Back in 1973, Harvard Business Review’s Magazine described the reason that employees stay in a company for many years as “inertia”. It argued that employees stay until “some force causes them to leave”. One of the greatest forces that employees encounter is the company environment. The study explains that an employee’s job satisfaction, and therefore, inertia, is strengthened or weakened by their feeling of compatibility with the culture, environment, and values of the company.
At TravelPerk, it’s our mission to make sure that our company culture thrives among our people. There’s a lot we do to achieve this goal. From weekly all-hands meetings to regular offsites and events, we encourage our people to come together in person and enjoy what makes TravelPerk unique. However, company culture doesn’t start and stop with these events. It’s part of everything we say and do, from the transparency with which we all communicate to the way that we work. One of the biggest elements of this is the existence of our Employee Advisory Board.
If this is the first you’re hearing of an Employee Advisory Board…
You’re not alone. While many companies have something similar in place, Employee Advisory Boards (EABs) have a million different names and are structured a million different ways. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to building one for your company. But before we get into the specifics of how (and, naturally, why) you should have an EAB, we should probably take a look at what it is in the first place.
What exactly is an Employee Advisory Board?
Put simply, it’s a task force made up of individuals from different departments. The idea behind it is to break down the barriers of a traditional corporate hierarchy or reporting line system and feed directly into executive leadership. It provides alternative channels of communication for team members to ensure that ideas, suggestions, and issues that come from the ground floor of an organization aren’t missed.
Why should you implement one in your company?
It’s a valuable tool for enforcing a real and genuine company culture. It’s the best way to make sure that the organization’s leaders are truly plugged in and aware of what’s going on at every level of the company.
But don’t just take it from me. Here’s what a few of the other EAB members had to say about why the board exists in the first place:
So that the Leadership Teams can have fast-track access to knowing what the employees really need and feel.Ruxandra Popescu, Webinar Specialist at TravelPerk
To give more voice and opinion to be heard and followed up on by the company in a transparent way which keeps or changes the company culture for the best.Brandon Smith, Enterprise Sales Manager at TravelPerk
To create a safe environment for any employee (across departments, offices, etc.) to openly & candidly contribute to an ongoing feedback loop around improving culture, well-being, & employee happiness.Mira Wise, Marketing Ops & Automation at TravelPerk
In a fast-paced hyper-growth environment, the EAB acts as a gatekeeper of your company's culture, values, and employees' wellbeing. It's approachable as its members span across departments and functions, it's a safe space as conversations happen in confidence and it's accountable as the topics raised are discussed and addressed. By setting up an EAB function in your company, you break the hierarchy as anyone from the company can feel they have direct access to raise a topic with your CEO. Likewise, your CEO has direct visibility on the pulse and can adjust sails accordingly. Establishing an EAB in your company means you are open to listening, willing to discuss and debate, and ready to follow through with action when needed. We have many successful examples of how this has been working for us at TravelPerk.Effie Kyrtata, Head of Implementation at TravelPerk
Behind the curtain of TravelPerk’s own EAB
So, how and why did we set up an EAB at TravelPerk? When it came down to it, we realized that our organization had grown beyond the point where we could tap our CEO, Avi, on the shoulder and go grab a beer with him. Granted, we still try to do that, but we’ve grown to be a company of over 600 people across 6 offices worldwide. Hypergrowth was one of the first factors that predicated our need for an EAB.
We set this up for the first time back in 2018, and the first year was dedicated to figuring out how it would work. Or even if it would work. We looked at how to maintain open lines of communication as our company grew, as well as how to transmit our company culture to all new joiners and new offices.
Then came COVID-19 - a force no one expected. People were affected by this crisis in so many different ways and it became harder to see what was going on in the company because we were physically separated for months on end. The focus of the EAB turned to maintaining the peace, staying in tune with the ebbs and flows of employee sentiment, and getting onto the cutting room floor of how we were eventually going to work. That is our biggest challenge as we head into the new normal.
What we’ve learned that you can use to set up your own EAB
It’s important for me to caveat this—each EAB is different and responds to the needs of specific companies and situations. That being said, we ourselves are still learning “on the job”, and defining what an EAB does is a task you can never really check off your to-do list.
But, here’s a quick overview of some of the things we’ve learned that can help you kick off your own EAB:
1. Get accurate representation from each department
If you’ve got a huge engineering department made of 100 people and a small marketing team made of 12 people, then your EAB should reflect that. You should have more representatives from engineering, for example, than from marketing.
2. Keep the board small and focused
The whole point of a task force is for it to be a laser-focused, representative group of individuals. That weakens the larger the group you have is. We currently have a group of 10 people, and haven’t grown beyond 13.
3. Start with people who have significant tenure in the business
When we first started, one of the conditions for joining the EAB was that you had to have been working at TravelPerk for at least 2 years. We have since reduced the requirement to 1 year to reflect natural attrition and our rapid growth. For starters though, extra tenure is better because these people embody the value of the culture and are usually well-known faces within their respective departments.
4. You’re doomed for failure without executive buy-in
I cannot stress this enough. An EAB is useless if senior leadership doesn’t believe in its value, participate regularly, and take responsibility within it. Our CEO attends all of our meetings or sends in a proxy when he’s not available. The whole point of this is for there to be a direct line of communication across all levels of the company, so you have to have representation from the top.
5. Be sure to have regular meetings and take note of everything
For our EAB, we decided to meet every other Monday and we have a changing rota of chairpeople and notetakers. This is the only way to keep your EAB current and relevant! Documentation is also really important so that you can track where you started and where you’re going.
6. Shout about the EAB from your company’s hilltops
The EAB is only as strong as the employees that engage with it. That’s why it’s important for your EAB to stay top of mind in the company. We do that by speaking about the EAB on a quarterly basis at our all-hands meetings, hosting sessions as part of the onboarding of our new-joiners, and organizing regular roundtables. The more people know about the tools available to them, the more effective the tools become.
7. Quick responses and feedback are everything
The EAB isn’t about getting complaints to the leadership team. It’s about being there to support everyone in the company and shape the way that we work together. This relationship is built on trust and reliability, which is why your EAB members need to be committed to proper engagement with the other employees. Responding to their ideas, thoughts, and concerns in a timely fashion and providing regular feedback is what’s going to make your EAB successful.
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