A Conversation with Zoom Video’s Chief People Officer Lynne Oldham

With more than 20 years of HR leadership experience in a variety of industries, Lynne Oldham brings her extensive, dynamic work and life experience to Zoom Video Communications as its Chief People Officer. Her strategic HR and talent acquisition expertise spans a career in banking, publishing, and telecommunications. Known for her zeal and innate gifts of recognizing and fostering talent, Oldham also enjoys advising C-suite executives to amplify business outcomes. As a sophisticated developer of talent who consistently boosts organizational culture and employee morale, from recruitment strategies to her investment in diversity and inclusion, Oldham’s role helped name Zoom as one of the leaders in the 2020 Gartner Magic Quadrant for UCaaS, Worldwide.

Throughout the 2020 pandemic, Zoom has skyrocketed to epic growth. Zoom went from serving 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019 to more than 300 million daily meeting participants by April 2020. For Oldham, who coincidentally started her career journey at Castrol Oil and BP, this just means she is able to continue leading a growing team and bring more happiness to employees on a massive scale.

Where It All Started

Lynne Oldham’s journey began in New York City, to a mom who was an assistant at a school and a dad who ran a parking garage. As a first-generation college student, she received her B.S. in Business Administration and Finance from State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz. After she picked up her degree, she soon found herself running her own company as founder and chief consultant of a consulting firm.

Oldham worked her way through cultivating regional expansions in business development for companies including Castrol Oil and BP. As a “serial try-er” – in her words – she took a detour to study law at Seton Hall University School of Law. After she picked up her J.D., she forged ahead into the world of employment law where she realized quickly it was not the right role for her: “When you’re at a big firm, the partner is the face of the firm and they put you in a back room where you don’t get to talk with anyone,” says Oldham.

Oldham had always been a people-facing person; willing to trade a pile of books and research in a law library for connecting and interacting with people once again. Her detours and experiences — from learning medical lingo and benefits administration to receiving business and law degrees to practicing employment law — all came together to bolster her ability to maneuver into the field of HR. Through her life and work experiences as an entrepreneur, business leader, and a brief stint in law, Oldham found that at her core she is someone that “likes to do business through the lens of people.” 

When You Know What You Are Meant to Do 

With Oldham’s first degree in business, she chose finance as her specialty because she wanted to know the numbers that made businesses tick from a dollars-and-cents perspective. Along the way, she learned that “the numbers are only good when you’ve got it all right with respect to the people and how they are organized, the way you treat them, and what the culture is like.”

“A lot of people say they ‘fell into HR’, but it was one of those things that I was meant to do,” she says.

Human Resources itself has recently evolved as an industry. It has transformed from an older model of an HR hub to focus more on people instead of resources, hence the title “Chief People Officer” or CPO. “It is purpose-driven work,” Oldham explains. Expounding on her enthusiasm about finding her happy place in this field, she says it all comes down to “how to make the people make the company sing.” What makes a good leader, according to Oldham, is deceptively simple: they need to learn the business they are in, how it works, and spend a lot of time listening.

The Best People Leaders Do This

The best CPOs learn how the business that they are in really tick, and how they make money.  Listening and not coming in with preconceived notions is key. “I feel like Batman,” Oldham admits, comparing her role to having one’s own Batman tool belt.

“I spend a lot of time learning the planet I landed on and figuring out if any of the tools that I know and love could be used and if not, then I invent something new,” she says. Oldham advises that to be super effective, people need to learn the business, look at their body of knowledge, and figure out what applies to that business. “It is simple, but simple works. Knowing what to pull out and what not to pull out of your tool belt is what gets you heard.”

Zoom in One Word

Oldham shares that if her team at Zoom could reduce their culture down to one word, it would be “Happy.” You don’t just see the culture, you can feel it everywhere. “Happy is what is happening here,” Oldham says. When you walk into Zoom’s lobby, their five core values are listed under two other words: We Care.

1.) We care for our company.

2.) We care for our customers.

3.) We care for our community.

4.) We care for our teammates.

5.) We care for ourselves.

“What makes Zoom unique is that we truly go above and beyond,” she adds. Oldham shares that they recently had a customer write to tell them about how one of their team members, Kyle, went above and beyond. Kyle helped this customer from start to finish, utilizing Zoom, through the emotional and physical difficulties of hosting a funeral. He took every single call and followed up consistently with the family through their heartache and grief.

Along with transparency and communication, empathy is one of the key foundations at Zoom, whether Oldham is looking for it in her candidates, lending it to employees, or creating a culture out of this attribute.

Since Zoom’s values are rooted in caring, they created the Zoom Cares Foundation which gives employees the choice of where the company seeks to make a positive impact. At Zoom Cares, they are committed to solving some of humanity’s biggest challenges so that there is a future where all people and the environment are cared for. They connect to people in need virtually and on the ground by deploying funding, technology, and technical expertise to help solve educational and social inequalities as well as climate change. 

Dear Job Seekers, Do Your Research 

With the pandemic forcing huge growth for Zoom, they have received more than 200,000 applications since May and are hiring on average 150-200 people a month. Oldham shares what distinguishes good candidates from great candidates, and what they are looking for:

  • Does the person have both life and work experience?
  • Zoom’s interviews are experiential – can candidates talk through a scenario as opposed to checking boxes?
  • Do they have a depth of experience that aligns with the company’s “We Care” values?
  • Do they possess curiosity?
  • Are they voracious learners?
  • Can they acquire more than just skills?

Great candidates can identify a problem, find the root cause, and arrive at a solution. Someone who lives in the “why” is critical to Zoom’s team. As Oldham puts it: “We like to live in the why. Then, move on it!”

Oldham also offers advice for job seekers with her recipe for success: “Know everything you could know about a company. Do your research. If you feel good about what they’re about, it will never feel like a job.”

She adds that her CEO says, ‘If you wake up in the morning and you are not happy here at Zoom, you should take time to work on your happiness, address the root cause.”

Diversity & Inclusion at Zoom

 “They are immensely invested in employees’ well-being,” reads one recent Zoom employee review on Comparably.com. This investment also includes the importance of diversity and inclusion. Zoom Talks, much like TED Talks, was constructed because the company wanted to talk openly about race, diversity, and inclusion. This held from the first session covering Juneteenth to an expanded partnership with a renowned professor from USC’s Race and Equity Center, evolving this mission into several sessions that are free to the public entitled, “Race in the Workplace.” In addition, Zoom now has several resource groups for its employees, including an LGBTQ resource group, women’s resource group, and more. The company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives are growing organically, and so far, the response from employees has been positive.

As CPOs evolve and emerge as stakeholders in the long-term success of companies, their role is even more important than ever. After spending 20 plus years in HR roles at both big and small companies in the private and public sector, it is clear that Lynne Oldham utilizes her CPO superhero tool belt well. Since joining Zoom in January 2019, she has helped create a place with the Happiest Employees in the country.