It's not about the culture code!

Originally posted 2014-11-29

Tagged: strategy

Obligatory disclaimer: all opinions are mine and not of my employer

The trendy tech companies nowadays all seem to have a culture code. Hubspot, the company I currently work at, has an entire slide deck on its culture code which has been viewed over a million times. These companies say that the reason for their success, as well as a reason that you should work there, is that they have culture.

When I started at Hubspot, I was put through new employee training sessions where there was a short presentation on Hubspot culture (essentially the same as the linked slide deck). Despite this, the acronym “HEART” still eludes me. But what I do remember are three words: Use Good Judgment. And I think those three words embody a larger truth about this mysterious “culture”. I think that ultimately, a great company comes about when competent employees can come together and trust each other to do the right thing. When you can trust your coworker to properly take care of a task, when you can trust them to not waste your time and know that their request for help is serious when they come asking for help, when you can trust that your free books program won’t be abused, when you know that they won’t throw the customer under the bus because they are lazy - efficiency abounds and good things start happening. Procedural rules might be great at making sure bad employees don’t mess things up, but they’re also great at making sure good employees can’t get their work done.

So, what does it mean to “use good judgment”? Well, if you needed telling, then I would probably feel uncomfortable trusting your good judgment. Similarly, the critics who lambast Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” just don’t get it. An outside observer might have been cynical about those words, that perhaps they could be twisted in such a way that they would become meaningless. But of course they can. That’s exactly the point - that employees are not bound by a complicated set of rules, but rather trust each other to do the right thing and use good judgment.