Culture, growth & milennial myths at office
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This is an interview with Marc Jansen, Global Manager Learning and Talent at, following the company's placing as a finalist in the 2015 Employee Engagement Awards. In the first of this two-part piece, Marc tells us about the long-term growth at, the onboarding process, and what Marc really feels about milennials. Questions were posed by ORC International.

1. Can you start by telling us a little bit about

Marc Jansen, is a 20 year old company. It was founded in 1996 in the Netherlands, originally as a website for Dutch people to book Dutch hotels, and slowly but surely it’s grown up, so now we’re the largest accommodation website in the world.

We’ve gone pretty far away from just Dutch hotels for Dutch people to everything. If you want to book a castle, you can come to us; if you want to book a houseboat, you can come to us. We want to make wherever you want to lay your head to rest at night available, so you find the perfect location for your visit.

You guys make such a big deal out of millennials...

2. You’ve grown massively in the past 19 years from a handful of staff based in Amsterdam to 10,000 globally with massive growth in the last couple of years, can you share any of the secrets of success behind such a fantastic journey for the business?

Marc Jansen, You can’t have a fantastic journey without having fantastic people, so that’s where it all starts.

When I joined the company a little more than five years ago we had roughly 3,000 people, and now we have 10,500 people. That works out to around 30-40% year on year headcount growth. It starts with having great recruiters who are great at attracting talent, then to great managers who are managing those people on a daily basis; to great leaders in the company showing everyone where we’re going, what we’re busy with and how everyone fits into the bigger picture that is

And that’s key and that’s what we see in our engagement results. Everyone wants to know what their fighting for at the end of the day.

3. How have you tried to keep the essence of consistent as new people have come on board? What have the biggest challenges been and how have you seen the essence of evolve over time?

Marc Jansen, Culture always has a very central piece to everything we do on a daily basis. It’s some very easy things, for instance the look and feel of our offices – it’s laid back, it’s casual, and we want to create a work environment where everyone fits in.

And if you feel more comfortable wearing a suit and tie to work, that’s perfectly fine, and sometimes that might be appropriate if you’re visiting five star hotels. For other people if they want to rock around in sandals even in the dead of winter like a couple of the developers on our IT team do, so be it. We always talk about it in terms of you are you and we are

The power of the individual coming together with the collective is what makes, so culture is key.

That’s not to say that the culture is the same today as it was five years ago when I got here as it’s a completely different company. We’re 2.5 times the size. You do have to evolve and you have to evolve with the people.

Contrarily to that, the people have to evolve with the culture as well. There isn’t one single person who projects the culture of; every single person and individual has a very important role to play in that. While managers play a very central role in the onboarding of new employees, so do the colleagues within that team, and they actually have a bigger impact a lot of the time in as far as carrying over that culture to people than a manager does.

The power of the individual coming together with the collective is what makes, so culture is key.

We have some foundational tenets that we expect everyone to know, such as our five core values that we want to live by and want everyone to know, and there’s also something called our formula, which is a list of small items and phrases, for instance “Milking the cows every day” which gives people an understanding of what we fundamentally do at and what they should use to guide their decision-making process.

Another simple one is 80/20. We say that 80% of the results that we get is from 20% of the work. We still have to do the other 80% but when we have to prioritise we look to the percent which has the biggest impact. It’s simple things like this where if everyone understands that’s the common goal, that’s where we go, that’s how you maintain that culture.

At the same time, if I’m the manager, it’s not solely my role and responsibility to ensure that my team members are living up to the ideals of

Every single person in my team has the same responsibility. It’s actually more powerful if they hold each other accountable than if I do, because if I do people think I’m only doing it because I’m a manager, whereas if my other team members do it, it’s seen that they are doing it because they genuinely care, and that’s how we move the business forward.

4. When new people join what does the new starter experience look like?

Marc Jansen, It looks a little bit different depending on what role you join at within the company. We’ve got some large populations – our largest if you look at pure headcounts alone is our customer service department.

Their onboarding experience starts even before they set foot in the office for the first time on the first day at work. It starts from the interviewing process. We want people to understand and feel what it means to work at, even from the candidate’s seat to get the job.

If you’re a customer service agent and you’re starting in our Canary Wharf office, for example, the first day involves joining a new hires class of between 15-25 individuals, all from different backgrounds – and that’s one of the things that brings us strength really, the diversity of people you’ll be working with – and you’re really guided on the first couple of days on what it’s like working for, what’s all about, and most importantly – and this is one of our key tenets as well – put the customer at the centre of everything that we do.

You go through the process of something as simple as booking accommodation at one of our hotels. Why do we do that? Because ultimately that’s what our customer is doing. To fully understand and put ourselves in their shoes, you go through their process, you see what the product is so you can help the customers.

If you look at engagement across, purely based on age you see we have a pretty consistent engagement level.

Customer service is a bit of an outlier because their onboarding is actually six weeks. We do a combination of classroom training, individual learning, as well as something we call nesting, which means you’ll get two weeks of content to really understand what it means to work in customer service, you’ll be put on the floor in the call centre and work for a week or two weeks – depending on how you perform – and then back in the classroom.

So it’s really this idea of giving you the skills that you fundamentally need at that moment to do that work, get your feet wet in the real world, come back, learn some more, and then get back in the real world.

In IT it’s a completely different beast because it’s such a dynamic environment. What we do is we make sure you’re skilled up on what it means to work at, what our technological stack looks like, how it has come from where it was to where it is now, and you’re also placed in a collaborative team of four to five people which is set up to help our new hires in the technology team integrate.

This is led by a team leader who’s really good and experienced with bringing outsiders in, and that’s not just from a tech standpoint but from a culture standpoint. They’re really less of a manager and more of an on-the-job coach to help people get their feet wet.

Empowerment starts from day one with a developer because they can touch the code, and there’s nothing that’s blocked off so in theory you could have a person writing code on their very first day and if they make a mistake it brings down the whole site. That’s happened. But that’s ok because that’s how we learn. Without people feeling like they have empowerment, you’re really unable to further develop a product like we need to do.

Right now, on average, our tech department is hiring 40 new hires on a monthly basis, so it requires an immense amount of time and effort, as well as care, to make sure that these people are integrated well, and that’s less so on the technical side, and much more for a strong sense of belonging for the organisation because you do that and you’ve got rock stars who are helping you further the product and make the user experience much better.

5. With global expansion comes the challenge of different cultures. What have been the biggest challenges in creating engagement in different cultures? Do you have to adapt your approach or is the approach generally pretty global?

Marc Jansen, I think in general the approach is global.

Our offices aren’t exact duplicates, they are always locally relevant – for instance in London one of the walls is a picture of the Dover coast, it’s not Amsterdam even though that’s where headquarters are, so the office has to feel right for people, the culture and the local culture has to feel right for people, but what you do hear people saying from time to time is that they don’t feel any different coming to visit Amsterdam to how they feel in their local office, so that’s testament to how strong the company culture is.

There are certain things that we have to think about, especially where we’re growing really quickly, we’re using a lot of Europeans to open new local offices around the world.

In Holland, if you’re direct at giving feedback, you’re not being rude you’re just telling people how it is, if you were to do that in Japan then that would be like a slap in the face because you have dishonoured the person by being so blunt and abrupt, so there’s little things like that.

In general you do get the sense – and even through travelling quite a bit in Asia – that what people will tell you is “Yes I’m Japanese, I work for, and I feel like I hang up my Japanese cloak on the door when I come in the office and I wear my hoody, and then when I leave I put my Japanese cloak on.”

And it’s not the sense that people lose their identity, but they really see that the culture is so strong that they definitely have that sense of connection with the company.

6. The majority of your workforce including managers are millennials. What’s your take on millennials as a generation? Are they that different?

Marc Jansen, You guys make such a big deal out of millennials.

If you look at engagement across, purely based on age you see we have a pretty consistent engagement level.

And I would say we don’t do anything different for 50 year olds than we do for 22 year olds. I’m not sure I buy into the whole millennial thing.

What I will say is this. Fundamentally, people my parents’ age who are in their 60s, I think they wanted from their employer exactly what millennials want from their employer. I think the difference is the labour market has been democratised, and travel’s been democratised, and what I mean by that is you might have a family member who worked for Ford for 50 years because they grew up in Flint, Michigan, and that’s what everyone did in Flint, Michigan.

The thought of anyone moving one state over to Illinois or ten states over to California was just unfathomable because that’s where your base is. I think through technology, not only are there job boards where people can see what jobs are available halfway around the world, but the connection with location is so much less than it used to be.

Look at my own personal circumstances. I was born in the Netherlands. I lived for 16 years in the United States because that’s where my father’s work took us, I came back, I’m raising two kids with my South African wife in the Netherlands. We both work for Dutch companies, and my sons connect with Grandma and Grandpa via FaceTime on a daily basis.

New managers at are on average are 29, and the average employee is 32.

When I was living in the States, I saw my grandparents once every two years on family vacations, and the way we communicated most of the time was via phone call. I think most of the time my kids see their grandparents more through the daily connection of FaceTime than if their grandparents lived 10 blocks down the road, because if things become very convenient they are no longer special.

I don’t want to break it down to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but people want security, they want to know they have a future, they want to feel validated and appreciated for the work that they do, and they want to feel like they are working towards something, and I don’t think that’s different for a 22 year old than it is a 55 year old.

I think fundamentally choices just become so prevalent and so easy to get, that I think that’s why you see millennials jumping ship once companies aren’t delivering on those fundamental needs, because they think they can find something better somewhere else, where people in my parents’ generation wouldn’t have done that because there isn’t that security of going oh well there could be something else out there.

Millennials are more likely to gamble, and older generations are more risk adverse.

New managers at are on average are 29, and the average employee is 32. I think a lot of people join because it’s a great company to start your career at. We have a lot of people joining straight out of uni. You get a lot of responsibility right from the start, and a lot of room to learn and grow, and I think that’s interesting. And it’s a .com. Everyone wants to work for a .com.

It’s a nice environment to work in. On the one hand it looks really nice. On the other it’s comfortable but we don’t do anything over the top. We have an open office plan.

Millennials are more likely to gamble, and older generations are more risk adverse.

No one here has their own office, even though the Director here in the UK is responsible for all of North West Europe. I think that goes back to that common goal that everyone is here together to deliver results for our customers. It’s a bit humbling, and I think that’s attractive.

I’ve worked at one large company before where the executive team sat on the top floor of the building and you may have seen them in the garage when you came in in the morning or were leaving at night, but you had no visibility whatsoever, whereas – especially in our headquarters in Amsterdam – if anyone is visiting and you eat in the canteen, there’s a high likelihood that our Chief Information Officer or CEO or COO are sitting at the table next to you eating the exact same sandwich.

That could be attractive especially to younger employees looking to join a company where that is a core value.

7. If you had some key points of advice for others on the verge of expansion, grappling with creating a really unique culture in their business or looking to create a globally engaged workforce what would that advice be?

Marc Jansen, Keep it simple and keep it authentic. Don’t overcomplicate it. People ask why our mission statement isn’t on the wall, why isn’t the formula written on the wall if that’s so integral to your business?

We say that as soon as you put something up on the wall, it becomes irrelevant and people will say it just because it’s written on the wall, rather than they feel it and really believe it. The best case I can give you is Enron. They had their core values, one of which was trust, another of which was transparency, written up on the wall, and we know what happened with Enron.

So, keep it simple. Make sure people know how they fit in and what they wake up to do on a daily basis and how they fit into the bigger picture of the company, because if your frontline employees don’t know, they are never going to be able to live up to the expectations that you have for them. It’s so critical that people understand.

We say that as soon as you put something up on the wall, it becomes irrelevant.

If you look at Coca Cola, people will say that there’s 11 people who know Coca Cola’s recipe. The truck driver doesn’t need to know what the recipe is, but they have to understand the brand and they fundamentally have to understand what it is that they do on a daily basis. That’s the basics: don’t overcomplicate it.

As far as global expansion, take small steps. If you want to open 50 offices in a year, do one every week, don’t open them all at once because it takes a lot of hard work and dedication and a lot of good talented people to make it happen and if you stretch them thin then they become tired and you’re further away from home than you were when you didn’t have those 50 extra offices.

8. Any other words of wisdom?

Marc Jansen, When it comes to communication, you are never done communicating until people almost become cynical about what you’re saying, because then you know it’s really landed. It sounds counter-intuitive, but unless people have heard it so much that they start talking about it, you’re never done communicating.

And that’s one of the challenges that we still have in – how do we cascade the information?

As far as global expansion, take small steps.

In the past we’ve taken a safe approach in which we think we don’t want to distract people and we don’t want to create noise for people if it’s not necessary, but what we see a lot of the time is a thirst for knowing, people want to know what is going on. Kind of a sense of "while it might not be helpful for me in my role today, it helps me to understand the wider context of being at"

So lavish over-communication is a much better route to take than a structured, constricted communication to only particular groups of people. I think that’s simple, because ultimately, there is this expectation of openness and transparency.

People don’t expect you to share the Coca Cola recipe with them. They get that. But what they really want to understand is what decisions are being made, how are they being made, and how does that affect me and the company that I work for?

About Marc Jansen


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24th May 2016 16:15

What a wonderful interview. Marc, the scope and depth of your knowledge and involvement in the talent/culture of your company is impressive. I loved the bit about your global culture approach. I had never considered the option of creating a company culture that is essentially separate from national culture, to which everyone in the world can relate. Very interesting concept. Do you find that some countries are more resistant to 'shedding their cloak for the hoody' or is it really globally accepted?

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