Tawni Cranz '95

Originally Published in Inside Psychology, Spring 2015

Since graduating in 1995 from the Department of Psychology at UCSB, Tawni Cranz has enjoyed tremendous success in the business world, and is currently the Chief Talent Officer at Netflix which she joined in 2007. She lives in the Saratoga, California with her family of three children. Inside Psychology caught up with Ms. Cranz for the following interview.

What were the most important and valuable skills you learned during your psychology experience at UCSB?

Several of classes were very helpful, particularly classes that helped me understand motivations and getting a better sense of how we are influenced by unconscious biases—we’re not always in control of our thinking. Why is it that people act in complete opposite ways to the same situation? Also a psych class taught me the art of listening to both verbal and non-verbal cues. This helped me to be a better a collaborator at ultimately my career.

As Chief Talent Officer of Netflix, how has your psych degree helped, and in what ways?

A lot of my job is understanding intention and human emotion. We have 1700 employees currently and growing rapidly, all our employees are very different people. So it has been very helpful for me to hone the skills I started at UCSB; skills of listening, assessing people, understanding their motivations, what they need and teasing out of people what really matters and what they want to accomplish. My job is to make sure people get matched up with work they are great at and what they love.

Are there any professors in particular that you remember, and why?

Faith Gleicher (a professor at UCSB from 1991-1995)—she had huge impact. I was not exposed to social psychology prior to UCSB. She brought in real world examples, marketing, advertising, things that put research into real-world perspective. I conducted research with her and I learned how psychology applied in business. That sparked an interest to not just go to grad school and the path I thought I was certain I wanted, but led me to talk to companies about other opportunities. She changed the course I ultimately took for my life.

What are your hobbies, avocations, things you do for fun?

Well I should start by saying I love what I do and I have a ton of fun doing it. I don’t feel like l need diversion from my day to day but instead value making new memories and having a wide array of experiences. I love surfing. We sail. I’ve always been a runner 20-25 miles per week. I’m an avid cook, each year I try to learn a new cuisine, last year Indian cuisine, this year’s Italian. It’s a creative outlet different from work and being a mom.

Is there anything that UCSB could learn from you and your experience in human relations at Netflix?

At Netflix, we take such a different approach to people and culture than most companies. Most companies take a paternalistic, hierarchical relationship with employees. At Netflix, we have an egalitarian, meritocratic approach where we give employees a ton of responsibility and all the freedom to make an impact. And that involves taking risk. We choose to accept that risk. And deal with humans who make good and bad judgments, learn from it, and make a difference next time. But we realize that’s a reality of being a human and life. The way that we operate allows people to do the best work of their life. We hire people who have amazing background and experiences. And we free them from bureaucracy and policies, free them to think and decide what their impact will be at Netflix. And it is amazing to see the transformation that gives people. That’s kept me here for going on 9 years.

My suggestion is to try to create an expectation that innovation can come from everywhere—it’s not just certain employees—to figure out how to have a culture that allows people to feel that they have an impact.

Any advice for Gaucho psych majors and recent graduates?

Go out and spend time with people who are working in fields that you have interest in. It opens up your mind to a lot of different possibilities that you not have come up with alone. Stay open to changing what you think you want to be or do. Be okay with change. Taking risks and learning to live in some ambiguity helped me tremendously, as I was open to possibilities that didn’t fit my narrow scope of what I thought I was capable of accomplishing and doing. Give yourself the freedom to dream bigger!