Blog Post

How Yelp Maintained a Culture of Feedback From 500 to 5,000 Employees

Zaina Orbai

‎VP, Human Resources at Yelp

This is part of our CHRO Community Series, which highlights big ideas from CHROs working to push the boundaries of HR and transform their organization for the better. Our first mini series focuses on improving feedback operations within organizations.

When I joined Yelp in 2011 as one of the first experienced HR professionals, there were more than 500 employees. I was tasked with growing and scaling the HR department as we nearly doubled in employee size every year.

Over the last six years, I've seen nearly everything change—we became a public company, grew nearly ten times in size and revenue, launched in more than 20 countries all over the world and expanded our HR department to more than 50 individuals. But, despite these numerous transformations, the thing that sticks out the most is what hasn't changed at all: our culture of feedback.

Yelp was founded to answer the question, "How do we connect people with great local businesses?" We believe that businesses and individuals connect better when they have the opportunity to provide and receive feedback. This feedback philosophy also became the foundation of our own company values, which are weaved into everything we do.

I've found that adopting four main practices in particular has helped us maintain a culture of open communication and personal growth—whether you're the CEO, a mid-level manager or an entry-level sales associate, these practices make everyone feel like part of something bigger at Yelp.

Dozens of Manager and Employee Conversations

Managers at Yelp dedicate time every week to meet with each of their direct reports—that's 50 meetings a year! These one-on-one meetings help create a platform for delivering feedback and for building a culture of transparency that enables people to work better together.

There's honesty, there's trust, there's collaboration, there's clarity for employees on what they are doing, how they are performing and where their career is going. The manager and HR team's role is to make sure these meetings are not only happening, but also that they're effective. Through our anonymous manager feedback and employee engagement surveys, we ask four key questions:

1) Does your manager regularly give you feedback that you can put to use?

2) Does your manager regularly check in on how you are doing and make time for one-on-one meetings?

3) Have you had a meaningful developmental discussion with your manager every quarter?

4) Is there open and honest two-way, authentic communication?

We generally see high ratings for these questions, but we're also committed to continuing to push ourselves to improve the system.

Quarterly Executive Q&A

We have an internal system where employees can submit questions to executives at Yelp. These questions are then upvoted or downvoted by employees, and at the end of each quarter, the top voted questions are selected to be answered by different members of our leadership team. It's our way of always making sure people feel connected, no matter their level at the company. We also have an open floor plan, so if Jeremy, our CEO and founder, is at his desk, anyone can go up to him and ask him a question. This kind of transparency is critical to building trust within our organization.

Role Modeling

You can't preach what you don't practice. If executives ask front-line managers to have weekly one-on-ones, but they don't have them themselves, the system won't work. People often forget that as a manager or leader, you're the biggest role model for your organization.

Jeremy, our CEO, will openly tell you that weekly one-on-ones are his number one management tool, and this naturally trickles down throughout the company. Leader buy-in, across every department, is the best way to start integrating a culture of feedback in your organization.

Bring Your Authentic Self to Work

One of our core values is 'Be Authentic'. We find it leads to a more productive and open work environment. For example, at Yelp we don't spin bad news: We tell it like it is. That approach is role-modeled to the entire company in our all-hands meetings and leadership meetings.

We also want people to talk openly about their careers. We know that most people aren't going to spend their entire working life at Yelp. So, if someone is thinking about their career outside of Yelp, it's OK to bring it up with her manager. Or if people are interested in a life-change five years out, we want to help them figure out the best career path to achieve that goal while they're at Yelp.

Our feedback system and philosophy has not only helped us survive immense change, but it's also allowed us to attract and retain some of the brightest young minds around the world. Whether you're planning for hyper-growth or trying to maintain a small business, investing in a culture where people feel heard, supported and empowered will allow you to accomplish your highest goals—and then some.

Photo: Twenty20

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