US Management Tour Diary, or a Week of Full Immersion in HR Strategies of the Best Companies in the World

HRDs and CEOs of Softline Group, Post Finance, and Gazprom Media spent a week between August 8 and 14 meeting top managers of Facebook, Netflix, Google, Cisco, Plug&Play, 500 Startups, Zume, Kaiser Permanente and Zappos.

HRDs and CEOs of Softline Group, Post Finance, and Gazprom Media spent a week between August 8 and 14 meeting top managers of Facebook, Netflix, Google, Cisco, Plug&Play, 500 Startups, Zume, Kaiser Permanente and Zappos!

Prevalent trends in Silicon Valley HR: 
  • The hype around “employee happiness” has died down (it seems only Zappos continues to care about it). Far fewer benefits are being offered now, as the most ineffective and useless ones have disappeared due to natural selection. What employees care about the most today is base salary, annual bonus, and equity (which is by far the most important of the three). 
  • Retention programs are all based on equity as well, and these are real ‘golden handcuffs’, as, for example, (approximately) 400,000 dollars worth of shares are invested for four years (more or less) if an employee gets added to the list of best workers, and these 400,000 dollars are yet to be worked out at the rate of 100,000 dollars a year. Then another 400,000 dollars are allocated for another four years, and this could continue indefinitely, if the employee exceeds expectations each year. 
  • Although AI and IOT are booming, HR management even in the most high-tech of businesses still has a lot of paper-based processes or processes that aren’t established at all. Such tasks are considered secondary next to other, much more urgent matters such as sales, production, and so on. Nevertheless, if a business is mature enough but still lacks established processes, management is fraught with difficulties, and these problems still have to be addressed by HR and other teams. The lack of desire to automate everything as much as possible and think the process through from the very beginning is plain to see, because everyone moves within the Agile paradigm where ‘processes are secondary.’
  • Middle management is gradually shrinking and fading away. As more and more companies migrate to Slack, flat teams become more common, and the responsibility and autonomy of managers and employees increases, the need for middle management simply evaporates. 
  • The trend of narrow focus in HR continues. There are engagement teams, talent acquisition teams, internal sources (who look for talent inside an organization to develop and promote), and external sources (who do the same outside the organization, thus creating a ‘gold reserve’ to fill in future vacancies).
  • The level of team autonomy and corporate responsibility is very high and continues to increase. Employees themselves are responsible for organizing events, holidays, and hobby groups, while employee evaluation and regular one-on-one meetings for feedback purposes are the exclusive province of managers. Naturally, American managers have the luxury of being managers in the truest sense of the word, as their companies have enough resources to let their employees focus on their responsibilities without filling in for somebody else. For the same reason, American managers are able to explore the market continually, looking for candidates and creating the ‘gold reserve’ for future vacancies inside the company and beyond, manage up (work with superiors, manage their expectations, present teamwork results, gain knowledge and experience from them, etc.), and in general to take care of their subordinates, monitor their job satisfaction and overall well-being. 
  • For example, Google HR mostly resolves unpleasant issues such as warnings, dismissals, and explaining new procedures to employees. Managers and employees do the rest. 
At Google
  • Continuing the theme of increasing manager responsibility, assessment and performance management as a whole is the headache every HR manager has to deal with. Silicon Valley businesses treat this issue very seriously, primarily because it influences the overall employee assessment and ‘fit’ with colleagues and thus the amount of equity an employee receives by the end of the year based on his or her performance. All employees fill in peer evaluation and self-assessment questionnaires in time, everybody is very interested in this and takes it very seriously. 
  • Since the tour participants are building an employer branding and EVP centre of expertise, they were expecting to learn about interesting practices and experiences in these fields, but what they saw was a rather haphazardly put together year work plan that mostly consisted of a series of events for employees like family day, bring-your-pet-to-work day, sports and charity events, performances by company choir or dancing group, etc. Perhaps, it was because the brands of these companies were already strong and had long been working to their advantage. 
  • Any employee who informs the company of his or her intention to start working at a rival company is immediately locked out of all systems, as well as the corporate email box, and taken off the premises. No offence, no disappointments – it’s just business. 
  • Horizontal transfer is a cool, popular trend right now. Any employee could become a ‘shadow’ (trainee) of his or her colleague for 90 days to spend an hour and a half each day watching them do their job. After all this, trainees should realize whether they are interested in doing this job and prove they can do it, meaning their colleagues should want to take them on. 
Both horizontal and vertical transfers (to another city) are encouraged, and everyone is ready for them. They are ubiquitous and obviously contributing to employee retention among other things. 
  • Every company is doing its best to set itself apart from other businesses in Silicon Valley. This issue is always paid a lot of attention at job interviews. 
  • Companies actively work with members of different generations, making every effort to attract Generation Alpha as well as retain baby boomers with their wisdom, self-control, experience, and impressive knowledge. Their experience is extremely valuable and their take on many things is so simple and surprising that no member of Generation Y or Generation Z would be able to come up with such amazing solutions as those suggested by baby boomers. Besides, their ability to resolve psychological issues, support, motivate, and inspire their colleagues is second to none. 

“I was very impressed and amazed with accelerators, but they are not exactly related to HR. It’s awesome that such businesses had emerged, as the progress and prospects of Silicon Valley – and perhaps humanity as a whole – depends on the skills and incredible efficiency of these people. It’s so great to be able to speak to them, see how passionate they are about their jobs, learn about their work in real time, and observe the impressive results,” said Marina Shvoyeva, Vice-President of Human Resource at Softline Group.

Day 1
Facebook HQ and 500 Startups

Business meeting topics of the day: 

  • Facebook corporate culture
  • How to look for, work and achieve results with startups

The tour participants studied how American companies work with their human resources and why the most talented people on the planet are drawn to such businesses as Facebook, Google, Amazon, Netflix and others.

Facebook is the largest social network in the world and owned by the eponymous company (Facebook Inc.). It was founded on February 4, 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg and his roommates while studying at Harvard University. As of June 2017, the number of Facebook users reached 2 billion. Facebook Inc. owns other popular services such as Instagram and WhatsApp.

Approximately 37,700 full-time employees worked at the company as of March 31, 2019. Facebook Inc. describes its corporate culture as a hacker culture that drives employees to strive for improvement.

The group was accompanied by FastForward Managing Partner Alesya Glushchuk. Here are some of her insights about that day.

FastForward Managing Partner Alesya Glushchuk

“At Facebook, our speaker made it clear that employees are chiefly motivated by their desire to work with the smartest people in the field of AI. Facebook grounds are beautiful; there are many cafés, restaurants, an 80s-style burger joint, and a workshop where one can make something by hand. Here, the decision about whether or not an employee will work is not made by the employer but by each individual who decides whether or not to give a part of him or herself for the sake of common cause. A prospective employee comes to the company, studies all its internal processes, sees what the team is like, and only then makes an (informed) decision to stay or to take a look at some other business. There are foxes on the premises, and they steal lunch from employees. To get employees used to doing sports and wean them away from their cars, they are given bicycles for two weeks. Every six months, employees evaluate each other's work, and it’s a straightforward process where people write honestly about the things they like at the company and the things they believe should be improved. People work hard here, but they love their teams, Facebook products, and the atmosphere. They stay positive and believe nothing is impossible.”

500 Startups has invested in more than 2,000 companies through four global funds and 14 micro-funds designed for specific geographic markets and verticals. More than 100 team members work in several locations around the world. Moreover, the company’s 500 investment portfolios cover more than 60 countries.

Company info: 

  • 500 Startups is one of the largest startup accelerators in the world
  • it is an expert in how incubators and seed funds work 
  • the company knows everything there is to know about infrastructure opportunities for startups
Day 2
Netflix, Zume, Kaiser Permanente

Business meeting topics of the day:

  • Corporate culture and HR
  • Recruitment and working with staff


Netflix is ​​an American entertainment company that streams movies and TV shows. As of January 2019, the company had 139 million subscribers worldwide. Netflix streams approximately 250 million hours of video daily in 190 countries.

Netflix - the favorite company of movie fans

Alesia Glushchuk's observations from the very heart of the company, its head office:

  • I was impressed by the level and degree of employee engagement, the company’s corporate culture and work tools. When we went out the door, the whole group said, “This meeting is the best and we want to work here,” and given that the group consists of HRs, it means a lot! Today, I heard a definition of corporate culture that I agree with the most. "CORPORATE CULTURE IS NOT SOMETHING THAT’S WRITTEN ON A WALL, IT’S WHAT YOU DO WHEN NOBODY’S LOOKING AT YOU."
  • Netflix's corporate culture can be summed up in two words, Freedom and Responsibility. Give people freedom and they will begin to take responsibility for their work, and those who do not are unsuitable for your company.
  • Salaries here are higher than those at Google or Facebook, there are no corporate parties, bedrooms or other goodies, but here they give you freedom, recognition, an opportunity to grow and take pride in the product.
  • Our speaker’s words rang very true when he said, “We are not building a family here and we are not screaming about it for the entire world to hear; we are gathering together many professionals in one place, and they enjoy working together.” One needs to grow professionally at work and resolve personal issues and develop relationships at home, with the family. 
  • When asked, “Has any project that took, say, six month, ever failed to deliver results?” our speaker answered, “If by month two I sense something like this could happen, I will ask around for work on other projects!” 

Kaiser Permanente is the largest managed care organization in the United States. The basis of its corporate culture is the “Culture of Health” service. It includes programs that support healthy behavior, educate employees about health issues and incorporate health-related goals into corporate policies. Kaiser has also been recognized as the best place to work for the LGBT community and the company with the healthiest working conditions.

Kaiser Permanente is the largest managed care organization in the United States

Zume is a food company that uses real-time food consumption data and predictive analytics to help food producers better predict demand, link it to production and make better decisions about resources in the food supply chain. The company currently employs 450 people and operates in three areas, Zume Forward, Zume Culinary and Zoom Source.

When the HR team visited the company, they had an opportunity to chat with some interesting people from Zume Pizza.

Zume Pizza combines cooking and technology

Zume Pizza is one of many startups in Silicon Valley that has been able to combine cooking and technology to develop a productive cooking process.

Zume Pizza is a company that delivers freshly prepared pizza all over San Francisco in specially equipped vans. The developers were able to arrange the pizza-making process in such a way that robots and humans would work together as productively as possible. 

Pizza making process

In an atmosphere of lightness and fun, they create unique products:

  • For example, the packaging of the future that disappears after 3 months is made from cane sugar waste at a special factory, and two more factories are to be opened soon.
  • Pizza orders are received by smart trucks, robots cover the dough with toppings and the oven turns on automatically. Half an hour later, customers receive their hot and flavorful pizza. Having tried it ourselves, we can attest that Zume robots are quite good at making delicious pizza. 
  • Zuma employees also advise restaurants on how to automate and help them make such improvements.

There’s no need to worry about robots replacing humans, because: 

  • Firstly, there are many highly qualified professionals in California, and none of them wants to make pizza, whereas the robots don’t care; 
  • Secondly, qualified human employees will be needed in the future to service robots. 
Day 3
Plug&PlayPlug and Cisco

Plug & Play is Silicon Valley’s largest accelerator headquartered in Sunnyvale, California. It is a community of more than 300 startups, 180 venture capital funds and dozens of leading universities and corporations.

We were met by the company’s Vice President, a brilliant woman and a true master of her craft. By the end of the meeting, all the members of the group wanted to work with her and Plug & Play.

Visit to Plug and Play

Cisco is a multinational American company that develops and sells network equipment intended primarily for large organizations and telecommunications enterprises. One of the features of the company’s business model is a multi-level ramified system of certification for computer network engineers.

Future global trends are being actively discussed in the United States today. Our CEO Alesya Glushchuk spoke about them.

1. Birth rate has declined in our time, and this is a problem, because it will soon be difficult for employers to attract young and smart professionals. In Silicon Valley, the staffing situation is extremely difficult nowadays, as growing companies need to attract qualified employees but they have nowhere to accommodate them. It has already become impossible to buy a place to live, as an average house now costs $3,000,000, and all the roads are regularly blocked with traffic jams. Some companies are moving to other states, but they are only a few. Texas is very attractive now, because of its comfortable taxation terms and strong universities as well as the examples of Amazon and Google branches that are doing well. 

2. People now often have more than one job and they are working for themselves. Doctors no longer have to work at a single hospital and they can make their own schedule, choose their salary and so on. More and more people are working remotely, and they enjoy the benefits offered by Californian businesses. 

3. Email is becoming a thing of the past, as employees migrate to Slack and instant messengers. Middle managers are going extinct, as teams become more important than managers. Such tools as Slack and Basecamp help perform the functions that used to be performed by the middle manager (regular managers used to serve as a link between frontline employees and top managers). The structure of companies will change and a person’s importance will be determined not by their position but by their level of responsibility. Now, a leader does not need to call a deputy to learn how the team is doing. He or she simply goes to Slack and sees what is going on. 

Day 4
Stanford University and Google Inc

Stanford University is a private US university, one of the most respected and best rated schools in the US and the world.

Stanford University aerial view

The richest and most prestigious private university in the United States was opened by the Stanford family on October 1, 1891. In the 1950s, this land began to be leased for 51 years (the will of Leland Stanford forbids it selling) to talented university graduates so that they could build laboratories and industrial enterprises. Thus began the creation of the Stanford Research and Industrial Technology Park. It comprises 162 buildings for 23,000 workers in the fields of electronics, military and space industries, computer hardware and software.

Later, Stanford graduates and scientists, engineers and businessmen who flocked here from all over the country began to develop Palo Alto and Silicon Valley in the state of California, between the cities of San Francisco and San Jose. The valley was named after silicon, which is used as a semiconductor in the manufacture of microprocessors. In recent years, more than 7,000 enterprises with 300,000 jobs were established here. This is where the global computer revolution began, where Yahoo and Google were born, it is the birthplace of new microelectronics-based weapons, space rockets and aerospace products. Today, Silicon Valley companies are trendsetters in the fields of mobile communications and nanotechnology.

Silicon Valley has become a symbol of colossal profits. 

For example, Stanford graduates Hewlett and Packard founded a tiny company in a garage with a starting capital of $538. It has since become one of the world’s leading manufacturers of computer hardware with 90,000 employees and an annual turnover of $200 billion. Silicon Valley is a state within a state. The combined income generated by its companies is larger than the GDP of some highly developed countries. It is a unique place that has gathered together great thinkers from the elite Stanford University, software developers, businessmen and a lot of capital. Here they follow the principle “create like a god, command like a king and work like a slave.”  

Many countries have adopted the idea of ​​creating such high-tech parks. In France, such a park was created in Grenoble, in Russia, in the city of Dubna, in China it was in the country’s capital, Beijing, close to the Academy of Sciences, a university, and a polytechnic institute at Zhongguancun Street. In 20 years, this area has turned into a giant technology park mostly producing electronics. Tech-parks were also created in Germany, India, Israel and other countries. In the USA, there are technology parks in the cities of Portland (Silicon Forest) and Santa Barbara (Silicon Beach).

Such was the grand, global-scale result of the noble work of the Stanford family who had built a university to honor the memory of their son.

Google Inc.

Google was recognized as the company with the best reputation in the US in 2011, ahead of Microsoft, Sony and others. The company is headquartered in Palo Alto, California.

At Google

Google Inc is a multinational American public corporation, reorganized on October 2, 2015 into the international conglomerate Alphabet Inc., a company within the Alphabet holding that invests in Internet search, cloud computing and advertising technologies. Google supports and develops a number of online services and products, and generates profit primarily from advertising through its AdWords program.

  • The company was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin. It was first registered as a private company on January 4, 1996, and on August 19, 2004 it started selling its shares in the stock market.
  • Google manages more than a million servers at data centers around the world and processes more than one billion search queries. The rapid growth of Google since its inception has led to the emergence of a large number of products not directly related to the company's main product, the search engine.
  • Google has such online products as Gmail and Google+. The company’s desktop products include Google Chrome, Picasa, and Hangouts. In addition, Google develops the mobile operating system Android, used on a large number of smartphones, as well as Google Chrome OS and Google Glass. Google is the most powerful brand in the world, according to BrandZ, and it was the most expensive brand in the world in 2011, according to Brand-Finance.
Day 5

Zappos is one of the top ten best companies to work for, according to Fortune.

Zappos - brings happiness to customers
  • The company began as an online shop selling footwear and in 10 years its sales increased from almost zero to $1 billion a year with minimum investment in advertising.
  • It is a place where new employees who do not fit into the company’s corporate culture even after on-boarding are offered severance pay. 
  • It is a company where a certain “oddity” is considered a valuable asset.
  • Here, each employee can contribute to the corporate culture description published annually in the form of a book.
  • It is a place where employees can at any time spontaneously arrange a parade or other fun and unusual event.
  • At Zappos, staff members are taught to use Twitter.
  • The company is the leader in terms of strategic and practical work with social networks.
  • It is an example of a genuine and vibrant, albeit partially frivolous, corporate culture.
  • This initially small startup was ultimately sold to Amazon for about $1 billion.
  • Zappos is an innovator in the field of technology that allows customers to use the company's website in a variety of ways.
  • Zappos is ten companies in one, including a training center, an order processing service and a department responsible for websites. 
  • The CEO of this company earns $36,000 a year, goes to work in jeans, sits in a compartment at the center of the office and has more than a million followers on Twitter (@zappos).
  • The company’s name comes from the Spanish word zapatos meaning “shoes”.
  • The longest incoming call to the company’s call center lasted more than 8 hours.
Day 6
The Last One 

We just cannot help but share our emotions after our tour of the Red Rock Canyon!

Yes, our week-long HR tour of the best American companies gave us an opportunity not only to network with top managers but also see the amazing beauty of Nevada. 

Red Rock Canyon is part of the Mojave Desert, the main feature of which is a 20-kilometer tourist highway. It is along this path that the most Instagram-worthy places are found, including the famous Calico Hills, Native American limestone fire pits, handprints and pictograms.

Valley of Fire State Park is located in the Mojave Desert

And just an hour’s drive from the bustling Las Vegas, within the cactus-grown area of the Mojave Desert, there is the oldest and most beautiful park in Nevada, the Valley of Fire. It is not as popular among travelers as, say, Arizona’s canyons, but we strongly recommend you set aside a day to visit it. It is an incredibly beautiful place, perfect for abstracting a bit from the endless lights and casinos of the gambling capital of Nevada and admiring the natural lights. The park got its name from the local rock formations of red sandstone. The Valley of Fire is famous for its bizarrely shaped rocks, ancient petroglyphs and fossils. It even has a miniature version of the well-known Arizona Wave.

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Participants’ impressions of previous management tours: 
Having already taken part in educational tours, these people are happy to share their knowledge and impressions.
Anton Nesiforov
Anton NesiforovProcess Manager for fruit and vegetable preservation, beverages, and alcohol

On our tour of Germany, we visited the most famous food exhibition, the Green Week, as well as numerous retail chains and enterprises operating in various interesting industries. We have a lot to learn. We must take the best and use it. Thank you, FastForward, for your careful approach to creating this tour.

Alena Nesiforova
Alena NesiforovaUnified Concept Manager for Izbenka and VkusVill

We visited several retail stores in Germany, as well as manufacturing facilities. What we liked the most about the stores we visited was the high quality standards of German retail. Retailers know how to sell high-quality goods at affordable prices, and this is probably the main secret of Germany's retail success. As for production, we were inspired by some of the small family businesses we saw.