How HubSpot’s Culture Code treats culture as a product

Several years ago, as HubSpot began to scale its business, the marketing software company realized that it was time to start talking about culture.

For years, HubSpot leaders have avoided that conversation; they believe that talking about your company’s D.N.A. might taint it. Or worse, ruin it.

Until they realized that times had changed.

As Co-Founder Dharmesh Shah wrote here, “Today, everybody talks about culture. In fact, the first rule of Culture Club is that you do talk about culture.”

That’s why HubSpot decided to approach culture as a product.

“We thought about our culture truly as a product,” explains Katie Burke, chief people officer at HubSpot. “How would I develop this if it were a product? What would be most important? What kind of customer feedback would we care about? How would we make sure it had a point of view?”

The result was its now-famous Culture Code deck. Since being published, the original SlideShare version has been viewed over 5 million times.

The word ‘code’ doesn’t mean a handbook or a ‘code of conduct.’ It stands for actual code, similar to the one programmers write to build software. Only that, instead of developing a code for users, HubSpot’s Culture Code was created for the people that work in the company.

HubSpot’s leaders realized that building culture is a never-ending task that requires to iterate over time — the Culture Code has gone through dozens of iterations.

This post describes the key elements of HubSpot’s workplace culture, applying the Culture Design Canvas.

Note: The sources are listed at the end of the article.

HubSpot’s Culture Design Canvas: The Core

Codifying your company culture is more than putting its D.N.A. in words. Mapping your current state is the starting point for understanding, nurturing, and upgrading your company culture.

HubSpot’s Culture Code captures not just where the company is, but also the desired state. The document clearly calls out when something is aspirational. This critical as many companies fail to discriminate their idealized culture from the real one, as I wrote here.

Purpose

“We are working to help the world go inbound.”

HubSpot helps small and mid-size business take a more empathetic, human-friendly approach to marketing and sales

(Seven principles)

HubSpot’s commitment to its mission helps the company earn the love of many. Its dedication to metrics helps HubSpot earn the resources to further its mission. The company is passionate about both.

Core Values

HubSpot uses the HEART acronym to capture its five core values; these are the attributes that they value in people.

Humble: self-aware and respectful.

Empathetic: it’s more than understanding someone else’s perspective; empathy requires to act with compassion and respect for customers, partners, and colleagues.

Note: the “E” used to stand for Effective, and it was changed to Empathetic to capture the essence of being inboundy.

Adaptable: Innately curious and constantly changing. Life-long learner.

Remark-able (worthy of being remarked upon): stands out by being helpful, resourceful, and effective.

Transparent: open and honest with others and themselves.

HubSpot bets on these five values. The company recruits, rewards, and release people based on those values.

Priorities

Team even over Self

Favor your team’s interest over your own.

Company even over Team

Favor the company’s interest over your team.

Customers even over Company

Favor the customer’s interest over the company.

Behaviors

Most companies have core values, but few bring them to life. Culture is the behavior that’s both rewarded and punished.

As Katie Burke said, “Creating the Culture Code was incredibly hard. But living it every day is the hardest work that we do collectively as a leadership team and as a company.”

Behaviors HubSpot Rewards

Results: results matter more than the hours people work or where they work from.

Culture add: HubSpot’s Culture Code explicitly calls out the difference between a culture fit and a culture add by saying: “Our best people don’t just fit our culture, they further it.”

Taking risks and experimenting: remarkable outcomes rarely result from modest risk

Simplicity: HubSpot wants things to be easy to buy, easy to use, and easy to love.

Work and life fit. It’s impossible to be happy in life if you hate your job. Rather than seeking balance, work should be meaningful and enjoyable.

Behaviors that HubSpot Punishes

People who are not HEART (*)

Taking shortcuts to achieve short-term results at the expense of long-term values.

HubSpot’s Workplace Emotional Culture

Psychological Safety

HubSpot shares (almost) everything: The company has the most active WIKI on the planet (unverified claim).

Default to open: Everyone has open access to anyone in the company. It’s a no door policy, not an open door one.

Power is gained by sharing knowledge, not hoarding it.

Information is protected only when it’s legally required or is not completely theirs to share.

People are officially designated insiders to avoid limitation from being a public traded company.

Mistake tolerance: Hubspot doesn’t mind that people make mistakes, but if they repeat them: The company believes that people should frequently fail than never trying new things. Mistakes carry lessons; people are encouraged to grow from them.

No silent disagreement: If you disagree with someone or with a decision, you have the responsibility to speak up. We trust that candor will not be used against us.

Diverse thinking: the company believes that to think different, people cannot all be the same. Though HubSpot acknowledges that they still need to work on being more diverse.

HubSpot provides people with the freedom to work, when, and how they want.

Feedback

HubSpot has replaced annual performance reviews for more frequent feedback.

Employees have the right to clear, candid, and constructive feedback. They can ask for this anytime.

Rituals

“Seat Shuffle”

“Proximity builds relationships,” HubSpot Chief Marketing Officer Mike Volpe tells Business Insider. “When you think back to who you sat near, they might not have been your best friends in the office, but you certainly had different relationships with them than the average person throughout the entire office.”

Since its founding, the company has been switching around its seating chart regularly. The rearrangements allow people across departments to get to know each other, fostering relationships and communication that increase customer service and employee retention.

J.E.D.I. Award

Those who quietly and selflessly do the right thing and help HubSpot move forward receive the J.E.D.I. award. (JEDI stands for Just Effing Does It).

HubSpot’s global Culture Team enhances the employee experience through location or market-specific programming, including celebrating local holidays, creating employee resource groups, and hosting events bringing awareness to local culture.

HubSpot’s Culture Design Canvas: The Rational Side

Rules & Norms

WE DON’T PENALIZE THE MANY FOR THE MISTAKES OF THE FEW. We only protect against really big stuff

Instead, HubSpot has a 3-word policy on almost everything:

USE GOOD JUDGMENT.

Unlimited vacation policy: At HubSpot, people can take as many days as needed.

Everybody does real work and gets their hands dirty.

Unlimited Free Meals program: Take someone smart out for a meal. Learn something and expense it. No approval needed.

No Asses: HubSpot tries hard not to hire them though they acknowledge that some sneak in sometimes.

Don’t just hire to elevate; hire to delegate: New employees are not supposed just to take care of work but also to raise HubSpot’s average. New hires should help upgrade the company’s skills/

Meetings

Stop generating useless reports.

Cancel unproductive meetings.

Prune extraneous process

HubTalks: Private talks given at HubSpot by industry and business leaders to inspire people and elevate skills and leadership.

Decision-Making

Team leaders provide direction on where the company is going, not how to get there.

Managers exist to help individual stars make magic. Influence is independent from hierarchy.

J.F.D.I.: autonomy, don’t overthink things — Just F’ing Do It

Decisions are not data-driven but data-powered.

Debates are won with data, not pulling rank.

Someone has to decide. An imperfect decision is better than no decision. A controversial decision is better than no decision.

Transparency doesn’t mean democracy: openness doesn’t mean that decisions are made by consensus. Each person has a voice, not always a vote.

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The Culture Design Canvas

The Culture Design Masterclass

Culture Design Canvas: Examples of Thriving Companies

Key Sources used for HubSpot’s Culture Design Canvas

Why HubSpot Changes Where People Sit Every 6 Months

How to Build a Company Culture That Will Last

The HubSpot Culture Code

The HubSpot Culture: Creating a Company We Love

How We Fixed a Critical Bug In Our Culture Code

Why HubSpot Treats Its Culture As A Product