SaaS Economics Blog

    Management through Inspiration

    by Brad Coffey

    HubSpot has a unique culture.  We hire people who are thoughtful, smart and fight for what they think is right.  And we try to hire as many as possible of them.  Our core tool for deliver great value to our customers, is to have great leaders in the company. 

    It turns out (not unsurprisingly) that these type of leaders don't like to be told what to do.  They want direction on where the company is headed, but not directions on how to get there.  As Dharmesh likes to say - they want to be inspired, not managed.  

    To that end I find the best leaders at HubSpot do 3 things really well:

    • Obsess over creating a vision (with a matching set of high goals)
    • Obsess over driving alignment around those goals
    • Empower people with the freedom to achieve those goals

    And they do this regardless of where they are in the company - not just 'managers'. In fact, some of our best leaders are not 'managers' at all and have zero people reporting to them.  

    • Anyone at HubSpot can set and sell a vision at a certain level - there are no offices, everyone's calendar is open to be booked for coffee, and we have an active wiki where ideas are shared and debated.  It takes a lot of selling, but the opportunity to be heard is there.
    • Many people drive alignment through direct reporting relationship (and may complain when its not there) - but there are other (often better) tools to drive alignment including: Managing meeting agendas, creating regular reports, adjusting commissions or compensation structures, and running internal contests
    • Finally most managers can empower people to achieve their goals by getting out of the way.  Often its as simple as asking 'who owns this project' - and once that person is identified, funneling all questions through that person.  If they see a roadblock ask again 'who owns this project', and make a decision. At HubSpot we call this person a DRI - Designated Responsible Individual.
     
    I think this is different than how a lot of companies are managed.  In many companies an executive will come up with an idea - and instead of taking the time to set and sell the vision for that idea, they'll simply tell someone to do it.  Instead of giving people autonomy to solve the problem, they'll tell them exactly what to do.  They'll do more managing than inspiring.
     
    And its easy to see why.  It far easier to tell someone to do something, than to create a vision.  Its much faster to tell someone how to do something than to give them enough context to make the right decision themselves.  It's seductive because its easy and gets to a short term goal quicker.
     
    But that's not what seems to work at HubSpot and I think that's probably a good thing.  We want to nurture future leaders and to avoid uninspired compromises - and I think this culture helps that.  It's not for everyone, but it works for us. 
    Brad Coffey

    Written by Brad Coffey