizations, and your career. This week, we’re giving you a taste of another HBR show, The New World of Work. In this video interview series, which can be found on hbr.org, editor-in-chief, Adi Ignatius, speaks with top leaders about how their organizations are handling today’s biggest challenges.
And in this conversation, he’s joined by LinkedIn CEO, Ryan Roslansky. The platform now has 875 million members and counting, and Roslansky credits that success largely to the company’s strong culture and clear values. He speaks with Adi about everything from pandemic adaptations to the skills he wants to see in talent. Here’s the interview.
ADI IGNATIUS: Let’s just leap right in. I mean, one of the questions I like to ask everybody is, how did you become this person? Tell us a little bit about your background and maybe one or two pivotal moments that led you to becoming now CEO of one of the most important social networks in the world.
RYAN ROSLANSKY: Yeah, well again, Adi, thanks for having me. I’m a huge fan of the program, and it is a true honor to be the CEO of LinkedIn, especially through what’s a pretty pivotal time in the world of work.
Now, I don’t know if there’s one or two moments that I’d point to, but I would probably point to three things that have got me here. Number one is luck. I was born at the right time to the right set of parents that were loving and caring and taught me the value of work and set me up with a great education. So that was number one.
Number two is also luck. I was lucky to be a freshman in college in 1996 when the internet was just starting to get going and meet a couple of people who, together we started a company, taught myself how to code, and just was lucky to kind of be in that place at that time and really learn about the internet and learn about technology.
And then number three is actually luck as well. So I was lucky that as a junior product manager a long time ago at Yahoo, I had the opportunity to work and meet a gentleman by the name of Jeff Weiner who would go on to become the CEO of LinkedIn. I came with him as his first employee, and there’s been a lot of hard work and choices along the way, but when you take a big step back on all of it, I think luck, luck and luck were pretty pivotal to getting me to the position that I’m in today.
ADI IGNATIUS: So that’s our first takeaway for our viewers. Just sit back and get lucky. No, but you’re being very modest, and obviously, you’ve created opportunities where then luck could work your way. So that’s great. I know you talk a lot about culture and values at LinkedIn. I’d love to know though, what does that mean to you, actually, in terms of running this successful business? We all use those words. We know they’re important. But what does it really mean to you?
RYAN ROSLANSKY: Yeah, I mean, it’s a hot topic right now, and let me share why I think it’s a hot topic, rightfully so. If you take a look at what’s happened over the last couple of years through the pandemic, every company was thrown into this need to really rethink how the company works. Do we work remotely? Do we work hybrid? Vaccines, no vaccines, time off, in office, etc. And what everyone’s actually doing when you’re rethinking how your company works is you’re rethinking your culture and your values. That’s what led to a thing that we call the great talent reshuffle over the past couple of years is not only companies are rethinking how they work, but employees are thinking about not only why they work or where they work, but how they work in general.
For us, we define culture as the collective personality of our organization. It’s who we are, but more importantly, it’s who we aspire to be. Every organization has a personality. And it’s really important, at least in my belief, to define what that culture and what those values should be at your company in order to help this foundation be strong, to make the right decisions on top of it. And I think a lot of companies right now are just, rightfully so, as they go through this great reshuffle and this new world of work, redefining what it means to work at their company, redefining the values that are needed to make decisions, redefining how they want to work.
And I led the company about a year ago through an exercise to rethink or to enhance our culture and values. And I have to tell you, it was a really difficult exercise for me. I’ve been at the company for over 13 years. Culture and values are embedded in everything that we do. It was the only culture and values that I’d ever known. But we found that it was a very valuable exercise, because some of the culture and values and the words that we used, they were antiquated in the new world of work.
So we took a very principled approach, a very thoughtful process, involved the entire company in rethinking what’s important to us as a company. Who are we? Who do we aspire to be? And we made a couple of changes and enhancements to our set of culture and values. And I think it’s really benefited us well because every day there’s roughly 20,000 employees at LinkedIn. People need to make decisions, and you have to come back to something common, a common framework upon which to make those decisions. And I feel great about the culture and values that we’ve laid out that’s going to help us move into the future right now. And I know a lot of companies are doing the same also.
ADI IGNATIUS: So you’re talking about what you are, then how important is where you are? How important is it that people are present to establish and build on these kind of cultural definitions and values?
RYAN ROSLANSKY: So the where is interesting, and where is, I don’t care who you are, or where you’re leading right now in the world, this is the question that everyone is asking themselves. So this is where culture and values is really important. When you make a tough decision like, where should our company work, you don’t want it to be some subjective thing. You want it to be built on top of a foundation.
So one of our values is, we trust and care about each other because that’s the value in terms of how we make decisions in the company. We got to a position of where we work that’s based on that trust and that care. We trust each other to work where it works best for us and our teams. That’s our hybrid work policy.
I’m not your dad. I’m not your babysitter. I trust you to get your job done based on where it works best for you. And we’ve seen a lot of success. Our offices are open. A lot of employees come into the office. We have the great tools that help collaboration and video conferencing make it easy, but we’ve found that we can be successful as a company based on that work policy. Again, and it’s rooted in our values. It doesn’t work for every company, but based on who we are and who we aspire to be, that’s how we operate LinkedIn.
ADI IGNATIUS: So that’s pretty similar, I think, to what we’re doing at Harvard Business Review. And it’s all about flexibility. But there are plenty of companies, as you suggested, who they don’t buy that. And there’s still a fear that if workers aren’t kind of there and present that somehow they won’t be giving their all. What would be your advice to people who are thinking that way?
RYAN ROSLANSKY: Well, I mean, first and foremost, I really go back to culture and values. And there’s not a right or wrong way. It’s the type of company you want to run, the type of company you want to be, and that work style has to fit that.
But I will tell you something fascinating. I was recently in London with Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, and we were discussing with companies in London this really fascinating dynamic that came out of Microsoft data. 87% of employees report that they are productive at work in a hybrid work environment right now, yet 85% of managers believe that their employees are not being productive. And it’s what Satya coined as productivity paranoia.
And I think what’s really going on there is when everyone was in the office years ago, the job of a manager, you’d walk around. That’s how you’d see if someone was productive or getting work done or being in the office. So a lot of the role of a manager was just to make sure that you’re there, to make sure that you’re physically present. And we move to a hybrid world that requires a much different management and leadership style. I actually think there’s a lot of new pressure and learning and a different way of thinking that has to go upon managers in this time where you can’t just focus on someone being in the office. You can’t ground yourself in physical presence being whether or not someone is being productive and effective. It has to be based on whether or not someone is being effective at the job. So that requires number one, ensuring that if you’re a manager, you’re very clear. You have clarity on what a role entails. Why do I have this role to begin with? And what’s required for the person in this role to be successful?
And then ultimately, you need to focus on outcomes. You need to focus on whether or not that person is being successful in the role as it’s been laid out versus whether or not they are in or out of the office. And we’re going through this process at LinkedIn to help managers understand this and train managers on it. It’s not an easy transition for anyone, but I think in order to be successful in a hybrid world, it’s really all about managers and leaders thinking differently about their role, and really, success based on outcomes instead of time in office.
ADI IGNATIUS: So beyond managing the kind of hybrid question, this seems like a tough time to be a leader. You got recession looming, maybe. You have inflation, definitely. Political uncertainty. It feels like wave after wave of social upheaval. What does it take to be a successful business leader now in this complex context?
RYAN ROSLANSKY: Yeah, I mean, you’re absolutely right, and you can’t only be a leader when the sun is shining, and the sun is definitely not shining these days. So I think the key, it’s really about uncertainty. Yes, it’s challenging, but I think the right leaders that are going to really be above in all of this are the ones that see this as an opportunity. People who get good at managing through the cycles, they understand that they’re playing in the right markets. They understand where to set themselves up for success.
And it’s a phrase I’ve been using around adaptive leadership. You can be adaptive or you can be reactive. I mean, trust me. On a daily basis, there are 10 new decisions that you have to make right now as a CEO that you never have had to make before in your life, and no one’s had to make them before. And so the question is, do you try and get ahead of it in an adaptive way? Or do you let it happen to you?
So I think adaptive leadership is really rooted in three things. Number one, you can decide to play up or play down. A lot of people, when something bad happens, they play down. They play to the lowest common denominator. I think adaptive leaders, they play up. They play to win. They stay positive. And though the plays may be different, they understand that they have to be running different plays. I think reactive leaders, they’re aggressively cycling between playing to win or hunkering down and not really playing up, but getting pulled down. And I think that that’s the wrong way to do it. I think adaptive leaders see these cycles as an opportunity. There’s always an opportunity in some of this, especially as there’s uncertainty and things are moving around versus change is some kind of tax or a burden to be dealt with.
I think last, but not least, is just constantly pivoting. Adaptive leaders constantly pivot. They iterate. They adjust. Instead of, I think, reactive leaders, they over-rotate, and they thrash. And in general, it’s not easy. It’s human nature to get pulled into the cycle, but the more that you can stay adaptive, I think the better folks you’re going to be.
And one of the most important areas where I think right now that we see across the global labor market where more adaptive thinking and leadership is needed is around what I’ve been calling the skills first mentality. I think companies that focus on skills as the currency, companies that shift away from more antiquated signals like only degree or pedigree or where someone worked will help ensure that the right people can be in the right roles with the right skills doing the best work. I think it’s going to create a much more efficient, a much more equitable labor market, which then creates better opportunity for all. But that’s part of that adaptive mindset shift as well.
ADI IGNATIUS: Let’s talk about skills. I mean, as we’re in this new world of work. And what’s your advice? What are the skills that people should be developing if they’re trying to succeed in the new world of work workplace?
RYAN ROSLANSKY: Yeah, look, be it because of Covid or digital transformation or looking at what’s going on in the AI space right now, a fourth industrial revolution, what’s really happening, and again, I think at LinkedIn we have really great data to see these shifts happening, but roles are being created and displaced at truly a record pace right now. So whatever your role, whatever your company, whatever your industry, you need to keep up with these really quick and big changes that are going on. And even if you aren’t changing your job, your job is most likely changing on you.
So for far too long, we’ve used degrees, oh, this person went to this great school, so they must be good. Or previous company, this person worked at this great company, so they must know what they’re doing. Or networks, oh, I know someone that knows this person, so they must be great at it. So we didn’t have anything better to do to assess talent. But when the labor market is moving much quicker, we really need to figure out something to focus on. And I think that alternative, flexible, accessible path is really going to be based on skills.
And it’s not just actually about new entrance to the job market. One of the things we’ve been looking at recently in the LinkedIn data is the fact that if you take the same role from 2015 to 2022 that existed in the world, roughly 25% of the skills that are required for that role have changed. It’s pretty obvious that a lot of those are technical skills that are now needed. A lot is moving kind of into the digital space, but that is moving.
And coming out of the pandemic, there’s one just really fascinating anecdote that I saw in the data to show why this could be more valuable for the world. So when the pandemic hit on LinkedIn, we saw a ton of food service workers out of work, and that makes sense. Restaurants are closing. No one’s going in. No one’s going out to eat. You have this huge pool of people that are out of work.
On the flip side, the most in-demand roles that we saw get created as the pandemic kicked off were digital customer service roles. That makes a lot of sense. Things are moving more digital. People need customer service in their companies, so they have to ramp up on customer service agents inside of those roles.
Now what’s fascinating is if you took the average food service worker in that period, they had 70% of the skills that are needed to be an entry level customer service agent. However, what happened is a lot of these food service workers went unemployed and stayed unemployed, and a lot of these customer service jobs went unfilled because there wasn’t enough talent to fill them. If we had just taken a view on what are the skills necessary, who has those skills, how can we help them acquire a couple of skills to help them become employed, we would’ve found ourselves in a much more efficient labor market. And you take a big step back, that dynamic is happening across every industry, job function, geography, et cetera, where there’s this labor imbalance. If you were to focus more on skills, you’d be much more productive and efficient.
ADI IGNATIUS: Yeah, interesting. So then there’s the question of retaining talent. You’re in, I assume, a very competitive market. You’re basically a tech company. You’re out in Silicon Valley and competing against other giants, trying to retain top kind of engineer talent. What’s your secret, or what’s your playbook for retaining the best people?
RYAN ROSLANSKY: I don’t have any secrets except going back to where we started this conversation. The key for me is being intentional and authentic about our vision, which is our why, and our culture and values, which is our how. And you attract and retain people who are inspired by why we do things and what we do. I think that’s the key to all of this, which is, you want to align people with what you do as a company to have the most productive workforce, to have the most retention. People believe in what you’re doing as a company, they will stay longer. So my role is to try and bring together the most talented set of individuals possible who care about building LinkedIn, care about building a platform that exists to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.
I think something that is important right now more than ever as well, is just understanding that inside of your company, it’s really important to help people find their next career and their career path. So internal mobility’s just a really big topic for us right now. I truly believe that your next best employee is most likely your current employee in many situations. And again, this is a reason why, if you focus on skills and understand the skills of your existing workforce and then where you need to go as a company, there’s just a lot of great work that can be done there to help existing employees find different roles inside of your company as long as they’re aligned to the mission and vision.
ADI IGNATIUS: So I want to talk about LinkedIn a little bit. What is LinkedIn at this point? I mean, is it a social network? Is it a job search platform? Is it a professional self-branding app? I mean, what is LinkedIn?
RYAN ROSLANSKY: So LinkedIn is a platform that exists to create opportunity for every member of the global workforce. And I know that sounds like a tagline, but that is actually the vision of the company. It’s what we aspire to every day. We believe that the really valuable way to get there, I know you’ve spoken to Reid Hoffman in the past, who’s the founder of LinkedIn, along with Allen Blue, is that we can help people become more productive and successful via other people. You can learn from other people. You can hire with other people. You can help sell or buy with other people. You can help connect and start companies with other people. So how do we create, at the core, a platform that helps professionals show who they are and connect for a variety of purposes?
And if we just, we’re on a fiscal calendar as of Q1 FY23, which we just ended our trailing 12-month revenue, surpassed $14 billion, which is up roughly 17% year over year, which is a great testament, especially in this market, to how mission critical the platform has become to help professionals for all of those use cases.
I mean, right now, every single minute on LinkedIn, more than 9,000 connections are formed, nearly 10 hires are made, more than a hundred hours of learning content are consumed. And we have a diverse set of business models throughout those different marketplaces of connecting people that align to really help companies find value and members find value.
And what’s valuable, and what’s interesting about that is, and what I think is probably one of our core competitive advantages is I think right now, especially in 2022, in the world of work that we see, I think companies that are naturally aligned with doing good and doing well, they have massive competitive advantages built in. So for companies that start just by focusing on doing well in business, doing good for the world becomes a compromise. It’s the last slide of a PowerPoint presentation, or it’s the creation of a .org website.
But when you can seamlessly unify doing good for the world and doing well in business inside of the product you build, I think it’s a real strong competitive advantage. And when we build products at LinkedIn, people find jobs. They hire. They learn skills. They make deals. They start companies. It’s an ecosystem that creates value for members, customers of the world and for LinkedIn. So I’m very proud of that ethos and role that we occupy right now.
ADI IGNATIUS: Before the interview, we announced that we were going to do it and solicited some questions. I have a question from Eileen from Palo Alto. And the question is, can you talk about any long-term plans you may have to make LinkedIn more work friendly? So for example, could users use LinkedIn for video calls, share their screens with business presentations and negotiations or anything else? Are their thoughts to make it more the sort of the flow of work platform?
RYAN ROSLANSKY: Yeah. I mean, for a variety of professionals, it is in their flow of work. So absolutely, for recruiters, for L&D professionals, for marketers, for sellers, LinkedIn is a tool that people have open on a daily basis. As it relates to general collaboration, to general communication, we are very fortunate to be part of Microsoft, and I think that Microsoft has the best in breed tools through Teams and through Office, et cetera, to help people do that kind of general communication and collaboration. We want to help through our products, whenever we can to make those products more valuable. But that’s really for Microsoft Inc, the focus in terms of what we do.
For LinkedIn specifically, in order for the world of work to move forward, in order for labor markets to grow and continue, there’s really three, in my opinion, three key things that are critical to get right. One, a more efficient labor market. And we’ve talked through this interview about what we’re trying to do there in general to help match talent to opportunity at massive scale in innovative and new ways to help create a more efficient and dynamic labor force.
Number two is access to goods and services, and we’re really focusing on ensuring that we can bring B2B products and services into a much more efficient market, similar to how maybe a lot of consumer products are bought and sold. B2B is a huge market. B2B is a lot of companies are representing what they do and what they sell across LinkedIn, but we believe we can make that a better process for everyone involved, especially for buyers, especially for sellers. Sellers don’t want to be sitting there sending out millions of emails and spamming people. They want to find the right people to have the right conversation for people who are interested in buying products so we’re focused a lot there as well.
And I think the biggest kind of thing that I’m focused on right now inside of the company is the third thing that I think is critical to get right is just access to knowledge and information and skill building. And a product manager a couple days ago went through the LinkedIn data and pulled this stat for me that we believe there’s an estimated 10 billion years of experience on LinkedIn, from the membership on LinkedIn. So how do we help people build their identity by sharing a lot of that knowledge and experience in new ways and in new formats? And on the flip side, help people learn more through other professionals to help them become more productive and successful. And I think there’s some real value here in us focusing on creating those professional, work-related products that can help through that knowledge exchange.
As an example, we recently built a newsletter product. And in the last six months, it’s grown to 150 million people have subscribed to a newsletter on LinkedIn across thousands of authors who have created a newsletter to share their knowledge. And we’ve started to do podcasts. We have an editorial team that helps curate the news. But for me, if we can get this foundation of a billion professionals that have access to great knowledge that exists in the heads of other professionals to make everyone more productive and successful, I think it’s going to do a lot for the world and be able to move the world forward in a very productive way.
ADI IGNATIUS: This sounds pretty interesting. I think you’ve already got my resume up on LinkedIn, but I want to hear more about this. I’s wondering, is developing a Metaverse experience a priority for you?
RYAN ROSLANSKY: This is another one where I feel wonderful that we are part of the Microsoft ecosystem. Microsoft sits on the bleeding edge of technology, especially Metaverse technology, so we don’t need to go out and create anything on our own. We can leverage a lot of what’s being built there.
I think for the professional context, a couple things would be interesting. Events, I recently did a customer event where a hundred people got together, and we all put on headsets and had a virtual meeting, and I gave a keynote, and we had conversations, and we’re all kind of walking around in this room even though we’re sitting at our desk. And that was kind of cool. People wanting to travel, they can all get together and have more of an experience like that. So maybe that’s interesting. I think events are interesting.
I think learning’s potentially a great one as well, especially more if the technology evolves from more frontline or hands-on learning, that’s going to be valuable for us. We have a product called LinkedIn Learning. It’s one of the largest online learning businesses. It helps people acquire skills, a hundred hours of learning content are watched every minute on LinkedIn. But maybe for some of that stuff that’s really about more hands-on, or you have to feel like you’re inside of the environment to learn, that could be valuable as well. So we’ll kind of see how that evolves. But kind of taking a backseat to all of the great innovation that’s happening at Microsoft.
ADI IGNATIUS: This is a time, in some ways, of upheaval for social networks. Facebook, I wouldn’t say is going through upheaval, but they’re kind of redefining Meta, who they are, what they are, how they want to be out there. Twitter is going through kind of a crazy period right now. Are you trying to capitalize on that to make some of this to work to LinkedIn’s advantage?
RYAN ROSLANSKY: Not trying to capitalize on it. I mean, I think the most important thing for us is to focus on… It’s funny, I keep going back to this culture and values, but it’s such a foundational thing for us. We focus on what we exist to do. We focus on helping connect professionals globally, helping them find access to opportunity. We have massive runway ahead of us. We have large tams in all the markets that we exist in. For us, the best thing that we can do is just focus on making LinkedIn great against the vision that we have for LinkedIn, and that’s what we wake up doing every day.
ADI IGNATIUS: All right, Ryan, that was fascinating. I want to thank you very much for being our guest on The New World of Work, and it was great to hear your insights.
RYAN ROSLANSKY: Thanks for having me, Adi. Appreciate it.
ALISON BEARD: You can check out new episodes of The New World of Work live on LinkedIn on Wednesdays. Be sure to register in advance on the HBR LinkedIn page. You can also browse the episode archive on YouTube or hbr.org.
You can hear IdeaCasts and other HBR podcasts at hbr.org/podcasts. Or search HBR in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. This episode was produced by Mary Dooe. We get technical help from Rob Eckhardt. Hannah Bates is our audio production assistant, and Ian Fox is our audio product manager.
Thanks for listening to the HBR IdeaCast. We’ll be back with a new episode on Tuesday. I’m Alison Beard.