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How to Deliver a First Class Employee Experience Across Your Markets

with Paulo Pisano, Chief People Officer at Booking Holdings

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Paulo Pisano

Episode 21

”By staying close to the dynamics of each of the markets we do business in, we ensure we are relevant. We are effective in engaging our people and ensuring that whatever we do, it’s going to be aligned with the general expectations people might have in that market.”

Paulo Pisano is Chief People Officer at Booking Holdings, the world’s leader in online travel that includes several brands including Booking.com, Priceline, and RentalCars.com. At Booking Holdings, he heads the people agenda for their 20,000 employees. In this episode, Paulo discusses how to present a strong value proposition to hook great talent, how he tunes in to each of their markets, and how to provide a consistent employee experience globally.

”It’s a powerful moment when it’s no longer just the company hierarchically taking care of employees, but when people start taking care of each other. When you start developing a sense of engagement that is not top down. It’s not structured or corporate. But an engagement that really shows care. It’s about enabling employees to help each other, to support each other, to support themselves…facilitating communication and connection in all directions around the organization.”

Listen in to hear

  • How to shape a company profile to attract the right talent
  • Why your intuition as an EX leader is an invaluable tool
  • How employee satisfaction can be fueled by showing the results of their hard work

”The effectiveness of your role in a leadership role in the HR space is much more around your ability to ask great questions, to put the mirror back to the person, to be a good coach, to build new perspectives than to just have the answer.”

 

Paulo Pisano

Paulo Pisano

Chief People Officer | Booking Holdings

Paulo Pisano serves as the Chief Human Resources Officer of Booking Holdings Inc. and as Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer of Booking.com. Prior to joining Booking.com in early 2020, Paulo was the Chief People Officer at Galp, a globally integrated energy company. Previously, he served as the SVP and Chief Talent Officer at Pearson, following his post as Head of Organizational Effectiveness at Barclays. Paulo holds an MBA from INSEAD and an NED diploma through the Financial Times.

Episode Transcript

Narrator: For a company that operates in more than 220 countries and has a workforce so diverse that over 140 nationalities are represented, ensuring a first class experience across the board to their employees is…let’s just say it’s tricky. Even so, Booking Holdings has been rated by Forbes as one of the World’s Best Employers. They’ve also been named among the World’s Best Employers for both Women and Diversity. And if the name Booking Holdings doesn’t sound familiar, you may know one of their five brands, which include Booking.com, Priceline, and Rentalcars.com. Chances are, if you’ve traveled, you’ve used one of their services. So how does the world’s leading provider of online travel and related services offer a consistent top notch experience to employees no matter if they’re in Tel Aviv or Shanghai? Paulo Pisano is sharing his insights with us today.

Paulo Pisano: If you have a distributed, uh, footprint around the world to provide, um, an experience that is consistent at a global level is challenging by definition, right? Because on the one hand, you want to do something that. is Aligned to, to the values and to the principles, right? That you, you espouse as a company. On the other hand, you wanna make sure it’s, uh, contextualized to where people are working and that, that generates complexity, right? Complexity in, in how you do things and the timing of things in the communication.

Narrator: Paulo is Chief People Officer of Booking Holdings. He joined the company in early 2020 and as we know now, the travel industry has seen some big fluctuations since then, which we’ll get into. But before Booking Holdings, Paulo was Chief People Officer at Galp, a global energy company. He has also held leadership roles at Pearson and Barclays. And today, Paulo is discussing how to present a strong value proposition to hook great talent, how he tunes in to each of their markets, and how to provide a consistent employee experience globally.

On Cruising Altitude, we talk about employee experience lessons from leaders at companies with over 30k employees. A lot like reaching Cruising Altitude at 30k feet, things look a little different when you’re managing 30,000 people. On this podcast, we bring you insights from the leaders who inhabit that rarefied air. Today’s episode features an interview with Paulo Pisano.  But first, let’s take a quick break to hear a word from our sponsor.

Paulo Pisano: I lead HR for Booking Holdings and Booking Holdings is one of the leaders in online travel globally. Uh, we have a number of consumer brands people will know, have engaged with one point or another Booking.com, Priceline, Rental cars.com, Open Table or some of them. We have about 20,000 employees globally. And my role is to look after our people agenda basically. Right? So everything from how we hire, how we develop and reward our employees, how we build an amazing place for people to bring, you know, their full selves into work. Uh, and you know, we really want to create an environment where people can do their best and their most creative work. So I’d say no one day is like the other, uh, but anything and everything I do is normally connected to our people agenda.

Narrator: Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. First, let’s set the scene by taking a broad look at Booking Holdings’ industry in the Flight Plan. So even though Booking Holdings is in the travel industry, Paulo doesn’t look specifically for employees already in that industry. He actually looks more for those in tech.

Paulo Pisano: We sit, uh, very much at the intersection, right, between tech and travel. So, you know, we have offices all over the world and we hire people from all over the world, right? So the workforce at Booking Holdings is incredibly diverse, uh, incredibly international, and people join us because typically they have a passion for travel. They’re quite adventurous and they are really keen on the impact that technology can have in creating great travel experiences for people. We hire high tech talent, and, uh, we also hire talent across a number of other crafts, right? So product managers, finance people, business development strategy, et cetera. Um, and the competition for talent, I would say everywhere, but particularly for tech talent is now incredible. Right. It’s higher than I’ve ever seen it before. And I’d say, you know, between startups, scale ups, um, the big tech companies and then traditional companies that are, you know, inevitably making the transition into, into digital, uh, the demand is massive. So because tech is so critical for us, we’re always in the lookout for the best talent in all these spaces. And we look at talent no matter where talent is, right? So anywhere in the world. And not necessarily talent that is already in the travel industry. So this means we’re not competing for talent with, uh, the travel sector only, but we’re competing across a number of industries. So we have to have a very, um, strong value proposition for the talent that we’re looking for. And I’d say across the booking brands, we are pretty well recognized, you know, in both the tech and the travel spaces. Um, so, you know, we have a profile that makes us quite attractive for people in general, who want to work in an environment that is, you know, dynamic, that’s diverse, that’s international. And perhaps the last thing I’d say around this is that, we consider every market in our recruitment efforts, right? So, uh, this means we may be recruiting people in a given market for people to work in that market. Or we may relocate people, you know, halfway across the world, or we may develop, uh, centers of excellence, uh, where we can tap into very specialized talent, like we’re doing recently now with centers in Bucharest and in Bangalore. So it’s quite diverse the way in which we tap into talent around the world.

Narrator: Paulo says Booking Holdings has a strong value proposition to appeal to candidates. But what is a value proposition, and how do you strengthen yours?

Paulo Pisano: The value proposition is a combination of things, right? It’s never one single thing. It’s a combination first and foremost of the brand that you have as an employer. What do you stand for? You know, the values, uh, the kinds of things that you get involved in as an organization, but also is what kind of company people are gonna join, uh, or gonna find when they join. Right? So we are very dynamic, I’d say non-hierarchical type of organization, very focused on experimentation or testing and innovation, very, uh, international in nature. We provide a number of opportunities for people to develop in very different ways. And then increasingly, we are offering opportunities for people to not just work for one of our brands or one of our companies, but to do work across brands or to move across brands. Right? So those are some examples that, you know, pull together, constitute what I call the employee proposition for our people.

Narrator: And Paulo looks all over the world for the right people to fill the positions. And so they have employees in Bucharest, Mumbai, Shanghai…all over. And employees in each location have their own specific concerns, specific needs that need to be taken into consideration. So Paulo works in tandem with people on the ground in each market to make sure he really understands the needs at each location.

Paulo Pisano: First and foremost, we make sure that wherever we’re working, we are working in combination with local experts. Uh, so you have a mix, right, of people who are local and people who might be coming from different locations. We are working with local partners that understand the markets, uh, we’re working in. And, um, and then we are in tune with, uh, what’s happening in a given market, what’s important for people in a given market. So I think by staying close to the realities and the dynamics of each of the markets, we do business in, we ensure we are, you know, relevant. We are, um, effective in engaging our people and ensuring that, you know, whatever we do or however we do our work, uh, it’s gonna be, you know, aligned with the general expectations people might have in a given market.

Narrator: In this competitive job market, employees want to feel valued and cared for by their employer. To do that, Paulo said, the key is just to be genuine. 

Paulo Pisano: I’d say first by not pretending that we care. Right. So it’s very difficult for you to, um, show people their value if you don’t have that sense of care to begin with. And I’d say historically, we’ve been pretty good at hiring people that care for each other and for the environment they’re working in and they’re creating. And then we support managers and we support leaders so they can support their people in turn. Right. We also make decisions on a basis of some key, uh, principles or key design principles we have behind everything we do in HR. So we’re focused on colleague experience. So we’re not focused just on the activities that the HR department has so to speak, but we wanna create an integral experience that is a great experience for people. We try to provide autonomy or empowerment to people as much as we can. Uh, we try to provide good channels and good frequency and communication with leadership. And we wanna keep open lines of communication in general. And then we listen, right? We listen through surveys, through round tables, through focus groups, uh, ask me anything type of meetings. And of course we’re always looking at ways to, you know, monitor and update our benefits, right. To make sure that they’re also in tune with what’s most important to people. But the most important thing I would say really is around, uh, communication, right around, you know, kind of a two-way street, right? Open channels of communication, where people feel it’s safe to raise concerns, to ask questions and to connect with each other.

Narrator: And of course Booking Holdings faces an employee experience challenge that many large companies face, but especially global ones.

Paulo Pisano: Number one, just if you’re a global company, although I’d say there is a certain level of convergence in what kinds of things are important to people. Uh, if you have a distributed, uh, footprint around the world to provide, um, an experience that is consistent at a global level is challenging by definition, right? Because on the one hand, you want to do something that is aligned to the values and to the principles, right? That you espouse as a company. On the other hand, you wanna make sure it’s, uh, contextualized to where people are working. And that, that generates complexity, right? Complexity in how you do things and the timing of things in the communication. So I think the global nature of the business represents a, a challenge. And then the other part of it is that because we have a number of brands or operating companies as part of Booking Holdings, each of those brands has a different history and even a different subculture. Right? So again, we gotta make sure that, uh, whatever we’re doing is contextualized and as much as possible, it’s led at a brand level, so it can be highly, um, aligned with the culture of that given brand. So, you know, I’d say the coordination at a global level and across different brands is the biggest, uh, challenge we have.

Narrator: We’ve reached cruising altitude and are on our way now. We have our flight plan down, so let’s get into what makes Booking Holdings and their brands a fabulous place to work in First Class.

Paulo Pisano: First I think it links with what I was mentioning on communication. Right? So, so investing in activities that connect employees with each other and with the company, uh, so that we can, um, nurture the culture of the organization. Right? So either online or in person, we’re running events, running, uh, learning sessions, we’re running, uh, hackathons and number of different things that really try to keep our employees connected with each other and with the organization. Um, the second thing is, um, I’d say shifting, uh, performance management for what has been historically more of an event, you know, annual or a couple of times a year into more continuous feedback and continuous conversations that are focused on employee development. So that makes, uh, an important difference. You know, we’re not the first company to do it. And it’s a number of companies like shifting in that direction. I think we’re making, you know, really good progress and pretty good job in that space. And then the third would be, um, making life easier for managers, right? Giving managers the tools and the support they need to basically support their own people, right. And to lead their teams and to create an engaging environment, uh, is extremely important. So I’d say those are the three most important practices that we’ve been focused on.

Narrator: Booking Holdings also uses a number of tech tools to engage employees on a daily basis.

 

Paulo Pisano: We use a number of, uh, platforms to support the digital experience of our people. I’d say the main ones are our intranet. We may use somewhat different platforms across our different brands at booking.com to use as an example. We use, uh, Workplace. And we have, you know, over 10,000 employees in the same platform and very engaged, right? Uh, this year we’ve seen, over 50 or 60,000 posts already, over 150,000 comments, over, uh, half a million reactions in the platform and then thousands upon thousands of messages in the chat platform. So this shows a very high level of engagement of people through that platform. I, I think it was important already prior to the pandemic, but since we’ve moved on to, uh, a hybrid way of working and people are working more remotely, it’s become even more important, right, as a mechanism. So I’d say the intranets, uh, are perhaps the most, uh, important, uh, platform we use for engagement and for communication.

Narrator: But how does Paulo measure that digital experience? Like, how does he know employees are having a positive work experience?

Paulo Pisano: How we know things are going well. I mean, it starts with, you know, open communication, right? So we regularly solicit feedback from people through various channels and various forums. We talk to peers in the industry as well. We talk to our own partners in the technology platforms because they have great benchmarks as well.And when we look at that and we look at our own surveys, we know, for example, that, um, about three fourths of our employees are pretty happy with the current, uh, approach we have in hybrid, right. And how they work, you know, remotely, they connect online, the experience they have online as well. Um, and we use that as a way to continue to, you know, tweak and support the development of those spaces for our people.

Narrator: One theme Paulo comes back to often as being important for a good employee experience is compassion. And not just from a leadership standpoint but across the organization.

Paulo Pisano: Compassion, I think it’s critical. I mean, it’s been critical always. I think it’s perhaps more evident as a result of the very hard couple of years we’ve had around the world. But the notion of being, um, constantly in touch with the mood of the organization and to, um, to be curious and to, uh, wonder and ask how can we help and support our people more effectively. That’s a critical part of the job of a leader, right? Any leader, not just someone who’s in HR, but any leader. And I’d say also as leaders to the degree that we are connected to that space of compassion, that we are effectively role modeling that, um, we are leading by example, right? We’re opening a space so people can more easily connect with that and practice the same with each other.

Narrator: And one tool Paulo has found to be incredibly powerful is his own intuition. Paying attention to how he’s feeling at work and taking the temperature of the organization. This came into play especially in the last three years.

Paulo Pisano: Relatively early in the pandemic, uh, as most HR teams out there, we were deep, deeply focused into crisis management, right. And into everything we had to do to keep the organization going. To support our employees in general. It was a lot of execution, a lot of doing energy. More often than not, when we connected as an HR leadership team, we had a long list of things that we were trying to get through and to complete. And I remember one meeting in particular, uh, at that stage where we had a pretty busy agenda ahead of us. And, um, I had an instinct just in where we were as a team to just kind of wipe out the agenda and to have a meeting, uh, to talk about how are we doing, just to do a long check in with the team and to go around the room and hear from each other what’s going on for us? You know, how are we experiencing this, uh, this moment, this situation, where we are taking care of everybody else, uh, sometimes at the detriment of taking care of ourselves. And it was a very powerful session. Um, and since then we’ve repeated it, uh, more teams across Booking have done similar things, certainly around the industry in general. But that was an important moment of connection, because I think we’ve created this space where we could be vulnerable with each other, where we could be okay with not being okay. And we were not trying to solve anything for anyone. We were simply being there for each other. And, um, I think that was a powerful moment. And since then, we’ve tried to practice more of that. I noticed in me the need to just be with the team, not doing something, but just sharing what was going on for me, because we were again in the way, taking care of everybody else and kind of who was taking care of us? And I think a lot of, uh, very important insights, um, on a personal level, certainly, but as a professional level as well can come from you been able to listen to yourself more effectively, right? To what’s going on for you. We talk a lot about even coming back to the point on compassion, right. About listening to others and being present for others. That’s absolutely very important, but sometimes people forget that before you are able to do that, you gotta be able to be present to yourself and listen to what’s going on for you. So I think that’s a great barometer to get started. And I’m not saying he should always follow that, but I think it’s a very interesting or very important input for you to take in consideration.

Narrator: But even if you’re using your intuition, putting your intranet to work, having continuous conversations with employees, and putting in all of the hard work to make sure employees have an exceptional experience, things can still go awry. Because some things, like the pandemic, are out of your control. So let’s talk about how that shook things up at Booking Holdings in Turbulence.

Paulo Pisano: I joined, yeah, I joined in March, 2020. And, um, I remember at the end of my second week at Booking, um, over a weekend, a bunch of us in the crisis management team on the phone making a decision if we had to close, uh, 200 offices around the world. Right. And send people home, just, uh, you know, for safety. So yes, you know, talk about turbulence. The beginning of my experience was turbulent as we entered into what was effectively, I think, the worst crisis we’ve had ever in the, in the industry. For us, one thing that really worked well in, uh, managing the turbulence was very early on to focus on communication, right? To really kind of double down on making the CEO and making the leaders of the organization very visible to our employees and sharing very frequent updates. Even if we might be in a situation where we did not have a lot to share on the updates. We were there with people, available, answering questions and just sharing what we knew at the time and how we were thinking about things. Right. So it’s, it’s kind of that notion of, um, not only communicating when you have, uh, something final, something decided, or something baked to share, but, uh, sometimes connecting just so people can peek into your mind, into what’s going on and how, um, leadership is thinking about things. That made a huge difference. Curiously enough, we saw a spike in some of our higher engagement results in the organization at that time around, uh, May, April, May, 2020, than in previous years, right. Which we saw real high results because people valued that level of proximity, that level of, uh, visibility and openness. We moved from that into, um, having to figure out how to best support people in, uh, in doing their jobs, and also, preserving their mental health, basically. So we looked into a number of different things like, you know, most companies, uh, around were starting to look as well, you know, stipends to cover, you know, the cost of working from home, uh, additional paid off so employees could either, you know, get vaccinated or take care of family members. Uh, we implemented designated company days off to ensure that employees were truly taking time off and that everyone was taking time off at the same time. So we didn’t feel that pressure, right, that you’re off but when you come back, there’s gonna be this pile of emails or what have you. And then we started introducing programs, you know, more structured programs over time. We introduced things like, uh, Headspace, you know, first for Booking.com and then across all of our brands. We, uh, had recurring online, you know, yoga and mindfulness, uh, classes. And what’s interesting about that is many of which were actually done by employees, for employees, right? Employees who had a passion for, or were instructors on the side of whatever started offering things to support each other. And I’d say that was a really powerful moment when it’s no longer just the company that is so to speak hierarchically taking care of employees, but when people start taking care of each other, right. When you start developing a sense of engagement that is not top down. Or it’s not, you know, structured or corporate, but an engagement that really shows the care that I was talking about, whether people really care for each other are trying to help, uh, each other. Um, so, uh, yes, there were a number of things we did, uh, from a company standpoint, but a lot of it was around enabling employees to help each other, to support each other, to support themselves. And never forgetting throughout that period that learning was important. So we, we made sure to keep, uh, really connected with, you know, a number of different sources of opportunities for learning for employees, online learning platforms, social learning opportunities, where people could get together and learn something together online. And then, you know, communication, communication, right. And as I say on communication, it does not mean top down on communication, but really facilitating communication and connection in all directions around the organization.

Narrator: But Paulo also saw the silver lining, that the pandemic was causing people to connect and celebrate each other in new ways.

Paulo Pisano: If you think about what happened in the intranets, right? We have, you know, thousands of active groups in the intranets. Some are projects, some are work related, market related, but we had number of groups, uh, popping up that were connected to the managing across the pandemic. And, one of the great things about the, the social platforms from that standpoint as those people were putting things in, they were getting recognition, right? Number one. So they were getting something out of it, right. That recognition, that connection, that, uh, validation, that opportunity to learn from somebody else that goes and shares something else connected to what they were interested in. But also what happened, I think, not just, uh, at Booking right, but around the world is we started peeking into each other’s personal lives in a very curious way, right? When we start seeing each other’s living rooms and start seeing, you know, who has a cat or a piano or guitar or, you know, does it from the kitchen and, and has a passion. So there’s a level of personal or human connection that happened during that period, which I think was very powerful as well.

Narrator: And now we’re seeing the opposite end of the spectrum. If the travel industry suffered during the pandemic, we’re seeing a big comeback now and it’s causing other challenges.

Paulo Pisano: We are seeing thankfully right, a, uh, great return to travel. So we saw much better numbers in the first quarter of this year. And then the second quarter of this year was what we call a milestone quarter for us. Right. Because we had for the first time, the second quarter room nights, surpassing the pre pandemic, uh, records of, uh, room nights in 2019. So this is, uh, this is great, but to your point, right, it comes with the challenges where, you know, airlines, airports and whatnot were not necessarily prepared for that after everything that happened in the last couple of years. So the appetite has been there. I’d say first experience for employees actually has been very positive in that people love to be in an environment where you see the results of the great work you’re doing, right? So people have worked really hard throughout the pandemic. Uh, we never stopped working, never stopped, uh, looking for innovations, looking for opportunities to improve what we provide to our partners and what we provide to travelers alike. But when you’re doing that and the whole market is deflated, it’s not quite the same feeling. But when your numbers are really at a high, that is very positive and very motivational for people. Now, there are challenges around the world, um, in regards to logistics and things that we cannot control at Booking. So that means, yes, we may have higher volumes of connection with our customer support teams. We have worked hard to prepare our customer support teams to provide, you know, infrastructure, learning, support, and also to strengthen the relationship we have with our external partners. So we have a ecosystem not just of our own employees, but partners around the world that help us deal with increased challenges right, of this summer.

Narrator: So Paulo is fostering this supportive global ecosystem to address any challenge, big or small. Through his strong leadership, Booking Holdings is fortified against anything the future might bring. If you’re wondering about how to grow your leadership skills in HR, Paulo has some advice for you.

Paulo Pisano: I’d say not specifically to my own role, perhaps, but any senior role in HR. My advice is don’t hesitate to be curious and to ask a lot of questions and to ask arguably the dumb questions that other people might be afraid to ask. And the reason I say that is that in the HR craft in general, people get exposed to senior, um, leaders pretty early in their career, right? If you are, you know, an HR business partner or a recruiter, you may be doing work for someone that is several levels above you. And what we learn early in our careers is to become an expert, is to have the right answer, is to know it. There’s nothing wrong with that. But as you grow in the career, more and more of the problems that you deal with, the challenges that you deal with. They’re not black and white challenges. They’re not binary answers, they’re complex issues. And more often than not, what do you do is you help your colleagues think through those issues, right? You act as a thinking partner, as a trusted advisor. So the effectiveness of your role in a leadership role in the HR space is much more around your ability to ask great questions, to put the mirror back to the person, to be a good coach, to build new perspectives than to just have the answer. Right? Of course, granted, we need to be technical and to be experts in certain things. But the advice really is not around what we know how to do, but it’s really the development of that muscle, which is around curiosity and inquiry.

Narrator: So be curious, facilitate communication, and tune in to each market, and you’ll foster a consistently first class experience wherever you do business.

Thank you for listening to this episode of Cruising Altitude. This episode is brought to you by Firstup, the company that is redefining the digital employee experience to put people first and lift companies up by connecting every worker, everywhere with the information that helps them do their best work. Firstup has helped over 40% of the Fortune 100 companies like Amazon, AB InBev, Ford and Pfizer stay agile and keep transforming. Learn more at firstup.io

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Cruising Altitude

Lessons from companies over 30,000 employees

In this podcast, we will talk to leaders who are designing the best digital employee experiences in the world – from the front lines to the back office. Life is different over 30,000. Welcome to Cruising Altitude.

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