How Turo Scales and Sustains a Start-Up Culture (Even as It Grows from 400 to 800 Employees)

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The Culture Code

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The more a company grows, the more challenging it becomes to hold onto its fast-moving, creative, start-up culture.

That said, it is possible. Any company culture is the result of employee behaviors over time. For example, an article in Texas CEO Magazine defines a start-up culture as “quick to change, progressive, and innovative.” To cultivate a start-up culture, you have to train for, foster, and scale those behaviors.

To learn more about what this might look like, I met with Turo’s Chief People Officer, Lorie Boyd. Founded in 2009, Turo is the world’s largest peer-to-peer car-sharing marketplace, growing from 400 to 800 employees in the last year. “Basically, Turo is the Airbnb of cars,” said Boyd. “If you want a Maserati to go wine tasting in Napa this weekend, or you need a minivan to transport your cousins to Tahoe for Thanksgiving, we have different makes and models available.”

Turo Culture Is “Grounded, Expressive, Bold, and Driven”

In many ways, Turo fits the bill for what people commonly call the Silicon Valley company culture. “Our culture is a collaborative, down-to-earth, and humble group of employees. We have a supportive, innovative approach, constantly pushing the boundaries and wanting to improve the product and experience for our hosts and guests,” Boyd said.

To help scale its culture as it doubled in size, Turo recently underwent a massive exercise of rethinking our values. “We asked our employees, ‘How would you describe our culture?’ We came out with four values: We are grounded, we are expressive, we are bold, and we are driven,” Boyd said.

These company values are Turo’s North Star, guiding them in decision-making and day-to-day behavior. “We infuse them throughout the entire employee experience,” Boyd emphasized, “from recruitment and onboarding to reward, recognition, and performance.”

Turo Develops Its Culture by Developing Its Leaders

Since research correlates 70% of employee engagement to the manager, how a company develops its leaders can be incredibly telling of its culture.

Boyd highlighted this by saying, “An employee’s relationship with their manager is the most crucial in the company. Our CEO has gone as far—and I do all the time—as telling people that if you are a people manager, that is your number one job. It isn’t to deliver high-quality software. It isn’t to do better marketing. It isn’t to make sure our accounting numbers are all tied up. It is to develop and support your people.”

Managers at Turo go through multiple touchpoints of development. Level 1 training focuses on coaching, feedback, productivity, and effective one-on-ones. Then, in Level 2, leaders go into strategic thinking, meeting mastery, accomplishing what they want, and leading their team through change. They also nurture many critical, timely skills, like compensation.

Decoding Culture at Turo: The Importance of How You Share Engagement Scores

When I speak with chief people officers about measuring engagement, they inevitably get into great detail about the measurement tools, approaches, and cadence. But, what made Boyd unique was that she also got into great detail about how they deliver the results to their employees. “It’s one thing to survey your employees,” Boyd said, “And another to take time to deliver the results and show what action you will take. There’s nothing worse than employees completing a survey and wondering what happened with it. We take time to deliver those results after each semi-annual survey. We share significant action items and how we plan on addressing feedback.”

On top of that, Boyd ensures that Turo’s people leaders and department heads share with their departments and teams. They do this because “The way the engineering team feels may be different from the marketing team and from the overall company. We also learn from those teams that have high engagement scores. What are they doing that we can learn from to help support a team struggling in that area?”

The Behavior Boyd Values Most at Turo: Self-Care

Since culture is made up of behaviors, the behaviors you choose to value as a company will ultimately decide your culture. The behavior that Boyd most wants her employees to develop now is “self-care.” She said, “We give so much to produce a quality product and experience for our customers and hosts. We give so much to our employees. We give so much to our spouses, children, and dogs, but I don’t know that we always give enough time to ourselves.”

Boyd doesn’t just hope for better self-care; she’s already invested a lot of time, budget, and energy in it: “I encourage our employees to be selfish and take the time to invest in themselves. We provide a stipend of $2,000 per year for each employee to take coursework that isn’t just on-the-job learning. Be selfish. Invest in yourself. Take care of yourself. Sleep right. We’re all building these high-growth companies. We need to sleep a little more even though there’s a lot on our plates.”

This year, Turo rolled out a program devoted to self-care called Positive Intelligence. The program consists of self-care reflection around questions like:

  • What are your saboteurs?
  • What are these negative voices that keep you from being your best self and having better relationships, not just at home but at work?”

Boyd’s Book Recommendation for HR Professionals: “The Art of Gathering”

All of the chief people officers I interview are voracious readers and learners. Asked what books she would recommend for HR pros to read, Boyd recommended The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker. “I’m so happy I found this book,” Boyd said, “because we had just emerged from working remotely for about two years, and, previously, we had always had an in-office culture. We heard loud and clear from our employees that they love the flexibility of working from home. They did not want to be forced back into the office.”

This book helped Boyd message her employees about why it is essential to gather in person again. “We have flexibility, and people work fully remotely, but it’s vital that we gather to celebrate and question. That book gave me a lot of great ideas on how to structure gatherings to make sure we have moments that matter and are worthy of people’s time,” she said.

What Excites Boyd Most about the Future of Turo: Growth

Moving forward, the number one thing on Boyd’s mind is “growth.” Last year, Turo doubled the company’s size from 400 to 800 employees. “The question for me,” Boyd said, “is how do we scale culture as we grow? How do we stay small while growing big? We love our culture. We love the relationships we have. We love being lean and nimble. And we don’t want to become a bloated, bureaucratic, inflexible organization or culture.”

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CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at https://leadx.org/preview.