TripAdvisor: Elevating People Functions to Business Partnership

Part 1: Aligning HR with Business Strategy

When Beth Grous joined TripAdvisor as Chief People Officer, the popular travel platform was growing rapidly, with 40+ locations around the world. Beth quickly moved to develop Human Resources (HR) as a strategic partner for business functions, so that the team’s initiatives would more directly support company objectives. In this first part of a two-part conversation, Beth talks with TCV GP Nari Ansari about how she re-oriented her team for business partnership. She also explains how her team manages the employee journey within TripAdvisor as strategically as the company manages its customer journeys, so that recruiting and retaining talent is both systematic and flexible for an increasingly diverse workforce.

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Nari Ansari: First off Beth, I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us. It was great seeing you at TCV’s East Coast CHRO event in New York with portfolio company people and talent leaders. We had some great conversations and wanted to share a few topics with a broader audience.

Beth Grous: Absolutely. Great to speak again.

Nari Ansari: Let’s dive right in, starting with TripAdvisor. What does the company do?

Beth Grous: I think most people who have traveled, or know someone that’s traveled, are familiar with TripAdvisor. We are the world’s largest travel platform. We help about 490 million travelers every month plan, book, and get excited about having the best trip of their life. We’re a global website, and we also have a mobile app that helps travelers browse more than three-quarters of a billion reviews and opinions on over eight million restaurants, accommodations, experiences, airlines, cruises, and so on.

Nari Ansari: When did you join? What motivated you to jump onboard?

Beth Grous: I joined TripAdvisor in September of 2015. I’ve been a review writing member on the TripAdvisor platform since 2006 so I was a long-time consumer of the brand and loved it. When I got the call about the job, I thought that it would be a unique opportunity for me to take the HR skills, experience and capabilities that I had, and intersect them with a consumer brand that I have a lot of passion for.

Around the same time frame there was an increasing recognition at TripAdvisor that with 2,500 employees, and the company growing globally, we really needed to elevate the people function to work in partnership with the CEO to execute more strategically against our business and talent priorities. And so that was very exciting for me as well, thinking about the potential impact I could have.

Nari Ansari: Absolutely. You’re titled Chief People Officer, so what areas fall under your responsibility?

Beth Grous: That’s a great question, because my job description is perhaps a little different than most heads of HR.

As Chief People Officer, I have all the traditional HR domains:

  • HR business partners
  • Total rewards (compensation and benefits) and HR systems
  • Talent acquisition (our recruiting engine)
  • Learning and organizational development
  • Equity, diversity, and inclusion

In addition to those more typical functions, I have a few other areas of responsibility, including our global real estate portfolio and office experience for our 40+ offices worldwide, and our social impact function, which is a combination of both our TripAdvisor Charitable Foundation and our employee volunteerism and giving activities.

Nari Ansari: Since you became Chief People Officer, how have you established the HR team as a business partner to the rest of the organization? What steps did you take, what lessons did you learn as you industrialized the function, and what advice would you have for other HR leaders of growing tech companies out there?

Beth Grous: When I joined, I looked around and I said, “There are some places where we have real strengths, and some places where we need to fill in some blanks.” Probably the biggest shift we made was to build out an HR business partner (HRBP) function – we wanted to shift a portion of our team from being more focused on tactical day-to-day priorities to taking a pro-active focus towards business objectives and working with their counterparts throughout the organization. That shift in focus meant that some people stepped up to develop their skills and to work differently. Other team members transitioned out of the organization and, also importantly, we had a few members join from the business side.  It was a significant shift to staff and organize this HR business partner team.

Nari Ansari: That’s an impressive shift. Tell us a bit more about the role and skill set of HR business partners.

Beth Grous: The members of our HRBP team are expected to have a deep understanding of the business—financials, strategy, and how each business function aligns and interacts to execute against those objectives. I encourage the HRBP team to frame their day-to-day work by asking the question: “How am I working with people at all levels of the organization to help drive the business forward?” Much of this learning happens on the job—and our business leaders are very supportive of sharing their expertise. It has been an important shift for us, because with this knowledge and understanding, they can then support the business most effectively: defining the right organizational structure to support strategy, ensuring that we are hiring and developing a diverse and talented group of employees across the organization, and aligning rewards, as some examples.

I am fortunate that I work for a CEO and with an executive team who greatly values the input of our people and human capital team on matters not just related to HR domain areas, but also matters related to the overall business. This has been exciting and fulfilling for me and my team.

Nari Ansari: That’s great. I think what’s top of mind for many company leaders and talent leaders is retaining exceptional talent. You talked a bit at our recent TCV CHRO event that TripAdvisor very methodically thinks through, manages, and monitors the customer journey and that you and your team symmetrically are methodically thinking through, managing, and monitoring the employee journey as well. Can you talk a little bit more about what that looks like for your 3,600 plus TripAdvisor team members today spread across 40+ offices?

Beth Grous: I’m going to make an obvious statement here. If you retain and engage more of your workforce, you have less of a need to recruit people…

Nari Ansari: Right.

Beth Grous: We recognize that those two things sit in a very healthy and logical balance. We also recognize that turnover in and of itself is painful. You lose institutional knowledge. It’s disruptive to teams. It slows throughput. It slows innovation. We’re only as good as the people that we have working in the right teams and right configurations to execute against our business objective. We think a lot about how to make TripAdvisor a great place to work, to encourage not only retention, but also to drive engagement and satisfaction. Just like our sales team thinks about the “customer first”, we think about how we can put our employees first. That also means that we are taking their views into account, so it’s not just about delivering “HR services” to our employees but having a dialogue with them. This aligns with our brand, which is all about transparency and providing honest and constructive feedback. For example, we know that what makes a company a great place to work likely means different things to different people. To someone early in their career, that might mean, “I get to have a lot of different experiences and I’m promoted pretty rapidly.” To someone in a different phase of life or with different interests or needs, that might be that an individual wants a lot of flexibility in terms of the hours when they work or the places where they work. We encourage flexibility, and we also have office spaces with many different places where people can get away from their desks if that helps them work more effectively. We think about our workforce just like TripAdvisor (and many consumer-facing companies) think about their customers, recognizing that one size doesn’t fit all. That does not mean that we can necessarily be all things to all people—but we try hard to listen, learn, and discern what’s most important to our workforce, and meet our employees’ needs, as long as it makes sense for the business. 

I believe that there are some things that transcend all employees, regardless of role, experience or tenure. Employees want to come to work at a place where they understand the business objectives, they understand the strategy, and they know their role, how their role ladders up to executing against that strategy. So as a company, we spend a ton of time being transparent about those elements – we do that through company town halls, through company meetings and through various forms of communication. Communication is so important, and I don’t think we can ever do enough of it internally! We’ve found it critical for our employees to understand the business context and importantly, how they fit into that context, so that they can be most successful—and therefore we can be most successful as a company.

Nari Ansari:  That makes a lot of sense. I do think that having a much more rigorous multi-faceted view of your employee base is becoming critical for companies of all sizes and in all industries.  And I also think open communication across the organization is important, particularly when it feels like change is the only constant these days.

Another trend – and transition – we are seeing is that HR is becoming more tech and data driven to deliver on human capital and business goals. We’ll talk more about this in a follow-up Q&A and address other topics that are top of mind for today’s HR professionals and tech companies, including HR’s role in successfully executing acquisitions. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us, and I look forward to our next conversation.

Beth Grous: My pleasure!

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