Building and maintaining culture while scaling an organization
Organizational Culture

Building and maintaining culture while scaling an organization

Jeri Doris, chief people officer at European multinational Delivery Hero, discusses maintaining a healthy and ambitious organizational culture while scaling and adapting to hybrid work.
Listen to the Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast on Apple Podcasts Listen to the Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast on Google Play

In this podcast, Heidrick & Struggles’ Rachel Farley speaks to Jeri Doris, chief people officer at Delivery Hero, the European multinational online food delivery service. Doris shares her insights on how to build a people-centric company culture while simultaneously focusing on scale. She also discusses the organization’s diversity and inclusion ambitions, their commitment to sustainability, and how leaders can manage their teams in a hybrid work environment.

Some questions answered in this episode include the following:

  • (1:05) Since you joined Delivery Hero, you've been able to weave a strong employee experience, engagement, and purpose into the company’s corporate culture. What were the main drivers to achieve this?
  • (4:12) If you could give a couple of tips to other CHROs and HRDs and heads of talent or any other HR leaders or business leaders listening to this on how a company can most effectively set its cultural transformation goals and ensure that they're aligned with the company’s strategy, what couple of pieces of advice would you give?
  • (7:09) You mentioned scaling. So, in 2020—and perhaps you can give us the figures on how you scaled and when you scaled—Delivery Hero grew exponentially, but you’ve still managed to stay true to your values. How did you do that, if we just angle in on the scaling and the value piece?
  • (13:58) What are the differences in terms of D&I between your experiences in the United States and Europe? 
  • (16:28) What's your role as the CHRO in relation to the sustainability imperative that's happening at the moment?

Below is a full transcript of the episode, which has been edited for clarity.

Welcome to the Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast. Heidrick is the premier global provider of senior-level executive search and leadership consulting services. Diversity and inclusion, leading through tumultuous times, and building thriving teams and organizations are among the core issues we talk with leaders about every day, including in our podcasts. Thank you for joining the conversation.

Rachel Farley: Hello, I'm Rachel Farley, a consultant in Heidrick & Struggles London office and a specialist in HR executive search. In today’s podcast, I'm speaking to Jeri Doris, chief people officer at Delivery Hero, the European multinational online food delivery service. Jeri joined Delivery Hero in 2018 and before that she was head of HR at Rakuten USA, based in Silicon Valley. Jeri, welcome, and thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.

Jeri Doris: Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.

Rachel Farley: Let me ask you this Jeri: since you joined Delivery Hero, you've been able to weave a strong employee experience, engagement, and purpose into the company’s corporate culture. What were the main drivers to achieve this?

Jeri Doris: When I joined Delivery Hero in 2018, Niklas [Östberg], our CEO, had said to me that we really hadn't spent any time on the people strategy. At that time, Delivery Hero was about 5,000 people and had been primarily focused on growth, which is very common for a lot of start-ups. So the very first thing I did was create a vision for the people-ops organization: to create an amazing employee experience. We used that as a barometer of, “Hey, does this get us closer to our vision if we do this process or this program or whatever it may be?” If it didn't, then we just wouldn’t do it. And then the second thing that we did—and we still do this—is co-create. So often, there are a lot of well-intended people-ops organizations out there that will come up with wonderful ideas or programs with the intent of supporting and empowering the business, but they lack to opportunity to co-create with the business. That is, we create something for them, but we don't create something with them. So, with that in mind, we've been really able to focus on engagement and scale our business in a way that is really people centric.

Rachel Farley: How would you describe how your employees see and feel the Delivery Hero day-to-day experience, after all your work?

Jeri Doris: That's a great question. If you were to go back to 2018 and you were asked if you could explain what the Delivery Hero culture was, it was really an amalgamation of a lot of different cultures because we had grown inorganically through a lot of acquisitions. We had a lot of CEO-founders that were still parts of the business, and we still do to this day, but the organization was made up of these different pockets of culture. And there were a lot of similarities between these cultures, but it was different. And so, for me, it was really easy to take a step back and ask, “OK. What actually matters? What is authentic to us?” And so we reset and redid our values; we minimized them down to three so that people could really understand them: we deliver solutions, we always aim higher, and we are heroes because we care. So, to answer your question in terms of like, what does the culture feel like, our people will tell you that we are pragmatic people that are always hungry and that truly care about our entire delivery ecosystem. We care about each other, we care about our environment, we care about our riders, we care about our consumers, and we care about our restaurant partners. And those values are embedded throughout our organization, from our recruiting to our onboarding, to our communications to our performance management process.

Rachel Farley: If you could give a couple of tips to other CHROs and HRDs and heads of talent or any other HR leaders or business leaders listening to this on how a company can most effectively set its cultural transformation goals and ensure that they're aligned with the company’s strategy, what couple of pieces of advice would you give?

Jeri Doris: I love the phrase cultural transformation, or even cultural renovation. Culture is there, whether or not we maintain it, whether or not we cultivate it. Culture is there. And so, I think it’s one of those things that so often we’re like, “Oh, let’s develop our culture.” And I'm like, “It’s there!” So, we're either tweaking or renovating. I heard that recently on another podcast: the renovation of a culture. And I think, again, it goes back to the key ingredients to our success here at Delivery Hero: really embedding a people-centric culture into our organization. And that goes back to making sure your values are present and known. Well-intending organizations out there come up with values and those values go up on the wall and up on their website and then they're forgotten about and leaders don't really maintain them and aren’t deliberate about cultivating and maintaining the culture. My advice is to make sure your values are present and authentic, because sometimes we have values that are so aspirational that nobody can really live up to them or they're really had to evaluate. I wanted to be able to actually utilize our cultural values when we thought about performance. I asked, “How do we evaluate a candidate on whether or not they're a good fit for us or they're a good fit for this team?” You want to be able to tangibly identify how they're either living up to the values or how they're even over-performing the values.

I think that if you're ever creating a strategy in isolation from a people-ops organization, you've missed the boat. You should never do things in isolation—they should always be in conjunction with the business and you should always have a partner that's co-creating with you. Within my peer group of executives, we've created an internal people committee. So, we bring up topics on which we want their input—we need their input in order to be successful. We do it monthly and address whatever is top of mind. One of the key areas for us lately has been on how we scale and how we make sure people are not burnt out. No matter how strategic you are as a CHRO or a chief people officer, you’ll never be successful if you don't have partners within the business.

Rachel Farley: Brilliant. You mentioned scaling. So, in 2020—and perhaps you can give us the figures on how you scaled and when you scaled—Delivery Hero grew exponentially, but you’ve still managed to stay true to your values. How did you do that, if we just angle in on the scaling and the value piece?

Jeri Doris: I always get asked this. How do you scale an organization and make sure that your culture remains intact? I'm probably going to sound a little bit like repetitive on this, but it’s through your values. Part of your process should be evaluating somebody against your values, asking if they can demonstrate that they deliver solutions, if they are innovative or hungry enough that they're not OK with the status quo. We always aim higher. We're always continuously innovating, continuously improving on what we do. And, ultimately, do they care: do they care about each other, do they care about other aspects of the business outside of their day-to-day, because that's really important to us.

Rachel Farley: Just to interrupt here, what numbers did you go from? You mentioned 5,000, but just the scale?

Jeri Doris: Yes, so in 2018, we were 5,000, and by the end of this year we’ll be 30,000.

Rachel Farley: Wow, so that is a big scaling initiative.

Jeri Doris: Absolutely. And then we have a rider population of about one million; it can scale up to a million globally. But for our engineering teams across the globe, we've gone from 5,000 to 30,000 by the end of this year.

Rachel Farley: Amazing. Has the pandemic created any challenges for you in preserving the company culture?

Jeri Doris: I mean, I think most companies have probably had a challenge of not necessarily just maintaining culture but maintaining connection. We are hardwired as humans to connect. I'm going to say things that people already know, but in this virtual environment we become very transactional, right? We miss those opportunities to have hallway conversations or sidebar conversations where we really could get the in-person interactions and connections that are part of the culture. It was really important during the pandemic for us to be transparent in our communication. There's a lot of data out there that will tell you—there's this really famous study that goes out and it says employees actually see employers as a bigger source of truth than the news. So, it’s really key to explain what we know, what we do not know, and how we were feeling—really being transparent throughout the pandemic.

We did a lot of initiatives that were key to us and core and authentic to us: meal donations, medical supply donations; we used our rider network to deliver medical supplies. We did a lot of different things that were focused on creating safety within our delivery ecosystem and used a taskforce internally to make sure we maintained safety for the entire delivery ecosystem. From consumers to riders to restaurant partners, we were one of the first companies to do contactless delivery. I hadn't seen it anywhere else.

We are a very, very global company. We are in more than fifty markets, so we could see the pandemic coming almost like a tidal wave. So we were able to prepare quickly and really move people quickly, and contactless delivery was something that came up very early on. And so, I think demonstrating your values and giving people opportunities that can reinforce your values, will reinforce your culture. And, you know, key to that is also communication. It’s not talked about a lot, but as chief people officers or chief, you know, CHROs, we are also chief communications officers too, right? We are communicating internally, we are communicating externally, and we’re making sure those communications are transparent. And it’s, it’s almost a mirror: what we're doing internally we're also communicating externally. So, really key to us was to communicate often and be transparent about what was happening.

Rachel Farley: Coming to diversity and inclusion. Building a diverse and inclusive culture is at the core of your people strategy. Can you define what D&I means to Delivery Hero? Because it’s unique, as we know, to every organization. And then can you tell us in more detail what you're doing at Delivery Hero to foster diversity, inclusion, and equity?

Jeri Doris: Yes, of course. At Delivery Hero, D&I is our superpower. We have over a hundred nationalities in our Berlin office alone; we are in over 50 markets. We really believe that it is a unique strength for us and that we are better because of it. Prior to 2018, we might have not necessarily been particularly deliberate about it, and I think anybody that looks at our management team will go ahead and call out the elephant in the room: I am the only female on our team. But it was, you know, it’s something that we call out, going back to that transparency and authenticity. We believe that diversity of thought, diversity of background, diversity of whatever it may be—your orientation—is so, so key because that's what our consumers look like. We are going to be more innovative; we are going to be more creative; we are going to just provide better solutions to our consumers and also create a better culture.

Going back to culture, we believe that our culture is better because we are diverse, full stop. And what we are doing many different things. We've set key ambitions for and have really focused on gender diversity because I think it’s very clear that it’s something we need to work on. As mentioned, we have over 107, at the last counting, 107 nationalities in our Berlin office. But women in leadership is something that we really want to solve for. Women in tech is something that we clearly need to solve for. So, we've taken various actions and done various programs and we've set out to really be ambitious when it comes to D&I.

Rachel Farley: You have worked extensively in the United States and now you've been in Europe managing a global business. What are the differences in terms of D&I between your experiences in the United States and Europe? If that’s the right question, Jeri, perhaps you can open it up for us.

Jeri Doris: You know, I think it’s quite interesting. I have been doing different research on this and I would say that although the majority of my career has been spent in global organizations, it wasn't until I spent time based in Europe (I'm based in Berlin) that I was really able to identify some of the key differences or just different challenges. I think in the United States we have a lot—and I can say “we” since I am American—of such significant historical baggage that we need to overcome. And I think the rest of the world has seen that happening and manifesting in a very, very visible way. So in the United States, the D&I conversation has been, for lack of a better word, advanced, because it’s needed to be. I’ve found that the conversation has been more advanced by far in the United States. That’s not to say that it hasn't been starting in Europe, it's just that it’s a different topic. Gender is primarily what you hear about in Europe, and, particularly in Germany, there are different government initiatives and different initiatives through companies that are focused on changing very, very antiquated regulation. So, I’ve found that the topics are different and that there is a much more open space in the United States to discuss it.

I feel that here in Europe we are kind of on the impetus of diversity and inclusion. A lot of companies are doing some cool things, but I think we still have a long way to go because diversity is more than just gender. We both know that. There is a lot of intersectionality that needs to be promoted and be talked about. And as often as we hear about it, you just get this uncomfortableness when discussion the subject, and we need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and create a safe space for those conversations.

Rachel Farley: So, coming to the equally fascinating and important subject of sustainability, what's your role as the CHRO in relation to the sustainability imperative that's happening at the moment? (16:28)

Jeri Doris: Again, I just feel super fortunate to have this part of my role. And for all CHROs out there listening, I think you can make a case of having corporate social responsibility as part of your remit and part of your scope. Because when you can tie how your company shows up in the world and what kind of impact they can have on either the environment or society, to your employee population there is a sense of impact. We've all read the papers; we all understand that ultimately all of us want to make an impact. I think when you can make that impact authentic and connect it to what you do as a business, there's really some great goodness and value that you can drive from employee engagement.

So, back to your question, Rachel, I have corporate social responsibility under my remit and part of that is our sustainable packaging program. We have made a commitment to be carbon neutral by the end of the year. And that’s not a commitment I could make in isolation—it’s a huge commitment from the business.

Ultimately, we want to show up in the world as a company that is doing good, but we also have a sense of obligation to fix certain things. So, sustainable packaging is something that we're really taking on because anybody who’s ordered food knows it comes in a lot of packages, boxes and bags and so on, and we create more than 5 billion items of waste a year because of our orders. So we have an obligation to come up with a way to have sustainable packaging that's not negatively impacting our environment. It is, believe it or not, very complicated to find biodegradable and sustainable packaging that can hold your soup or keep your pizza in a way that doesn't biodegrade on its way to you. But we’re trying to solve that, and we have a team working on it both in Berlin and around the world that we're really excited about.

We see so many companies responding to what investors want and—not that they're not important, in case investors are listening—but I really think the thing that I'm quite proud of at Delivery Hero is, again I keep saying this word “authentic.” What we've done and what we are continuing to do isn't in response to what the investors expect, it’s what we expect of ourselves and is authentic to what we do as a business. We want to make sure that we're leaving, as cheesy at it sounds, the world in a better place, and we have a platform to do that.

Rachel Farley: What's your advice for attracting, retaining and developing talent in Delivery Hero?

Jeri Doris: I mean that's the question, right? First and foremost, whatever my strategy is today will look different in a year, and I think that's probably one of the biggest lessons of 2020: we need to continue to reiterate and innovate. Just as we do it for our consumers, we need to do it for our employees. And it’s really quite important to make sure that we are constantly asking for feedback from our candidates, constantly asking for feedback from our employees and those who are leaving so that we can learn what can we do better. And then the same goes with retention. One of my mantras for 2020 and I will say it’s now also for 2021 is, “Don't make assumptions. Ask.” We make assumptions all the time for our employees, we're like, “Ah, this is what they want for this benefit, this is what they want for this part of a program.” And I just, I'm like, why would we do that? We need to ask for their input and use that as a data point to really inform our strategy. So, I would say, get as much data as you can. Ask your people. Ask your people from a candidate standpoint, as they're employees, and as they are leaving. What could you have changed, what can you change going forward? Sometimes we just miss those opportunities, those inflection points where were either make assumptions or we don't find time to get that data or have those conversations. And so, for us, our strategy is always evolving. The market is absolutely very, very hot right now from a compensation standpoint to flexibility in how you work and where you work. We always want to know what we could do better and we never want to assume that what we're doing now will work in the future.

Rachel Farley: One more question on that topic. The COVID-19 situation has obviously required leaders to adapt how they lead. How do you foresee talent or leadership evolving as we move into a post-pandemic hybrid world?

Jeri Doris: That's such a great question and I think we've already evolved, right? If you had asked me that question pre-pandemic, I was already quite a fan of hybrid work. Hybrid work was quite common in the United States for those who had worked for tech companies. Maybe you worked from home one or two days a week. But it was a really new concept for Europe and Asia. If you ask Niklas, our CEO, I was pushing it before. And I think there's always that concern of control. Especially if you're scaling an organization, how do you know if your employees are going to be productive? How will we know that they're, you know, understanding what we're doing? But I think you have to take a step back as a leader and really empower your people. Trust your people. But also communicate with them and create opportunities in which you're connecting if you're doing this hybrid environment. And then, when you do meet, you meet in a deliberate way. And what I mean by that is having a purpose for when you meet. Gone are the days of like just showing up to the office for face time. And maybe there are some organizations that still value that, but for us your output and then how we measure that is more important.

As a leader, you should really think about how you connect with your people, how you can empower them, and how you make sure you're giving them feedback regularly. So I would say that the issue isn’t that different than before the pandemic; it’s just been magnified. What’s new is really thinking about the connection piece. I'm just so—I'm thankful. I'm a natural optimist and I always look for silver linings, and I think the pandemic has accelerated expectations and it’s accelerated the opportunity to really have that connection on a personal level. So, you don't have those two personas, your work persona and your at-home persona. You are one person. How exhausting is it to have those two personas? A leader needs to make space for that and say, “Hey, you know what? You have room to be who you are.” I'm really thankful that those conversations are already happening and I think in this new post-pandemic or current-pandemic environment, leaders are giving people space to be who they are and giving them an opportunity to have those really true conversations like, “I'm not having a good day today, it's really stressful, and my kids at home, I'm trying to maintain everything.” Leaders can give space for that, that human side of it.

Rachel Farley: Very good. There's hope, isn't there? What does the future of the CPO role look like, and that obviously connected to the people function leveraging the future?

Jeri Doris: The pandemic has really given me and many of my fellow colleges in this role a spotlight. I think a lot of companies have woken up, saying, “Oh, I get it. I need to make sure that I'm really focused on my people strategy. This is how we win; this is how we survive; this is how we succeed.” I think we are business leaders first, but we are also business people leaders.

Rachel Farley: One last question. What's the most important way your organization is building on the lessons of 2020?

Jeri Doris: One of my main lessons from 2020 was to not make assumptions and instead ask. And be very specific in what you're asking, but also understand the why. Make sure your employees understand the why of what you're asking how their voices matter. And then, the other lesson is to make sure to make time for non-transactional interactions, because connection is absolutely important; it’s is key to your culture, it’s key to engagement, it’s key to just making sure you retain and engage your people. We are more fulfilled when we are connected.

Anyone that really focuses on the science of engagement will tell you that peer-to-peer relationships is one of the key drivers of engagement, and connection is quite key for those relationships. And employees want to feel and need to feel that somebody in the organization cares about them, and we need to do that in a non-transactional way. And that is one of the other things I think was magnified in 2020, that we need to show to our employees that we care. And that needs to manifest in various ways, but caring is key, and caring is key for engagement.

Rachel Farley: Brilliant, thank you. And on that note, it’s been an absolute pleasure today, Jeri, Good luck with everything you do and yes, enjoy the rest of your day!

Jeri Doris: Thank you so much.

Thanks for listening to the Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast. To make sure you don’t miss more future-shaping ideas and conversations, please subscribe to our channel on the podcast app. And if you’re listening via LinkedIn, Twitter, or YouTube, why not share this with your connections? Until next time.

About the interviewer

Rachel Farley ( is a principal in Heidrick & Struggles’ London office and a member of the Human Resources Officers Practice.

Stay connected

Stay connected to our expert insights, thought leadership, and event information.

Leadership Podcast

Explore the latest episodes of The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast