- Transparency is the cornerstone of HubSpot’s culture. “We fundamentally believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant,” says Chief People Officer Katie Burke.
- 95 percent of HubSpot employees log into Confluence on a regular basis, and 40 percent are contributing content regularly.
- Core priorities and top-level strategies are open for all employees to discover, read, and comment on.
- “As we post all these things for people to see, they actually start to think like an owner of the business,” says Burke. “You create more ownership of your own decisions and of the future of the company. Transparency makes your employees better entrepreneurs, which we think is a huge win.”
Transparency within an organization is an essential ingredient for the kind of strategic innovation that will make a lasting impact. The easier it is for employees to learn what the company’s top priorities are – and, just as importantly, what the company is choosing not to focus on – the better they can connect those priorities to their own roles and imagine new ways to contribute.
Transparency also breeds trust, which, in turn, breeds both engagement and personal connections. Taken together, these ripple effects encourage not just creative thinking, but the confidence to share those ideas and work with teammates to bring them to life.
CRM maker HubSpot embraces transparency as a tool to help them scale effectively and to create an environment where employees feel empowered to contribute beyond what’s defined in their job description. That’s pretty special, but it doesn’t have to be as rare as it is today.
Transparent whenever it’s practical (and sometimes when it’s not)
Katie Burke, HubSpot’s Chief People Officer, has observed that more and more companies are playing it safe in the culture space. “They try not to offend anyone,” she says. “They don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.” While that seems sensible on the surface, the downside is a culture where employees feel they have to play it safe, too. Not exactly a recipe for inspiring bold ideas.
According to Burke, transparency is the cornerstone of HubSpot’s culture – and that’s by design. “We fundamentally believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant,” she says. Transparency, she notes, is easiest when things are going along just fine. But it’s most important when times are hard.
“The reason for that is very simple,” Burke explains. “Employees don’t expect perfection. They expect humility. They expect trust, and they expect transparency.” Like Atlassian, HubSpot has set up Confluence to be their go-to platform for open communication. When things go wrong, the leadership team makes sure the company hears directly from them through internal blogs, where employees can then share their thoughts in the comments. “We see their feedback in real time,” she notes.
Staying aligned at scale
In most companies, you have to work directly with the executive team to know what their priorities are, or wait for an all-hands meeting to roll around in order to learn about top-level strategy and direction. At HubSpot, that information is available to every person in the organization from their very first day. Instead of putting strategies and plans in Word docs tucked away on a private network drive, HubSpot puts it on Confluence pages that are open for anyone to discover, read, and comment on. Rarely do they make pages private.
“The impact of doing this is that, from their first day, everyone knows what our strategy is,” Burke says. They also see what isn’t a priority. “As a result,” she continues, “they can focus on core priorities. The very act of posting more [information] allows us to align at scale and not waste time retracting work that is out of line with where we want to go as a company.”
Essentially, transparency unlocks smarter, more strategic innovation. “As we post all these things for people to see, they actually start to think like an owner of the business,” says Burke. “You create more ownership of your own decisions and of the future of the company. Transparency makes your employees better entrepreneurs, which we think is a huge win.”
Embracing respectful dissent
People at every level of the organization contribute to HubSpot’s culture of openness and free-flowing information. 95 percent of their employees log into Confluence on a regular basis, and 40 percent are contributing content (page, blogs, comments) regularly. That’s a sharp contrast to most companies, where only those at the top have permission – or feel like they have permission – to be part of the conversation.
“One of the best-kept secrets of [our Confluence instance] is that it’s a place where constructive conflict happens at scale almost daily,” she beams. “Many of our most popular posts come from new employees with new perspectives to share. Maybe they don’t get to see our cofounders every day, but they do get an opportunity to engage them in thoughtful debate or discussion early on in their HubSpot career. We want individual contributors and new employees engaging early – getting off the sidelines and into the game.”
Transparency exists on a spectrum
Now, you may be thinking that all this sounds well and good … if you’re a tech company. Maybe you’re in banking or cybersecurity or finance, and think your organization can’t afford to be as transparent as HubSpot is. If so, Burke has a message for you: start small.
“You don’t need to make everything radically transparent to reach the level of transparency that builds trust with your employees,” she says. “For example, we share compensation bands, but we don’t share individuals’ personal compensation.”
Being more transparent involves some risks, in addition to offering big rewards. Burke recalls when HubSpot was preparing to go public, their CEO wanted to continue sharing performance data, like financials and monthly sales, with the entire company. Their bankers and lawyers, as you might imagine, thought this was madness.
“Five years later, as a public company, we’ve certainly had instances where employees didn’t exercise the best judgment,” she admits. “But we also certainly have instances where the upside of sharing all that information has made our employees, our company, our customers, and our partners better.”
She also has a challenge for leaders. “Think about three things you don’t currently share with all employees, then think about all the wonderful things that could happen if people had just a bit more information and context for their day-to-day job.”
Burke notes that Harvard and MIT, two of the most prestigious and expensive educational institutions, share their course materials online at no charge. “If they can do that, you can nudge yourself a little bit on the transparency spectrum.”
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