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How Yelp is Building an Extraordinary Culture of Teamwork

Feb 7, 2017 6:02:00 AM / by Nicole Jones

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With fully stocked kitchens, Friday beer keg parties and one on ones over high quality coffee, it’s no surprise Yelp employees love their jobs. But providing more than just fun perks is what keeps Yelp’s mantle brimming with Best Workplace awards year after year in technology and camaraderie, among others.

Founded in 2004, the San Francisco company connects people with local businesses, anything from restaurants to repair shops. Yelp’s engaged community has written more than 115 million consumer reviews in over 30 countries.

A large part of Yelp’s success comes from the 95 percent of employees who praise the fun and caring environment while being encouraged to "be unboring."

One employee told the “Great Places to Work” survey team that Yelp’s emphasis on teamwork and engagement makes them excited to go to work each day.  “I feel valued, and my manager listens to me and responds to issues within reason,” they said. “The sense of ownership of what we are doing is tremendous, and I'm proud to say I work here."

Miriam Warren, Vice President, Enterprise Engagement and Culture, is responsible for managing and building the internal Yelp community of nearly 5,000 employees and keeping them engaged, motivated and aligned with the company’s mission across every level, department and office worldwide.

She joined Yelp in 2007, serving in a variety of marketing and operational roles. She ran the East Coast Community Management team, and later moved to London as Yelp’s Vice President of European Marketing before returning to headquarters as Vice President of New Markets to oversee the company’s expansion efforts internationally.

She spoke with kintone about how trust, common goals and visual reminders have been critical for Yelp to build a strong culture of teamwork.

kintone: How would you sum up your current role?

Miriam Warren: We have extraordinarily enthusiastic, excited users and community members externally, and we’ve learned a lot over the past decade about how to build those communities and engage those communities. The work that my team is focused on is about bringing all of those learnings in-house, and applying them to our internal community.

Some parts of what we are doing hinge on employee engagement. We also have a focus on internal communications. But it’s really all about connecting the people that work at Yelp more closely with Yelp’s mission of connecting people to great local businesses.

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This field of enterprise engagement and culture is still relatively new -- why are we seeing more companies hiring people in roles like yours?

Enterprise engagement helps companies motivate their employees and break down silos, not just for the benefit of people who work inside company but for the company’s customers as well. Ultimately companies with engaged employees and aligned communication see better results at the bottom line.

I think that’s what’s unique about this role: It doesn’t neatly fit into HR, communications or marketing but it contains elements of all these disciplines. And to be successful doing enterprise engagement, you need buy in from the executive office. I think that is really key, because if you’re put in one of these different silos, then you are effectively just continuing the silo effect which many companies face.

What is Yelp doing to cultivate an atmosphere of trust, and accountability for all employees?

yelp teamwork quote.pngThe management team is largely made up of people who have been with the organization for many years, and a lot of us who have grown up in the organization. I think that is huge. One spot where you can see that is in our company values. We put our own people, who best embody those values, on posters throughout the organization - you can see them on every floor of every office at Yelp.

Fundamentally, the way values get translated into a company culture is through people. Making sure that we can trust our employees to know about Yelp’s secret sauce and magic and to have things that are internal to us stay internal and not go anywhere else. I think these are all examples of places where trust is important, and that it is conveyed by people.

As much as anyone would want to say, "Be authentic” or “we are a trustworthy team,” I think you do have to explicitly say it that way, but this tone need to comes from the top, and it does at Yelp -- from our CEO, our Chief Operating Officer and other people who have been with the company from the beginning. But there’s buy in at every level on these values.

I think most people at the company would also say that their manager is very trustworthy and promotes a culture of trust, and accountability. That is true for their manager's manager, and their manager's manager's manager.

How does Yelp hire for a culture fit?

Pride March (1).jpgIt depends on the team. We give a lot of leeway to recruit in ways that make sense for what they are doing. If you are interviewing for a summer engineering internship, it would be undoubtedly a different process than if you were interviewing for a role as a remote community manager.

I think the commonality that you would find among all of these is that we would certainly ask about your connection to Yelp.

We would want to know that you have a Yelp profile, that you have used our product. We would want to hear stories about what you’ve found on Yelp. I think the reason why that is important is no matter how you are joining our organization, the core mission informs everything that we do. Whether it’s making booking a table via Yelp Reservations, ordering food delivery via YelpEat24; Understanding why other people are enthusiastic to be a part of our community matters.

And when we think about culture fit we think about value fit. Playing well with others is one of our values. Be authentic is another one of our values, and we look for that in people. So, inside of Yelp you see a lot of teamwork, and you witness a lot of genuine human kindness.

One way that I imagine hiring, and have certainly passed this onto a lot of my colleagues is the idea that I wouldn't want to hire anyone at Yelp that I wouldn't be willing to take a long haul flight with.

It is easy to sit next to someone and have a cocktail with them for an hour. Right? You could get through an hour with almost anyone. You can maybe get through two hours with like a lot of people. What I am talking about is nine, ten, eleven hours in coach -- if that is the person that you are willing to sit next to.

I know that I would be excited to take a long haul flight with anyone that I work closely with. I think to myself, "It would actually be a great opportunity." I would love to have 10 hours straight to talk over all of the different ideas that we have without interruption. It’s a pretty high bar, but it is definitely something that is in my mind when I am interviewing people and thinking about having them be a part of our team.

How does Yelp show employees the company's commitment to teamwork? How is teamwork is rewarded or recognized at Yelp?

Again, there are a lot of different ways this plays out. I think about our engineering team. They have these weekly lunch and learns where they allow people to talk about something that they are particularly passionate about, and that person could be coming from any part of the organization and gets to be heard by the entire engineering and product organization.

The Hackathon is a big part of our culture, and you don't hack something, at least not at Yelp, by yourself. You do it with other people. We have a lot of spaces that facilitate teamwork. If my mom would come to the office, she would be like, "Why are all these people just hanging out?" But they are actually working, whether that’s in the kitchen while also eating snacks or on a café floor while drinking cortados.

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We constantly push forward the idea that we are all part of the same team. If we are going to win, we have to win together.

We make spaces for you figuratively and literally to work together, and because other people that you are working with are so fun, and cool and smart, you want to do that. It becomes a reward to be able to spend two days with our top 100 leaders in the company -- just to be able to eat cookies with them in the afternoon is a reward. I am like, "Man. When would I ever have this chance, because one of you works in the Hamburg office and the other person is working day and night figuring out how to do food delivery better." Those opportunities to connect are really big.

Again, there are posters about teamwork inside the company everywhere and we talk about it. I think the fundamental thing is we put our money where our mouths are in terms of creating those spaces.

In Yelp’s performance management system, is there an emphasis on teamwork?

We have a quarterly performance management that’s very simple. It has a few questions that you answer with your manager as a way of setting priorities. Then also looking at how well you did against the priorities that you yelp teamwork quote 2 (1).pngset the previous quarter. You are then taking those priorities that you set for yourself and you are setting them against what is happening with the entire team.

Let’s say the team is generally trying to boost the number of app downloads. You might have ten people on that team doing different things related to that, and each of their individual priorities would roll up into a bigger goal, and maybe there is someone that is working on the performance marketing, product and consumer side of that.

If you and I worked alongside one another I would know your goals, and you would know my goals. We would probably be helping each other to get to our goals, because they would all match a bigger goal of our group or our department or the company generally.

How does Yelp give all employees a chance to be heard? What channels are used?

We have a tool where everyone can ask questions. It’s essentially an exec Q&A because the people who answer the questions are typically part of the leadership team. But anyone can go into that forum anytime to ask just about anything. It could be like, "Why did we do away with that particular type of trail mix with the goji berries?" all the way to "What is our policy on parental leave?" or "Why do we do thing X in this particular way?" Then everyone can vote on those questions as well. Anything with more than a few votes we will answer those questions at meetings.

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We’re a company where the best idea wins, and it doesn't matter where that idea comes from. You wouldn't have a lot of meetings where only the most senior person in the room talks. In fact you often have a lot of meetings where it is the least tenured employees that are talking, because they are often doing the most heavy lifting.

Read more teamwork interviews, techniques and best practices.

Topics: Teamwork

Nicole Jones

Written by Nicole Jones

Sr. Marketing Manager

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