Job titles don’t mean that much at SmarterTravel.
The travel tech company defines leadership upon the basis of influence — not titles. In other words, team members are expected to embrace change and take the lead when seeking solutions and offering support.
“We’re whatever we need to be, whenever we need to be it,” explained Operations Coordinator Kami Wenger.
While this “whatever, whenever” notion takes many forms, it’s rooted in a universal commitment to being a leader. A set of principles encapsulates this promise, serving as a guide by which employees accomplish their work.
SMARTERTRAVEL'S LEADERSHIP PRINCIPLES
- Keep It Simple
- Build Up Others
- Communicate Effectively
- Decide and Execute
- Embrace Change
Customer Service Leader Jennifer Williamson believes this framework bolsters the company’s sense of community, bringing employees together during both happy times and hardship.
“We pull these core principles together and focus on leading and growing with each other,” she said. “It’s simply working smarter, not harder, to achieve more.”
SmarterTravel may have big ambitions, yet its team is small, made up of about 30 individuals. For Jeano VerSchave, principal full stack engineer, the size of the team makes it even more essential for everyone to step up.
“We have to embrace these principles internally, otherwise we’re not going to be successful,” he said.
WHAT SMARTERTRAVEL DOES
SmarterTravel offers an AI-powered hotel search engine in addition to online content covering travel tips and news and product reviews.
Putting Words into Action
SmarterTravel wants to disrupt the travel industry by offering travel recommendations and searches that match travelers’ unique needs. How does the team plan on accomplishing this? According to Williamson, candid communication, which echoes the leadership principle, “Communicate Effectively.”
Team members are encouraged to share their ideas and concerns without holding anything back. “Nothing is off the table here,” Williamson added.
That means all employees are expected to take the initiative — or “Decide and Execute” — even if they’ve just joined the team. Despite having recently stepped into his role, VerSchave has already made a significant impact, ensuring the engineering department runs smoothly. Wenger said he’s been quick to step in and help when any technical issues have come up.
The key to this impact lies in the leadership framework the organization is built upon. SmarterTravel empowers its people to be self-starters and problem-solvers while encouraging ownership, continuous improvement and a commitment to craftsmanship.
SmarterTravel empowers its people to be self-starters and problem-solvers while encouraging ownership, continuous improvement and a commitment to craftsmanship.
Considering everyone plays a part in shaping the business, it’s important that team members recognize each other’s achievements — in other words, “Build Up Others.” The team celebrates every milestone over Slack, and recently sent two engineers $50 Amazon gift cards after they quickly stepped in to resolve a customer-service issue.
“We want to make sure everyone knows we appreciate everything they do, because it all makes a difference in the end,” Wenger said.
A Chance to Grow Together
A leadership mentality defines life at SmarterTravel, influencing how team members tackle problems and celebrate achievements. That’s why the company requires all of its new managers to take part in a 12-week leadership training course called “Leading with Purpose,” which enables them to grow together and learn how to inspire their direct reports to embrace what they learn themselves.
Williamson, who attended the virtual program with Wenger, described the experience as “absolutely amazing.” The course was broken up into a series of sessions — for example, “Owning Your Management Style” and “Navigating Conflict and Change” — which enabled leaders to hone skills related to emotional intelligence, psychological safety and more.
Wenger learned more about herself not just as a leader, but as a person. By taking part in personality assessments, she learned how individuals handle situations differently based on their unique traits, which is why it’s important to understand colleagues on a personal level.
Williamson and Wenger not only learned a lot about themselves throughout the program, they also got to connect with many people from across the tech industry. They engaged in vulnerable conversations with other professionals, gaining insightful advice along the way.
In the future, SmarterTravel aims to engage more employees in the program. Williamson hopes everyone eventually has the chance to participate and learn more about themselves from both a personal and professional perspective.
“You come out of the course with so much more than you would expect,” Williamson said.
‘A 180-Degree Difference’
SmarterTravel’s unrelenting focus on leadership sets it apart from other tech companies. But how?
According to Williamson and Wenger, who worked at the same organization prior to joining the SmarterTravel team, it comes down to two things: opportunity and support.
Wenger said there’s a 180-degree difference between her old employer and her current one. Now, she knows her ideas are heard and she can count on her peers at all times.
Each of the company’s leadership principles — from “Decide and Execute” to “Build Up Others” — is grounded in influence, Williamson said. Everyone embraces what it means to be a changemaker, whether they’re supporting another team member or striving toward personal goals.
“Having that encouragement to be influential is something I didn’t see in any other job I’ve had,” Williamson said.
“Having that encouragement to be influential is something I didn’t see in any other job I’ve had.”
Positive influence has been key to SmarterTravel’s growth, especially considering the past several years have been challenging for the tech industry. According to Williamson, navigating continuous change has been made easier by the leadership principles that uphold the organization.
“Ensuring we have strong bones to lean on has been monumental for us to move forward,” she said. “It keeps us all pumped up and working toward making this company a standout.”