Having grown with GetYourGuide since joining in 2013, Meg Telson is about to start a new role: Head of People Operations. She discusses how a background in the Care department prepared her for the challenge, and why people are at the core of what we do at GetYourGuide.
Care has such a wide scope that in many ways, it’s a microcosm of the larger business. In the last four years as Head of In-House Care Operations, I've learned an incredible amount, and my passion has been evolving the team culture. Stepping into a new role – Head of People Operations – will be another learning curve, and I’m super excited about this!
I’m from the US and have a background in the customer service and hospitality sectors. After moving to Germany in 2011, I started at GetYourGuide in 2013, first as an agent supporting customers on phone, chat, and email. My role soon expanded when I started contributing to fraud monitoring and agent training. In 2015 I applied successfully as one of the first three team leads in the department.
In 2018, I took my biggest growth step yet, to Head of In-House Care Operations. The role involves leading our B2C, B2B, and Training teams in Care. The move saw me managing managers across quite a broad scope: the three areas above encompass seven different teams, each with their own distinct function. I've learned an incredible amount about operations in the last four years, and my passion has been evolving the people culture in Care. Moving into the Head of People Operations role gives me the opportunity to go deeper in this area and continue contributing to our people strategy, culture, and employee experience across the entire company.
The Care team has grown and evolved hugely over the years: when I started we were only nine people in Berlin delivering customer support and a tiny bit of affiliate partner support. Today we’re over 600 worldwide covering sixteen distinct functions. Working in Care brought me into contact with so many cornerstones of the broader company, particularly because of the seven teams in my reporting line. For example, my three B2B teams have brought me into contact with Sales, Supply, Marketing, Finance, and Product. Training has overlaps with Talent Development. The three B2C teams have touchpoints almost everywhere, from the Fraud and Legal teams to Marketing and Brand, Sales, Supply, Fintech, Product, and more.
As an individual contributor, I was able to directly support the very beginning of our Fraud function in Finance and the first iteration of training and knowledge management as we scaled the team. As a people manager, continuing to scale the team and provide support in new areas (Social Media and Supplier support, to name two) has meant that we built new connections across all of the areas above as we grew and specialized specific teams to meet business and community needs.
A background in Care has been fantastic preparation for my next step to Head of People Operations. For example, the growth of the global team to meet the demands of an increasing customer base taught me the more technical skills around scaling operations while delivering on core KPIs, capacity planning and budgeting, problem-solving with a sense of urgency – the list goes on.
It was in Care that I discovered that leading people is my passion. It’s a department that requires strong people leadership to support the folks who are on the ‘front line’ managing community emotions, expectations, hopes, fears, and solutions related to their travel experiences. In a similar way, the People Team also requires strong leadership to support our employees and their emotions, expectations, hopes, fears, and goals for their work experiences. I’ve honed a whole range of soft skills in my role as Head of In-House Operations that are directly transferable to my new role, including adaptability and change management, conflict management, relationship building, collaboration, and building our team culture around empathy, compassion, and belonging – all of which enable the trust and relationships that create an employee experience where my teams can perform to their absolute best.
People Operations intersects with every single person at GetYourGuide: by definition we drive the full employee lifecycle once someone is hired, for all of our 700+ employees across 14 countries. The touchpoints are frequent and regular, from monthly payroll to daily usage of people tools, to continual support from HR and our People Partner.
Handing over the reins will be our current Head of People Operations, Julian Fichter, who joined the company in 2018. The simple fact of how Julian has evolved the team is testament to how it reflects the culture at GetYourGuide, where we seek solutions that both support the growth of the business and also provide avenues for personal development. Essentially, he’s taken a generalist HR team and broadened it into a full internal support function, with dedicated verticals for HR, people technology, payroll, and people partnering. It’s the foundation of a structure where we specialize people and teams to focus on a specific function or problem to be solved, and build out skillsets in those dedicated areas to provide the most impact.
His team’s impact in supporting the business was especially important during the intense pandemic period. That included transitioning people to a work-from-home setup, introducing Kurzarbeit [a German government subsidy for staff facing reduced hours due to the Covid-19 pandemic], and launching our telecommuting policy. It was a huge undertaking, and illustrative of the importance and reach of People Operations at GetYourGuide.
I know I have a learning curve ahead – not least learning more about German labor law! I understand the People team from a stakeholder point of view, and will take those experiences and connect them to a new perspective on the day-to-day realities, challenges, and opportunities of the team. Then I can use these new observations and learnings (plus lots of input from the team!) to shape the strategy of People Operations for the next few years.
We’re transitioning to a new HR tool this quarter which is a huge step and will require some change management within the organization. We’re also continuing to solidify the importance of our People Partner function, particularly in Tech and also in the Business teams. Finally, we split out Payroll into its own dedicated team earlier this year and I see a big potential in continuing to specialize and evolve the HR team so that individuals can lean into their strengths to support specific workstreams.
I’m deeply invested in representation and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. As a company, our first focus area has been increasing the percentage of women in leadership positions, and this will remain a focus area for me. This is a diversity KPI, and I’m also looking forward to defining further future goals around equity and inclusion to truly infuse all three areas into our culture.
I never expected my GetYourGuide journey to still be going strong, nine years after joining the company. My husband and I had decided to stay in Berlin longer than our original six-to-twelve month plan and I didn’t have anything on my mind other than finding a job where I could leverage my English skills over my German ones. Beyond that, I knew I wanted to work for a company where I believed in the product, and where the working culture was positive. The product is what led me to GYG; the culture is what’s kept me here – and of course, the product is still awesome!
Our COO, Tao Tao also supported me by clarifying the myriad creative ways I could organize my working hours moving from part-time to full-time, in order to ensure a balance with my home and family life with two young children. It was that Head of In-House Care Operations role that gave me the opportunity to build the people culture in our team, an area in which my current manager, Iovana [May Cervantes, VP of Global Customer Service], has been a role model and a sparring partner, supporting and coaching me on continuing to evolve this area alongside our operational strategy and goals.
I officially start as Head of People Operations in mid-August. I cannot wait to get started with this next big challenge and see what lies ahead on my ongoing GetYourGuide journey.
Interested in joining GetYourGuide? Check out our open roles.
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