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Hotjar’s rare company culture fuels their growth: Here are the 5 pillars that define it

Do core values hold the key to company culture?

It should come as no surprise that core values are the key to building an authentic company culture. If that’s the case, how does your organization view the role of its core values?

Behavior analytics company, Hotjar, has been blazing a trail of success since its founding in 2014, which is excellent, of course! But most businesses are founded with intentions of success. So what sets Hotjar apart?

Here’s the kicker: Hotjar was deliberately started as a remote employer. The company is headquartered in Malta, but there’s no office with employees clocking in and out every day. That was always the intention. Currently there are over 100 employees located across the globe. So how do they do it right and what about company culture?

It seems it’s because their company culture is built on the foundation of their core values.

In the words of Hotjar’s VP of Operations, Ken Weary:

“Hotjar takes its five core values very, very seriously and strongly. These are not just words that we put on the wall or are written somewhere deep and never reflected upon. We have five core values, and we discuss them weekly in different formats. They’re ingrained in a number of different things. They’re built into how we construct our quarterly and annual goals.”

What’s the difference between Hotjar’s approach to company culture and that of countless other businesses?

Many companies write “nice” and even extravagant core values, display them on their website and all marketing material, but seldom consider their meaning. Without significance, something has no value. Big corporations often outsource the writing of core values to PR professionals and smaller businesses copy market leaders. But when these values don’t come from the heart, they don’t honestly define the company culture.

If you don’t live by your company culture, it becomes a string of meaningless words

First: what is company culture?

It’s the personality and character of an organization, from a startup to a multinational. It defines the unique values, ethics, expectations and goals that the company lives by every day.  

The company culture dictates how employees, customers, clients and service providers are regarded and treated. It’s a social and psychological attitude ingrained in how a business operates at every level.

Getting it right starts with the hiring process

I had the pleasure of chatting to Ken to get the backstory on how Hotjar successfully continues to develop their company culture as the business expands. I was keen to know how to align a remote and diverse workforce separated by time and space, with the leadership’s vision and goals.

Ever the HR recruiter, I wanted to know how you identify talent who’ll fit into such a unique remote working environment. Having the right skills set and experience is one thing, but not everyone can be accountable and responsible if left to their own devices.

Hotjar’s hiring process is well planned, structured and bi-laterally informative. The idea is to learn as much as possible about the candidates upfront. Likewise, candidates must get as much insight into the company culture before any hiring decisions are made. Management is well aware that becoming a successful Hotjarian isn’t for everyone. Candidates can, at any stage in the hiring process, say the position isn’t for them.

So, how do you achieve that level of mutual understanding and honesty?

Ken explained that Hotjar has a 5-step hiring process that starts with applicants responding to vacancies on their careers site. On application, candidates know how the recruitment process works. Every step is described on the careers site in line with Hotjar’s policy of transparency.

This is how hiring works:

  1. Applications are received and reviewed.
  2. Successful candidates get contacted for a video screening chat.
  3. Shortlisted candidates get invited for a formal video interview.
  4. Finalists are given a paid multi-day task for review.
  5. The best candidate gets an offer.

In a bit more detail, the first two steps are straightforward in any hiring process. The early stages are little more than a meet and greet. Step 3 is more focused with targeted interview questions based on the role and the candidate’s skills and experience. Step 4 is about both the candidate and Hotjar getting to know much more about one another.

Candidates are assigned a project relevant to the job and their skills. It usually amounts to about two full days of work, and they get paid for their time. The project should be completed in about two weeks (considering candidates probably have another job). During that time, candidates have Slack access to all Hotjar employees relevant to the project. The projects are designed so that communication with internal teams is essential. That way, candidates get a feel of precisely what it’s like to work for Hotjar. This step is an opportunity for mutual evaluation by both parties.

Step 5 is a job offer to the best candidate (who’s equally as keen to join the team, having had first-hand experience of the company culture). Ken agrees that it’s a long process, and he admits that they probably do lose out on talent because some people are put off by the length of time it takes.

The positive, though, with following this process is that people don’t accept an offer first, then experience the company culture and decide it’s not for them. It also mitigates the risk of a toxic hire.

Proper onboarding and integration of new hires is essential

It’s not difficult to see how someone could start feeling disconnected after the excitement of a remote job offer wears off if there’s no proper onboarding process. Working on your own, away from your team and colleagues can lead to disengagement. Some people can start feeling overwhelmed.

But Hotjar’s onboarding process is just as sharp as their hiring process. The leaders themselves are working remotely, after all, so they know and understand the challenges. Over time they’ve refined the onboarding process to ensure that every new hire feels like part of the team from day one.

Operational onboarding is a 3-stage process:

  1. Offer negotiation, acceptance and signed contract.
  2. Day one – first-day things
  3. Day one onwards

In between each stage are vital steps that align new hires with the processes, systems and the company culture.

The first step, after the job is accepted and the contract signed, is to ensure that the new hire has all the necessary remote equipment to succeed. Hotjar gets all of this across before the starting date so that the new team member can hit the ground running. They get a laptop, a Bluetooth headset, a Kindle and a welcome pack with reading material.

The welcome pack includes two books that relate specifically to the company’s core values and working mindset, namely, Radical Candor and The Pomodoro Technique. This exposes new hires to the importance of Hotjar’s core values and how they’re lived out in the company culture every day.

Step two pre the start date is to ensure that the new team member gets technically connected, so email setup and invites to all shared tools get sorted. That way there’s no delay in logging in on the morning of their first day, and all necessary invites are ready and waiting in their inbox.

About a week before the start date, all new team members receive an email explaining how their first day will go down, so they’re prepared and know the expectations; they’re not left wondering.

And then it’s day-one!

New hotjarians can expect:

  • To be welcomed with messages from peers and their team lead.
  • An early morning call helps guide them through the day and the week ahead.
  • They’re also introduced to the rest of the company on Slack, so everyone knows about them, and their role; greetings and team intros are encouraged.
  • Hotjar’s People Ops Specialist also makes a welcome call around day-two to answer questions and address any concerns.
  • There’s also a #new-hotjarians channel in Slack, where new team members can ask questions of the Operations team at any time.

“We view everybody who works in the company as an additive to those core values, not as adhering to them.”

Keeping remote employees engaged and motivated

After such a great onboarding, I wanted to know from Ken how management ensures that employees stay engaged, motivated and productive.

It turns out that evaluations circle back to core values. Ken continues “Every six months every team member goes through a performance review. They’re asked in self-evaluations, peer evaluations and through their lead in what areas of our core values they’re strongest and in what areas they need to grow.”

Again it’s clear how the company culture gets reinforced through working in alignment with core values every day.

“We’re constantly guiding back to our core values - who we are, what we do, how we work. Our core values are built into our performance management process. We view everybody who works in the company as an additive to those core values, not as adhering to them.”

Personal accountability

Promoting personal accountability is critical. People must develop their own productivity rituals and routines. Priorities need to be set in a way that best suits them: what must get done today, this week, sometime soon, WIP, etc. 

Each employee has their own way of ensuring they meet their deadlines and responsibilities. People have the freedom to choose processes. Some prefer to-do-lists, jotting down notes as they arise, detailed lists, whiteboards, electronic/manual journals, etc. Collaboratively Hotjar uses Trello for planning and working tasks.

A fluid feedback system

Hotjar is big on asking for and giving feedback while working on tasks and projects. Employees run ideas and work by someone else for input and make adaptations before deadlines so workflow isn’t affected. Outlines, flowcharts, design prototypes, etc. are regularly shared from the defining and planning stages onwards.

Prioritizing self development

Clearly working at Hotjar requires constant development and improvement, and the company champions that in a big way. Employees get a €1,000 annual Personal Development Budget that allows them to buy books and sign up for courses that will help them grow.

“We see conflict as a means to resolve differences. It offers a diversity of information which is healthy. If we all think the same, we’re headed for a train wreck!”

The attitude and motivations of business leaders set the pace

I was keen to know more about the leadership mindset from Ken. They do, after all, not only select people with the right motivation and attitudes for remote work but keep successfully growing the company?

What unique attributes does this management team have that sets them apart from the rest? It turns out that Ken doesn’t think they’re really that different from other business leaders.

One thing they do regularly is to reflect on Hotjar’s core values and collectively consider if they, as leaders, are following their core values. Under pressure, it can be easy to deviate, but not for this team! They believe that if they’re not following the core values, their team will quickly follow suit. If that happens, their values will become meaningless, and so will their company culture.

So how does a team like this handle conflict and differences in opinion and approach?

“We see conflict as a means to resolve differences. It offers a diversity of information which is healthy. If we all think the same, we’re headed for a train wreck!”

Among themselves, Hotjar’s senior executives value new ideas and visionary inspiration. Obviously not every new idea is a great or viable one, but they’re potentially a seed for something better. Positive conflict is an opportunity to flush out ideas, disagree, reason, motivate, agree and commit and support the right thing.

So what’s Ken’s definition of Hotjar’s senior executive team?

“We’re a re-inventive team! Pragmatic and challenging of each other to come up with what we believe to be the best results.”

And this is the attitude that they carry over to their employees. They’re always encouraging innovation, transparency, honest communication and 100% commitment to the best outcomes. Hotjar’s senior executive team believes in leading by example first and foremost.

Continually evolving, re-inventing, admitting and fixing mistakes while remaining transparent and committed to excellence is what keeps Hotjar at the cutting edge of their industry. That’s what also makes them an employer of choice attracting top remote talent.

By the way, what exactly are Hotjar’s five core values?

These are the current (2020) core values, but Ken assures that they regularly evolve to improve.

  1. Obsess over our users
  2. Be bold and move fast
  3. Work with respect
  4. Build trust with transparency
  5. Learn by doing

Short and potent, as you can see. That’s another belief of the leadership. Keep your core values brief and easy to digest. Especially if that’s what defines your company culture. You can’t expect employees to read, remember and live by values that fill pages and pages.

How to improve company culture

The world of business is busy changing much more rapidly than anyone could’ve predicted at the start of this year. Many companies are going to have to undergo a radical transformation to be relevant and successful post the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of those changes is that the number of companies hiring remote workers will increase dramatically. Things won’t work as they did previously. 

  • Hiring and onboarding will be the starting point of change. 
  • Existing employees who start working remotely and onsite employees will have to go through each step of change similar to onboarding. 
  • Team dynamics will change and have to be addressed.

Your company culture will become the differentiator between success and failure. 

Many business leaders are going to have to re-think and re-evaluate their company culture to bring about the necessary changes that have to be made to remain competitive.

What can we take away from this?

As a remote workforce becomes more of a global reality by the day, business leaders can take a leaf from Hotjar’s book and learn from their tried and tested experience.

Not all industries are the same, and neither are approaches in leadership or customer and client bases. Expectations and processes can differ vastly, so types of company culture will vary.

Regardless of you define your company’s core values, global market changes and altered employee expectations will mean that your business is probably overdue for a cultural transformation.

One thing that’s not negotiable is that business leaders must take the time to examine their core values, expectations and intentions very carefully and honestly. Once agreed on, they should be distributed and implemented in every aspect of the business. Not only as words, but as actions!

A company’s culture is based on its core values just as personal ethics and values dictate how we treat each other and the world around us.

In the end, it’s the actions of business leaders that dictate a company’s culture!

Although remote work will continue to play a major role in future business environments, not everyone is naturally suited to working remotely, and many team members will need support to adapt. 

F4S can help you measure the attitudes and motivations that can help with remote work, and help you to coach and develop any blind spots in your team members. 

Our people analytics platform isn’t a once-off assessment either. The app identifies strengths and blind spots, followed up with real time coaching to help you reach your goals. You can also use our culture mapping tool, benchmarking reports and team comparisons to improve existing and build new teams.

Sign up for free today to start building your high-performing remote team.

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