AirBnB has continued to raise considerable funding over the past few years, totalling in excess of $3bn on a current valuation of over $30bn, making it the second most valuable US tech startup after Uber (valued at $68bn). That’s a great deal of funding by anyone’s standard, but what’s been an interesting development within the business is the organisation’s redefining, or maybe even reinvention, of Human Resources.
With the appointment of a Global Head of Employee Experience to oversee and connect everything to do with the workplace as an experience, this is very much in line with Airbnb's customer-centric culture.
The constant debate regarding where and how HR sits within a business sees some elevating the function to the top table and occasionally number two to the CEO, while others relegate it to merely an administrative function. This is sometimes coupled with the spinning out of elements such as organisational development and talent, which can be seen as sexier and more strategic pieces of the HR jigsaw.
The sharing economy appears to be changing all of this thinking and turning it on its head. Most of us have heard how innovative Google are in creating a culture that goes beyond just a work place environment, and turning it into somewhere an employee may actually want to be. Airbnb have taken this to the next level by combining traditional HR functions of operations, recruiting and L&D, with facilities, marketing, CSR, real estate and communications, taking it into a brave new world that will see its influence growing exponentially within those businesses enlightened enough to adopt the model.
The transition process to a new paradigm may be a tough one, particularly for older, established sectors, but there is definitely room for a revolution rather than merely evolution, which can only take us so far.
Obviously, following a relatively young and successful organisation like Airbnb is not easy, and maybe not for all companies, but if you have the ambition to make the changes, how do you get there? If you’re currently a Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) with serious influence at Board level, then it should be pretty straight forward, but if you’re a middle manager having to influence up and across a business, the process is likely to be far from linear.
So where does this leave businesses in the UK and even mainland Europe? There are some great British companies that value their people, but the UK definitely lags behind the US and many mainland European countries with its attitude to HR and the importance given to it at board level. This is strange considering that 80% of the UK economy is services driven with people as the primary asset; and in sharp contrast to many US companies, who see it as key to business success and a big contributor to maintaining and increasing shareholder value.
It has been well established and documented on how a happy, well-rewarded and motivated workforce can increase revenues, innovation and organisational sustainability; so why is it taking UK businesses so long to get to grips with this simple concept - that it’s their people who deliver the value for customers and increase shareholder returns?
Maybe the time has come for HR within UK organisations to take up the mantle and revolutionise how it's seen and perceived in a much broader context. CEOs need to take note that creating a truly successful business cannot be done without a loyal and motivated workforce. The employee experience in all its forms will become increasingly paramount to driving the business agenda. The sooner this happens, the better... Vive la Revolution.
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Williams Schone is a boutique human capital firm with offices in London and San Francisco. We specialise in senior level executive search, leadership development and advisory.