An unwavering focus on strategic talent acquisition has been critical to the success of SaaS company SiteMinder, which has experienced rapid business growth globally despite heavy competition for tech talent and tightening regulation around skilled migration visas, according to its head of HR.
SiteMinder is the global hotel industry’s leading guest acquisition platform, and it has increased headcount by 65 per cent over the past three years to more than 800 employees worldwide to keep up with business growth.
With its base in Sydney, it now has six offices globally as well as in remote locations to provide local, on-the-ground presence to its customer base of more than 35,000 hotels across 160 countries.
“In light of such rapid evolution, a recurring challenge for my team exists around securing the right talent at the speed and quality that we need, in order to hit our ambitious growth targets,” explained Dionne Niven, global head of people at SiteMinder.
Two-thirds of the company’s staff are spread across the Australian and EMEA markets, and with both regions experiencing significant talent shortages across the digital landscape, Niven explained that SiteMinder has been pulled into the “hyper-competitive war” for quality talent – not only within the technical fields of engineering and architecture – but across every other crucial function from sales and marketing to finance and HR.
“It’s important for me that, in doing this, we understand the diversity of the talent we are looking to attract and retain,” she said.
“What incentivises a salesperson from the UK is very different to what appeals to a sales professional in Germany, and expectations around training and professional development also differ.”
Niven observed that talent acquisition challenges are exacerbated by regulation and tightening policies around skilled migration visas and an overall decline in IT subject enrolments locally.
“This is a concerning trend for businesses like SiteMinder, which are looking to aggressively scale their employee numbers, while seeking to uphold a very high standard of talent,” said Niven, who pointed to recent Deloitte Access Economics research which found that an additional 100,000 local workers are expected to be required by 2024 in the broader Australian technology industry.
Siteminder has entered the Soonicorn Club (which identifies Australia’s potential unicorns of the future) and generates in excess of 87 million reservations worth over AU$38 billion in revenue for hotels each year, and as a result, it recently hit A$100 million in annual recurring revenue for the first time.
“By identifying a variety of characteristics that mesh well with SiteMinder’s culture and values, we set ourselves up for success from the beginning”
The privately-owned company plans to double down on business growth over the next three years, through further international expansion and new revenue streams that complement its disruptive SaaS model.
How HR strategy supports business growth
A key element of SiteMinder’s HR strategy has been to work very closely with and become partners to the various teams in the business to carefully plan and align to strategy, “so that collectively we are able to work ahead of the curve and operate in a proactive manner towards recruitment”, said Niven.
Given the highly technical nature of many roles within the business, and that a number of staff require assistance relocating from other countries to join the team, SiteMinder plans its recruitment strategy a minimum of 12 months ahead of time to allow for plenty of breathing room in business growth, she explained.
Empowering managers has been another major step in ensuring that the right members are joining the business.
“The reality is, in a high-growth business like ours, we provide the opportunity for many specialists across disciplines to advance into managerial roles for the first time in their careers,” said Niven.
“That requires a completely new mindset-shift and new skills, and it’s important they feel they are set up for success.”
“By providing them with knowledge around new aspects of their role such as the hiring process, they are much more actively involved from the outset, an endeavour that has had the practical effect of greatly reducing staff turnover.”
Operationally, a number of new systems have been introduced to help scale and become more procedurally efficient when hiring at increased volumes to keep up with business growth, which has allowed the HR team to take a more in-depth focus on candidates without being caught up in administration.
Niven said ATS platform Lever has helped improved SiteMinder’s application, screening and scheduling processes, while Xref has streamlined the turnaround time of getting references returned and provides an ideal quantity of feedback in the referees’ words.
SiteMinder also uses The Predictive Index as its “go-to tool” for behavioural assessment, which provides insights that have enabled the business to better internal working relationships.
“The ownership that our tech leaders provide to developers and the ability to work closely with our CTO and most senior tech talent in an open-door environment creates unique appeal”
“Finally, it’s crucial from a branding and acquisition perspective that we’re advertising in the correct locations online depending upon the role and utilising external job-specific recruitment specialists where required,” said Niven.
Getting the right fit for business growth
SiteMinder has grown significantly since it opened its doors in 2006, with the company now recruiting in more than 20 languages across six offices worldwide
While this has added greater procedural complexity, Niven said that “it is more and more important to maintain a simplified, streamlined vision for the culture that we want to continue building”.
One of her key priorities in this process has been the continued knowledge development of SiteMinder’s core values internally, to ensure that its talent acquisition team is able to readily identify the key qualities of individuals who are likely to perform well in the business.
“Through our growth, one thing that’s always been important for our founders and broader leadership team is that we never lose sight of our DNA and what inherently has made our company what it is today and what we continue to look for and expect in our people,” she said.
“By identifying a variety of characteristics that mesh well with SiteMinder’s culture and values, we set ourselves up for success from the beginning.”
Despite the need to hire quickly, Niven said the business actively chooses to invest time in training company leaders about the hiring process, who are now involved in all senior hires.
“By educating them on the concept of unconscious bias, providing them interview and competency guides, and developing sample candidate answers, we create a further safety net, by ensuring that we are bringing on-board individuals that will be a great fit for our leaders to work with,” she said.
Competing for technology talent
SiteMinder’s approach towards technology has always been to invest heavily in research and development and to build everything from the ground up to help drive business growth.
Niven said this approach has allowed the business to build a strong reputation with developer talent organically, as a company that will provide and strive to create cutting-edge, market-leading technology.
“The ownership that our tech leaders provide to developers and the ability to work closely with our CTO and most senior tech talent in an open-door environment creates unique appeal,” she said.
“We’re not looking for assimilation or someone to join us to keep the status quo; we need the challengers and the people who thrive by putting their stamp on things.”
SiteMinder’s employees are also actively involved in the broader tech community through meetups, hackathons and similar initiatives.
“We’re not looking for assimilation or someone to join us to keep the status quo; we need the challengers and the people who thrive by putting their stamp on things”
Niven said they also have a real opportunity to work in close collaboration with the business’ product team, which gives them meaningful insight into how they build technology for the end-user as well as understanding what they do makes a difference.
Employees also have an opportunity to be a part of SiteMinder’s shadow equity plan, which is designed to incentivise staff to grow with the business in the long-term, as “everyone is now effectively a shareholder and in the driver’s seat,” Niven said.
The role of HR in driving business growth
As with many start-up technology businesses, Niven recalls that SiteMinder’s approach to hiring in the early years was solely focused on talent acquisition as it sought to keep its head above water and hire as fast as the business was expanding.
“However, broadening our HR team with the goal of growing our talent long-term has been a significant mindset shift,” she said.
“To keep our finger on the pulse, we now monitor employee engagement on a monthly basis, sharing the results openly with staff and deep diving to tackle any issues as they arise, to ensure that the staff feel involved and valued.”
When new hires are made, Niven said one of the challenges for HR is around onboarding and bringing them up-to-speed quickly across different geographies and disciplines to ensure everyone is set up for success.
“We have evolved from one-on-one inductions to a more structured intake and in doing so can better streamline our messaging around our products, procedures, structure and values,” she explained.