Unity Technologies Chief People Officer, Elizabeth Brown, shares her story of how trusting her gut has always led her in the right direction.
Editor’s Note: At the time of writing, Elizabeth was VP, HR at Trulia. As of May 2015 she is Chief People Officer of Unity Technologies.
Who would sell their car to finance a trip to Japan without a job lined up? Elizabeth Brown did. She used the proceeds to fund her travels and living expenses for a couple of months, until she landed her first human resources (HR) job through an agency at the Japanese telecom giant NTT Group.
“I look back now, and it’s pretty amazing that I just packed my bags for Japan, resume in hand,” said Brown, then a recent college graduate who arrived armed with contacts who could help point her in the right direction.
Luck & Learning
Brown still considers it both random and lucky that she was able to secure that role at NTT, where she recruited post-doctoral fellows and then helped them with their research papers and conferences.
She knew only basic Japanese when she arrived at NTT, which meant that she had to rely on body language. “I have a fairly strong read on people,” Brown said. “I had to rely on observing nuances and how people reacted. With my ability to read people, I’ve been able to unearth the truth which has been quite valuable.”
It was at NTT that Brown’s passion for HR was ignited, specifically when she saw that she could add value by working with employees to improve the onboarding experience. It wasn’t just process improvement for the sake of it; with an improved onboarding experience, employees were able to contribute more quickly.
Relevance & Respect
After returning to the U.S., Brown joined Silicon Graphics as an HR Manager. Here, her ability to demonstrate value came in handy.
“It was a more typical HR role,” she noted. “The shock of it was I felt completely irrelevant. In my previous job, I was hired by the person who needed me and the need was clear. At Silicon Graphics, the business leaders I supported did not think they needed me and the need was not clear.”
Driven to succeed, she proved them wrong. Brown sought out mentors while learning the business and ways that she could add value. This earned her the respect of the leadership team, who then relied on her counsel when determining, amidst layoffs, which changes to make in the organization.
Scrappiness & Seasoning
“Scrappiness is an attitude and a mindset. Seasoning is experience,” Brown said. She seeks out team members who possess both qualities.
Brown believes that scrappy professionals can thrive in an environment where they enjoy having to figure out how to do more with less and to be comfortable with deliverables being “good enough,” which she admits requires a lot of confidence. With seasoning, an employee can anticipate challenges because they’ve worked through them before.
Leadership & Learning
Surely it takes a scrappy, seasoned leader to sense those qualities in others. At LinkedIn, which Brown describes as being in “hyper-growth” mode during her tenure, she learned the value of what she calls “building the airplane while flying it.” For her, that meant having the confidence to make decisions without having every piece of data at her fingertips at a company that was experiencing 100 percent year-over-year growth.
At Microsoft, she helped to create a startup environment within the larger company. “The group I supported needed talent that was super innovative, and a lot of millennials were harder to attract; they wanted to join the sexy new start-up,” Brown acknowledged. She helped recruit and retain those young professionals by addressing things they cared about, such as designing their own workspaces.
Brown describes Trulia, which merged with Zillow, as the best of both worlds: a startup vibe with the maturity required for a public company. “The agile, passionate culture is still intact with foundational structure and process having been folded in,” Brown said.
She expects that the merger of Trulia and Zillow will create even more opportunities for growth and learning, “but the pressure will be on to continue to preserve the small-company feel while scaling to a larger organization.” Brown is excited to help the company with this challenge—something she considers a “luxury problem to have.” ♦
How Emotional Intelligence Adds Value
Brown’s emotional intelligence helps her add value in her role as a facilitator. “Emotional intelligence is huge, especially with HR because adding value is often indirect,” she said. “I pride myself in having a strong point of view, but I often see myself as creating value by being the facilitator of a solution.”
While it’s no easy task, she’s also learned to trust her gut when working with difficult personalities and pushing to ask hard questions of leaders and employees. It comes down to knowing when to push and when to take a different route.
Brown challenges her team to continue to add value by serving as the employee advocate. “HR can also drive value by watching out for all of the employees and ensuring that everyone is treated according to the values of the company,” she advised.
Elizabeth's Key Partners:Alliant (Benefits) | Compensia, Inc. (Executive Compensation Consulting) | OSV (True BPaaS Provider) | Venture Loop(Staffing Solutions) | ClearPoint Financial (Retirement Plan Consulting)
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