Spotify’s People Strategy

Recently I was recording a video for HR The Real Deal’s series of VODs (Videos On Demand), and Human Capital Europe, where the interviewer, Anne-Marie Andric, asked me about Spotify’s People Strategy. 

It was great to be able to explain the strategy as a complete package. The work that the entire HR team at Spotify has been doing for so long, all making their own contribution, bit-by-bit, has gotten its last piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and we have a complete picture to share. Until the next iteration that is…

So today, as a complement to this video, I am adding this blog post, but it comes with a caveat: none of this will be news to anyone who’s been following Spotify’s HR work over the recent years. I do not expect it to be groundbreaking or earth-shattering. You will probably read, thinking “Yes, Katarina, I know all this”, but I hope that when you come to the end of the post you can see Spotify’s People Strategy distinctly, right in front of you, in one super-clear package, regardless of whether you feel it was a bit of a “round-the-houses” approach to get there. In fact, I hope you really get the importance of the round-the-houses approach.

People-first, purpose-driven, AND adding business value

The hard, cold, fact of the matter is this – writing a people strategy will take time. Not because CHROs are slow at writing, or cannot come up with a strategy, but because it needs the business infrastructure of Where are we going? (vision/mission), and all the different foundational layers of the ‘how will we get there’? 

If you are a true people-first organisation and if you aspire to engage your people by involving them in the journey, this approach is the way to design your people strategy. At Spotify we believe in a people-first approach, but equally important is to be purpose-driven. This is the skill of today’s HR – getting the perfect balance between prioritisation of the business, and prioritisation of the people. Or taking this a step further, understanding how these things play into each other. 

My point is this: although writing a strategy can be fairly straight-forward, it can’t be rushed – there are a few other things to deep dive into first. This is why, at Spotify, the people strategy was formed after several other pieces of work, which shape the culture. The people strategy is what pins it all together – it should never be a satellite piece, or about what the HR team finds interesting to work with, or the latest trending topics. A good strategy needs to have meaningful foundations.

The foundations of Spotify’s people strategy

Our foundations are in our company values, our company mission, and the band manifesto, which is how any culture-first, values and purpose-driven organisation should build and anchor their people strategy.

The values were derived from our people during The Spotify Passion Tour. To have values that reflect your people’s motivations, and where your people are on board (they’ve actually played a part in uncovering those behaviours and officially making them into values), means reflecting the true behaviours of the band. The values are genuine, and employees whole-heartedly understand them, and believe in them. 

In addition, having an overarching goal of the company mission means that behaviours will always be linked to that objective. People can come together, united through a shared vision and purpose. Being purpose-driven and sharing this idea of what we are all working towards, together, helps to give motivation and allows each Spotifier to understand what they each bring to the table and how they can have impact.

The combination of these two pieces is what creates that perfect balance of adding value to the business, but also being people-focussed. In addition, we have our band manifesto. The band manifesto is not essential for our people strategy at Spotify, but since to some people the values and mission can seem like intangible things, it serves as a playbook on how we bring these things together on a day-to-day basis, describing what the culture is and how the values manifest themselves.

Once we had these foundational layers of the mission and values agreed on and embedded within our culture, we could start to pinpoint the tenants of our people strategy. And yes, as you can imagine, as we crafted those foundational layers with the organisation. What the different tenets should be, have evolved alongside, as part of this journey.

The four tenets of Spotify’s people strategy

1. Talent Attraction

Where do you find all the talent that’s relevant and right for you? if you’re a company in (prolonged) hyper-growth, like Spotify, this is a code that you’ll have to crack.

You can look for the ‘best’ talent – an automatic go-to for many companies, leading them to look at Ivy league rankings and judging candidates and employees abilities on grades. 

If we focus on Ivy league rankings and grades, we will miss out on adding so many smart and talented people to our band. Some of those people maybe have decided not to go to these universities, some of them maybe just didn’t have the opportunity, and others who might enjoy learning in other ways, but be equally talented, smart and skilled.

Therefore, at Spotify we focus on finding the right talent – and our activities and methods to finding and attracting this talent is always based on this approach.

2. Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging

It’s quite a young (relatively speaking) tenet in the HR family, and this is definitely something that’s been a journey for us at Spotify. A journey that we are still on. For example, the team (and how they visualised and focussed their work) started out as Diversity, then became Diversity and Inclusion, and now Belonging is a huge, huge and important part.

Everyone around the world who thinks this is important is part of this journey and we’re all co-writing this playbook as we go along. This means semantics become incredibly important. We, as a profession and diverse group of people, are still finding ways of talking about things and labelling them in ways that we are all comfortable with and that make sense. The common language is still being written!

This is a tenet because of its importance to the north star goal of the company, the objectives and focus areas, but also to our people, and society as a whole.

3. Learning & Development

We have to learn faster than the world is changing. In a business like ours that’s constantly evolving, we are often looking for skill sets or traits that universities are not developing yet, this means that constant training, learning and development is absolutely essential.

This helps us stay relevant with our knowledge and fuels innovation. In addition it makes our band members employable. They do not get stuck during their tenure at Spotify, and without this we would not be an attractive employer. 

To have learning at this speed – continual – is very much an ‘on the job learning’ approach, where methods such as each-one-teach-one add tremendous value. Self leadership and Spotifiers driving their development is the structure, meaning that we as a HR team must provide the framework and a variety of ways to train and grow.

4. Growth

This may seem like it’s a repeat of our third tenet and whilst the two are closely linked, we feel it’s a tenet on its own. 

Our suite of leadership development programs at Spotify (for example our belief in performance development, rather than performance management to name just one), are rooted in the thought leadership from Carol Dweck, on growth mindset.

We believe that everyone has a growth mindset, a desire to learn, and natural curiosity. These are all things that define a Spotifier. If someone doesn’t have these things it’s likely they will not feel belonging at Spotify. But for those who do – we focus on different ways to curate and support that.

How a people strategy evolves

As the Spotify business evolves, and the world changes, it’s likely that the people strategy will evolve too. This is our current iteration, and we will continue to tweak and iterate on them. We’re never stuck on something for the sake of it, or because this is the strategy we laid out previously. We always have in our minds that we should continue to evolve. 

This ‘reiteration and flexibility’ approach is the final part in the package of how our people strategy is structured. If any part of the foundational layers change it impacts the people strategy since it’s been built on those foundations. It may be very small small tweaks, but this flexibility that allows the strategy to fuel and re-shape itself is essentially how you build a strong strategy. Remember, strength does not necessarily mean rigidity!

Now you see it, and it’s not really rocket-science, right? The most valuable part, and the ‘secret sauce’ is actually how the strategy was crafted and how it makes the most sense for us. 

If you don’t have the people strategy embedded within the ecosystem of what you are trying to achieve in the company it won’t make sense. Your lead team and your people will not be able to rally behind it, and instead, HR will become a staff or admin function that does not connect to the heart of the people or to the heart of the business. And where’s the value in that?