(or What We Want To Be When We Grow Up)
I recently read HubSpot’s culture code, and it’s left me with a deep feeling of culture code envy. In their 155-slide deck, they talk about the numerous things they do that make them an amazing place to work. Even the values they share – humble, effective, adaptable, remarkable, and transparent – spell out the word HEART. Wow. It made me feel so warm inside I nearly called up my wife to tell her how much I love her.
It’s not that we’re that far from all of the things they talk about – we’re actually quite similar to Hubspot and would love to take their deck, change the logo, and call it ours. But to get to where we are has been a lot of work. In just a little over a year, we’ve already got a good list of what works, what doesn’t, and what we never should have tried.
And that’s why I give the folks at Hubspot, Netflix and others a lot of credit. It’s not easy to create an enviable culture from scratch, and even harder to maintain it as the team grows and the company goes through ups and downs (especially the downs).
Like many startups, we want to establish an environment that is uniquely ours and designed to endure. Ideally, it’s something that not only everyone wants to be a part of, but can also serve as an alternative model of how things can be done. So as much as we can, we take time out to talk about this – the way we currently work, the way we want to work, and what we can to do to get there – and then we experiment.
The challenge is, it’s a lot to think about, especially when you have to finish a usability review, put together a launch plan, relook at AWS costs, validate 18 bug fixes, and figure out where the 2 interns are going to sit. Every time we start to write our own culture code – this one overarching document that tells the world how we work and what’s important to us – work gets in the way or we’ve already adapted our thinking.
So while we continue to write and rewrite the culture deck that we too would like to put out some day (and hopefully others will drool over), we try to live by a couple simple principles based on the kind of environment we’d like to be a part of:
Trusting – share all news, good and bad, respectfully and without consequence
Challenging – constantly push each other to improve
Supportive – help each other when we’re down, celebrate each other when we’re up
Fun – with and without alcohol
(Unfortunately, they don’t come together to form any uplifting acronym, though if we changed Challenging to Uphill, it could be STFU.)
Beyond this, for the moment, we leave it to good judgment. We’re still not fully where we want to be, but I think it’s okay and we need to be patient. The reality is that we’re still early in this journey, and companies, just like people, need time to grow. Most of our team hasn’t been together that long, and it takes time to get to know each other, especially when you grow quickly. Ultimately, a team’s culture is a manifestation of the numerous interactions that go on between individuals. If there’s not trust, friendship, and support between individuals, it won’t be reflected in the culture, and these develop over time through shared experiences. In the meanwhile, we provide guardrails and give it time to mature.
On the way, we’ll share our ups and downs – with an emphasis on the downs. There are enough examples of what a great culture should look like – what we don’t see as often is the pain that teams go through to get there. Hopefully, that’ll help alleviate someone else’s culture code envy.