Part 2: Aligning HR with Technology and Data / Planning for Acquisitions

Beth Grous, Chief People Officer for TripAdvisor, is applying the same strategy to HR and strategic talent management that TripAdvisor  utilized to become the world’s top travel site: leverage new technology and approaches to gain insights that drive decisions and positive business outcomes. In Beth’s case, that includes everything from recruiting and retaining employees to increasing equity, diversity and inclusion. In this second part of a two-part conversation, Beth talks with TCV General Partner Nari Ansari about the many ways this approach is benefiting both TripAdvisor and its people. Examples include informing business strategy with direct feedback from employees, using smarter benefits and training to retain employees, building a more diverse talent pipeline, and how her team plans for acquisitions so that people management operates effectively during and after integration.

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Nari Ansari:  Beth, thanks for joining us again to discuss TripAdvisor and your talent and people operations journey. We previously talked about aligning HR with business strategy, and jumping back in, I’d love to hear a little bit more about how TripAdvisor is using technology and data in HR operations.

Beth Grous:  Great question, and I can give you some relevant examples across different areas.

Let’s start with employee development. We want to use technology to think about learning differently and less traditionally, and we want to meet the workforce where they are. As one example, we recently began piloting Audible for Business. Employees like to get training delivered to them during their commute or during their downtime; it’s a different approach to content delivery than classroom learning, and one which our employees have embraced.   

Additionally, we seek employee feedback as a key input to how we build and evolve our people programs. We do everything from surveys to monitoring Glassdoor to, and it sounds overly simple, but just talking to people. As much as I love tools and technology, you’d be surprised at how much you learn if you just ask people what’s going on … they’ll generally tell you. And we are increasingly looking to data to help us think about our people in more detailed ways. Let’s use the turnover example. You’re never going to get it to zero attrition, so it’s really about slowing that path to exit and increasing engagement.

One of the recent data-driven insights we had is around the leave of absence journey. When an employee goes out and then returns from leave of absence—particularly one taken to welcome a child into the family—they enter a meaningful period from a retention standpoint. It doesn’t matter whether the employee is the birth parent or not. Our data indicated that one of the most important factors in determining retention during this period was the employee’s relationship with their manager; do they feel supported as they leave and return?  So with this understanding, this past year, we did two things. We increased our benefit level around leaves in general, expanding our leave policies to include a paid caregiver leave: 8 weeks fully paid for caring for a newborn, caring for an ailing family member or elderly parent. For birth moms, who also get an additional 8 weeks of short-term disability pay, this brought our full maternity benefit to 16 weeks; non-birth parents get 8 weeks. We also coupled our leave enhancements with improved manager training. The data gave us insights that if our managers aren’t paying close attention to that transition, your likelihood of losing someone just after a leave of absence increases significantly.

Nari Ansari: Clearly some impactful examples with regards to the use of data to inform your people strategy. Are there any other areas where you have experimented with the use of data to make people-based decisions?

Beth Grous: We’re in stage one—the early phase—of our overall people analytics journey, but I believe we are starting in a very good place. We have robust systems, including Workday and Greenhouse, to capture data. With 3500+ employees, we have scale, which provides a lot of data points. So we’ve got a good basis to work from.

We’re actively thinking about data and analytics and how we apply it to the workplace. Within talent acquisition, we monitor a number of key metrics: How many days does it take us to fill jobs? Where are the pinch points in the various recruiting stages and how can we speed throughput for candidates? I expect that in the future we’re going to be even more intensive about how we aggregate all the signals, both active and passive, around some interesting analytics. I think we’ve barely scratched the surface here. And that’s really exciting.

Nari Ansari:  I think certainly the world is recognizing that business is going to be intensely data-driven, and on the people management and HR side it’s very much heading in that direction as well. As we continue to shift from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy, many would argue that people are a corporation’s most important asset. 

Beth Grous: I couldn’t agree more.

Nari Ansari:  Along the lines of employees as a critical asset, one of the things we are also seeing many tech companies grapple with is how to make workforces more diverse. I know at TripAdvisor you have an equity diversity and inclusion department with a responsibility in this arena. Perhaps you can shed light on that department’s role and your organization’s journey.

Beth Grous: It’s an important topic and something many companies are grappling with. My personal macro view is that individual companies need to do much more, but that said, this is not a one-company solve for one-company problem or opportunity. This is an ecosystem opportunity. I think about not just building diverse and inclusive teams here at TripAdvisor but building diverse and inclusive skill sets that help the greater employment ecosystem. I had a new dad tell me recently how grateful he was for our eight fully paid weeks of caregiver leave, because it allowed his working wife to go back to work at her company, and not have to worry about finding a nanny,  childcare center, or a relative to help for those first several weeks she was back to work, because her spouse was able to be home with the baby — because of our benefits. I was excited to hear that our benefit had eased the transition to motherhood for a woman working in another organization.  It is important that all companies — sort of like all boats — rise together.

When we built and crystallized our organizational values back in 2016, one of the values we were explicit on is “We’re Better Together.” We then built a small team in the end of 2016 to focus on equity diversity and inclusion or what we call “ED+I.” In 2018, we looked at the demographics of our workforce, to be clear on our starting point. We asked our workforce what their experience here has been around the topics of equity, inclusion, diversity and belonging to really understand how people are experiencing our workplace. And that information helped inform our initial approach.

Over the last year, one of our insights was that we needed to focus even more purposefully on talent acquisition, which meant providing our recruiting team and our hiring managers with better tools and training around sourcing and recruitment delivery, and around building a diverse pipeline.  You can’t have a more diverse organization if you don’t bring more diverse people into the pipeline. And once they get here, they have to experience an authentic sense of belonging. It’s so obvious, right? And you can’t build a diverse pipeline unless you’re really paying deliberate attention to the talent acquisition process.

Nari Ansari:  That makes sense. And it ties back to our point earlier, that people are the most important asset in companies. When you do an acquisition, it’s a talent acquisition, not just the IP or the customer base. The people are a huge part of it. Most of our portfolio companies do augment their organic growth with inorganic growth as part of their strategy, and these acquisitions can introduce a lot of complexity and challenges from a people management standpoint. What role have you and your HR organization played as you think about strategizing around and integrating these various acquisitions, particularly the ones that are global in nature and may have additional unique complexities as a result?

Beth Grous: We recently acquired Restorando in South America and Bokun in Iceland. Both are companies with teams that are not located near any other TripAdvisor office. I mention this because it’s often easier to integrate acquisitions if you have a local presence in that market already, or a leader from the new parent company who joins the newly acquired team. When organizations do that, people on the acquisition side can see and understand what the parent company is about, through that leader. You have to think about it a bit differently when you’re totally remote from the center or other offices. Our business leaders, for sure, recognize that having a successful integration and change management strategy materially increases the likelihood of that acquisition being successful. So, therefore, the HR teams or people operations teams are very involved in the pre-acquisition planning. We invest a fair amount of time in that upfront planning, and I’m diligent about making sure that people have well-thought out, detailed project plans so that at the appropriate time, you can just enter execution mode and go from there. How do we think about organizational structure? How do we think about Day One change management and culture integration? How much of the TripAdvisor fabric do we superimpose on this acquisition, and how much of the local culture should continue to exist? I think it’s always a really healthy balance of those two things. An acquisition can be both a thrilling and terrifying time for people. There are many unknowns and a lot of uncertainty. Part of what we try to do is bring that human element to the forefront and recognize change management and communication are vital parts of that journey. 

We’ve started to develop a bit of a muscle around acquisition integration. And again, when we’re buying a company, we’re often as excited about the employees and what they bring to the whole of TripAdvisor as we are about the customer base or the part of the industry that they’re in. We’re thrilled to be welcoming these folks to the family, so we try to make it as seamless as possible.

Nari Ansari: Right. I’m glad you used that term, “muscle,” because it’s certainly a term that we think about a lot as we work with our portfolio companies. We also compare conducting acquisitions to building a muscle, and like any muscle, it’s developed and honed over time, through practice and exercise. And I think you get better with each one. TripAdvsior has certainly done enough where you’re seeing pattern recognition and have enhanced your approach on the people side, to ensure things go as smoothly as possible and you get all the good positive impacts you want on the other end.

Beth, my last question is a little more open, because of where you sit at the intersection of technology, people management, consumer internet, and international growth. You see a lot. What else in the world of tech outside of TripAdvisor gets you excited? What are you watching and thinking about in the tech world more broadly?

Beth Grous: Good question. First, I think technology is improving and becoming more integrated into people’s lives. Five years ago, if you had told me that people would be comfortable booking an expensive trip on their little, slow mobile phone, I would have probably raised a bit of a skeptical eyebrow. That was a big transaction to do in that way. And now, we see this happening all the time with our customers. Consumer habits and technology have shifted.

Personally, I’m very excited about the level of innovation in HR technology across the spectrum, whether that means delivering benefits in a different way, new data and analytics approaches, thinking about various talent acquisition strategies, or how we use technology to help us end up with more diverse workforces. The new technology solutions that I see today are very exciting to me as an HR practitioner.   I do think that technology will continue to transform the work of HR and it’s going to have a net positive impact on organizations, which is energizing.

Nari Ansari: As someone who invests in HR technology, I definitely see more interesting things and innovative approaches than in years and decades past. So, lots to be excited about.

Beth Grous: The last thing I’ll add, and I say it to people all the time, I am so lucky to have the opportunity to do this work in this company. It’s really fun. I’ve got a great team and work with a great team of executives. And for that, I’m very grateful.

Nari Ansari: That’s great to hear. We are very proud to have TripAdvisor in the TCV portfolio. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us.

Beth Grous: My pleasure!

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