Culture Factor 2.0

Spotify Empowers with Collaboration and Focus on Passion Projects to Reach Excellence

Episode Summary

As the VP of Global Intelligent Automation at Spotify, Sidney Madison Prescott strives to foster a collaborative, open-minded environment. Promoting brainstorming, idea exchanges, opportunities & solutions within her core team is creating new synergies. She’s a 2020 “Top 50 Tech Visionaries” award winner. And while navigating leadership in a tech company may seem like an easier transition in the new normal, Sidney still has to lean-in on her past experience to propel Spotify’s team to create a strong company culture.

Episode Notes

http://www.companytribes.com

aimentors.io/e20-sidney-prescott-bny-mellon/  

linkedin.com/in/sidneymadisonprescott

 

Episode Transcription

Holly Shannon

As the VP of Global Intelligent Automation at Spotify, Sidney Madison Prescott strives to foster a collaborative, open-minded environment. She's a 2020 Top 50 Tech Visionaries Award Winner. While navigating leadership in a tech company may seem like an easier transition in the new normal, Sidney still has to lean in on her past experience to propel Spotify's team to create a strong company culture. She's here today on the culture factor. Welcome Sidney.

Sidney Prescott

Thank you. I am very excited to be here.

Paul Jones

Hi, we're so excited to have you on here, Sidney. I'm a huge Spotify fan. Last time we chatted I know I gave you a laundry list of features that I would love to see in Spotify. But aside from that, we are so excited to have you on and talk about your unique leadership styles and positive culture that you've been building. So, Holly, are we ready to get into this?

Holly Shannon

We are actually. So Sidney, our first question of the day, can you share with us Spotify's roots and the traditions and how it bolsters your culture?

Sidney Prescott

Yes, absolutely. So Spotify ... This is a very interesting fact that most US users do not know ... The company was actually founded in Sweden. That always comes as a shock to our US customers. Was started in Sweden by Daniel Elk. It was a company that really began with the premise of understanding the gap between the music lovers of the world, who were really interested in starting to pursue how they could consume music from a streaming perspective and the music entities, including music artists, music labels, who were really interested in understanding how they could provide their artists' music to consumers in this new world of automated streaming services. The idea there is that Spotify really was created to provide value to both of those entities. To the music consumer, but then also the producers of music, whether that was major music labels or independent artists.

Sidney Prescott

This was the first real foray into understanding the needs of both of those entities. As we all maybe can remember, there were other streaming platforms that really were solely focused on the consumer. Those come to mind in the early days of music streaming services. As a result, there was a huge outcry from the music industry that the music that was being consumed via the internet, there was no way for artists and the musical labels to actually recoup profits, which they typically would get from the sales of a CD or back in the day, a record or a cassette. Spotify came into the industry with a very unique value proposition, which was bridging the gap of the needs between the music industry and artists and music lovers around the world. That really was the premise of the company, and ever since then, it really has been.

Sidney Prescott

Also, it's key to note that we have always been a digital first, digital native company, and that has been great because it has really allowed us from the early 2000's beginning at the launch of the company, to really understand and provide a high level of access to both music and now podcast on a streaming platform. It's really been great to see how the company has matured and grown as a result of really focusing on a digital first perspective of providing the access to these incredible music libraries to musical lovers around the world.

Paul Jones

I was just going to say that's such a great background to Spotify, and I literally have a playlist ... You're talking about these really robust databases of music. My favorite thing about Spotify is the algorithm that serves me up new music. I literally have a playlist that says, this is me. It's got these songs that just resonate so much with me. Music is such a big part of people's lives, and Spotify did such a good job navigating. Early 2000's up to now, the music industry has gone through this really interesting metamorphosis where yeah, you had to change from buying a CD to paying for a song on iTunes to now everyone's streaming. No one's really buying songs anymore. I'm sure there's a culture there of adaption, but just kind of a fun question for you, Sidney, is, I'm thinking about my playlist right now. What is the song, what's one of your favorite songs that we could all get to know you a little bit better from?

Sidney Prescott

There are so many. I absolutely love music and it really truly follows me throughout my day. I typically start my day listening to either a podcast or just a favorite artist, and then as I transition through the day, it's really interesting. I start switching up my playlist to really encapsulate my mood throughout the day as I'm working or as I complete work and I'm gearing up to go work out. It's great because I realize how much of a underpinning music is in my life. I would have to say if I were thinking of a song that I love, and that will never get old to me and that I always play, as cheesy as it is, I would probably say it would be ... There's a Jay Z and Alicia Keys song called [inaudible 00:07:07] the Empire.

Holly Shannon

Empire. That's a good one.

Sidney Prescott

Where they think about New York. Yeah. They think about New York and how great New York is. Every time I hear it just makes me proud to live in New York. It makes me remember why I came here and how exciting having a life and a career in New York is. I would definitely say that is always my ... It's Empire State of Mind. That's always my go-to song, and I listen to it probably way more than I should. I'm sure Spotify's algorithm could probably tell you how many times I listen to it, but it just all really encapsulates that spirit, that energy that we have here in New York City.

Holly Shannon

I like that Spotify offers you that opportunity to jump back into the mood that you left. You know what I mean? It'll pick up where you left off type of thing. It'll show you what you've been listening to. I love that because it could take you right back to that place when you're like, "Oh, I was really relaxing and jamming out to Miguel. I want to jump back into that playlist." I love just being able to do that. It's right there. It's at the ready. So I have to admit, I love those different features, and I have to just put that shameless plug out there, The Culture Factor's on Spotify, everybody.

Sidney Prescott

That's a great plug.

Holly Shannon

So Sidney, there's an interesting little cultural piece that you took from the Scandinavian roots of Spotify. I was hoping that you could share that with the listeners.

Sidney Prescott

Yes, absolutely. It's a very interesting cultural piece that we've taken from the Swedish culture, and it is called a Fika, and that's F-I-K-A. A Fika is a coffee break. Typically, it can be between friends. It can be between family members. It can be between peers, but it's really a time in typical Swedish fashion that peers and family members would ... It's almost taking a break, taking a breather, stepping away from the hustle and bustle of the daily comings and goings of our life ... Just having a moment to almost sit and reflect. Quite often the Fika, it doesn't have to be you sit with peers. That doesn't necessarily mean that that conversation will be about, let's say key objectives or different projects that are going on at work. It's really a time for collaboration and also a time to bring in that human connection aspect. Being able to have a short conversation and a moment, almost away from the lists that we're making of the priorities that we have to get through in a given day.

Sidney Prescott

It's really wonderful to see how that tradition has been carried out at Spotify, where we do have Fikas between team members, between teams, between a leader and their direct reports. It's really great because it provides a touch base, a space for us to come together and to really get to know each other better, understand the ways that we think, the ways that we operate. It's very refreshing. It's almost that level of human connection that we can often forget as we walk through the corporate landscape. I think it's very critical, especially in today's times with COVID and the different things that we are having to go through, whether it's in the US or around the world. It's just so refreshing to have a quick moment to step away and to remember that reconnection with those around us is a very important key element of our lives.

Holly Shannon

That's really incredible. We lose sight of how powerful coffee break can be, not just from the caffeine. Do you have a favorite coffee?

Sidney Prescott

I am obsessed with my Keurig, and I typically always go for the vanilla or the hazelnut pod. But then if I'm not at home, it's always Starbucks. So it's either Starbucks on the go or it's a Keurig at home.

Holly Shannon

Not exactly a professional question that I asked you, but just had to know. As you grow your strategic North American team, what factors are playing into the success of that?

Sidney Prescott

Quite a few. The first that I would say is how do we ensure that we maintain that collaborative spirit between ... My team sits within the technology side of the firm, and we are really looking at ways to ensure that we have a true collaboration between our business stakeholders and the more technical aspects of what we do. That is heart and center of every effort that we begin to work through is, how are we ensuring that this is truly a collaboration? How are we ensuring that we do not make any assumptions of what the potential pain points of the business are? How do we ensure that the way that we define value of our outcomes, that those are values that our business stakeholders agree they are also reaping as well? That collaboration is absolutely essential to really ensuring that the business value we assume that we provide as a technology enablement team truly is the business value that is realized from the stakeholder perspective.

Sidney Prescott

There's a lot that goes behind that in terms of the challenges that we face as a technology team. Traditionally we have those silos. We have those silos of technology enablement or its business outcomes. There's always that very strong feeling of silos. In our collaboration, our goal really is to ensure that we are combining these together because the business aspect and the technology components, those together are what make Spotify successful. So we really have to ensure that we get rid of the silos and we think of ourselves as a technology enablement team that is extremely astute in terms of understanding business value, business objectives, and how we would actually flow through those business workflows. That collaboration piece is very key.

Sidney Prescott

I think another piece is really when we look at the ways that we are creating the landscape within Spotify for really, I would say it's more intelligent automation, which is going to be that robotic process automation piece combined with optical character recognition, which you see a lot with documents and being able to have computer vision to read documents. And then also that machine learning aspect, where we start to be able to create predictions, be able to really mine through data.

Sidney Prescott

So combining all of that together is also, and having a vision, a really a strategic vision, I think is very, very key to our team's success as we start building out and maturing the robotic process automation center of excellence. We want to make sure that we have a strategic vision that we can, almost our North Star to point to, and that as we walk through our daily, our weekly, our monthly and our quarterly goals, we are always referring back to that strategic vision of what does it look like to truly enable Spotify's employees through the use of intelligent automation.

Sidney Prescott

I think collaboration, strategic vision, and then of course, innovation. I am a very, very firm believer in creating and maintaining a very innovative team and an innovative team spirit within intelligent automation. That comes down to everything from the individuals that we are looking at to bring onto the team because of their expertise, their willingness to tackle big enterprise level problems. But then it also comes down to ensuring that the team understands that we never look at the business challenges that we face from our stakeholders, that our stakeholders are pushing to us. We look at those in a very limitless way, meaning the way that we can tackle those challenges and successfully deliver value.

Sidney Prescott

We always think of ourselves as thinking outside of the box. I love to say we don't have a box. Don't think outside of the box, think there is no box. That really expands our understanding of what can we focus on. How can we bring this project to life if there are no limits and there are no caveats to what we can potentially do and achieve? How would we design this solution? It's incredible when you work from that perspective what you can achieve and actually the amount of buy-in that you can achieve from your stakeholders and even more importantly, what you can deliver. The value that you could deliver back when you see every single business opportunity at an enterprise level as limitless in terms of your ability to create a viable solution to resolve that problem.

Paul Jones

You know, Sidney, when you bring up the topic of innovation, that can bring a lot of pressure to it. You're literally designing a brave new world, and I love how you're talking about breaking down silos. If you're tasked with being innovative as a team, I'd love to dive into that for a second because aside from Spotify, your personal career and your leadership, you love focusing on this aspect of innovation. I'd say you're an innovation expert in terms of bringing that out from a team perspective. Can you give our audience a little bit of, if you want to create this culture of innovation and break down silos inside of it and considering your position where you are working with developers, you're working with the strategic vision of the company, you're that bridge, what are some things that you've found that help your teams feel connected to that strategic vision and create innovation?

Sidney Prescott

Absolutely. That's a great question. I would start with remembering that we are a team and I, as a senior leader, I am only as good as the team that I am a part of. That is really the foundational structure of the way that I approach team building, which is we are truly a team. We each bring something unique, a unique element to that mindset of innovation. We each have a unique perspective in terms of even what we believe encapsulates innovation and creativity and spontaneity. To think from that perspective, we really start to gain a better understanding of how each team member plays an integral part in the overall success of the team.

Sidney Prescott

As I've built out my teams, they typically are global teams. We may have individuals that are sitting in the UK. Right now, we have team members that are over in Sweden, and we truly blend that team together by realizing the strength we have due to our individual talents, our individual perspectives, and also our individual knowledge bases that we've built up, whether it's in just traditional IT practices or in the more advanced technology capabilities that are a little bit newer and a little bit more niche like robotic process automation or artificial intelligence.

Sidney Prescott

It's really about pulling individuals into the team who have that level of expertise and then really leaning on them. A very, very big part of what I do as a senior leader in technology is empowering my team by ensuring they understand the level of trust that I have in the skills that they bring to the table. Also in their individuality and their uniqueness as a technologist, and ensuring that I shine a light on making sure that everyone on the team realizes that they are an integral part of our overall success.

Sidney Prescott

I think that is absolutely critical to building a team that feels empowered and also just a team that feels passionate about what they do. I think it's very easy to fall into a mindset that you're going through your day-to-day duties. You have your typical roles and responsibilities. You have your deliverables, and it can become quite routine. So allowing the team the ability to be creative, allowing the team a bit of time to work on passion projects that excite them and excite their curiosity as a technologist, but being able to leverage those same processes and those same projects to really build out the strength of the center of excellence, I think that's where you find that you can build a world class intelligent automation team and technology team.

Sidney Prescott

Then even further, it's also about mentoring and giving back into your team. I love to guide my teams in different exercises, where, again, we are really truly envisioning solutions without limits, we're ensuring that we don't place limitations on ourselves as individuals and a part of the team. We're ensuring that we don't place limits on the team as a whole and how we function and how we go about completing our day-to-day tasks. As a result, it really does create a sense of unity as a team. It creates a sense also of personal accountability for the way that the team can successfully execute on these.

Sidney Prescott

As I said, sometimes the more innovative we get, there can be a challenge with understanding where the benchmarks are if you are walking down a path where no one has been before. So as you create those benchmarks, it is critical to have a team beside you and walking with you and working with you that understands it's okay to ... That we're creating basically our own destiny in a sense the way that we are forging ahead and that we can lean on one another, even though we may not have maybe specific industry benchmarks or specific benchmarks within our different business functions to point towards. We really turn that focus on ourselves and our understanding and our knowledge as experienced technologists to really guide and hone the path of execution towards these enterprise level initiatives.

Holly Shannon

You know, Sidney, you have the background in the robotic process automation and AI. So that must have been really advantageous as you start to build out your development team and your relationship with them, because you have a culture within a culture. You have your team and they're all part of Spotify, so you're always nurturing. It sounds like you're aiming for this digital transformation and really keeping things open for all the people that work for you. Have any of these passion projects or this culture that you've developed in there, has it created any new standards? Has it changed anything that you might do going into the new normal for Spotify?

Sidney Prescott

It has. So we are in that journey as we speak. So we are walking down the path of how do we create this incredible movement within Spotify where we focused on empowering our internal stakeholders agnostic of business function to really leverage robotic process automation and really be it the entire intelligent automation stack to ensure that we are as efficient as possible. And that we are really allowing our internal stakeholders to spend their time on more value add projects and deliverables for Spotify as a whole.

Sidney Prescott

That's a very, very big initiative because we are literally talking about fundamentally changing the way that we work as Spotifyers. That's a very big deliverable, a very big goal. We're stepping towards that by working through one business function at a time, by truly allowing ourselves time to understand the nuances of the business processes, the reliance that the firm has on the different business processes. And then we're working out, if this is a process that has to be completed within a specific amount of time, how can we shorten that time and how can we give that time back to the business so we can ensure that those very same stakeholders can now dedicate time to data analytics? They can dedicate time to more client-focused projects and initiatives.

Sidney Prescott

It's all about thinking through this digital transformation in a very phased approach, because also that understanding and acknowledgement of, this is change at its core. This is fundamentally going to change the way that we work. As humans, we do have a little bit of a ... How can I say it? We're always a little shy whenever we start to change. Things that we're used to and things that are "normal" on a daily basis. So it's very important also to roll out this change in a phased approach to ensure that we manage the human aspect of changing the way that we work internally. So we're very focused on making sure that we have strategic alignment with our business objectives and also ensuring that at every step of the way we are iterating ... I think that's absolutely critical to this digital transformation ... Iterating at each phase. And looking back. We do a lot of reflection on what worked well, what didn't work well, what can we change? How can we enhance the way that we empower stakeholders through this transformation? And that's absolutely key.

Holly Shannon

Well, that would account for why you are one of the top 50 Tech Visionaries. This is really great. Really wonderful. I really appreciate you coming on The Culture Factor. This was really wonderful. I don't know, Paul, did you have any last questions for Sidney?

Paul Jones

Just a couple of minutes left, but my last question would be, I think something really important that you talked about was being able to respect each other's strengths. So in my head, I'm going, are you creating a list? If you want to talk about this topic, you go to this person. How do you create that map for your team members?

Sidney Prescott

I think it's really about the communication aspect and getting to know each other's strengths and weaknesses and also empowering each other and trusting each other enough to share our strengths and weaknesses with one another as a team. I would definitely think of it as very organic. It comes about in a very organic way by ensuring that we have that trust factor involved in every step of the process, whether it's meeting for team Fikas, whether it's talking through specific key results that we're looking at in a given quarter. We empower everyone to bring their full self to our meetings. We empower everyone to remember that everyone has a voice and that everyone can be a contributor and add significant value to any conversation, any project.

Sidney Prescott

There are no hierarchies. I think that's absolutely a key to the success of that trust enablement, as well is remembering that we all have something unique we can contribute, whether it's from our tech technical expertise, whether it's from personal experience in robotic process automation. But we definitely ensure that we give credence to everyone having a voice and everyone also just learning and growing every step of the way. No matter what topic we're on, we all can learn something, and we all can strengthen ourselves as intelligent automation experts in some form or fashion.

Holly Shannon

That's amazing when you can move away from the hierarchy and almost democratize what's happening in the room.

Paul Jones

Yeah. It's a great way to create that organic strength of identifying each other so it's not very structured. I love that approach. I think that's some really great wisdom there. Well, thanks for coming on Sidney.

Holly Shannon

This was great. Thank you, Sidney.

Sidney Prescott

Yes, absolutely. This was a pleasure, and I would love to join you all again and dive deeper into management methodologies and breaking through the glass ceiling and really truly again, no limits on what we can do, what we can create, and how we can advance our companies.

Holly Shannon

That would be nice. Then that's part two on The Culture Factor with Sidney Madison Prescott. Breaking the glass ceiling in Spotify.

Paul Jones

I love that topic. Yes, that would be such a [crosstalk 00:30:58].

Holly Shannon

You're in. You're in, Sidney. We're going to do it.

Sidney Prescott

Thank you. Perfect.