Borrow from the best

How HubSpot uses vulnerability for performance

3 ways HubSpot's operating system supports culture and their performance
How HubSpot uses vulnerability for performance
Photo: Hubspot
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HubSpot, a cloud-based customer relationship management company, is known for its employee-centric culture and, more importantly, its ability to to support that culture. That landed it the coveted number-one spot on Glassdoor’s best places to work list in 2019, moving to number two in 2022.

So, it felt aligned when HubSpot began offering free therapy for its employees. But, while this employee benefit shows that it cares about employee mental health, how does it ensure its day-to-day behaviors and company culture support it as well?

HubSpot’s strategy? Vulnerability.

Make it part of your operating system

If your eyes glazed over as soon as the topic of vulnerability came up, I get it. It’s a concept that’s often talked about, but not many people, let alone companies, know how to show it, let alone have perfected it. Neither has Hubspot. “We are not the poster children for achieving this just yet, because I think it’s a work in progress. And always probably will be,” Katie Burke, HubSpot’s chief people officer said in a recent conversation.

HubSpot’s goal is progress over perfection as it integrates these values into daily habits across a company of over 7,000 people. To ensure it makes lasting change, HubSpot leadership decided to build the behaviors needed to care for its business and the people into its operating system, which governs how and what a company focuses on.

In short, the leadership team made sure their walk matched their talk in three key ways.

Listen and share

Listening to your employees is a best practice that helps an organization meet or exceed financial targets, have high customer satisfaction and retention, and adapt better to change. Leaders hear about issues earlier and more often, and employees are often more likely to share solutions and ideas when they are first shown the company cares about what’s important to them as individuals. That is where HubSpot starts.

Listening in one-on-one meetings with employees and their leaders, formal programming, and pulse checks help Burke be clear on what HubSpotters want right now: transparency, autonomy, and living rich lives outside of work.

To avoid being overly positive, leaders share their struggles and failures too. “If you believe in the value of transparency, you inherently believe that you should share the stuff that isn’t perfect,” Burke said.

Burke believes that the other two employee desires, autonomy and having a rich life outside of work, are strongly linked. The flexibility HubSpot grants its hybrid workforce helps create space during the day to do the things that matter to individuals, like exercise, disconnecting for lunch or breaks, attending family events, or leaving early.

Leadership’s role in vulnerability

One of the disconnects I’ve observed in companies is when the top leadership decides something is important but fails to equip their leaders to sustain or improve it. These performative stances lead to little change, and employees quickly realize these issues aren’t as valued as the company says they are.

At HubSpot, that means ensuring leaders understand how vulnerability helps, providing them with the tools they need to improve their own performance while helping others do the same, and, according to Burke, letting them choose their own adventure when it comes to vulnerability.

“The goal is not for everyone to spill their guts on every call,” she said. “The goal is to create space for people to share little pieces of what matters to them or their story in a way that drives connection and makes them feel like they belong in our workplace. And that they don’t have to be perfect at HubSpot or in their daily professional life.”

And during times where burnout or stress creep in, and a reset is needed, leaders and their employees can join one of HubSpot’s “failure forums.” These forums allow for HubSpotters to voluntarily share stories about mistakes they’ve made and what they’ve learned from them.

Embed it into the operating system

HubSpot delivers three additional strategies it uses to embed vulnerability into its operating system.

Week of rest

In 2021 it introduced a “week of rest,” during which most of the company stepped away or drastically reduced their workloads to recharge, and it went so well that it continued in 2022 as part of its long-term plan to prevent and address burnout. When the majority of the staff is out of the office simultaneously intending to disconnect, there’s less motivation to keep working and reduced fear of missing out on something. This collective time away offers an opportunity to rest and refuel.

Deep work Fridays

HubSpot provides opportunities to slow down and reflect with deep work Fridays. No meetings are held. Employees are encouraged to use this time to recharge, prep, or move into deep work. I’ve practiced deep work periods for years and swear by Cal Newport’s findings that 90-minute increments of undistracted work can help you get more and better work done.


Displaying vulnerability is a skill that, when practiced, we get better at. While the best learning happens on the job with what’s embedded in a day-to-day operating system, HubSpot also offers training and tools. Its course, Rethinking Resilience, is a hybrid workshop designed to reduce stress and increase control in energy, performance, and overall well-being.

The other tools HubSpot provides, like diversity, equity, and inclusion discussion kits, aren’t focused on prescribing how HubSpotters should work. That strategy is key to honoring employees’ different styles and preferences.