leadership, Startup Advice

“People are greater than perks”: Why founders need to make sure their culture evolves as their startup does

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Hubspot culture

Claudia Shepherd, HubSpot Australia’s culture and engagement manager. Source: Supplied

A strong company culture is hinged on employee experience, but it must also be able to adapt and grow as the business does, according to HubSpot Australia’s culture and engagement manager.

Speaking at the Next Gen in Business event in Melbourne on Thursday, Claudia Shepherd outlined the importance of having a “culture code” in place, regardless of whether a business employs five people or 5000.

Shepherd described a culture code as “a set of shared beliefs and practices”, and stressed it will only work if the founders of a business are invested in it.

“It’s so hard to create an amazing culture if your key decision makers aren’t brought in as to why it’s important,” she said. 

At the centre of HubSpot’s culture code is HEART — a sentiment Shepherd admitted is a little cheesy — which stands for: humble, empathetic, adaptable, remarkable and transparent.

However, she said a culture code itself should be adaptable too, and open to change as the company changes and grows.

Early-stage startups may value speed and innovation, but once a company becomes more established, excellence and efficiency may be more important.

In fact, HubSpot recently changed the ‘E’ in HEART from ‘effective’ to ‘empathetic’. In the early days, Shepherd said, having every employee be as effective as possible was a priority, but now that priority has changed.

Equally, when a company expands, whether regionally or internationally, the decision makers have to consider how the culture code translates into different environments.

For example, Shepherd said, HubSpot’s employees in Sydney generally show a lot of interest in health and wellness, and the culture there should reflect that.

On the other hand, Japanese culture is “notoriously polite and reserved”, so it has been a challenge to scale the ‘transparency’ aspect of the culture code to the Japanese office.

Ultimately, Shepherd said, culture is about creating a “remarkable employee experience”, no matter the size of the organisation or office.

“I want my employees to contribute to that culture and add to it,” she said. 

In order to get this contribution, Shepherd said companies should focus on celebrating diversity and inclusion, although this is “never going to be a box you tick”. Rather, it’s “something you constantly need to improve on”.

They can also work on supporting women to get into leadership roles, offer flexibility to working parents, and encourage knowledge-sharing throughout the organisation — something Shepherd says is a “great tool for innovation”.

Finally, she said while employee perks may be a good recruitment tool, they don’t automatically equate to good culture.

“You need to invest in your people,” she says.

“People are greater than perks.”

NOW READ: Why ActivePipe is focusing on culture as it expands into the US

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is a reporter at StartupSmart.

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