Beyond being one of Boston’s most successful startups, HubSpot is known for its efforts at creating a modern workplace culture, to the point where it’s the subject of an MIT student’s PHD dissertation.
Inspired by the famous Netflix presentation on its management philosophy that Sheryl Sandberg said “may well be the most important document to ever come out of the Valley,” the company has created its own “culture code” that it’s sharing publicly as it continues to grow.
Now, Patty McCord, one of the principle figures behind the Netflix deck and the company’s former Chief Talent Officer is joining the advisory board of the company she helped inspire, joining people like DropBox CEO Drew Houston and Lean Startup guru Eric Ries.
It all started with an “email pen pal” relationship, McCord says. After she left Netflix, Dharmesh Shah, HubSpot’s CTO and the lead author of the culture deck, got in touch and asked if she could talk a bit about what he was working on. After emailing back and fourth for a while, they realised the relationship was going somewhere.
“I ended up going out to visit HubSpot and falling in love with those guys — what they’re doing — and got really excited about their culture deck,” McCord told Business Insider. “When it finally came out I sent it to Reed (Hastings) and he said ‘wow, this is great.’ That’s how it all began.”
McCord is frequently contacted by a new generation of culture-focused CEOs and venture capitalists who have read the deck. HubSpot stood out to her because the company has gotten a head start on things that take companies years to figure out, like how to hire great talent and the importance of remaining transparent.
“Where they’ve really leapfrogged is that they started at the beginning really thinking, kind of riffing off of what we invented at Netflix,” McCord said.
At Netflix, McCord and others spent 14 years figuring things out.
At HubSpot, she hopes her experience in building and evolving a modern culture will help the company continue to grow. She may also have to occasionally rein in an overenthusiastic co-founder.
“Dharmesh was so excited when he read Sheryl Sandberg’s book. He said ‘I’m so excited I’m thinking about starting a woman’s group at HubSpot, do you think that’s crazy?'” McCord says, “I wrote him an email back, ‘well yeah, Dharmesh, you’re not a woman.’ I think my quote was something like ‘duh, geek, no. But the idea was a great one, and you’re openness to it is fabulous. If women in the company want to get together to talk about their stuff, then all you need to do is give them permission.'”
Shah ended up taking her advice, and a group formed on its own with autonomy, support, and a budget from Dharmesh rather than under his leadership.
The key lesson is that a great culture doesn’t come on its own. Too many leaders just hope with a great product or attitude that everything will work out, but it doesn’t happen organically, she argues. Not only do you have to think hard about culture, you have to reevaluate it constantly and think about whether everything about your company makes sense or can be improved.
“Even though I’m not [at Netflix], it’s not over. I’m absolutely sure they’re still working on it and still will be as long as Netflix is alive,” McCord says.
Of course, having a great culture on paper isn’t all that hard. The real challenge is getting people to live it. McCord offered a few core tips for making that happen.
First, start small. You don’t need a hundred pages worth of intensely thought-out PowerPoint right away.
“If the issue is people don’t take enough vacation, then rather than writing a policy and posting vacation policy 1.0 when you have 35 people it might be getting everybody in the room and going, ‘you guys can use a break,'” McCord advises. “Sometimes it’s that simple.”
Second, and most importantly, the leaders of the company have to be invested.
“The way that you do that is you have leaders in the company who believe in it and you have constant repeatable discussions about ‘how are we walking the talk’, and ‘how would we know?'” McCord says. “That’s the most consistent advice I give to people.”
When leaders don’t live the policies, no one else will either.
“If you say, hey look we don’t have a vacation policy, and everyone’s free to come and go when they want and you have leaders in the company that are there 24/7 writing their own code, the example doesn’t fit what people actually do,” McCord says. “You have to constantly look in the mirror and you have to constantly look at your leadership team, [asking] are we really doing these things?”
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