As companies grow, they face an evolving set of learning challenges. And while mergers and acquisitions are key milestones in every business’s growth journey, they also add new layers of complexity for L&D teams.
For example: when you’ve acquired brand after brand, how can you encourage your teams–some of which might have come from very different companies–to adopt a shared learning culture?
Recently, I spoke with Arin Bryan, an expert in solving complex L&D challenges like this. Until recently, Arin was Director of L&D at Expedia. Now, she’s Senior Director of Learning and Organizational Development at Redfin. Arin talked me through Expedia’s approach to encouraging every single employee to think of the company as a single integrated platform.
We got started by discussing Expedia’s exciting transformation.
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If you’re using Expedia, you’re about to have fun. As one of the world’s leading online travel agencies, Expedia is an easy way to find accommodation, flights, and car rentals for your next big trip. But as Arin explains, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant fewer trips all around.
“Every organization has dealt with some challenges around the pandemic, including with the remote employee experience,” says Arin. “For us in the travel industry at Expedia, there were certainly a lot of fears and uncertainties that employees were facing.”
But the pandemic wasn’t the only big news at Expedia. “In addition to the pandemic, Expedia was going through a pretty exciting transformation. Expedia has acquired so many brands over the years: Hotels.com, Vrbo, Trivago, and others. We were bringing all those brands together to operate as a single platform.”
As Arin explains, this shift created a lot of new L&D challenges. “Expedia has been on this journey for quite some time, which is figuring out how to operate across a single platform. It created a lot of changes for employees, including new challenges, and plenty of opportunities for us in the learning space to step in and help accelerate this shift.”
So, how did Expedia’s L&D team help with this shift?
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Expedia has acquired so many brands over the years: Hotels.com, Vrbo, Trivago, and others. We were bringing all those brands together to operate as a single platform.
Fortunately, Expedia’s L&D team was perfectly positioned to support a single-platform model by building a combined learning culture. “Expedia previously had different brands operating in silos. For Expedia employees, this meant things looked very different across different brands. The L&D team was very nicely poised to help support this shift for employees.”
“We were able to do a lot of work to bring employees together in this new world across different divisions, and have them think differently, work differently, and also learn the Expedia way.”
Arin mentioned two specific programs that helped Expedia make this shift.
“First, Expedia created learning communities. We were really seeing a need to bring people together, because we were facing so much uncertainty not just with the pandemic, but also because we were going through this transformation to a single-platform model at Expedia.”
Arin saw a lot of potential in creating these communities based on what learners had in common. “In my role at Expedia, we wanted to bring people together according to their functional areas. For example, we created a software engineering learning community to bring people together to share best practices, express how things were different across different brands, and explain how they were coming together as a single platform.”
For Arin and her team, this was a way to drive greater engagement. “We wanted to create these peer-led communities where employees could drive the conversations. Often, these communities would create monthly forums to get together and connect across all of the Expedia brands. People would discuss different topics, including the projects they were driving.”
“It’s been very successful in terms of bringing employees together and helping them to think from the perspective of a single combined platform.”
This practice of curating dedicated learning communities is something we’ve discussed with CLO Connect guests before, including Rachel Peck of Harry’s, Ta Lynn Mitchell of Code Nation, and Matt Donovan of GP Strategies. It’s fantastic to see so many L&D leaders creating these communities and nurturing this kind of peer learning.
Next up, Arin told me about Expedia’s second program: employee rotation.
“The second program is one I’ve had a lot of experience with, back when I first started with the Vrbo brand: our rotation program. At Vrbo, we called this our ‘bungee’ program, because employees were bungeeing into a new opportunity and then going back to their original role.”
As Arin explained, this rotation program had two major goals. “The goal with the rotation program was really to enable a couple of things: first, to give employees opportunities to develop skills in new areas, and second, to give managers and teams another way to source talent and bring people into their teams on a temporary basis.”
“At Vrbo, this program was very successful, and very popular. What we’ve seen happen now at Expedia Group is, we’re implementing threads of that program, or different flavors of that program, in a few different ways to help with the platform shift.”
This program has been incredibly impactful with Expedia’s graduate hires. “Expedia’s early talent hires go through a rotation on two different teams to really try to understand how to think across the platform. It gives them the breadth and depth of knowledge and capability they need to make the right impact. It’s been neat to see.”
Beyond these benefits, this rotation program helps Expedia employees take a more holistic view of the company. “We’re also encouraging platform project-based rotations, where people engage in short-term rotations to help out with specific projects. This helps current employees to build knowledge across different divisions and groups.”
So, are these programs making the right impact for Expedia’s shared platform mindset?
Expedia’s early talent hires go through a rotation on two different teams to really try to understand how to think across the platform.
For Arin, tracking the impact of the shared Expedia learning culture has been crucial. “Measuring business impact is something I care very deeply about.”
“With the Expedia learning communities, we really set out to have these be peer-led. But that brings some challenges with it: if we’re enabling our peers, then they really have to be motivated to invest the time and energy in growing the membership.”
As it turns out, Expedia’s teams aren’t running short on motivation.
“One of the biggest successes Expedia has seen is in their engagement levels,” says Arin. “We’ve had incredible growth in those learning communities, with just under 3,000 members when I last checked. The divisions that I supported at Expedia were about 7,000 people in total, so that’s a huge percentage of the employee base that is involved in these communities.”
Beyond these engagement numbers, Expedia is driving some impressive net promoter scores.
“When I was at Vrbo, we had 116 successful employee rotations, each between three to six months in length. To track our impact, we looked at our net promoter score, because it’s important that employees are having a great experience with their learning. This score was an 85, which was quite high.”
“We wanted to make sure we were giving employees experiences that would truly help them grow their skills, so that they could move into other jobs in the future. Not everyone wants that–some just want to gain new skills and then go back to their jobs. But some did see it as a way to evolve their careers within Expedia.”
For Arin, these programs were making a big impact. “We saw a 56% higher rate of progression to permanent roles for those who went through the rotation program. That was impressive to see, and for employees to know about the value they could get out of these programs.”
As Arin explains, she’s keeping a close eye on the results. “Right now, Expedia’s graduate employees are in their first rotation, and I can’t wait to get their feedback. We’re also tracking the impacts managers are seeing, and determining whether employees are coming in with a platform mindset, and with a deeper understanding of how to work across the platform.”
We saw a 56% higher rate of progression to permanent roles for those who went through the rotation program. That was impressive to see, and for employees to know about the value they could get out of these programs.
Thanks again to Arin for taking the time to share her expertise and insights with us!
If you’re looking for more great expertise on organizational L&D, check out our interviews with Thane Bellomo of Exelon about fusing technical expertise with people strategy, and with Theresa Cook of PwC on handling complex L&D demands.
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