Tamara Lilian, Manager of Culture & Experience at HubSpot on The Benifit

arte Nathan

Tamara LillianTamara Lilian’s time in the hospitality industry sparked her love for working with people. Today, she works with people, a lot of them, in a different capacity. Lilian manages a global team as the manager of culture and experience at HubSpot. She worked her way up through the company, starting as a front desk receptionist.

On the job, Tamara creates incredible experiences for HubSpot employees. From Jedi awards, to a living, breathing document called the HubSpot culture code, HubSpot’s got it going on when it comes to enabling employees to thrive.

Put those earbuds in or turn up the speakers because you won’t want to miss a second of this episode!

The Benifit is a podcast hosted by Kate King, cofounder of Beni.fit. Kate interviews innovative executives from your favorite companies about how they know that when people thrive, companies prosper.

Show Highlights:

[00:29] Tamara falls in love with working with people

[03:17] Tamara talks about HubSpot’s master classes, free books program and tuition reimbursement

[06:24] “As far as I’m concerned, just because you’re an individual contributor doesn’t take away from the fact that you can be a successful employee.”

[08:28] Tamara talks JEDI Awards

[13:12] “More than ever, people are more interested now and saying, ‘Hey, the benefits are great and this interview is cool, but I want to interview with the team that I’m going to be sitting on. I want to understand how am I going to be working with people and if I’m going to really vibe with those people.’ ”

[16:37] Tamara’s advice to companies wanting to align their culture and values

[22:07] Tamara shares here morning routine

[24:50] Tamra shares the 3 rules she lives by

The Benifit: Interview with Tamara Lilian, manager of culture and experience at HubSpot

[[00:00:05] Kate: Okay. I’m joined by Tamara, who is manager of culture and experience at HubSpot.

Tamara, good afternoon there.

[00:00:15] Tamara: Thanks, Kate.

[00:00:16] Kate: Tamara, let’s get straight into it. Can you provide some background on your career path and the choices you’ve made over the past few years and how you ended up in the role at HubSpot?

[00:00:29] Tamara: Sure. Originally, after I graduated college, I moved back to the East Coast. I was out at Indiana University. I moved back to the East Coast and I joined the hospitality industry. I actually worked at a hotel for quite a few years, and I really fell in love with working with people. Whether it was colleagues or customers, I really love just enhancing the experience and creating personalized touches and really understanding that folks that traveled for a living really needed a touch of home wherever they went, and how it was really important to provide that experience for people and how much it meant to people on the other side, even though it may have felt a small detail or simple on your side.

After some time there, I felt as though I wasn’t growing in the capacity that I would like to and I wasn’t learning in the way that I would like to you. I heard so much about tech and software on the East Coast in the Boston area and seemed like a really great challenge. I found HubSpot and actually applied and joined as a front desk receptionist. One of the reasons I did that, Kate, was because I really loved coming in at the bottom and working my way to the top and understanding how this business grows and what software and tech really is.

I wasn’t super familiar with the product or the engineering side of anything when I came to HubSpot. It was a great decision. I learned a ton of my first few months at the front desk reception. I really understood how a company like this, going from assertive to a scale, was able to scale globally and be really successful after going public. A few months after joining the front desk, Katie Burke, who at the time was the director of our culture team and is now our chief people officer, actually, had asked me to join as a culture coordinator on the team.

There were three of us at that time running the team and trying to figure out how do we create and scale this culture that we want to be a part of. Fast forward, two-and-a-half years later, I’m now a manager on the team managing a global team and ensuring that we enhance the employee, new hire candidate, and alumni experience on a daily basis. It’s been a fantastic ride. We’re still learning more than ever and it’s still a really big challenge, but we’re more motivated than ever to continue

[00:02:59] Kate: Tamara, thank you. We were going to go through a few questions about you, but I’m really intrigued about your HubSpot experience. Go more, if you would, into how HubSpot really enables people to thrive in that culture.

[00:03:17] Tamara: Sure, yes. We have quite a few examples of how we do that here. Growth is really, really important. It’s a really important value that we take seriously here at HubSpot. We really take the time and create programs so that folks can grow both personally and professionally. One of the ways that we do that internally is we host master classes. Master classes are one-hour classes. They’re taught by employees for employees, so that makes that a free resource that any company can run with.

We keep topics a mix of personal professionals. Whether it’s intro to Adobe Illustrator or how to decorate a birthday cake, we feel that everyone should come to work every day and leave having learned something you didn’t know coming in. These are voluntarily — We ask people that we know are super passionate about something to take that hour and teach their colleagues, but it’s a really fun way to get a mix of departments in the room and get folks learning from one another. Master classes are a tried and true tradition that we love hosting here at HubSpot.

Another program that we have is our free books program. This is a digital library, if you will. We really encourage folks. If you find a book that you feel will help further your career at HubSpot and help you grow personally and professionally, we’re happy to provide that for you. We have an online forum that you grew across through an Amazon Kindle and we’ll fill it for you within the 24 hours.

We also provide tuition reimbursement. The cost varies a little bit depending on the country. I know in the United States, it’s about $5,000 a year. Again, this is really just showing the team that while we have some really amazing internal resources, we also know that there’s some great external resources out there as well and we want folks to learn from diversity of thoughts. Not just inside of HubSpot, but outside of HubSpot as well. Really, on the employees with that so that they can go out and continue to learn some great things and bring that back to HubSpot with them. Those are just a few of the growth-related programs that we have here at HubSpot.

[00:05:18] Kate: Thank you. I was reading and perhaps you could explain a bit about the overall culture code, the HubSpot culture code you have. I know some of those examples you’ve just given, I did take a look at it and it’s quite remarkable, I think, even in the examples you gave. There were two things that really stood out to me in the code. One was that you enable people to gain mastery as an individual contributor and make magic.

The second one, to have that, what you call, spectacular support for those who really do number one, which is gain that mastery. I think you gave fantastic examples of where HubSpot truly is behind that as their culture and living and breathing that every day, which is always so refreshing to see in new companies with high growth. A lot of companies out there have significant high growth. Sometimes the culture gets left behind, but I see this is very much the pulse of the organization, which is fantastic.

[00:06:24] Tamara: Yes. [clears throat] Excuse me. Absolutely, yes. I think that’s a good point when you refer to the individual contributors. I think, as though, sometimes folks get caught up in titles and understanding, “Oh, are you an individual contributor? Are you a manager? Are you a director? Are you a vice president?” We try not to get too tied up in that. As far as I’m concerned, just because you’re an individual contributor doesn’t take away from the fact that you can be a successful employee. Frankly, I think, anyone here can be a leader.

I don’t think that depends on your title at all. I would actually argue that a good amount of the leaders that I respect here at HubSpot are individual contributors. I think you make a really good point. In terms of the culture code, Dharmesh Shah, who is one of our co-founders, actually works on this. This is an ongoing, breathing, living document, right? As HubSpot scales and grows over the years, so does our culture, right? That’s going to evolve and change as we continue to hire remarkable talent, as we continue to serve wonderful customers, and as we continue to add offices in different countries over the world.

It’s been viewed over three million times. It’s really just an inside peak at how we work and what we believe in here. It shows what we value. In the spirit of transparency, which you know is a part of our big values, we decided to really share this externally with the world. We figure that holding it in wouldn’t do us any good. It’s really a reflection of who we are, who we aspire to be.

We’ve learned that culture is going to happen organically, right? It’s going to happen one way or the other, so why not create a culture that we love and that we want to live by? Dharmesh had created that. As I said, I think that we may be on version 30 or 31 at this point, but we continue to go back in there. As we learn and grow as a company, we continue to evolve that document as well.

[00:08:10] Kate: Fantastic. Now, I was reading JEDI Awards. Do you still have those? Maybe you could explain a little bit more about them. Because I thought this was not only an intriguing concept, but fun in terms of what JEDI stood for.

[00:08:28] Tamara: Totally, yes. We’re definitely a company. We like to have a lot of fun with things. Of course, when you think of JEDI right off the bat, you think of Star Wars. We definitely have some fans here for that. Essentially, what we have JEDI stand for is someone who “Just Effing Does It.” Really what that means is someone that’s really quietly doing their job. They’re not looking for recognition. They’re always doing the right thing.

They’re being really selfless with their work. Whether their manager is around or not around or whether someone’s watched them count their hours or not count their hours, they’re really solving for EV, they’re solving for the company, they’re solving for the customer. They’re really passionate and they really believe in the mission here. We do give out those awards. We have company meetings every quarter, so that’s four times a year.

We don’t give them out every time, right? Someone has to be really, really deserving of that. When we find someone to award that to, it’s really special. It’s a really unique award. It’s one of those people that when they get that award, every company turns and says, “Wow. That is a remarkable employee. That’s a wonderful employee.” Everyone is on the same page and everyone agrees that that person is very well deserving. That’s definitely a fun one that we love to give out what we can.

[00:09:42] Kate: Yes. I love it because it just brings that recognition, which is core on that positive psychology in a culture. The fun factor when I first saw it, I’m a real Star Wars fan. It was like that, the JEDI Award, and then when I saw it in its simplicity of people just getting their job done, but that just getting that job done is so magical and momentous every day when you have the culture that you’re striving for at HubSpot.

I really enjoyed reading that and thought that that was something that, for listeners and other companies, it’s very easy to institute into their organization and it hits so many key benefits of just bringing people together and people who’re doing their job really get recognized for it. Thank you for going into a little bit more detail on that.

[00:10:33] Tamara: Of course, Kate, yes. To your point too in terms of sharing this with the listeners in other companies, that is one of the other reasons why we made the culture code transparent. That’s another reason why I decided to join in on this podcast is because we want people to learn from us, right? I think a lot of the programs that we run are transferable and sometimes some ideas take a bigger budget than others.

Like I mentioned with the master class, I mean, that’s zero cost. The only cost there is time which, of course, we don’t want to underestimate either because finding time can be tough as well. We try to really encourage other companies and other teams to continue to have these conversations because we’ve seen such success with it. We want others to be able to reap the same benefits as well.

[00:11:19] Kate: Yes, fantastic. I think that overall objective of you come in as a HubSpot employee and you learn something new every day. We have the ability to learn something new. That high growth factor being so part of your culture, really to be reflected, the promise you also give to your customers. We’re just starting to see in the industry people really understanding employee voice and customer voice.

When I looked at the culture code, one of the first things I saw was the phrase, “Culture is for recruiting as product is to marketing.” From the back, HubSpot really said, “Okay. Employee voice is as important as customer voice. When I can work that ecosystem well together, we all win,” which is very exciting to see really part of a company’s DNA from the get-go.

[00:12:18] Tamara:  Yes, absolutely. Thank you for that.

[00:12:20] Kate: The other thing that I saw which I also love, because I think companies and listeners to this do struggle with the different generations in the workplace. It was a very transparent in the code of the work environment is changing. People use to look for a good boss or they had focused on a pension. They would look at where they worked in the office.

It seems to me that HubSpot from the get-go came out with — The thing now is purpose. The thing is being around great colleagues. It’s wherever you need to work for the highest results, the hours you need to to achieve what you want to do here in this culture. Maybe you can just give me some more examples or take that further in terms of what you see in the day-to-day working at HubSpot.

[00:13:12] Tamara: Yes, I couldn’t agree more with you, Kate. Through the amount of interviews that we do and the people that I meet with, it’s very clear who truly wants to be part of the company for the right reasons. I think throughout the culture code and throughout social media and throughout different events that we throw, I think what’s been really popular in the software and tech space is people get really obsessive with these perks, right? They say, “Wow, unlimited vacation and I can bring my dog to work. There’s free beer and there’s this social event.”

That’s all good and great. I think it’s a great perk that we have here at HubSpot that we have so much fun ingrained in what we do. If that’s the reason that you’re going to join a company, you’re frankly not going to last there very long. You really need to join to be wanting to solve for the customer. You’re really ingrained in the values and the mission that you’re driving. I would argue, as you’ll see in the culture code, that people are greater than perks, right?

While I do love the unlimited vacation policy and I totally utilize it and I love seeing dogs around the office and I love grabbing a snack in the cafeteria that’s complimentary, I come to work here every day because of the people that I work with, because of the people I report to, because of the people that report to me, because of my peers. To me, that’s truly what people today are looking for. As you said, all the stock options are great and the salary’s wonderful and health benefits.

That’s totally dependent on how folks making the decisions. More than ever, people are more interested now and saying, “Hey, the benefits are great and this interview is cool, but I want to interview with the team that I’m going to be sitting on. I want to understand how am I going to be working with people and if I’m going to really vibe with those people.” You’re seeing more and more of that now. I think it’s really important and really telling the folks that want to be here. I think that’s a smart way to approach it.

[00:15:10] Kate: I agree with you. I think that for what we see as benefits is that recruiting tool that says, “You have great benefits,” and that’s almost a prerequisite to get phenomenally committed people into your culture. I think that really is where we’re seeing talent being driven is, “I want to go and work with great colleagues.” It’s not some necessarily decisional benefits, but the benefits have to be pretty good, pedigree benefits to even get them in the door. I appreciate you going into more detail. Definitely, that spur of growth, that spur of being able to be part of the winning culture with your colleagues is definitely a core trait of great companies.

Tamara, what would you recommend as a starting point for a company looking at how they set their own culture code? Typically, companies may set it up at the beginning. They may do a five-year review of it. They may even be coming to the table as a startup or as a growing, fast startup saying, “How do we really embrace this fast growth and create this culture in which people really feel part of?” What would be your advice or how would you recommend them start of thinking about it?

[00:16:37] Tamara: Kate, that’s a great question. One of the things that makes me most excited is we do have some local startups that have reached out to me and they say, “Hey, we have about five to seven employees. How do we work on people operations and how do we work on a culture?” That makes me really excited and I will tell you why. The reason being most people do not think of that so early on in the company. Folks are so concerned with, “Where is our sales team? Where is our marketing team? How are we building a product? How are we going to build another office?”

All of that is great. Don’t get me wrong. That’s all extremely important and viable in understanding how you’re going to grow a business. I think where most people fail is that they don’t put the people and the employees in that culture first and they just focus so much more in the other side of the business that they fail to realize that the other side of the business isn’t going to run until you make your people happy and comfortable and motivated.

My advice would be to just start. Don’t be intimidated. Start to really take out your values. Don’t worry about creating a culture code deck slide. That’s 130 slides or whatever it may be.

[00:17:46] Kate: [laughs]

[00:17:47] Tamara: Even if it’s just a Google Doc, open it up, meet with some of your other co-founders. Even if you’re already to seven, learn at that point what’s important to people. Like I said, what’s important to you at that size may change and that’s okay. You can go back and modify that document and maybe you meet quarterly or maybe you meet once a year and you say, “Hey, this is what was important to us on day one. How has that shifted and why?” Have those conversations.

One of the reasons why our culture here has been so supported and so successful to this point is because Brian and Dharmesh, the co-founders of the company, and the rest of the executive management team didn’t say, “Oh, culture is an HR priority.” People operations, that’s their priority. Culture has always been a business priority. It’s just as important to the business as product, engineering, marketing, sales, services, what-have-you.

[00:18:58] Kate: Fantastic, thank you. I think that to summarize the advice, I think, in one sentence would be that your people are a business priority. I love the way you put it. It’s as equal as product, engineering, the tech, the business decisions around that. Thank you.

[00:19:21] Tamara: Of course.

[00:19:23] Kate: Tamara, I’m intrigued by your master classes. I love the idea that you can learn to decorate a cake or you can learn Adobe publisher. What was the last master class you went to?

[00:19:37] Tamara: The last master class that I went to, we’ve been doing some one-offs lately with just the people operations team. We had an individual who ran on how to communicate in an executive level, which was really helpful in understanding, “How do you come prepared to a meeting if you do need to go present to someone at a senior leadership level? How do you arrange a slide deck? How much text you have on there? How much do you have in your notes? How do you sort of plan that timing, understanding? If you start at 1:30 and end at 2:00 o’clock, how do you make sure you have enough time for questions and how do you deal with sort of the stress on that?”

That one was really interesting and really helpful for me. Right now, I’m currently forecasting our budget for 2018 and will shortly have to go and present to the finance team in understanding how I ask for more money. That was a really helpful class for me. It actually was taught by an individual who is a director on the people operations team, and so that was really helpful for me and again was a completely free resource and someone who I can also continue to follow up with and practice in front of.

That was a lovely one and I’m actually going to be hosting a master class in early November here on the art of the deal and working on having folks understand how they can negotiate contracts and leverage relationships externally as well.

[00:20:59] Kate: Fantastic. Tamara, I’m going to switch a little bit more to get back to you. I loved how you shared your story of your hospitality career and that you wanted to bring people’s home into their travel. That’s really helped you propel into living a breathing culture within HubSpot. Just from a personal perspective, I like to look at people’s morning routine. There’s a lot of talk about it in the industry, a lot of talk about it from key influences out there as well as rules in which you live by. I say “rules” loosely because I think that there are some key things that people have, attributes they have worn as they go into different companies.

I know there’s a couple of questions in there. First one, perhaps you could share for our listeners your morning routine. Are there things in there that you’ve learned over time, the things that you played around with? You wake up and what is your initial routine?

[00:22:07] Tamara: Sure. My morning routine is I feel a little bit opposite from some other folks. I know some other folks start out with a meditation or with a journal. Mine’s a little bit opposite from that. I am way more effective and efficient first thing in the morning than I am later in the afternoon, so I prefer to set my unwinding and my relaxation time for later in the day. I’m also really cautious because I work for a global company and I work with a global team.

The first thing I do in the morning is check email. I know that sounds very sort of the opposite of what we should be preaching and I think to an extent that that’s true. I really want to understand what happened with my AIPAC teams for their day, right? For my Sydney, Singapore, and Tokyo teams, I’m going to have emails from them from when I first wake up and I don’t want to let those emails linger any longer than they need to. Also with our EMEA teams in Dublin and in Berlin, they’ve been working since 3:00 AM my time that morning and they’re waiting on me for responses as well.

I really want to be cautious and understanding what my team needs for me and how I can best assist them in a timely manner. I know that to your point what I’ve learned, I should be taking more time for myself first thing in the morning, but I’m really really cautious of that. We’ve been talking a lot lately about communicating globally and understanding how we can best scale our work. I found that to be successful for me and my team recently, so I’m sticking with it for now.

I absolutely take time in the afternoon to spend time with friends and family, go for a walk, do the other things that I enjoy in my personal life, but I really want to make sure first thing in the morning that I’m prepared for my day that I understand what’s expected of me that day, what my schedule looks like, who am I going to be meeting with. Really important that I go into work and make the most of my time while I’m there, so my morning is way more about preparing for my professional day than anything else.

[00:23:57] Kate: Fantastic. I’m with you. I don’t think there’s necessarily a right or wrong approach. It’s really how you are most effective with the day. If waking up for you, grabbing coffee, and immediately just getting back to people. I think it’s interesting when you have a global team, how responsive you need to be with them, and really getting that up and running.

I think that you’re probably giving everybody a bit of a breath of fresh air saying it’s okay to be productive in the morning. It really works for me being a leader of a global team. Thank you for sharing that.

[00:24:36] Tamara: Sure.

[00:24:37] Kate: The rules you live by, can you give us a couple of what Tamara lives by, what gets you up in the morning, how you really fueled yourself for your career and your life at HubSpot?

[00:24:50] Tamara: Absolutely. My first one is actually inspired by my father who has said this to me for years. I’ve really utilized it on a daily basis. “If you don’t ask, you won’t know.” I think folks are usually afraid to ask whether it’s interpersonal lives or professional lives. To me, when it comes to negotiating contracts or planning programs or events, always ask, “Can you get 10% off if you use them three times in a row? Can you do a complimentary session if you do it at an earlier time? Hey, this doesn’t work for me at 10:00 AM. Could we push it back to 12:00 PM?”

I feel as though folks are always afraid to ask questions or they’re afraid to say no, but I say just ask. Don’t be afraid. If you don’t ask, you won’t know. The worst that’s going to happen is someone’s going to say no to you and you’re going to get back at square one where you started anyway. Learning how to leverage relationships so that everyone wins I think is really important.

Second role would just be being honest with yourself and with others and understanding that your strengths and weaknesses are crucial and what those are. For example, if there’s something that you’re not great at or that you can’t do, ask for help and that’s okay, right? That’s only going to better yourself because you’re going to grow from that and learn even quicker.

The third one is to always expect the unexpected and be prepared. Someone who’s an event planner, that is my day-to-day. You’re always going to be thrown a curveball. Not only have a backup plan, but just learn how to think on your feet. Be really adaptable and just understand what you want your outcome to be and you can absolutely get there no matter what is thrown at you that day.

[00:26:31] Kate: Your PM meditation time helps you get prepared for the curveballs or perhaps the next minute or the next day.

[00:26:39] Tamara: Exactly, yes.

[00:26:41] Kate: Love that, love that. Okay, Tamara. I know our time is up, I really do appreciate your insight not only into HubSpot, but how you really said about your manifesto with those three things that you live by and sharing for everybody who does get up and do their email. That welcome to the rest of the world, that’s what people do. Thank you so much more specifically for really giving us another insight into HubSpot. I think that the whole book, requested books, the JEDI, really that master class, being able to be an individual but master that.

Whether it’s being a leader, whether it’s being an event planner, whether it’s negotiating contracts that you look for in HubSpot, the true mastery of what that brings, I really appreciate you for giving us a further insight and truly thank you for your time today.

[00:27:45] Tamara: Thank you so much, Kate. It was an absolute pleasure. I’m really glad I was able to be a part of it.

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