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The Hubspot-Dan Lyons saga offers lessons on employee engagement, authenticity and corporate culture

The Hubspot-Dan Lyons saga offers lessons on employee engagement, authenticity and corporate culture

In a recent article for VentureBeat, Andrew Reid, founder and president of corporate innovation at Vision Critical, steps into the battle between Dan Lyons and Hubspot.

The saga between the Silicon Valley writer and the marketing automation software company dominated tech publications this month as Lyons’ new book, Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-up Bubble, was released. The memoir offers an unflattering account of working in the tech industry, based on Lyons’ 20-month tenure at Hubspot.

Among other things, Lyons’ book claims that Hubspot (and the tech industry in general) suffers from ageism, high employee churn and a lack of real product innovation.

“When it comes to race and gender bias, the people running Silicon Valley at least pay lip service to wanting to do better,” Lyons writes on LinkedIn. “But with age discrimination they don’t even bother to lie.”

In The New York Times, Lyons says employees in tech are often “disposable” even if companies want them to believe that they are “rockstars.” And in an excerpt in Fortune, Lyons goes after Hubspot’s business model, criticizing the company’s executives for prioritizing marketing and sales over its software. “While people still refer to this business as the ‘tech industry,’ in truth it is no longer really about technology at all,” he writes.  

According to Reid, Lyons’ critique of Hubspot highlights four important challenges for companies.

  1. Embrace brand authenticity.

The stories in Disrupted are in stark contrast to the image that Hubspot has built for itself over the years. The company has become synonymous with inbound marketing in the martech world, helping it successfully go public in 2014.

And when it comes to corporate culture, Hubspot has touted itself as a “lovable company.” Many business leaders confess to aspiring to copy Hubspot’s “culture code,” which the company has made public since 2013. Regardless of whether or not you believe Lyons’ account, one thing is for sure: his book is making people question whether Hubspot’s images matches the reality.

The lesson here is that companies must do what they say they’ll do. If the image that you project doesn’t accurately reflect your culture, current and former employees will call you out.

RELATED: Read the Authenticity Handbook for real-world examples of companies that are building genuine trust with their customers and employees

  1. Engage with empowered employees.

Lyons, an influential and well-connect journalist, isn’t your typical employee. But what he demonstrates is the power of one voice—how one employee or former employee can hurt a brand’s image.

Technology has empowered today’s employees, who can now easily share their opinions and experiences on social media and on websites like Glassdoor. You don’t have to look very far to see the empowered employee in action. Recently, Yelp and Amazon have faced similar controversies after former employees publicly criticized their culture.

Companies need to keep empowered employees happy—and the best way to do that is to build an authentic relationship with them and meet their needs. That’s why companies must enable two-way conversations with their staff and use the insight of their employees to improve the workplace. Increasing employee satisfaction and reducing churn requires looking beyond the annual employee engagement survey. Using employee insight communities, where companies can systematically gather ongoing feedback, is a good way to regularly engage with employees and find out about their needs.

RELATED: Watch this video learn how employee feedback helps Westfield Group and Vision Critical grow their companies

  1. Articulate your corporate culture with the help of your employees.

In an effort to build unity and common understanding within the organization, many companies are putting pen to paper and communicating their corporate cultures to their employees and to the world. Articulating your culture could be a useful exercise, helping clarify your company’s values and mission.

But often this exercise lacks an important ingredient: feedback from current employees. Often, the stated corporate culture reflects the vision of one or a handful of people.

“Your corporate culture shouldn’t just be about the values of one person,” writes Reid. “It should be about the values of the people that work in your company.” Companies need to engage with their current employees to ensure that what’s said in their corporate culture is consistent with the actual values and aspirations of their workforce.

  1. Build a relationship with your former employees.

Former employees like Lyons are often the most vocal when it comes to praising or criticizing employers. That’s why companies can’t afford to forget about the people who used to work for them.

Former employees are particularly important because they often become customers, partners or even employees again. They could also become brand advocates for your company if they feel like the time they spent with you was beneficial to their careers.

Final thought

In a LinkedIn article, Dharmesh Shah, CTO of Hubspot, admitted that he and company CEO Brian Halligan were “upset when we first read the book.” He offered a pragmatic response to many of the issues brought up by Lyons, sharing stats and facts to refute some of the claims.

While some experts believe Hubspot could have done more, the company’s response is a good first step. But, as Reid points out, the company’s job doesn’t stop there. More than ever, Hubspot needs to get closer to its employees. Companies that want to avoid the controversy facing Hubspot needs to do the same.

The Authenticity Handbook



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