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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
From a meeting with Mark Levy, head of employee experience at online vacation rental marketplace Airbnb, we talked about the role of culture in his organization and what they are doing to create such a success story.
Q: Mark, how does the culture of your organisation affect the business? Please give me a concrete example?
A: We define culture as our shared values and behaviours. Our mission and values were defined by our founders before they hired their first employee. We hire based on technical functional experience and skills as well as whether an individual has passion for our mission and would further our values. It’s important that they possess both in order to be a good fit for our company.
Our culture is based on our mission of creating a world where anyone can belong anywhere. Our employee experience mission is to ensure our employees feel that they belong here at Airbnb. This inside-out strategy helps bring our mission to life, not just within the community, but in our offices too.
To sum it all up, our culture is what helps us to deliver on our business goals. It’s what connects our employees, hosts and guests and it is what has helped us fuel our growth and create connections across the world in 191 countries!
Q: What do you find most difficult when driving the culture at Airbnb?
A: Being a global company with offices in 21 locations across the globe, we need to understand and be mindful about the different customs, cultures and backgrounds of our employees, which can pose itself as an interesting challenge when you’re in an environment that is experiencing such rapid growth. We want to be sure that our Airbnb culture is strong among all of our offices and that what makes us special, the passion for our mission and values, resonates in the way we treat each other and the way we embrace, respect and honour the different culture of our global offices.
Q: How do you balance the need for profit with the purpose of your organization?
A: There is no question we are a mission driven company. Our mission is clear and it is why people get up in the morning to come to work, why we work so hard, and what has each of us being a brand ambassador. As I mentioned, we interview for mission and values and we use them to make the hard decisions. With a mission to change the world and create belonging anywhere, we need to start within.
We are fortunate to have found a CFO, who joined us a year ago, to help us learn financial discipline, trade offs, as well as smart spending. In looking at the ways we’re being profitable, we’ve put a focus on building a lean but mighty team. If we are going to spread our mission around the world, we need to continue to grow our team by making smart and strategic hiring decisions and finding the right people who can scale with the company and are committed to what we do.
Q: If you could start from scratch (on culture), what would you do differently at Airbnb?
A: We are fortunate that Brian, Joe and Nate, our founders, were very thoughtful when they started the company and thought about culture and values from the very beginning.
I would suggest that others follow their lead and create a clear mission and values to live by before hiring their first employee. That they embed these into the interview and selection process, the promotion process, the performance conversations and evaluations, and the recognition and rewards. I would also suggest that they ensure that the culture is owned by everyone, not just the founders, leaders or employee experience team. Co-creating the programs and practices has been a great way our employees have felt included and invested in our company.
Focusing on bringing employees together and creating connections has also been important. Being transparent and including employees in the conversation, providing them the opportunity for two-way dialog, sharing with them the information they need to do their job are all critical ways to ensure you have a culture that will create belonging and drive business results. And finally, give your employees the opportunity to work like a human- to have time to think and be strategic, to create boundaries so they can do what is important to them outside of work, to focus on their strengths, and to give back to those less fortunate.
Q: What are the three things that you would like to share with colleagues who are running organisations in different parts of the world today?
Find ways to support your employees to be their “best self” and “whole self” at work.
Create a two-way dialog, co-create the path forward and listen.
Break down the walls between your employees and customers to create meaningful connections.
About the author
Javier Bajer is Editor-in-Chief, Strategic HR Review and Founding CEO at The Talent Foundation, London, UK.