Marketing and sales software giant HubSpot has appeared several times on various “great place to work” lists and received accolades for its transparent, friendly corporate culture. How does the Boston-based company do it?
HubSpot’s strong culture isn’t the result of top-down management, says Director of Talent and Culture Katie Burke. “The vast majority of ideas have nothing to do with me — they come from other employees.” That approach stems from the company’s Culture Code, a list of values public to all, which is the company’s attempt to quantify the culture that regularly puts it on lists of great places to work.
I caught up with Katie recently to talk about HubSpot’s approach to transparency, employee involvement and monitoring engagement, and what other companies can learn from it.
Transparency is Key
For many years, people at HubSpot had been talking about what makes it a great place to work, Burke says. “Because we’re engineers, we wanted to quantify it. We asked employees about what they liked best about working here, and the unhelpful answer was ‘other employees.’”
While that answer provides context, it’s hard to replicate and share. So the company, led by founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah, identified aspects of its culture that it could replicate, and began using them as a framework to find people who would be a good fit. “We believe recruiting is to culture what marketing is to product,” Burke says — that culture drives the approach to finding top talent.
The Culture Code is a work in progress that started out as an internal document several years ago and went through several updates and revisions until HubSpot leaders realized transparency was one of its values and decided to take it public in March 2013. “We believe that by marketing remarkable content, you can change the world,” and that applies to the Code, Burke says. “We want to share our Culture Code with as many people as possible. And for our employment brand to be engaging and relevant, aspiring employees need to know what it is.”
Identify Small-Scale Engaging Activities and Expand Them to All
Burke says employees tend to drive a lot of the activities and events that make HubSpot a great place to work. It’s then her job to see if these organic actions can or should be ramped up into a program or regular event.
For example, one employee started noticing that people tended to be sort of down on Wednesdays — not just at HubSpot, but everywhere. He decided he wanted to start Wednesdays off differently. He set up a waffle iron in his area of the office where employees could come in to enjoy a conversation and a baked good.
“He was in the corner of the office, and of course the smell and excitement were infectious,” Burke says. This year, the company has made it a more global tradition — every six to eight weeks it has an office-wide waffle day, and sometimes partners are invited in as well. “It’s a great example of something that didn’t come from the culture department — it was an employee initiative. All we did was invest in it was to make it program-scale.”
Measure Engagement So You Can Manage It
Burke says that for years, the company has been surveying employees quarterly to measure their engagement levels. Consistent measurement is an important part of managing engagement, but as companies focus on growth, tracking and analyzing surveys may fall by the wayside. Regular measurement helps the company keep track of how employees are feeling about working there. “And it’s not enough for them to say ‘yep, I’m happy,’” Burke says. “We want them to get to the point where they brag at a cocktail party about why it’s great to work there.”
Managers play an “incredibly important” role at Hubspot, Burke says. “The role of managers is to help employees grow on a day to day basis.” The company focuses on hiring managers who are willing to hire people who are smarter and more creative than they are, she says. “The best managers are those who hire incredibly well. It’s about being supportive enough to maximize value for those on the teams.”
Localize a Standard Approach
Because HubSpot has four locations around the world, the company works hard to find a balance between a consistent experience at all locations and respecting local inspiration, Burke says. For example, the company likes to host mystery dinners, setting up a dinner date with people from different departments who find out the details only shortly before the event.
“It works in Cambridge (Massachusetts) and Dublin, where the offices are big enough that some people don’t know each other, but the other offices aren’t big enough to make the mystery work,” Burke says. For those offices, the company hosts drinks after work and serves a mystery cocktail. Over time, another local tradition may take a different shape.
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