The talent management philosophy at is key. Here’s why

At its core, Booking Holdings—the leading provider of online travel services, employing more than 20,000 people around the world and known for brands like, OpenTable and Priceline—was founded as a tech company. And while the organization is “experimenting” with emerging tech like AI, a strong talent management philosophy is just as important to success in the future of work, says Paulo Pisano, executive vice president and CHRO of Booking Holdings and chief people officer of

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Pisano—who has been with since 2020 and took on the CHRO role at Booking Holdings the following year—recently shared with HRE how he envisions tech and talent working together to drive success at the intersection of the technology and travel industries.

HRE: How are you leveraging emerging technology like AI as part of your people strategy?

Paulo Pisano, Booking Holdings
Paulo Pisano, Booking Holdings

Pisano: AI is not new to us. We were born as a technology organization. So, we were born leveraging technology to produce something valuable to our customers. And I think that that has become embedded in everything we do.

If I think high level, we’ve been leveraging AI and large language models and all those things as an opportunity for people to connect with these new technologies, explore and find things that we may not have thought about. It’s not prescriptive, but it’s “Let’s get people to engage with and experiment with these new technologies and find where the opportunities for improvement are.”

We’re running a number of experiments around the organization. HR is leading on engaging the business to find productivity improvements, leveraging new technologies and AI, for example. Within HR, we are using it like we’d use any other technology: to do things better, faster, cheaper, in a more integrated way. And we are leveraging the work that some of our external technology partners are doing; we work with ServiceNow or Workday and they, in turn, are embedding AI in what they do—so, we’re taking advantage of that as part of what we do in in HR.

HRE: Are you seeking out candidates with AI skills?

Pisano: I think AI skill sets will be important for some roles around the organization, but I do not think they are yet going to be essential. I look for, in general, less depth on the AI skill sets than I look for strong awareness of AI. Imagine I’m hiring someone in finance or HR or somewhere else. If people can show they have been playing with the technology, been engaging with it, been experimenting, that they’re curious—that makes a big difference. If you haven’t been curious enough to look at these new things and say, “How is this going to change or disrupt what I do?” Well then, skills are not going to be enough. That’s how we’re looking at it.

HRE: How has the organization been most innovative when it comes to recruiting and talent management?

Pisano: We are at a unique crossroads: between travel and technology. They’re great sectors. First and foremost, we’ve been leveraging the fact that we are in those spaces. There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in technology, but if you look at travel, everyone can relate with travel—and anyone who has traveled enough knows that, although it is an amazing thing to do, it can be hard. We think there’s a lot of improvement that can happen in the travel space, and we leverage the attractiveness of the space we’re in to connect with talent outside the organization.

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We have become increasingly sophisticated in how we find talent. We’ve moved from a few years ago, being more on the reactive side—where we post the jobs and let hundreds or thousands of applicants come toward us—to becoming much more sophisticated, much more intentional in how we get to talent. We are clearer on what talent we’re looking for, what are the jobs to be done. And then we’re clearer on where we go to find that talent. We’re much more in the driver’s seat when it comes to reaching talent.

We pay a lot of attention to the candidate experience—and then [continue that through] the experience they get as they join the organization: preboarding, onboarding, developing managers to receive individuals, inclusion and belonging, how we’re connecting people with the organization. There’s a lot of work that happens in that continuum that we’ve developed more attention to, invested more in and got some great, great improvements.

See also: Why employee experience is resurging in the era of AI

HRE: And once candidates are in their roles, how are you evolving the performance management space?

Pisano: We look at that space as an integrated, broad space—a continuum, where everything is connected to everything. We are always looking for ways to improve. What we’ve done in the last few years that has been very helpful for us was to develop a talent management philosophy.

We engage with leaders in the business in a conversation around how do we think about talent? And how can we think about talent and the decisions we make with very clear criteria—like we do if we’re deciding we’re going to make an acquisition or open in a new market. I found that organizations don’t often put enough focus on that—developing a clear talent philosophy, having the engagement of leaders and then making sure that the whole HR team is informed, aware, educated and stands behind it. That made a big difference, because then that philosophy started permeating all of our talent management processes and made it easier for us to make decisions.

On the basis of that, we simplified, removed or integrated a lot of our processes. We saved thousands of hours from managers and employees on activities that were related to talent management and performance management that we didn’t feel were adding a lot of value. We reinvested some of that into activities that we believe provide more value. And we’ve integrated a lot of analytics in what we do in the talent management space—[for instance], how do you cross-reference information on internal mobility, on promotions, on performance management, on engagement? And how do you make sense of that, and draw insights that help you develop and move your talent more effectively? We’ve done quite a bit of work on that. And we are making good progress.

HRE: Through this work, how has your team become a more strategic business partner?

Pisano: The first thing is by engaging much more closely in dialogue with the business. I think it’s not uncommon for HR teams to develop a lot of their work based on so-called best practices and benchmarks—rather than by looking deeply at the reality of their business. What are the levers that are most important for us to pull, to help improve that business?

In the work we did, for example, with the talent philosophy—it forced us to engage in a dialogue with the business and to understand what was most important for our colleagues around the business. And that enabled us to align the whole HR strategy to the strategy of the business. That helped us make the HR function a better kind of strategic partner.

Learn how global organizations are using tech to strengthen their talent management strategies at HRE’s upcoming HR Tech Conference Europe, May 2-3 in Amsterdam. Click here to register.

HRE: As you lean into strategy, what skill sets have helped you?

Pisano: I think the obvious one for me is curiosity and learning. It’s more of a mindset than a skill set, to be sincere with you. But it’s this notion that the more experience I have and the more I learn, the more aware I am of the stuff I don’t know. There is a lot more I don’t know than I know.

And I think that’s important and sometimes is lost as you progress in your career in the organization. I think we deal more and more with complex or adaptive problems. When you are further up in the organization, there are problems that don’t have a right or left answer but there’s a myriad of possibilities. And for that, I think we need to exercise systemic thinking. We have to exercise strong collaboration. Because rarely one person has the answer. You have to pull from lots of different places. If you don’t build those trusting relationships, if you don’t build a good will and that open communication, it’s hard for you to be effective on your own.

HRE: Given your industry, what’s your favorite place to travel?

Pisano: That’s such a hard question. I love to travel. I’ve been very lucky to end up with a company that focuses on it because I’ve been traveling my whole life. As I grew up, I lived in a few countries. One I like coming back to with frequency is Portugal—Lisbon specifically—because I got the opportunity to live there for a few years. I felt very much at home there. I made great friends. It’s wonderful weather and a beautiful place.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].