Episode 3

Katie Burke

Season 2

There’s No Shortcutting Your Company Culture, with Katie Burke of HubSpot

In this episode Katelin chats with Katie Burke, Chief People Officer at HubSpot, about making their Culture Code public, overall transparency, and why it’s important for companies to “walk the walk.”


"A lot of the work we do is really complex and for good reason. So there are no shortcuts. There's only continued empathy, continued listening, and continued action on that listening."

Katelin: Welcome back to Season 2 of All-Hands, brought to you by Lattice! I’m your host Katelin Holloway. If you were with us last season, you know we focused on sitting down with C-level execs to chat about how people strategy is good business strategy, but this season, we’re doubling down. We’re not only talking to CEO’s and founders, but a wide range of people leaders--- from Heads of People to Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officers --- to really get into some of their core practices, principals, and beliefs when it comes to putting your people first.

Katie, welcome to All Hands.

Katie: Thank you so much, Katelin. I'm so excited to be here with you.

Katelin: I cannot tell you how excited I am for this time together and I am absolutely thrilled for the audience to hear a little bit more about not only your perspective and the things that you've done, but your vision for the future of people and the evolution of our industry as a whole. So thank you so much for joining us.

Katie: The pleasure is all mine and I'm such a big fan of your work. So it feels like kindred spirits having a great conversation about some super relevant topics.

Katelin: I've been following your career for many, many years. But for those audience members who maybe don't know you just yet, I would love for you to please tell us your story.

Katie: Absolutely. So I'll start with probably the most relevant and go backwards, which is an unconventional way of telling it, but may make the most sense. So as you mentioned, I've been lucky enough to work for the last eight years at HubSpot. And we're really fortunate to have an award winning culture. So you might think that I grew up in HR and I've been studying this work for years, but I'm an unconventional CPO by any definition of the word. I grew up as a marketer. I started my career as someone who wanted to be Olivia Pope before Olivia Pope existed. I worked in crisis communications and absolutely loved the adrenaline and loved the people I got to work with. But ultimately, went back to business school.

And the goal when I went to MIT Sloan for business school was really to go into the world of sports. So I spent some time with the new England Patriots, and then I worked for EXOS, which is a human performance company and did a bunch of work with them on corporate wellness. And what I found is sometimes when you're chasing something that you're really passionate about, that passion actually belongs more in the passion bucket. So I still love sports, but I'm lucky enough that my day-to-day work is more fulfilling and interesting. And I found a career I really, really love. But it's a good example that you don't always know what you want or what you're going to get. So I'm an accidental HR professional, but very proudly so.

Katelin: Absolutely, I love that. Being a traditional HR person myself, I often wonder how long do we need to be working in these roles for us to finally own the fact that maybe this is the new path, the new tradition? Because there are so many incredible people leaders out there that have had a very curvy windy path to this destination.

Katie: I am choosing to see it as a trend that's going to stay that folks like you and your work have blazed a trail for more people to consider people ops as a strategic function, as something people aspire to. And I think that's a good thing. I think we're going to see a huge influx. One potential tiny silver lining of the last year is I think we're seeing more people aspire to be in the HR function because they know that

in a pandemic and social justice reckoning, your people function has to be forward thinking, has to have the ear of the entire executive team, has to be strategic.

So I think and hope more people will consider people ops early in their careers.

Katelin: I for one am grateful for your marketing background, because it has allowed so many other people to have a peek behind the curtain and really understand what it means to say oh wow, that is something very different than what I thought it was. This isn't just compliance and backend benefits administration. This is real, meaty, very impactful work.

Katie: I also think it's a reflection of kind of who we are as a company. So some of my colleagues refer to HubSpot as a teaching hospital, and I think that's a very appropriate analogy. Because the reality is we're all running a great organization that's growing at a rapid pace, but we're also learning from the people we work with on a regular basis. And we're trying to teach what we know to both the people who are new to the organization and asking for their input, but also sharing and publishing data on our swings, our misses, what worked, what didn't, all the above. So I feel lucky that I work for a team that really values that learning and appreciates learning versus kind of hoarding that information internally.

Katelin: I love that. There's this whole trend now of building in public or building out loud. And I feel like you all have definitely pioneered in that space, giving permission and the safety, the feeling of safety to say, "Hey, this is how we actually all get better." I feel lie in your work, I feel like in your team's work, there's always a spirit of rising tides buoying all ships, really wanting the world of work to be better, a better experience for everyone. So I'm grateful very much for your open source work and approach to your initiatives and sharing.

Katie: Thank you. And you hit on something that's really important to me, which is I hope people who work at HubSpot love their jobs, but I also just hope that more people know that you can and should love the work you get to do. And I don't think that means it's perfect. So said differently, some people show up at HubSpot, we have a great employer brand and think it's all unicorns and rainbows. It's still work, right? There's still hard days. There are still hard projects. There are things that are under-resourced. But to me, the quality of the work you get to do, and the people you do it with, everyone should know that's possible. And I think this notion that work doesn't have to be miserable is a really important thing for everyone to remind themselves, particularly as we come out of the pandemic.

Katelin: Absolutely. Well, I appreciate you sharing your story. A little bit of your story, I should say. That's just part of you and who you are from a career perspective, but is there anything else that you'd like to share with our audience about your identity?

Katie: I think the most helpful, first, I love this question. And I think I'm going to start asking it more as a result of your inspiration. So thank you for that. I think the most important thing about my identity that we didn't talk about is that I am the very definition of a bossy oldest sister. So being a big sister is kind of who I am at my core. I'm lucky enough to come from a big family. So I'm the oldest of six kids. And I think so much of who I am is reflective of that. So you love big, but you also make big decisions, and you have a strong presence and opinion about things and sometimes move too fast on things. And I think one thing just to lead a bit vulnerably is my younger brother Brendan was an out gay man and passed away when he was 21 years old in a car accident.

Katelin: Sorry to hear that.

Katie: Thank you so much, but I share that to reflect the fact that some of my work on LGBTQ inclusion is so deeply personal. And one of the things I'm most proud of is that our whole family made a commitment that every organization we are a part of, whether that's working full-time, or on the board, or volunteering is going to be a space that's more welcoming to LGBTQ people. So that's a big part of my mission and identity that not everyone knows.

Katelin: I love that. Like I said, I'm sorry to hear about your brother. That is incredibly tragic. And I very much appreciate that you're honoring him in the work that you're doing. I get chills because it is so deeply personal. And I appreciate you leading with vulnerability and sharing that because it genuinely changes I think the texture of the context and the conversation that we can have around the work that you are doing. And I know there's so much that make us who we are, including those who had an impact on us in our lives. And there really isn't a spot or a space to put that on your CV or your resume, or to even share that in a job interview. But it really shows up in our work. So thank you for sharing.

Katie: Absolutely. Thanks for asking.

Katelin: Okay, let's go back to the career track for just a moment. So we've talked about the length of time you've been at HubSpot, which is eight years. And in the world of tech and the tech land, that is an eternity. You are a lifer, which is so funny because other industries I don't think would say that. But you must have seen so much evolve over the course of the last near decade there. So to give us a quick anchor point, how many employees were at HubSpot when you first started?

Katie: Just over 400.

Katelin: Wow. Okay. And how many are there now?

Katie: 4,200.

Katelin: Holy moly, that's a lot of humans.

Katie: And I think equally as important, we had one office soon to be two offices, Cambridge, and then Dublin, Ireland. But now we're in 10 different countries and soon to be even more. And I think the opportunity that comes with global growth as you well know, it is the honor and the ride of a lifetime. And at the same time from the outside, it looks easy. And on the inside, you're kind of holding onto the rollercoaster for dear life on any given day. And I feel really lucky to have been a part of it.

Katelin: I'm really glad that you bring up expansion. When I kind of lift my roster, I talk also about, "And then we grew in this way as well." So it's not just the number of humans or people that you've grown. There's so much nuance to growth because some of those hurdles are much more challenging. And yes, opening. I mean even domestically in a new city, in a new state requires so much. And in this world of flexible remote work, where the pandemic especially in the knowledge worker industry, we've now been allowed through force to experience what it's like to be flexible and distributed. And I don't know that many people know that the impact on that from an administrative standpoint, legal compliance, finance, and absolutely HR. It's a massive lift to bring a state and country online for your company.

Katie: It's a huge lift. And I think the thing that I always share with people is from the outside, you sort of see these Instagram snippets of highlights, right? It looks like an all-star reel. And on the inside you go, "Oh gosh." To your point, there are so many checklists, and hard work by your teammates, and finance, and legal to make things happen, and payroll. And I think sometimes it's important that we talk about kind of the iceberg, what's below the surface, and how hard it is.

I think people often, when it comes to people things look for a shortcut or kind of the killer insight where you can just skip the other steps. And the truth is a lot of the work we do is really complex and for good reason. So there are no shortcuts. There's only continued empathy, continued listening, and continued action on that listening.

Katelin: Absolutely. And there's so much for sequencing. And I think that particularly leaders who are maybe younger in their career, it's really easy to be like, "Yeah, we're remote forever." And it's like okay, it's not a no. It's a yes and. Here is the sequence of events, and here is the resource allocation needed, etc., etc. So when we talk about growth, it should be, and I'm glad that we're having this conversation with other HR professionals. I think that as we talk about our growth, it's not simply about from A to B. Some companies won't experience the growth in terms of full-time head count, but they might experience growth in other ways. So I love that you highlighted that. Thank you.

Katie: My wallpaper during our IPO at HubSpot was you can do anything but not everything. And at one pint, we had projected so many images from my laptop that Brian was like, "Is it time to mix it up on the front?" And I kind of came back to him. We had a good laugh about it, of course he was kidding. But it was a good reminder of when you're growing fast, you want to take on the world and you want to agree to everything. And the truth is, slowing down to speed up is often the key to success.

Katelin: Especially in the world of HR, it is so easy to want to take everything on. And in the process of doing so, accomplish very little. All right. So talk to me about more specifically, your role. So you've seen a tremendous amount of growth in different ways, in different verticals within the organization. But talk to me about your role as the Chief People Officer. So you didn't start there. Give us that evolution

Katie: I didn't. So I started actually working on the communications team and kind of running the internal and external and communications long before we knew if we were going to be able to IPO. So my first two projects were launching the Culture Code with Dharmesh and opening our Dublin office. And not surprisingly, both of those things have a ton to do with culture and people. But of course, I didn't know where I was headed at the time. But working on the Culture Code with Dharmesh, our partnership really started with what are we going to share and why, what kind of company do we want to be? And the other thing that I think is particularly important, we get a lot of questions given the popularity of the Culture Code of how do I do the same thing? How do I mimic the popularity or resonance of the Culture Code?

And one of the things that I've noticed is people wait for consensus. They want to appeal to everyone with their culture. And I think one really cool thing and one of my best memories of my entire time at HubSpot is the late nights. Dharmesh does not like phone calls. He doesn't like in-person meetings. He is a late night thinker. So back in the day, we didn't have Slack, we had HipChat, an old Atlassian product. And we would go back and forth on ideas.

What notion of equality and inclusion does our commitment to use good judgment share with companies that for example do not have the same privilege as tech? So when we're writing an op-ed, how do we make sure we're inclusive and thoughtful?

How much do we want to be aspirational versus realistic with where we are? How globally focused is this? How inclusive does it feel to people outside the organization? How much do we care what our internal employees think? How much do we care about how this scales, how timeless this is? Do we want it to be a deck for this year or for the next decade?

And I think those conversations, to be able to have those tough conversations with a founder early are so valuable, because it gave me a great insight into what Dharmesh and Brian value most. And what are their true, sacred things that they care about and where are they very open to debate and discussion. So I feel really lucky that that's where I started. And where it led to was doing a lot of communications externally, and then our roadshow deck and prep for the IPO. And one thing that you learn, which I think most people don't talk about is when you get ready for a public offering, your amazing bankers and lawyers work a ton on the numbers, and you look at them from 87 different ways. But the truth is even the best investment bankers, and lawyers, and investors in the world know that your long-term success as a company comes down to your culture and your team.

Because when we did our IPO, we were a marketing software company. And now we're a CRM company. We provide a ton of different products for a ton of different people. And we're really lucky to do that. But if we had sold people just on our ability to win in the marketing technology market, we would have been a short-term success. And what allowed us to scale was not just a great product team, which obviously we're lucky to have, but also a culture that really wants to disrupt itself in a lot of really healthy and important ways.

So I think for me, that was the first realization of culture is not just a nice thing that we have here. It's going to be the baseline for our success long-term. And so our founders are really the people who deserve the credit for my career trajectory, because they're the people who said, "We want you to start the culture team at HubSpot, because we want to be really thoughtful. And unlike so many other companies where culture falls off the radar after an IPO. We want to double down, and we're going to write you a check to build the team. And we're going to invest in it, and you have our commitment and our word."

And I said no. That sounded like a dead end opportunity and it wasn't where I wanted to go. But they persisted. And the only reason that I took it was I kind of figured if a year in I didn't love it, I could go do something else at HubSpot or go run an IPO for another company. And the reason to your point that I'm still here eight years later is they followed through on their commitment in really big and meaningful ways. And I really feel that a lot of people talk about culture. Not a lot of people want to do the hard work. So I'm really proud. I'm obviously incredibly biased, but I think I have the best team in the world focused on people operations. But I also think we don't operate in a bubble. The reason we're able to create a great culture is because our founders, our entire executive team, our board, so many of the folks in that room are so committed to this work. And I think putting it in the forefront of our success as a company has been mission critical for us.

Katelin: There's so much I love in this and want to dive a little bit more deeply on. Now as a big fan of your work, you have language that I feel very deeply and have actually employed in some of my own organizations where you talk about managing the culture similar to managing a product. Can we talk a little bit more about describing the Chief People Officer role as being more or less a product manager for the candidate and employee experience? But really, can we dive deeper on talking about culture as a product? I think that's fascinating.

Katie: Absolutely. So Dharmesh from the start in the Culture Code said our culture is one of the products we offer at HubSpot. And when we think about our product, and you think about your role as a Chief People Officer as really the ultimate PM for the candidate employee experience, it first starts by even defining what the work product is. So I think oftentimes, a CPO or a CHRO role is viewed as compliance. It's all defense. Jeep us out of trouble, keep us out of hot water, keep us out of lawsuits. And we view things the exact opposite way, which is we want to be on offense in thinking about strategy, thinking about how we win on talent competition long term, and how we innovate to make sure that we're staying ahead of the curve. So I think what you see in the best product managers in the world is clarity of conviction. They have an opinion on things that matter. They're also willing to be wrong about that opinion when they get great feedback from their customers. And three, they cut through the clutter. There is no shortage of products or messages in the world on great products. And similarly, every tech company in the world is hiring right now. So we need to be able to cut through the clutter of that message with something that is special, unique, and really resonates.

So the reason that I love thinking about my role as a PM is it means that on any given day, I need to make sure I'm attracting users. That means building a robust funnel of candidates not just for today, but for tomorrow, but for 10 years from now. That I'm listening to customers. If you fail to listen to what your customers and users are saying on a regular basis, you will fail and fall short. That you're thinking long-term and placing some real bets that really matter for your longterm.

And then by the way, that you're tinkering with the things that are broken. So like any good PM, I annoy the daylights out of my team sometimes by checking in on systems at work, by auditing a search we did recently and picking out little holes on things we could do better. And I think that attention to detail, but also perspective for the long haul is really, really critical. So I feel lucky to identify with our PMs. I'm not quite as good as many of our product managers, but I'm working on it. And the other thing I think it opens up for my team is if you join people operations, you will be expected to think and operate like an owner.

So when people on my team join, I say the most important thing you can do is know and understand the business, and our stakeholders, and our customers. And oftentimes, people in our world will say, "Well, your customers are your employees." And don't get me wrong. I care so deeply about what our employees and candidates think. But I also really care that HubSpot customers feel the work that the people operations team do every day.

So a good example is our partners HubSpot are a critical part of our growth. And when they reach out to me to say, "Your team is amazing. Let me tell you about my most recent interaction," or people give us a lot of feedback on our support team and how wonderful they are, I always share that back with our team. Because I really believe that in a crowded software market, part of the reason why people buy HubSpot is our people.

Katelin: Dear listeners, rewind this back. Listen to that last, whatever, two minutes that was. The question that I get asked more than anything is, "How do I bring the people and culture function to the forefront? How do I convince my boss, or my CEO, or my leadership team that my role is important?" Play it back, write it down, and repeat what Katie just said. This is how you bring our function and bring the incredible work that you do to a language and a place that everyone else in the organization can hear it. So if they didn't show up on day one recognizing the value of people and culture work, and they still call it HR and you sit in a different wing, play this back, listen to it, digest it. Because this is exactly how you integrate with the rest of the organization.

Katie: The other thing I always advise people is you can't be the only person speaking up about people issues. Brian always has this great expression that if he closed his eyes and listened to the management team, his ideal scenario would be that he wouldn't know which function each of us was speaking for, because you are able to put on your true customer hat or HubSpot hat versus your people operations jersey.

So one of the things I think that's critical that people often miss is they view it as their job to speak up every time. And what's great is yesterday we had a director plus meetings of our senior leaders in the company. And our Chief Customer Officer Yamini Rangan, she went through the future talent metrics we need to hit and how many RPIs, so recruiter phone interviews we're going to need to do to hit that goal. And it was a good reminder for all of our hiring managers. And her message to all of them was hiring is a team sport. Don't say we need to just hire more recruiters. You need to be building your funnel. And to me, one underutilized skill is making sure that you're not the only person advocating for people and culture. Instead, hire execs who help and actively collaborate with you on that task.

Katelin: I love this notion of if we're talking to the parts of our audience that are maybe aspiring chief people officers, something that I myself, very similar to what you're talking about here as I share it, I'm an executive first. I happen to represent the people and culture function. Or I will give a perspective through that lens when it's appropriate. But I'm an executive first. I'm here to help strategically lead this business.

And I think that really shifts the way that you're having conversations. And it definitely absolutely builds empathy amongst the leadership team. And when you have more empathy in a leadership team, you're able to do better, more strategic, creative work.

Let's talk for a minute if you don't mind about the Culture Code. And I don't want to rehash every interview you've ever done on the Culture Code. And I know that this was released many years ago at this point. But you really were the first. You were a pioneer in the space of saying not only are we going to articulate our culture for our employees, which back in the day was also audacious. But we're going to publicly share this. 

And I know that having listened to many of your previous interviews in talking about the Culture Code, the part that strikes me is the value and transparency. So instead of just talking about, "Hey, you did this cool thing. How great." I would love to hear your thinking in that moment in time, it seemed very much like you were ahead of the curve. But can you talk a little bit about valuing transparency in your organization as a whole?

Katie: Yes. So I think it's a really important point that you raise, which is the idea for the Culture Code that our founders had and which obviously Dharmesh was incredibly prescient and thinking it through and in launching it. But I would say it goes back even further exactly as you said, to kind of the founding nature of HubSpot and what we valued from the start. So our values eventually kind of iterated over time as they often do with companies. But I would say if I had to narrow it down to two things that were non-negotiables from the start, it was autonomy. So we believe the best people in the world don't want to be micromanaged. And transparency. And the quote that really we come back to time and time again is a Louis Brandeis quote, which is,

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant."

And I think what we all believe as an executive team and believed in launching the Culture Code was that

things in hiding are not good for an organization. They're not good for growth, they're not good for innovation. So we're going to try and bring as much as possible, as much information and context as possible to everyone in the organization.

And then eventually over time it became, and we're going to share it with everyone. So I think transparency shows up in almost every action we have taken as a business.

So if you look back on the very early days of HubSpot, our marketing philosophy leads with sharing important and valuable information. So we shared all of the hacks and insights that led to our marketing strategy and what worked for us and didn't on our blogs. We shared what worked for us from a hiring perspective really early, and from a sales perspective really early. So I think what's cool about the Culture Code is our commitment to transparency informed this notion that unlike a family secret recipe, we weren't going to keep it internal. We were going to share it. But I think just because we had that value, does not mean the launch of it was easy.

So a few things that came up when we decided that we were going to do it. One, there was a lot of employee fear that launching it into the world would do one of two things. Change the culture, which was their worst nightmare, that the cheesy posters on the wall, that wasn't us. But the other thing people worried about was competition. If we share all the details and nitty gritty details, won't other companies copy us? And what will that look and feel like?

And I think it's important to acknowledge that fear in your employees. And I also think it's important to still move forward from it. And I think as we talked about, we address those head on. We said, "Okay, totally hear you. We are as against the poster on the wall, cheesiness as anyone else. If anything, this holds us accountable to who we want to become."

And then the second thing is worrying about people copying you, as you well know, the devil's in the details and in the execution. So we've released a ton of stuff, and people come and learn from us on a ton of things. We have to believe in our ability to execute. And if what we're betting, I always think of it with culture as it's kind of like Blockbuster betting on late fees.

If you're betting on hoarding information and secrecy for your company to succeed long term, I think you're thinking about your culture in the wrong way.

So instead, what we bet on is our team to execute, and to continue to innovate. And we share everything. And we hope it's helpful to other companies. We also listen intently to other companies and really make that a focus of how we grow. So I truly believe that transparency was a huge input to the Culture Code. I also think it's important that people know it wasn't the perfect launch that was so seamless and easy. There was some real employee trepidation when we launched it. And then I think the other thing, I mentioned this a little earlier was the elements that were aspirational.

Employees want everything to be true when you launch it. And I really believe that Dharmesh made the right call back in the day by putting a few things in there that we weren't yet great at. Because guess what? We eventually got pretty good at them. And I think anchoring to the aspirational is really important so you stay on the leading edge of what's possible versus relying on the past.

Katelin: 100% yes. The notion of what could go right. I talk about this a lot with our portfolio companies at Seven Seven Six around when they're building out that initial value set, And really, the opportunity to use something like your own version of the Culture Code or your very early value set is really that balance of aspirational and inspirational. And a trend that I'm seeing more and more is almost separating out. Some are calling it a code of conduct. Others, it's some table stakes version of yes, for example, I don't need to list diversity as a value, because that's something that we are going to focus on in these ways. But it should never be a debate or a conversation, because our values should be used as a tool to drive the behaviors and the experience that we want to have. So your values become more compelling. But that's not to say that you shouldn't be building in the things that are core to who you are.

And so simply listing values is not enough. And they cannot be an effective tool without other things in place. And something that I think that the Culture Code did so well and the reason it's still to this day gets put in my inbox by founders, first time founders saying, "Hey, I really want to do something like this. How do I do it? Or how do you recommend, or how do we build a culture like HubSpot?" Because you y'all have done it. And it's not just living in this web link that's floating around, a PDF that's floating around. It's living out in the world through your employees. They are backing it up. They're validating it. They're saying, "Yes, this is why I am here." So I think you all were very, very successful.

Katie: Well, thank you. But I think when you mentioned the founders reaching out, and obviously Seven Seven Six founders are amazing and thoughtful to think about it. When I get that question, one of the things I always push people on is your culture code should be thoughtful around self-selecting out as it is about welcoming folks in. So a good example at HubSpot is we talk about how fast paced our culture is. Fast paced is not for everyone. So I love it when people read our deck and go, "You know what? I'm actually looking for a chapter in my career that's a little bit more low key." And I think that's a wonderful thing. So the tasks that I always encourage people to apply is the yoga studio test. Which is if you were to put your hand over the company name in what industry they compete in, could the values be for any random yoga studio? Because oftentimes, it's like I want nice people who like doing good work and who enjoy good times together. Well, that could be for almost any company. I've not met a founder who's like, "I want to work with horrible people who grind all day." So instead, I think your opportunity is to be unique and differentiated.

So the example that I always come back to when founders say they want to do something is consider writing a letter on what success would look like in a given year. So what we do as a people operations team now is I write a letter every year to our team. And it's modeled after Joanne Chang, who started Flour Bakery here in Boston. She was a chef. She started her own business. But she writes a letter to her staff every year and writes, "This is what customers want from us. And this is what success looks like." And it's written in her own words, and it's so meaningful and so personal. So I try and do it with my team as a subset of the Culture Code not to replace it, but just to go, "If you're ever lost, here's where to come back to." And I think for founders not trying to create the next viral Culture Code, but instead talking about what's important to you in your own words is a great place to start.

Katelin: I have not heard of this yet. I think it's a wonderful practice.

At this moment in time, we have a portion of the world that is vaccinated, a portion of the world that is not from the COVID virus. And the world is starting to reopen in a way that we weren't sure when we could count on this or bank on this. So we see some teams are returning to in-office work. I refuse to say return to work, because what the hell have we been doing for the last year and a half? But some people are returning to the workplace. Some companies are closing their offices forever. And that's just an example. But what are some of the most important areas that you and your teams are focusing on at this exact moment in time?

Katie: Yes. I think you raise an important point, which is return to any sort of post-pandemic, and clearly we're still mid pandemic. So midst of pandemic life, I think brings with it a set of new rich challenges. Which is number one, how do we acknowledge that change in routine brings real implications for people's mental health and how they show up every day? And one of the things we're trying to do and talk more about is just because the world is opening back up, doesn't mean everyone feels elation. A lot of people feel delayed grief. A lot of people are feeling trepidation about return. A lot of people are feeling anxious about spending time after so much time with their families being away. A lot of folks are facing uncertainty from their employer on what they can expect for their long-term future. And so one of the things we're trying as a team to do is really make sure we're leaning in there.
The second thing is everyone is trying to figure out what the workforce of the future looks like in a highly competitive talent market. So we're trying to figure out not just how we work, but where we work, and how we set up teams for success. So I think everyone is honestly over-complicating the hybrid workforce like nobody's business. I cannot even believe how many complexities are going into it. But I do believe in my core that we need to spend more time with managers, directors, and leaders enabling what the future of work looks like.

So we have aligned at HubSpot on what our future looks like. We're going hybrid. We're giving honestly, our employees a ton of autonomy to pick their own adventure. Now, we need to really invest in our culture enablement to make sure managers are equipped to run great high performing, diverse hybrid teams. So that's a big focus.
And then the third thing is the pandemic as you know has brought some real reckoning as it relates to so many women have had to leave the workforce. So many women of color in particular have been impacted. And then by the way, we know for sure that BIPOC employees who have joined respective companies in the last year are often doing so without ever having set foot in an office. So what does a remote and hybrid experience look like for traditionally underrepresented groups in corporate America? And I think that's an important question to ask those groups don't continue to get left behind. So for us at HubSpot, that includes female leaders. That includes caregivers. That includes LGBTQIA employees. And then it also includes our BIPOC employees. So we're trying to figure out how we make sure that a more hybrid workforce is also a more inclusive one.

Katelin: That was a big list, Katie. And those are big things that do not have playbooks out there, that we're all drawing on the same, big old white sheet of paper, a big blank piece of paper out there.

Katie: And I think you raise an important point, which is we need to be kind to ourselves while doing it. I think people ops professionals are putting a lot of pressure on themselves to know everything and do everything right. And there's just no way. We're going to make mistakes with the reopening. We are dealing right now with masks, no masks, distance. When can conference rooms reopen? I can promise you one thing, Katelin, which is I'm going to mess something up. And I already have this week probably already today. And I think just normalizing the fact that the expectation isn't perfection, but rather progress is really important, particularly for really rundown people leaders who've been doing this for awhile.

Katelin: Right. The exhaustion in our community is palpable. It really is. Amazing. Well, best of luck with all of that.

Are you ready for some rapid fire?

Katie: I'm ready. Let's do it.

Katelin: Okay. Virtual background or real background?

Katie: Real background.

Katelin: What item on your desk in front of you at this exact moment sparks joy and why?

Katie: The, "She is quick, curious, playful, and strong poster," that is always in view. It is a reminder to me of what is important and what I come back to when I'm lost or feeling down on myself.

Katelin: I love that. What is your current favorite productivity hack?

Katie: Current favorite productivity hack is no meetings Fridays. So having a full day to think, and operate, and do deep work, and read. And we are doing it company-wide.

Katelin: Amazing. So people aren't in your inbox on Fridays as maybe prolifically?

Katie: No. And true confession, on my first Friday without meetings, I took a nap in the middle of the day and it was delightful.

Katelin: I love this. Company culture, family or sports team?

Katie: Sports team, but infused with the love of family.

Katelin: That's my favorite answer. Okay. One tactical thing that leaders or people on HR teams can do today to support hybrid and flexible work.

Katie: Lead with vulnerability and empathy, and be human yourself.

Katelin: Yeah. When was the last time you were deeply proud of something you've accomplished?

Katie: Yesterday. We rolled out company-wide leveling for our senior leader population. And as you know, leadership rubrics are just total no win. And our HRBP team just nailed it. And it felt like a day where you just watch your team with just deep, deep pride in how they show up. So mine was yesterday.

Katelin: Amazing. Congratulations to you and the HRBP team. That is quite the accomplishment. I understand the pride in that for sure. Amazing. All right, one last and final question for you, Katie. This one does not have to be rapid fire. But we've touched on this a little bit, but I'm curious to hear from your perspective after having this conversation. What advice would you give to founders and people leaders out there just trying to kind of make sense of this particular moment in history? How can they use this as an opportunity to build a better organization in this next chapter?

Katie: Such a big question. I come back to one of the things that we decided after the murder of George Floyd last year was that we were going to be a company who walks the walk. So I think if I were to give founders any piece of advice, it's on the things you choose to decide and tell people you're going to be good at, it really does not matter what you say, it matters what you do. So I think in a really crowded talent market on founders, it's less about designing the greatest Culture Code in the world. Although I feel lucky that I worked for a founder who did that. And more about how you're delivering on what you promise daily. And I think that delivering on the promise daily is hard, gritty work. And even the best companies in the world get it wrong some days. And I think just being willing to walk in that discomfort, but know that the most important thing you can do to build trust is walk the walk. That would be my biggest piece of advice.

Katelin: Please take this to heart. It really is important. And to your point, it is much harder to do than it is to say. And I think that the accountability from an employee population and a customer population is at an all time high, which is a really, really good thing. It doesn't make it easier, but it makes it all the more important and impactful.

Katie: Love that.

Katelin: Well thank you for the work that you do, and best of luck out there. I look forward to catching up with you again very soon.

Katie: Cheers. Right back at you.


Thanks so much for joining me on this week’s episode of All Hands, brought to you by Lattice. I’m your host, Katelin Holloway.
All Hands is produced by Lattice in partnership with Pod People. Special thanks to our production team: Christine Swor, Annette Cardwell, Rachael King, Samantha Gattsek, Madison Lusby(Luz-bee), & Erica Huang(hwong) Learn more about how Lattice can help your business stay people focused at Lattice DOT com or find us on Twitter @LatticeHQ.

Don’t forget to subscribe to All Hands, wherever you get your podcasts.

Join us next time!

subscribe to podcast

About the Guest

podcast guest

Katie Burke

Katie Burke is the Chief People Officer at HubSpot where she manages the teams responsible for delivering a remarkable and inclusive candidate and employee experience. During her time leading people initiatives at HubSpot, the company has been named the #1 Best Place to Work by Glassdoor, the #1 Best Place to Work for Women by Comparably, and a Best Place to Work for Parents by Fortune. 

Prior to her current role, Katie started HubSpot’s culture team and oversaw global communications during the company’s IPO. Before joining HubSpot, Katie was the Director of Marketing and Corporate Partnerships at Athletes’ Performance (EXOS) and a Director at the Glover Park Group. She attended Bates College and holds an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. 

Katie serves on the board of Paycor, and as an advisor to Biospring Partners and 826 Boston.

Uncover insights from the world’s people leaders