Groundwork Podcast – Episode 2

Mariabrisa Olivares (Twitter, King, Owkin)

Mariabrisa began her career at Danone and The Walt Disney Company before transitioning to hypergrowth startups.

A show about Chief People Officers from the world’s fastest-growing companies.

These leaders guide organizations through the turbulent times of hypergrowth by investing in human beings.

They lay the groundwork that makes the impossible, inevitable. Join Lingo Live CEO Tyler Muse for conversations on how they became the leaders they are today, how they’ve navigated their toughest challenges, and how they envision the future of work.

EPISODE 2

Mariabrisa Olivares (Twitter, King, Owkin)

Mariabrisa began her career at Danone and The Walt Disney Company before transitioning to hypergrowth startups. She joined Twitter as their Head of HR in Latin America at a time when they were the underdogs, just 15 employees proving naysayers wrong that the platform had a chance to succeed in the region.

After that, she moved on to become a Chief People Officer at some of the most rapidly-growing companies in Europe, including, most recently Owkin, a biotech startup that’s pioneering artificial intelligence to accelerate medical research.

In this episode, Mariabrisa talks about the first two priorities she sets whenever she joins a new organization that’s looking to grow fast. We’ll hear about her experience with dyslexia, what she means by a guiding principle she coined “scarecited,” and the story of JFK’s visit to NASA and what he learned from one of the janitors on staff.

What We Cover:

[0:59] An intro to Mariabrisa

[2:14] The personal connection to Owkin’s mission

[3:43] Why an amazing purpose is not enough

[4:24] What JFK learned on a visit to NASA

[5:46] Joining Twitter, the “bias to action,” and empathy at the core

[8:06] How the Twitter LATAM team localized its culture

[11:07] Product as an inspiration to workspaces and redefining the office

[14:05] Mariabrisa’s start in HR in Ireland in the moment of the Celtic Tiger

[16:03] The surprising way Danone ran its business in Brazil

[17:59] Moving all around the world from an early age

[20:55] Being diagnosed with dyslexia (and how it shaped her)

[23:02] The addictive experience of being out of your comfort zone

[24:25] Creating a culture that embraces risk taking when it doesn’t come naturally

[27:20] Top priorities as a Chief People Officer

[30:28] Lessons from leading hypergrowth startups

[32:48] Implementing performance management amidst a cultural divide

[36:40] What excites (and what scares) Mariabrisa about the future of work

[40:04] If you do one thing as an HR professional

Tyler  0:00  

Welcome back to Groundwork, brought to you by Lingo Live. I’m Tyler Muse.

Tyler  0:06  

At Groundwork, we talk to Chief People Officers from the world’s fastest growing companies. We get to know them on a human level and explore how they became the leaders they are today, how they’ve navigated their toughest challenges, and how they envision the future of work.

Tyler  0:38  

Today, we’re featuring my conversation with Mariabrisa Olivares.

Mariabrisa  0:42  

I think definitely the role of HR as it’s always been, but in a different format is really how do you enable people to, to create something new to come to an understanding to come to something that they feel that they’re part of that they can buy into, they can believe in?

Tyler  0:59  

Mariabrisa began her career at Danone and The Walt Disney Company before transitioning to hypergrowth startups. She joined Twitter as their Head of HR in Latin America at a time when they were the underdogs, just 15 employees proving naysayers wrong that the platform had a chance to succeed in the region.

After that, she moved on to become a Chief People Officer at some of the most rapidly growing startups in Europe, including, most recently Owkin, a biotech startup that’s pioneering artificial intelligence to accelerate medical research.

In this episode, Mariabrisa talks about the first two priorities she sets whenever she joins a new organization that’s looking to grow fast. We’ll hear about her experience with dyslexia, what she means by a guiding principle she coined “scarecited,” and the story of JFK’s visit to NASA and what he learned from one of the janitors on staff.

Tyler  2:08  

Mariabrisa, thanks so much for being here. I’m super excited to chat with you today.

Mariabrisa  2:12  

Thank you. Super excited to be here.

Tyler  2:14  

So you are… I want to talk about where you are now because you’ve gone through this amazing arc of your career, you’ve worked at Danone, a tech startup, Walt Disney Company, social media company, gaming, marketing and advertising. And now you’re in biotech, can you share a little bit more about where you are today?

Mariabrisa  2:33  

I think for me, you know, having a genuine purpose of something that I can relate to is so powerful. This was an opportunity for me to do something that I really hold to heart is, you know, a fight against something that I might not, you know, be personally involved in impacting in the sense that I’m not the biologist, I’m not the scientist, I’m not the doctor. But if I can contribute to the company being able to build out something that will improve the treatment for cancer patients. That’s everything for me personally. I think that that’s a fantastic driver for me as a person. But for me as a professional in HR, what a challenge, right? To take a company that has such a clear and beautiful purpose that a lot of people can relate to, and ensure that our company culture, our company vision lives up to that purpose is just is a really fantastic challenge. Because you know, you could have a company that might have a great purpose, but has a bad culture, and how would that ever succeed? So this is this is a great challenge for me in that way.

Tyler  3:43  

That’s such a great point. People take for granted, you’d think that if you have a an amazing purpose and a very motivating mission, that you’re going to have a great culture. But that’s not necessarily the case. You can’t take that for granted. Why is that? Why is, you know, you mentioned before the organizational vision and clarity, why isn’t it enough just to have a really motivating kind of passionate mission?

Mariabrisa  4:10  

Well, because if nothing else connects to it, it doesn’t then become a reality in people’s day to day. Once you start working, it’s very easy to forget about that bigger picture. You’re focusing on what you’re doing right here that’s in front of you.

Tyler  4:23  

Yeah.

Mariabrisa  4:24  

And a perfect example. I don’t know if you know about this but JFK has this incredible story. He visited NASA, right before they sent the people to the moon and he saw somebody sweeping the floor and he asked them, “hey, what do you do here?” And the person said, “Well, I’m putting a man on the moon.” Like, how do you create that fantastic connection that regardless of what you’re doing, you have the purpose of what you’re helping achieve contributing to achieve, right, you know, top of mind. And on your day to day you could easily forget that so it’s about how you’re building that culture, how you’re making that come to life, and really having people be genuinely engaged, committed, and passionate about that. How do you make sure that they’re clear with their vision, they’re clear how their job connects to the achievement of the goals that the company has set, and how that will effectively contribute to the achievement of that purpose. At all levels.

Tyler  5:23  

Yeah.

Mariabrisa  5:23  

That is such a challenge, right?

Tyler  5:25  

Yeah, totally makes sense. And it made me think about read this book, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Have you heard that? Yes. Yeah. So he talked about that as well, the the kind of three individuals who are building a church and you know, the first person says that he’s laying bricks, the next person says he’s building a church, and the third person says he’s bringing people closer to God.

Mariabrisa  5:46  

Yeah.

Tyler  5:46  

And just understanding that spectrum of how you think about your work. You talked about, as you went through that journey in Brazil, you mentioned Twitter really being that place where you felt like you were finally home. What was it about Twitter? What were the specific things that made you really feel like you were you had found home?

Mariabrisa  6:05  

By the time that I joined, Twitter was pre IPO, and I loved it, that it was it still had a bit of an underdog vibe, you know. I mean, definitely the name was very known, but it definitely didn’t compete with like a Facebook. So we were, you know, struggling and had to make a name for ourselves. And in Latin America, actually, there was a concept that Twitter had died. So we really had to build that from scratch. And I think it was just that humility that they took upon doing that, the mindset of just questioning everything, and always starting with the why. And, you know, this bias to action as well. Like, I remember that Costello used to speak about the “bias to yes,” and I could really relate to that. It’s not necessarily about saying yes to everything, but it’s thinking always in the positive mindset of how do you make it happen. And that just really opens you up. Because it says, you know, you don’t get stuck on the obstacle, you get stuck on the on the concept, on the idea of how you can make it happen. And then when Jack came in, he really put empathy front and center. And that mindset of that leadership of just making sure that you relate to people’s potential, and that you treat them like adults and they will rise up to the challenge. Just that mindset for me was, was really something that I could connect to, and really led to an environment of incredible creativity, incredible commitment, engagement, and just a very dynamic place to be into work.

Tyler  7:27  

Yeah, and you, you’ve talked about this before, and other, you know, publications that I read, as I was doing some research, you talked about the power of empathy. And it sounds like Jack really kind of brought that in, although I don’t want to, I don’t want to coast over Dick Costello’s bias to action. I love that and actually, have been thinking a lot about that recently. I think it’s so easy, especially when you are trying to build something innovative, to spend a lot of time talking and thinking and strategizing. But I love that bias to action. But that must have been such an interesting shift, then, with Jack coming in looking at empathy and putting humans at the center of it.

Mariabrisa  8:06  

You know, at Twitter, one of the challenges that we had as Latin America is that you’re away from the headquarters, right? Which means that, you know, you obviously know what you’re trying to strive for, but you want to identify it in a way that makes sense for you locally because the local context can be different. The situation that we were facing was that in Latin America, they thought Twitter was dead, you know, whereas was very different from the US where, you know, Twitter was still quite far from center, and quite equal to say, a Facebook and a Google. And what was needed was a way to really help us have our own kind of identity. And what we ended up doing was was a workshop with all of the leadership, local leadership, and asking ourselves, well, you know, what is expected from us? What is expected from us by our clients? What is expected from us by our headquarters? What is expected from us by our, you know, key stakeholders or employees? And that really brought us to our own version of the Twitter identity, but in a way that really spoke to the Brazil team. And so then that really brought us together and gave us clarity around where we fit in to the strategy of Twitter as a whole, and really began to drive us and really engage us and provide us with clear direction around how we localize the elements of Twitter for Latin America.

Mariabrisa  9:30  

The human connection was key, especially for HR, it is such a role that is so dependent on being aligned with what the business does. And I had a fantastic leader to partner with in Gilliam, who was the you know, Head of Latin America. I have to say that as HR, if you can find that leader that you can be in that understanding where you have the trust to challenge each other but you’re very much aligned around You’re driving the business, just everything else flows. And it just makes for the most incredible experience professionally for obviously, for me as an individual, but I think for the business as a whole, because they get this consistency, they know that that it is all walking towards the same direction. And I continue to seek leaders that that have this vision have this trust, so that so that things can can move in that very excited way.

Tyler  10:39  

I wonder how much like when you talked about home, and how you felt like you were home, I wonder how much of that was just walking into that office. I mean, I’ve been in that office in Sao Paulo, and you introduced me to… you kind of gave me a tour of the office, there’s this beautiful tree sculpture art installation. Was there just something about the environment, and the people were you just felt like, okay, this is where I’m supposed to be?

Mariabrisa  11:07  

I mean, you know, having been part of building that office, and actually, when you go into that office, in the reception, on the right hand side, there’s the vision that we built out, you know, just knowing that that’s a part of you. That was fantastic. But definitely the amount of effort and this is where the, you know, that empathy piece, and that putting the human touch at the center was so unique to Twitter, you know. If you go to the San Francisco office, it’s also just a fantastic experience, where it just feels like home, you know, the people that are there obviously are people that you can relate to that that, you know, are so diverse and so fantastic in their way of being that you just feel like it’s the right place for you. You’re not being valued, because you are or are not Brazilian, you’re definitely being valued by your experience. And if you redefine the purpose of the office, to not being the place where you work, but the place that you come to seek something specific, like active collaboration, like connection, human connection, or the learning experience, that’s when you give offfice its true meaning right, rather than it just being a place where you have to go to work. And I think Twitter was able to do that fantastically.

Tyler  12:18  

I love that I think that’s a really important part of it is just the physical experience of collaborating with people and how well how congruent that is with the messaging that’s coming from the organization. And it sounds like that was very congruent, there was this focus on empathy from Jack, and then you walk into the office, and it’s very warm and welcoming. And everyone there was very warm and welcoming. And so yeah, I definitely picked up on that.

Mariabrisa  12:48  

I definitely think it’s funny, but I always say that, you know, people believe that product is not related to this. But actually, if you think about it, really the product drives, it should drive consistency, right? Twitter in itself as a product is something that brings people together for a conversation. And I do think that they’ve been able to translate that in their values, but also in their workspace, like it was all centered around… If you walk through the office, it all had common spaces, you know, so that people could come and just congregate and chat. And you know, that’s very aligned to its product. I remember when I was working at King, which you know, is about games that make candy crush the office was was beautiful, and it was bright colors. And it was just all of the spaces to play to to have fun. But I think when when when you have just this complete alignment on all of your the different pieces that relate to what you do, it goes back to that piece around how you bring to life, and you have it front and center, the purpose of what what the job is.

Tyler  13:47  

Absolutely, absolutely. And so how did you get into this? You ended up attending college in Ireland at the University College, Dublin, and you studied business and politics, and then got your masters in literature. So at what point do you start to kind of get into the HR field.

Mariabrisa  14:05  

So actually, in my masters, it’s called an MLitt, but it’s basically because it’s a research master rather than like a top masters. And what I ended up doing is that I got very passionate about Ireland in the moment of the Celtic Tiger. So this is when entrepreneurship is at its best. They’re investing in tech. All of this is booming. And I was very interested in how does this get cultivated? And I came upon a study that had actually been done in Stanford that looked at like HR blueprints for high tech startups. And I was wondering, how different would that blueprint be for startups in Ireland who are such a small, like, it’s a small island, it’s a small market, would probably face a lot more difficulties in growth, right? They don’t have a huge market to leverage as the startups in Silicon Valley. What would that have as implications as it pertains to how they have to build up their companies’ structure and their culture and their organizational design? And that’s what I did my Master’s on, right, I did it it on human resource practices in high-tech startups in Ireland, and really became very passionate about that. And the intricacy of how the product or the market will really have an influence on how our company has to build itself up to succeed, and the implications that we’ll have around org designed, you know, processes, how quickly they can, they will require to become a little bit more rigid and more bureaucratic, you know, based on the challenges they face in the market. I was enthralled by that. And that’s really how I came about starting my career in HR.

Tyler  15:40  

That’s so interesting. So your initial interest, I don’t know if it’s fair to say this was more in entrepreneurship and innovation and disruption. And the way that you saw that being most kind of complex or nuanced or interesting was in the field of human resources and people development and how critical that was to achieving this type of innovation.

Mariabrisa  16:03  

Correct. I mean, obviously, incredibly biased. But I do believe that any startup, especially in the world of tech, it’s so depends on its people, and therefore can’t ignore the importance of setting that up in the right way if they if they ever want to succeed. And it is a critical function from the start. And so, you know, when I left my Master’s, I helped to consultants build up executive education program around innovation to try to teach bigger governmental companies how to innovate. But the truth is that it’s it’s going to be a lot harder because they don’t have that hunger or they don’t have that need, maybe. And then when I moved to Brazil, that’s really where I kicked off my my HR career, I worked for Danone, which in fairness is, you know, old company, very well established. But in Brazil functioned exactly like a startup, very agile, constantly questioning the way that they were doing things, very dynamic. And it was, it was so interesting to see how because of the nature of their product, they had to work in a very agile, quick way and constantly questioning the way that they did things. And then from there, I moved to a tech company. You know, that was incredibly exciting. Disney was probably the one that I was a bit not, right, because they’re not as agile, not maybe that dynamic environment. I ended up going to marketing, actually, when I was at Disney. 

Tyler  17:25  

Yeah, I saw that.

Mariabrisa  17:26  

And then I was hired at Twitter, and that’s really where I found my home. And then I’ve had the opportunity to work in different companies like in the games industries, in the mobile ads, and now in biotech, and just constantly refinding this culture of startups of wanting to change, trying to rethink, you probably know, plans, long term plans, for sure. That’s a reality. But focusing on, you know, trying to find an identity, building a culture that aligns to that, building an organizational structure that responds to that is really my passion. I love doing that.

Tyler  17:59  

So your background story is super fascinating. Can you share a little bit more about where you grew up and what your childhood was like?

Mariabrisa  18:09  

I was very lucky. I was able to move around a lot in the world. When I was seven years old, we moved out of Mexico, where I was born. We moved to the US and we stayed there a year and a half. Then we moved to Paris, where we lived there for six years. We move back to the US for two years. Then I was able to move to the south of France. I lived there for two years. And then I moved to Ireland, and I lived there for eight years. And then I moved to Brazil and I lived there for 10 years. And then I moved back to the UK, where we lived for like two years and a half. And then because third time is the charm, I am back in Paris since the last two years.

 

Tyler  18:46  

That is so amazing. I love that. I tell people from the age of 13 to 30. I didn’t stay in one place for more than three years. And that started when I was 13. It sounds like you were a little bit younger when you moved but I moved out of Dallas and moved to — my mom tried to get us out of this bubble that we were living in — and we moved to London when I was 13. And it was so transformational for me that I just never wanted to stay in one place until I got married and my wife was like, you need to stop bouncing around. So I love hearing stories of other other individuals that have had that type of experience, and yours is just that on steroids. What was that like? I’m sure it was exciting but that must have been hard as well, too, right?

Mariabrisa  19:30  

So absolutely. I think you know, when it hit me the hardest was probably when I was 16. And we moved out of Paris where, you know, I was quite independent. I took the Metro everywhere. You could just walk around and then we moved back to DC where I had to go live in the suburbs, and it was like, “Mom, can you take me to the mall?” And that was a radical change for me. But other than that, I have to say and maybe it’s, you know, a bit of retrospective now but it was such an enriching experience to be able to move around, integrate into different cultures, be able to really have to define my own identity because I was always the outsider. You know, I’m now an outsider, even when I go to Mexico, because I didn’t really grew up there, but I’m still 100% Mexican. But I think it just really enriches your way of thinking. And I am hoping to have the same experience with my children. They’ve moved out of Brazil, when they were young, they’ve now lived in the UK and are now living in France, they’ve almost caught up to me in terms of languages. They speak three fluently, and four, that they can understand. But I just think it makes a huge difference. And of course, there’s trade offs, you know, you don’t grew up with family as much. But you do make your own definition of family. And I think, you know, it’s definitely a perk to be able to know that you can adapt wherever you go, and find your own way, I find it incredible. I’m very thankful for the life that I had.

Tyler  20:55  

Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. Let’s pull on that thread, you talked about you, you had to kind of form your own identity, because in all these places, you were an outsider, and even your home of Mexico, you can kind of feel like an outsider. What did that identity look like? And how, how difficult was that to kind of come to terms with creating your own identity versus maybe trying to adapt or, or form to these environments that you’re in?

Mariabrisa  21:21  

Well, you know, interestingly, I probably would have been much simpler. But when I was quite young, when I was six, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. And so that meant I had difficulties, you know, making like sense of sounds, you know, and create them into correct spelling. So if you can imagine, I realized that when I was in Mexico, and then we moved to the US, and I had to learn to read and write in English, and then a year and a half later, we moved to France, and I to like, read and write in French. And all of that really means that everything is an obstacle, and everything is going to be a challenge. And overall, I think it created an enormous amount of resilience, right? Because you have to create your own identity, you have to find a way to be yourself, when you can’t really identify with anybody else. And on top of that, you’re dealing with all of these different challenges that make it even more difficult to try to feel like you can integrate. And I think it just, it really taught me from a young age that you have to define your own success, and you have to define your own path to be able to move forward, and that you take kind of every obstacle and every failure as an opportunity to grow. And I think that really shaped me growing up.

Tyler  22:38  

That’s so amazing. I’ve seen this, I don’t know if you’ve seen this photo or painting, where there’s this big circle, and it says the comfort zone. And then there’s these little circles, and it says the good stuff outside.

Mariabrisa  22:49  

Yes [Laughs].

Tyler  22:50  

And that was what that experience was like for you. I mean, we’re constantly I’m sure as soon as you felt like you were in a comfort zone, like okay, we’re in DC, I’m finally accommodates like, “no, we’re going to Ireland.”

Mariabrisa  23:00  

That’s right.

Tyler  23:02  

That’s amazing. And you’re doing all this and learning all these languages, struggling with dyslexia, I can’t imagine what that was like.

Mariabrisa  23:09  

Well, you know, it kind of gets to be a little bit addictive, I’ll be honest, you know, you were saying right now about, you know, the comfort zone, and then the good stuff. And so if you’re constantly being challenged, to reinvent yourself, and to do things differently, or to, you know, never get comfortable, I find that it actually gets to be quite addictive. And so I often talk about my sweet spot, you know, and I say that my sweet spot is when I feel “scarecited,” which is when you’re scared that you’re not going to be able to do something, but excited to find out if you’re going to be. And that’s really the mindset that I’ve tried to take into everything that I do and every challenge that I take on, is if I’m getting this like “scarecited” tingle, then I’m definitely in the right place. Because I love the idea of being challenged, of running the risk that I might not be able to do it, is really when I put all of my energy in trying to do it. So it becomes quite addictive, I find.

Tyler  24:01  

Yeah, I know what you mean. That’s amazing. But it’s not, it’s not innate. It’s not natural for human beings to do that. And as somebody who is responsible for people and people development, how do you cultivate that kind of “scarecited,” that same embracing discomfort in teams where I’m sure there’s a lot of that going on, and it doesn’t come naturally to folks.

Mariabrisa  24:25  

You’re right, it doesn’t come naturally. And I think most people, you know, tend to react quite defensively when they’re being set, you know, at the forefront of failure. But I think that’s also why I really like the world of startups, right? Because if you’re in the world to become a startup, you’re in there to make something new and to face things that aren’t necessarily known. And I think that then what that requires is to really insert a mindset of agility of adaptability of, you know, being able to not want it, to get it all right the first time, but you know, really having this agile mindset, let’s try it, let’s learn from it. Let’s adapt it. And I think if you teach people to do that, effectively, their fear of failure kind of diminishes, their imposter syndrome maybe diminishes, because they know they don’t have to get it right the first time. And so, cultivating a culture of, you know, not fearing failure, maybe even, you know, celebrating it, really helps people be able to move away from their fear, and then take more risks. And that’s really important in teams, and it’s really important in in leaders, to be able to cultivate that trust, that safe space where people feel that they can create that they can try things constantly.

Tyler  25:45  

I mean, again, I wholeheartedly agree with you, as somebody who runs a startup I, I try, I try to go out of my way, and probably overly celebrate failures because I want people to realize this is part of the journey. And I I understand the power of the psychological safety, you have to create. But at the same time, it’s, you know, it’s hard, it’s hard to screw up or make a mistake or not hit the mark, and even folks who jump on board with a startup and no, that’s part of the journey, it’s really hard to acclimate to that as a regular part of your day.

Mariabrisa  26:16  

it is really hard. And I think, you know, you the importance there is how do you anchor people into a bigger win? And, you know, one of my biggest challenges as an HR professional, when I come into the business is, how do I make sure that I enable people to connect the dots, right? Are we clear with our vision of where we’re going? How are we communicating that? And how are we getting people to engage with that? Because that’s really the lever to allow people to feel safe, to be able to try things, as long as they keep the end in sight. Are we all clear where we’re going? Then we can try different paths to get there. But if we’re not clear where we’re going, then inevitably, you know, tests, like trialing and error becomes a lot harder to do because you can’t gauge it, whether it’s taking you in the right direction. So I definitely agree with you that it’s much easier said than done. But a key element to ensuring that you’re enabled to do that is ensuring that everybody’s clear with the overarching vision mission of the company and the direction that we’re going towards.

Tyler  27:20  

I wonder if there’s a connection, you mentioned before your experience as being dyslexic to how you think about empathy and the role that managers leaders play in an organization to really understanding their employees and some of the unique strengths and challenges that their employees have to navigate.

Mariabrisa  27:41  

If I were to say, when I take on a challenge in a company in terms of number one priorities, you know, like I said, clarity of vision and making sure people connect the dots. But number two is how do you enable managers, which are often in startups, first-time managers to really not self sabotage, by their fear of not knowing how to be managers or having imposter syndrome, that they don’t self sabotage. They need to have the tools to learn how to actively listen, to learn to have the empathy to relate to their employees, adult to adults. And that is usually my second priority. After the vision, the strategy around how do you enable managers to really be able to connect with themselves but so that they can connect with their employees bring the element of trust, the element of transparency, the element of honesty, it really talks about, you know, sometimes having them overcome their fears. So that they can really help their employees and really put themselves in the coaching mindset, which is really what, you know, where they’re at their best.

Tyler  28:51  

Yeah. And that’s that the reason I brought up the dyslexia was because you had a tweet recently, where you talked about how you overcame your fear, correct? And did something you’d been dreaming about? Can you share more about that?

Mariabrisa  29:02  

That’s right. I’ve always wanted to have the opportunity to create a workshop around this element of being “scarecited” that I mentioned before, and how do you ensure that people aren’t being paralyzed by their fear of failure, by obstacles that they might face in their life and actually embrace them? And a lot of it has to do it’s going to sound counterintuitive, but not necessarily lowering your standards, but maybe making sure that you know what your bigger win is. And if you know what that is, then it’s easier for you to take a first step that might not be the top step, right? You might not aim to be the best at the beginning, but at least get yourself towards that direction, will help you move forward. And then eventually through learning through growing through embracing your your challenges, really reach your potential. And so that I had the opportunity to do that and create a workshop that talks about that subject, and it was incredible for me to have the opportunity be able to do that. And you know, definitely scary, but very excited now that it’s out there and that people received it in a positive way.

Tyler  30:07  

I mean, I think it’s so fantastic to model that vulnerability and foster that safety for others to talk about their, you know, unique challenges in their identity. At Lingo Live, our big thing is authentic voice, people being able to show up as the complex human being that they are. And I really appreciate you sharing all this.

Tyler  30:28  

So you’ve gone through these hypergrowth organizations, I’m curious, some of the you’ve articulated really well, for what success looks like you need to have that organizational vision and clarity, you need to have managers who are equipped to empathize with people and meet them where they are, and empower them to be more successful in their roles. What are some of the biggest challenges that you’ve seen where organizations just weren’t able to do this effectively, or you were kind of banging your head against a wall, and maybe it was the company, maybe it was individual leaders that you just saw, weren’t able to model these behaviors that you think listeners could kind of take away based on what you learned?

Mariabrisa  31:12  

So a lot of my challenges, and where I’ve seen companies struggle is when effectively the discourse and the actions just do not meet, and they’re not genuine. People will see through this every time. And so I do think that leaders need to be honest with themselves. If the focus is making money, then that is the focus. Own it and create the narrative around that. The honesty and the transparency is such a key element in whether people will effectively trust you or not. How do you challenge yourself to really be transparent and put things the way they are to the business? And helping connect the dots around what it means for them, and then allowing people to choose whether they want to be part of that or not?

Tyler  31:59  

Absolutely, and there’s so much pressure on leaders to model behavior that is maybe the, you know, socially acceptable, or the latest fad or trends. And so you start to think, okay, well, how do I embody this, but to your point, if your internal compass isn’t pointed in that direction, it’s never gonna work.

Mariabrisa  32:17  

That’s right. And I think we saw that also in COVID, right, where companies almost were pressured to make a choice around one model. And if truly leaders didn’t believe in it, in believing in the ability to be able to work virtually, they don’t make it happen. And they don’t genuinely put the effort needed to make that an effective culture and mindset, they won’t succeed. But effectively, to your point, sometimes we’re often pressured with trends that are happening in the market. How do you, you know, how do you bring that all together?

Tyler  32:48  

Absolutely. So I’m curious, what was a really big problem that at the time seemed impossible seems like that we’re not going to be able to solve this or address this that you were able to tackle.

Mariabrisa  33:05  

When I when I joined King, they… So King is a company that its founders are Swedish, and the headquarters in UK. And although they’re owned by Activision Blizzard at the time, it was it’s, it’s a very autonomous company, and it has a very strong culture. But there was definitely a cultural divide. They were trying to define what their strategy should be around performance management, and should there be a rating system or not? And at the source of the challenge was cultural principles, right? The Swedes just were completely against the idea of categorizing people, right? Whereas in the UK, and in the US, I think we’re much more comfortable with this concept of grading people and saying, and being able to put a name or rating to a performance. It just didn’t seem like that was something that could be accepted, and this was a debate that they had been having for a very long time, and I came to this and I’ll be honest, I it was a lot through trial and error.

Mariabrisa  34:16  

But what I finally understood was that really, instead of trying to focus them on whether it was a rating system or not, it was trying to focus them on what effectively are we trying to solve and what is the value add that we’re trying to bring? And it did require a bit of a divide and conquer if I’m honest, you think that the XCOM would come together and decide all together but actually, no, it really required an effort of individually speaking to each person’s motivation, and each people’s values and principles, so that we could come together to answer the right question, which wasn’t, do we have ratings or not, but rather, what is the most effective way to ensure that people are aligned with what we expect from them. And how can we enable managers to be able to communicate that in an effective way? And through that we were then almost able to get through their idea that we should then utilize, but essentially a ratings work that we should utilize a rating system, which at the beginning seemed like no way, no how, you know, was actually able to come to a to fruition at the end. And I’ll be honest, I really thought at the beginning was going to be an impossible thing to solve. And it was a huge learning for me around the power of empathy, of taking the time to listen to everybody individually, and getting deep to the motivation, rather than just focusing on solving the problem.

Tyler  35:51  

But I love it. I mean, these values that you’re talking about, they just keep coming up every single story that you tell it’s such a, it’s so clear what you stand for, and how that makes you successful.

Mariabrisa  36:03  

But it was a lot of trial and error. A lot.

Tyler  36:05  

Oh, yeah. I bet you had that “scarecited” feeling the whole time?

Mariabrisa  36:09  

Yes, absolutely [laughs].

Mariabrisa  36:13  

It was honestly one of the most challenging experiences I think I’ve had as a leader, it was the first time that I was having to do with a C level. I was dealing with them as the only woman in the room like, you know, all middle-aged European men, only Latina coming in, it was just… there’s so many things at play when that was happening. So yeah.

Tyler  36:32  

Yeah, gaming culture, not to mention.

Mariabrisa  36:35  

Oh, my God [laughs].

Tyler  36:37  

That’s a lot.

Mariabrisa  36:38  

Completely.

Tyler  36:40  

The last question I have is related to your perspective on what’s coming. What excites you, and what scares you about this kind of whole future of work and where work is heading?

Mariabrisa  36:54  

I think one of the things that excites me the most about everything that’s happening and the direction that it’s taking is how inclusion is is really at the center of it. And what I mean by inclusion is this whole trend that that COVID set us on, put the importance around how you have to have top of mind in everything you do how you’re actively including others differently, right? When people are, some at the office, and some are working from home, you have to now make a conscious effort around what you actively do to include people in the conversation, include people into the know, when they might not, you know, be present or be accessing things in the same way. And I think that that is so rich, it’s also allowing to include the concept of, of people working in a different way of people thinking and being in at their best in different ways. And people having to think about that, and and people having to react to that and adjust to that. And I think that makes me really excited to think about the possibility that that creates for everyone around just having a much more flexible and adaptable way, meaning that there’s a lot more openness around how we can include people’s need differently.

Tyler  38:15  

Absolutely.

Mariabrisa  38:16  

I think at the other side of it, what really scares me or what I’m concerned about, is about mental health in a way. Because I do worry about especially the, you know, maybe the new onset of young people that maybe hadn’t had so much experience in the corporate world, and by being put immediately in this model might have missed out on some things that are still important around building the connection, or feeling the closeness to others. And whether they even know what to ask or whether they even know what might be missing for them. And how do we make sure that people are supported through that a lot of people might have made choices with a certain situation in mind, and that situation will evolve? And how do we give them the tools to make sure that they identify and are able to name or able to solve for things that might not be easily identifiable around angst of something that’s missing, right? I loved [inaudible], who is an NCI [Nonviolent Crisis Intervention] teacher and he talked a lot about it as a sense of loss, you know, as a sense of mourning. And how do we help people identify that that that might what they might be going through? And so I still think we have some elements to deal with about that. And it just concerns me to make sure that that people have the right tools to address that.

Tyler  39:37  

Sure. And as you said before, the most important thing is that clarity of vision. And that’s really hard to give in this moment when so many things are changing and people are kind of flip flopping on what the you know, work situation looks like and whether or not we’re going to be in the office. So that’s only going to exacerbate this problem. I’m curious, what is the role you see yourself playing In this?

Mariabrisa  40:04  

I guess the role that I see myself playing really goes back to the coaching mindset, which is really not about giving people the answers but helping ask the questions so that the answers can appear and you can empower people to think about solutions for themselves. And I think we need that but but exploded, you know, how to how do we work together as a group? How are you guiding and asking the right questions, so that new paths may appear the right conversations might be had, and people can actively engaged and feel involved. I think definitely the role of HR as it’s always been, but in a different format is really how do you enable people to, to create something new to come to an understanding to come to something that they feel that they’re part of that they can buy into, they can believe in. It’s really about continuing to ask the right questions.

Tyler  40:56  

Mariabrisa, thank you so much. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. So always good to catch up with you. But to hear your whole story told in this light, it’s been it’s been really wonderful. So thank you for sharing.

Mariabrisa  41:07  

Thank you guys. Honestly, this has been fantastic. And it’s made me think about a lot of things. So definitely, I’ll have even food for thought for myself around these big questions.

Tyler  41:16  

I was gonna say you’re not alone, trust me. You’ve probably given us a lot more to think about them the other way around.

Tyler  41:28  

That was Mariabrisa Olivares.

Tyler  41:35  

One of the big things I took away from my conversation with Mariabrisa was her guiding principle of “scarecited.” I’ve never put it that way but that’s definitely something that I can relate to. Some of the most transformative times of my life, and probably even the most meaningful times in my life, were times that I was feeling both scared and excited. And it was because I was outside of my comfort zone and I was doing something that maybe felt weird, felt out of place, felt like I didn’t belong or shouldn’t be doing this thing, but at the same time felt right. And it felt like kind of a cliff I needed to jump off of. And whether that was, kind of, living in London as a child and going into strange and new environments that I was unfamiliar with, or guerilla marketing my startup at the Convention Center in Dallas and giving away free coffee and playing mariachi band music to folks that were entering the convention. These are all times when I felt very “scarecited,” but when I look back on it are definitely things that shaped me as a person and things that led to a lot of the success both personal and professional that I’ve had in my life.

Tyler  42:54  

You can find us online at groundwork.show. I’m Tyler Muse.

Tyler  43:00  

Groundwork is produced by Mike Giordani at Flowship, audio engineering by Alex Roses, production assistance by Casey Miller, music by Aaron Sprinkle, Adrian Walther, and Corolina Combo. Special thanks to Pedro Matriciano and Natalya Krimgold.

Tyler  43:00  

Until next time, thanks for listening.

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