Q&A with Anitta Krishnan, Organizational Development Lead at Trivago

By January 30, 2018 ScaleUp

Q&A with Anitta Krishnan, Organizational Development Lead at Trivago

#Topic: Scaling Culture

We are a hotel search platform. Using a bottom up exercise we created the following core values.

Trust — We build an environment in which mutual trust can develop, which gives us the comfort to discuss openly and act freely. This value is incorporated in opur 360 degree feedback. We build exciting traditions.

Authenticity — We remain true to ourselves and do not adapt to fit in with Trivago — rather we shape Trivago by who we are and what we believe in. we have 50 + Nationalities and with such diversity we are constantly assessing value being provided by all Trivago employees.

Entrepreneurial Passion

People drive the changes that they need. Your skillset and results award you autonomy. There is a culture of failure. Fail often, fail fast and fail cheaply, and try again moving forward.

We recently began moving people around from sylo departments, to promote interchangeability of expertise. This made us become less complex. You need a unified team even in scaling, to prevent empire construction, and stay as close as possible to the start up culture.

Power or Proof

We evaluate our new ideas on empirical data rather than on pure assumptions, and base our decisions on the power of proof. Interdependencies between teams need constant evaluations for bottlenecks and intermittent progress disruption, but they can also promote interconnectedness.

Unwavering focus

Making sure early on that your decide what to do. Doing the most important things as close to perfection as possible.

Establish Autonomous and Self Directed Teams

Talents and Organization has a dedicated team of software engineers that build for the team, and you don’t have to outsource anywhere outside of the team or organization.

Fanatic Learning

We strongly believe that power comes from sharing knowledge. We reward being curious by nature. Eg Luncheon learns, Inviting speakers on major tech topics.

Key to Scaling Culture Successfully

  1. Core Values

2. No Titles, Status or Egos

  • Even an intern has the power to challenge the CEO on operational policy and methodology.
  • Define and describe what a person does but no titles
  • Eliminating any sort of Ego and ensure a flatter hierarchy

3. Engagement from leadership

  • Founders talk at every bi-weekly on-boarding session about the core values of the company and its direction.
  • “Ask me Anything” sessions, and “All Hands” format meetings.

4. Strategic Alignment

  • How does your startup consolidate strategy.
  • Trivago Leadership Summit: All functional leaders come together every year to define how we move forward together
  • Company strategy, Functional Strategy, and the bottom up contribution strategy

5. Embrace Change

6. Autonomous Teams

  • Less inter-dependencies between teams
  • Leadership and founders shouldn’t be the only ones signing off on the big decisions.

Key Question 1:

How does not having titles affect your reporting structure?

There is a lead which is tasked with providing strategic direction to a team on a functional area topic. Every talent is also assigned a talent lead to provide support and coaching. It’s not hierarchical. We have team leads and descriptions of roles.

When we meet externals, we use the C structure titles, but when onboarding interns, they’re told that that these are merely role descriptions. You create the job description based on your strengths and weakness. There’s a possibility you will be doing something completely different in the next 6 months.

Key Question 2:

Do you have any horizontal teams?

Yes, design is horizontal. They mimic chapters and Guilds, sort of squads model of of teams like Spotify uses. We do have some engineering teams like this, where they belong to specific guilds. We do this across our value chain, so from marketing all the way to advertiser relations. They’re built into all the teams

Key Question 3:

If you’re in the earlier stages, how do you communicate your core values to your company?

The process of defining it involves creating focus groups to develop it, and ensuring it isn’t top down. Buy in is important. Keep doing this exercise periodically, every few years, to figure out “what is still us” and “what isn’t”. Then hold a massive branding event around it, showing that “we are happy to share our values”. Make it a celebration, thanking their employees for contributing to the values.

Key Questions 4:

We want to integrate all our foreign talent. What is the roles do existing employees have when on-boarding the new ones?

During a one week orientation program, we have them do challenges eg an engineering challenge or marketing challenge. The challenges build a sense of community, but we also ask them what they would change about our product, and so that adds value of a fresh perspective. They feel they’re contributing as soon as they come in.

Key Questions 5:

What is the role of internal communications to keep this culture alive? Do you have an internal policy to keep this culture going cooperatively? Or does this happen organically without any communication concerns?

Internal communications to us, are basically tools to keep relevant conversations about training deficiencies alive, such as the “hands on” meeting. We also do Q & A’s to try and get to the bottom of things. But we now evaluate whether we are getting key messages to the entire organization promptly.

Key Questions 6:

How can we ensure we have a consolidated culture when scaling up and or branching into other countries? Eg. Our Portugal employees are younger and have a startup mindset, and our US employees are older and have a corporate mindset.

Ensure that they all come together on a quarterly basis and leadership is aligned. We use a value chain pillar structure. Within marketing, there are people from different offices weighing in on this. They need to come together, and align best practices. For every international office, there is a lead. Every office has a guaranteed a seat at the table.

Also, conduct value exercises bottom up, then with several iterations of focus groups, consensually agree on the final set of values. You also need to come back to it after a while, to analyse whether it still “sounds like us”. Don’t use annual surveys. They’re not efficient for this. Use Pulse Survey where we ask 5 questions every week to figure out policy issues and any internal grumblings.

Do an annual company survey to get meatier answers and qualitative analysis.

Key Questions 7:

What was the exact size of your company when you formulated the core values?

It was around 200 and it was quite big. New additions were still being on boarded by the founders. They did it late because they wanted to figure out their company DNA before their moved to defining core values.

Key Questions 8:

How do you manage to bring out the best in people?

Being very open from the get go about the culture. How you add value to us is what you are evaluated on. With 360 feedback, the main question is, what are the 3 main contributions you have made over the past 6 months. And this gives them a notion that I want to add value and give an impact.

If someone is new and is coming from a different company, and is asking for permission to speak, ensuring people are emboldened to speak their mind and challenge the status quo.

Key Questions 9:

Do you think that having a written process for feedback can stifle one on one communication?

That can happen and we encourage one on one communication where possible, but often scaling leads to 65 people collaborating. At times, it’s virtually impossible to get valuable feedback, so it’s always best to have raw data to fall back on with large numbers.

Key Questions 10 (Lead):

How do you evaluate the values of everyone in the company?

So we take our core values and we break them down into self reflection questions:

Trust: Are you a positive person? Are you approachable? Are you a team player?

Focus: How Productive are you during the day? Are you doing many things that dilute your attention or are you doing one thing at a time.

Passion: Are you driven? Are you motivated? How much time do you put in?

Is this a Self Evaluation?

We built the tool internally amongst ourselves. There is a self reflection component with the scale of one to five. Your peers also evaluate you including your talent lead. You receive a 360 feedback document and your talent lead schedules a meeting and they go over the answers with you and figures out a plan for you to work on.

Qualitative or Quantitative?

A bit of both, there are ratings but there are also comments for qualitative assessment.

Is there Candour? Or do people tend to lie?

It’s been good, since you can have anonymity or people can choose to name themselves in brackets beside their feedback.

Improvements: How fast you review feedback. It’s tough to review 65 people in 2 weeks, so you need to alter it when scaling up.

So give guidelines to maintain culture, but you give freedom to teams abroad?

We give guidelines and frameworks, and use a reward philosophy to adapt and create change. Trivago maintains a policy that all nationalities remain at the Dusseldorf office, because we do not have the culture of creating a regional office, and diffusing as a team.

When we do have regional teams, we have the right leaders to maintain the culture. There’s a lot more travelling involved but we expect them to scale their market from Dusseldorf.