How Hubspot attracts the right talent and the unconventional strategy behind it
Hubspot is treating its culture as a product — a strategy that not only shapes its identity, but also attracts the right people and the right time.
Feature with HYER NEWSROOM
As HubSpot's growth trajectory surged a few years ago, the leadership at the marketing software company prioritised securing the essence of its corporate culture. This was no ordinary task, but rather a strategic decision taken to conceive and shape the culture as if it were a tangible product.
"Considering our culture akin to a product was a pivotal realisation," elucidates Katie Burke, HubSpot's Chief People Officer. "Imagine treating it like a product under development. What are the primary elements? Which customer feedback matters? How do we ensure it has a distinct perspective?"
The eventual outcome was an exhaustive 128-page document - the Culture Code deck - that encapsulates HubSpot's ethos. Garnering public attention, the slide deck has amassed over 3.9 million views. More significantly, it stands as a measure to maintain the corporate heartbeat, quite literally, as we shall soon explore.
Translating your current culture into words is just the tip of the iceberg. The Culture Code of HubSpot candidly expresses its dual nature, encapsulating the company's existing state and its future aspirations.
However, striving to make dreams a reality while keeping expectations realistic is a delicate balance to maintain.
"Very few companies manage to sync their cultural rhetoric with the real world, which remains an everyday challenge for us," admits Katie.
To prevent the code from becoming an ornamental piece, HubSpot outlined seven fundamental tenets that the company strives to follow, which include a dedication to autonomy and a penchant for questioning the norm.
Transparency is a central value that motivated HubSpot to release the Culture Code to the public. Nevertheless, achieving transparency is not without hurdles. "I was taken aback by the number of individuals who were against publicising it," recalls Katie. "They equated it to a cherished family recipe at risk of imitation by rivals."
To foster trust, HubSpot enlightened its employees that their actions, rather than mere words, are what truly define their culture. As part of this, sharing the Culture Code was considered essential. "Treat your culture like a dynamic product," advises Katie. "Every leader at HubSpot carries the mandate to consider their team's culture and their contributions to the broader culture as a product."
HubSpot, akin to launching any new product, sought feedback from its users (leaders and employees) prior to releasing the code. However, the firm steered clear of over-analysing and losing the essence of its culture. "I appreciate employee participation in perfecting the culture code," says Katie. "It was vital for our success. However, not every aspect of it was agreed upon by every employee at the time of its launch, and disagreements still exist."
Striking the right equilibrium between hearing employees' voices and not aiming to appease all is one of the most challenging aspects of developing and refining a culture code. The odds are high that a universally accepted code may turn out to be unremarkable.
"I've yet to meet a CEO who claims to seek ordinary people with typical interests and average passion," notes Katie. "A properly executed culture code repels as effectively as it attracts. As a consequence, it's essential to have a clear stance."
Taking this consideration into account, HubSpot's Code precisely delineates the five cornerstone values it seeks in its workforce, and provides illustrative examples of these values in action. They are on the lookout for individuals who are Humble, Empathetic, Adaptable, Remarkable, and Transparent – an acronym that simplifies to HEART.
Not everyone will resonate with these values, and that's perfectly acceptable. HubSpot isn't aiming to recruit everyone. Codifying your culture in a manner that truly mirrors who you are is what will draw the kind of talent you wish to employ.
Your culture is not static, but rather dynamic. Seek individuals who will not only blend into your culture, but also enrich it.
HubSpot does not shy away from making necessary amendments to its Culture Code as the company matures. While most adjustments are trivial, some entail changes at the core, such as switching the 'E' in HEART from 'Effective' to 'Empathetic'.
"We avoid frequent changes to the code to prevent confusion among our employees. However, we are also comfortable with the understanding that the code is not carved in stone," states Katie. HubSpot avoids the common pitfall of a strong culture, which is using it as an excuse not to hire diverse talent. "One of your ethical duties as a leader is ensuring a strong culture doesn't equate to homogeneity in hiring," Katie warns. HubSpot's Culture Code explicitly differentiates between culture fit and culture add, stating, "Our best people don’t just fit our culture, they further it."
Acknowledging the initial stages of implementing the culture-add component as aspirational, Katie concedes, "We weren’t quite there yet on enforcing it." HubSpot provided interviewers training to ask questions tied to the company's core values and what evidence to seek. If a candidate had a propensity to boast, they could potentially conflict with HubSpot's core value of humility, which would be a valid reason for rejection.
"As a recruiter, how do you challenge a vague objection like 'I just didn’t feel the candidate would fit in'? You need to insist on a specific example," Katie emphasises.
Whether or not your Culture Code is public, rest assured, people can discern whether your actions align with it.
In the age of online reviews guiding consumer behavior, job seekers too use social media to understand your corporate culture and if it lives up to its claims.
"Should someone tweet 'Can anyone tell me what HubSpot is like? Do they uphold their Culture Code?', they don’t need my approval," points out Katie. "They are likely to get a response on any platform." HubSpot reiterates its commitment to its values by linking promotion decisions to the Culture Code and offering peer bonuses quarterly. Employees are invited to nominate team members who epitomized a core value. "In addition to receiving a note and a surprise, you get feedback on how you lived HubSpot’s values on a daily basis. This encourages all employees to not just observe the behavior but also actively reward and recognize it," Katie explains.
Drafting your culture is crucial, but it cannot be a one-time event. Ongoing iteration and action are necessary to ensure the Culture Code transcends from just being words on paper. "Crafting the Culture Code was an uphill battle," acknowledges Katie, "but the daily endeavor to live it is the most challenging task that we undertake as a team and as a company. The Code simplifies our task of treating culture as a daily business priority, fortifying our competitive edge at HubSpot."