Article: Respecting cultures and connecting people globally


Respecting cultures and connecting people globally

Barrie Stone, Sr Dir., HR, Expedia Inc. on connecting people across cultures and locations and driving business growth
Respecting cultures and connecting people globally

Expedia’s vision is to enable a healthy culture, provide the right tools to employees to help them align to the business and eye growth with innovation


Having spent 11 years in Expedia, how do you think the organization has changed in terms of scaling the brand or culture?

We are a much bigger global company now than when I joined. The last six years has seen a very fast growth in business. I’ve often described Expedia as a start-up with money and some process, but that’s what makes it a fun place to work because it allows one to make a difference and an impact. One of the challenges we’ve had is the global nature of work in terms of time zones or cultures. We’ve also added brands in a way such that it enables different cultures to remain unique and at the same time inculcate Expedia’s way of doing business.

What are the ingredients to scaling that culture?

First of all, we have some senior key players who have been here for years. Dara Khosrowshahi , our CEO, has been around for about eight years, along with Connie Symes, EVP – HR. It allows us to ensure that we keep and maintain things that are important to the company, while still growing and adding new features or programs. Secondly, we try to have a lot of global programs, which help engage a number of people at the same time. One of our key initiatives is focused on bringing a higher number of women into leadership roles in the company. This is something important to Dara and the leadership team and Dara is personally very committed. That’s one of the unifying factors across locations. We also have a Global Day of Caring event through our Expedia Cares Philanthropy Program where everyone participates. What’s unique about it is the fact that we allow all the offices to select what they want to participate in and take a day off to make an impact in their communities. This is again about respecting what’s important to that local culture or office. So, while we have different cultures in different locations, we have these larger unifying programs, which help fabricate the company as one and keep people together.

How have the talent related challenges evolved over the years and what is your current talent agenda?

As growth opportunities for businesses increase, competition rises and hence attracting and retaining talent is always a challenge. There are a lot of competitors out there and now it’s all about ensuring that the company is abreast of the latest technologies on offer to find and retain talent. One of the large programs that we launched last year, for which I was the implementation lead, is our performance management system. For years, we used the standard performance management system with ratings. Then, after a lot of research and talking to people, we realized that it really wasn’t driving the behaviours that we wanted. So, we decided to do away with our ratings. This was a huge initiative for the company and we did it in a very short duration. It was a collaborative effort and a study of change management in itself, as we had to move everyone from one way of thinking to another, ensuring along the way that we got feedback and inputs. Now, it is essentially a feedback based way of doing performance management with on-going feedback and dialogues instead of a couple of meetings and the one instance where you sit down with your manager. There is still more work to be done as it’s about how you change people’s thinking and the culture to weave that into your everyday work.

How does this change impact a business leader and an employee?

For a business leader, I think it really gives them an opportunity to give constructive feedback on the positive and development areas. It gives them a chance to spend more time with their employees, gives them more face time and makes those conversations more meaningful as performance is then tied to that feedback that you’ve given over the years. For employees as well, this offers more face time and a greater opportunity to solicit feedback. Developing a culture of feedback is not easy as you have to tackle a spectrum of people – some who like feedback, some who hate it. It’s about getting people comfortable with the notion of having an ongoing dialogue. Nevertheless, this makes the business stronger while keeping people aligned to the expectations of business and the leaders.

How do you link this change to career progressions, high potential programs etc.?

As a part of these dialogues or discussions we also have professional goals – what one is expected to achieve along with a development discussion. We encourage people to grow within their own domains as well—if they are interested in trying out other parts of the business, the organization offers opportunities across borders. It’s an effort to add value to their learning and development. We want people to explore and have meaningful conversations with their leaders. We also have a large learning and development library where people can go and avail thousands of trainings for free. We invest in people as we really want them to grow with us.

How has the structure of your HR department evolved to not only support the growth but also to empower people to make that shift?

From an HR perspective, we are always looking for tools and programs to help the business and our people grow and develop. We are really focused on staying up-to-date so we always look at what other companies are doing and what some of the cutting-edge technologies are to ensure there’s access to information. We encourage tools and processes that allow the employees and managers to connect even on an informal basis. It’s all about collaboration and being able to connect people globally.

How will you define the vision of HR in Expedia?

We want to enable a healthy culture and ensure we provide the right tools that align ourselves to the business. We look at growth along with innovation. An example of this is the new HR operating model where we took a closer look at what we could do better and more effectively. We split the HR business function into a HR generalist group through which now we operationalize HR on a global basis in spite of being in so many countries. Also as a centre of expertise, this team now handles employee relations and investigations globally. We decided to implement this big change because we felt this will bring in more consistency, allowing us to look at the metrics and proactively come back to the HR business partners and business leaders with those analytics to help bring a change in the way we do things. Having local expertise is very helpful in building a sustainable and scalable process with a global lens.

How important is technology or analytics etc. in your new role?

For the generalist group, it’s brand new and we are working on cracking that nut, but we have put in trackers and we are partnering with our analytics team to decide on what we need to focus on. We have constant conversations around what technologies could help and what it is that we might need going further.

How do you keep up the energy to handle a large chunk of organizational responsibilities? What keeps you motivated?

I think it’s the natural curiosity, the desire to understand the other cultures and the way the business runs. This coupled with flexibility and a sense of humour makes work very interesting. We all really work hard but we have a wonderful time. I have loved coming to work every single day for the past eleven and a half years, because I know that when I come in I am going to work with smart people who want to find solutions, who want to partner, who have expertise that I don’t have and who need the expertise that I do have. I have a wonderful team and HR has a very good reputation in Expedia. It starts at the top. We don’t have to spend money building a reputation – it is already there as we are a trusted partner to the business at all levels. This allows us the freedom to do proactive and good work.

How do you ensure that this enthusiasm scales up when you work with new countries? What do you feel about working in India?

It starts with leadership and it’s very important to ensure that we have tools to keep employees connected. For example, you could have a marketing manager who may be sitting by himself working from home. It’s about how you keep that person engaged or involved. It’s also very important to constantly ensure that the communication tools are strong. Things that are planned are always meaningful. I think it’s also really important that the senior leaders go out to different locations and spend time with all levels of employees. It’s very encouraging to experience the excitement that flows from all levels. It’s also a great experience to hire good leaders at different locations as we might know Expedia but we won’t know how to do Expedia in India. It’s a wonderful experience coming here and hiring local experts to help us build scale in this location. It’s all about people as its people who drive innovation.

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Topics: Culture, #BestPractices

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