Insight on Culture, Brand, and Ego from Hootsuite’s Ambrosia Vertesi
Spring’s Kick Activator recently hosted Ambrosia Vertesi, VP of Talent at Hootsuite, for a Kick Session at The Cave in the Spring office on East Georgia Street.
The topic of the talk was “Team+Culture+HR.” Vertesi spoke about her experience defining and shaping the culture at Hootsuite from its early days, and how the company’s values consistently manifest in internal and external decisions.
Peter Thiel has famously described how important values, hiring, and culture are in his arguably most famous piece of startup advice: Don’t mess up the culture. Hootsuite is imbued with the same philosophy, and the results speak for themselves: 40 of the first 50 employees are still with Hootsuite, and the company has 95% employee satisfaction with under 5% turnover.
Culture and Core Values
While the culture at Hootsuite inevitably changes as the company grows and evolves, it is always anchored by its core values: hustle, passion, hard work and entrepreneurialism. These are not merely words posted above a doorframe. They are the critical guideposts in decision-making, the wellspring of ambition and determination, and a key screening element when considering potential hires.
Vertesi has previously said, “Hootsuite is a great company, but it’s not for everybody—no company is for everybody. What’s really important is knowing what you want and building a partnership. And we can tell really quickly in the dialogue because we ask a lot of vetting questions for it. They’re simple questions, like ‘Why do you want to work at Hootsuite?’ If the answer is, “Because it’s a cool company,” that’s kind of a red flag. For our culture, we want to see that they have an entrepreneurial spirit and a kind of ‘egolessness’. These things manifest in our values, and so it gives us an ability to evaluate talent to see if they’re here for the right reasons. And, of course, it shows when they’ve done their homework.”
These values determine the culture, and that culture is well-defined, transparent, and brazenly honest, aligned with the company’s vision of revolutionzing the way the world communicates. The culture is not shaped to please every potential hire with talent, but to attract, retain, and infuse with energy those who already buy into the values. Some may love the culture, and others may not. But no one will misunderstand it.
Vertesi said, “A well-known saying is that ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ I’ve been on some amazing teams with amazing plans, but they didn’t have the culture to support it and we couldn’t deliver results. What your culture is, and it’s a buzzword in a lot of ways, what do you define it as? To us it is who we are and how we get things done. Additive and ever evolving. Great culture has to be more than bean bag chairs and a nap room. It has to be something so obvious that it might repel some people.”
Values lead to the culture and goals, and the goals lead to the actions and outcomes. This sentiment is echoed in many interesting organizations, and reminiscent of Ray Dalio’s must-read Principles, in which he states:
“Remember that almost everything good comes from having great people operating in a great culture.”
Space > Brand
“There are companies that have great brands, but if you don’t care about what their business is or the sector that it’s in, to me it is hard to retain you long term,” Vertesi said.
This sentiment informs Vertesi’s hiring philosophy: A talented prospect has to have a passion for the sector, not simply the company, and certainly not only the brand image. Vertesi mentioned that she prefers the term work-life integration over work-life balance. For Hootsuite hires, work and life should appear more like circles in a Venn diagram as opposed to distinct, categorized boxes that open and close depending on the hour of the day. This innate fascination with the space not only drives ambition and good work, but supplies the stamina to endure the ups and downs in a fast-changing, hypergrowth environment.
True to the philosophy of work-life integration, Hootsuite has made a strong effort to blend the nicer elements of life into the work environment. They place a premium on fitness, encourage naps, and benefit from dog therapy. You can get a glimpse inside the culture in this video.
Ego is a deal-breaker at Hootsuite.
“Ego is a big thing for us,” Vertesi said. “Egolessness is something that’s incented, from hiring to performance reviews.”
How can you say you genuinely work on behalf of the customer when the need to gain validation overtakes the drive to create value?
In a company and industry where change, agility, collaboration, and adaptability are ever-present elements of the environment, an ego that emphasizes individual gain above the team or company vision has no place, and it is guarded against ruthlessly.
To get a better idea of Hootsuite’s culture and values, check out the company’s culture manifesto on Slideshare.