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Scaling company culture in a worker-defined workplace

Brian Halligan,              SF ’06

The organizational culture at HubSpot that everyone is talking about, wasn’t supposed to be talked about at all, according to the company’s CEO and cofounder Brian Halligan, SF ’06. His initial approach to company culture was inspired by the Fight Club credo—the first rule about culture is that you don’t talk about culture. Halligan decided to break that rule, however, after a chat with Colin Angle ’89, SM ’91, chairman, CEO, and founder of iRobot. “Colin convinced me that to scale our hiring, we had to figure out culture,” he says.

HubSpot’s pivot paid off. Its culture flourished through the challenges of its 2014 IPO and an explosive workforce expansion (roughly tenfold in five years). Today, the company is setting the standard for a worker-defined workplace. It was just rated the #1 Best Place to Work in 2020 by Glassdoor’s Employees’ Choice Award, and the review platform Comparably placed HubSpot on several of its 2019 “best” lists— including Best Companies for Women, Best Companies for Diversity, Best Company Culture (#5), and Best CEO (#2).

Documenting conversations about culture
How did HubSpot do it? After the conversation with Angle, inspired Halligan to reenvisioned HubSpot’s culture through an inbound marketing lens. “A great product acts like a magnet that attracts customers,” he says. “In a similar fashion, a vibrant and healthy culture is a magnet that helps attract and retain employees who, in turn, recommend us to their network of talented professionals. It encourages a virtuous cycle.”

Halligan’s rethink—and the company initiatives it inspired—led to publication of The Culture Code, HubSpot’s culture document that has attracted more than three million views on SlideShare. “Discussing and documenting our culture made it actionable,” notes Halligan.

Those early conversations and surveys also revealed a surprising sore spot among employees with one to two years of tenure. “We learned that our ‘mid-life’ staff members had serious concerns about career advancement within HubSpot,” Halligan says. “We immediately ramped up our efforts to communicate existing opportunities for career development, and we tailored new opportunities for this segment of our workforce. We made sure we expanded their opportunities for learning and advancement before they began to think of expanding them somewhere else.”

Driving culture
That is not to say that creating culture was a one-shot deal at HubSpot. To ensure the continued evolution and growth of the company’s culture, executives created the position of Chief People Officer in 2015. Katie Burke, MBA ’09, took on the role in 2017 and now oversees the global People Operations organization including the company’s recruiting, HR, learning and development, culture, and employer brand teams. Burke’s tenure is also notable for an emphasis on diversity and inclusion programming and a 20% increase in women in leadership. Fortune.com recently placed HubSpot on its “100 Best Workplaces for Women” list.

Burke believes the future workplace will become increasingly human-centric. “We see more and more top candidates in the job market demand more human-centric environments,” she says. “They’re asking questions about how we prioritize mental health, for example, and how we implement gender pay equity. They also want to understand how community impact factors into our mission.”

Transparency will continue to drive company cultures forward, Burke says. “Sites such as Glassdoor and Comparably are changing the game. Employees and candidates don’t just request transparency, they demand it. That’s pushing organizations beyond superficial notions of diversity toward making true inclusion and belonging a business priority. And when people of all backgrounds feel that they can grow personally and professionally in your company, everybody wins.”

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