How an assignment abroad can influence your learning journey

Julia Carloff-Winkelmann, Director, People Europe, SoundCloud

Last November, my manager asked me if I could imagine going to New York for a couple of months because my counterpart in New York (People Partner for US & Australia) had given notice and we needed to start planning on his backfill. I got super excited and nervous at the same time because although I’ve spent my last 13 years in Human Resources, always working for global companies with a US focus, I’ve never worked outside of Germany. It was a fast decision and after speaking to my husband and sleeping one night, we started planning our “family and business adventure”. A couple of weeks later the three of us (my husband, our 5-year-old daughter and I) sat on a plane to New York prepared to spend late winter and early spring in that exciting city.

Putting pieces of the puzzle together enables strong people business partnering

I joined SoundCloud 1.5 years ago as people partner for operations. In this role, I worked closely with our COO and other leaders in Finance, Legal and Insights. My role soon expanded to work with our CPO & Founder and our Technology Leadership Team — plus designing and facilitating our people processes (like development reviews, promotion process, and salary review). On top of that, I have been responsible for driving our company-wide diversity & inclusion initiatives. So I have been involved in various business areas already, but some important pieces of the puzzle were missing: our Revenue and Content organizations with Sales, Marketing, Business Development and Artist Relations.

Be curious, ask many questions and listen carefully

I spent my first weeks in New York getting to know our business leaders better, asking a lot of questions and digesting all of the information. This amazing city is all about variety, diversity and people of many different nationalities. The majority of people I met had moved to New York, and weren’t born there so I didn’t feel like a stranger. Rather more like an absorbing sponge taking in a lot of impressions and information. Having new business insights and recognizing new leadership approaches enabled me to quickly act as a leadership coach because I knew the other parts of the business already from my time in Berlin.

Be open to be surprised and come with a growth mindset

At SoundCloud we have over 300 employees — all with different backgrounds and from various companies (corporate, small start-ups, agencies, consulting, etc.). This means our leaders have different leadership and management styles and different perspectives and ideas on people topics. One example is “giving and receiving feedback.” In New York, the attitude tends to be positive and people are very complementary paired with a strong ‘can do’ attitude. They are very solution focused instead of talking about problems which means there can be a struggle to give developmental feedback.

As a people partner, I get exposed to these different ways of working a lot and always have to build the bridge between company goals, our people philosophy and culture to best enable achieving our business goals. Being open to these various ways and facilitating conversations is key to enable creativity and innovation. Our role as senior people leaders is to challenge, come with proposals but always consciously step back and be neutral at the same time.

Be fast — set your purposes and be efficient with people’s time

The New York office is fast-paced and people are always “on”. To adapt to this pace you need to be able to articulate the purpose and goal of your meeting, get your point across very fast and not spend too much time with small talk. As a people partner that means you need to build a relationship and trust quite fast to be able to get results.

Be inclusive — if you manage people in various locations you have an even stronger responsibility to include them

As our headquarters is located in Berlin, the majority of our people team management team is based there as well. So I was always the only lonely person sitting in a room in New York while all others were together in a room in Berlin. My manager did a great job in leading these meetings by making sure that the conversation wasn’t driven by the majority in Berlin but by asking questions and pausing to make sure the single person on the other side of the screen was heard as well.

During my assignment, I got to know new parts of our business and new parts of our organization. I’ve learned new coaching skills and developed additional communication skills. I’ve learned how the US job market and recruiting works, and learned how to improve management of global (remote) teams — among many other things. All of these learnings have opened my mind. I’ve taken these learnings back to Berlin, and they are helping me fulfil our business goals even more by building the bridge between business and people topics.

I’m very grateful for the experience. It enabled new skills, elevated my learning journey and career. And last but not least: our five-year-old daughter is fluent in English now and way more self-confident.