Interview: How Airbnb Redefined its HR

Arne Van Damme

COO at intuo

Airbnb grew from 650 employees to 4000 in 4 years. They host more than 250 million nights every year, and it's pretty much impossible to find someone who hasn't used Airbnb yet. We wanted to find out how the organisation dealt with such a significant employee increase and how such a booming organisation redefined its HR. 

Mark Levy was head of employee experience at Airbnb for 4 years. He shifted the organisation's HR to Employee Experience. 

Last 4 years, there was a significant shift in HR. When I got to Airbnb, there were 4 people in talent, 25 in recruiting and a bunch of people who were touching the employee but reporting to other people. 

Two main things I see as a shift in HR relative to this move towards employee experience is:

  • Organisational structure: What could be part of employee experience? This is much broader than traditional HR. 
  • Mindset shift: HR and Employee Experience needs to figure out how you are doing things with and for your employees rather than to them.  If you focus on what the promise you are trying. It's the idea of co-creation. Just like you do with your customers, you listen and learn to create a better customer experience. And I believe that's what HR, employee experience and the leadership should do with employees. Your employees will feel more energised, engaged and productive. 

Mark Levy will be speaking at our Talent Enablement Conference 25 October! Get your tickets below!

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Core Value Interviews

The unique thing that Airbnb does is that there are 2 types of interviews: technical function interviews that are done by the manager, team and colleagues someone would work with. Separately there are core value interviews that are done by people outside the function. They don't see the cv of the person and they don't even know what job these people are interviewing for since it doesn't really matter. These interviews want to know if someone is joining for the right reason. At Airbnb that would be: Do they want to create a world where anyone could belong anywhere? Do they want to create local and authentic travel experience? If they just want to make a lot of money or they think it's a cool place to work, they will be screened right out. 

The important decisions are being made through the lens of the missions and values. 

3 Steps To Increase Fairness

  1. Instead of having a year-end review, there were two, 6-month reviews and those ratings were then combined to look at your annual review. A lot of times what happens during a year-end review, is you only remember what happened in the last few months and as a result, the performance and behaviours of the first months get lost.
  2. We also eliminated self-ratings. Data would tell us that women would rate themselves lower than men. We then saw that, if they rate themselves lower, their boss would automatically also rate them lower even if they thought they were a higher performer.

  3. We implemented more 360 feedback so, you were getting feedback not only from your manager but also from your colleagues. More data points meant there was more accuracy in getting the feedback on your results and behaviours. 

Tech Companies and Payments

Any company you talk to says they want to pay for performance. In reality, I think what you have is different companies defining what that looks like. To some extent, it's been made even more challenging because a lot of companies are doing away with performance ratings. 

You have to be careful how you identify pay, you have to be able to justify it.  More recently there is more attention to how to pay in a way that's unbiased, weather it's gender or race based because there's been a lot of challenges and it's been very unfair how underestimated people have been payed. This has to be considered in any pay practice. 

This is an extract from the official interview with Mark Levy. Watch the full interview here:

People Leaders Of Today: Mark Levy

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