Culture itself is not created. It is an emergent property of our organization’s people and systems, which are built on shared principles. Culture is like consciousness—you can't point at it or touch it. Consciousness is the result of complex interactions between neurons and synapses. In the case of company culture, it’s the result of interactions between people and systems practices.
Our people practices (hiring, promotions, firing) and systems practices (writing, meetings, operating cadence) are grounded in principles that were articulated early in the company's life by our founders, Mitchell Hashimoto and Armon Dadgar. Mitchell and Armon saw the principles partly as a distillation of the culture as it already was; they and the rest of the team had selected for qualities like integrity and pragmatism, though they hadn’t yet made those priorities explicit.
In part, the principles were also a response to what Mitchell and Armon had seen elsewhere in Silicon Valley—and wanted to avoid. While employees of many companies essentially lived their entire lives at work, in some cases literally sleeping at the office, HashiCorp’s founders wanted their teammates to feel encouraged to have personal lives. While other companies’ decisions seemed driven by whoever had the most influence, Mitchell and Armon wanted an environment where everyone was expected to check their egos at the door, thereby stripping away power dynamics as much as possible.
When I joined HashiCorp, I saw some processes that I thought could be improved. I’d only been here a few weeks, but the leadership was immediately open to my feedback. They asked what I would change, and we did end up evolving those procedures.
Humility and collaboration are at the heart of this approach; we believe that good ideas can come from anywhere, and that the best ideas come from working together to challenge, iterate, and refine. Multiple perspectives make us stronger, so we encourage everyone at every level to share their views. Executed well, both our people practices and our systems will support this goal of inclusion and, by adhering to our principles, allow us to build and maintain the culture we want.
Who We Are: Our People Practices
Culture is created and maintained through people practices and systems practices. Those people practices are how we recruit and hire, promote and recognize, and even fire according to HashiCorp’s principles.
Recruiting and hiring
From behavior-based interview questions to consistent processes that help us minimize bias, HashiCorp’s principles are at the heart of how and whom we hire. Just as we must be pragmatic when writing job descriptions, we must also look for candidates who display pragmatism. Just as we should thoughtfully approach all hiring and recruiting communications, we should evaluate the communication skills of candidates. And while some principles are easier to coach than others, all are important to consider when inviting new people to join the team.
The principles were part of what initially drew me to HashiCorp, but I was skeptical. I wondered if the co-founders really meant all the things they’d written down. More than two years in, I’ve seen a lot of change, but the principles have remained very solid.
I saw reflection and communication in practice here right away, working on a website redesign. I always received the context I needed and rarely even needed to ask. People just offered it naturally. That made getting started so much easier.
Performance, promotions, and recognition
Like hiring, our assessment and promotion processes are informed by our values. We make a conscious effort to reward and recognize people who exemplify and live by HashiCorp principles by designing our career matrices and our performance program to match them. Every six months employees are given the formal opportunity to reflect and get feedback on where they stand against the expectations of their roles and how they exemplify the HashiCorp principles through our performance feedback program. In addition, we place emphasis on giving and receiving informal feedback on the principles in-the-moment, when it can make a difference to the work itself.
Both structured and informal feedback give us opportunities to reflect on our relationships with one another. I like that we get regular reviews from our peers and direct reports as well as our managers.
If we hire someone but don’t give them a path for growth, will they be motivated to stay? Providing incentives like promoting from within is part of how we build our culture long-term.
While we never take lightly a decision to part ways with an employee, we pay attention when people are underperforming, but we also take note when people are breaking our principles, and we don’t tolerate egregious behavior. If we expect to scale a culture of humility and kindness, for example, we must be willing to act when we identify team members who aren’t upholding those values.
Not long after I joined HashiCorp, I had a conversation with a teammate who didn’t seem aligned with our principles—and later, our leaders talked with them about whether they really wanted to be here. They decided to part ways. That showed me HashiCorp understands how important it is to get these principles right.
Of course, such decisions are balancing acts. Some may believe we’re not aggressive enough when we determine a team member isn’t aligned with our principles; others may think we’re too aggressive. Each case is considered carefully, and always with the goal of putting people first.
Our employees have high expectations, and we want to meet them. That requires being consistent and sticking to our principles, even when it means removing someone from the team.
What We Do: Our Systems
Just like our people practices, HashiCorp’s systems—including our operating cadence, our writing practices, and the way we run meetings—have been designed with our principles in mind and are a critical element of maintaining and evolving our company culture. We are also intentional about weaving inclusive practices into our people and system processes. We recognize that institutionalized practices and norms are just as influential on culture as who we hire, promote, and fire. These systems should always be tinkered with and improved, like a product.
From the inherent humility of providing context and sharing abandoned ideas when filling out a PRD (Problem Requirements Document), to the kindness required when giving thoughtful feedback on an RFC (Request for Comment), HashiCorp’s principles inform every aspect of the way we write. Our templates are designed to make sure each member of the team feels safe sharing their ideas, regardless of their role.
Writing allows more people to contribute and share their perspective. Anyone can create a doc to share their thoughts—and then everyone can read it and give feedback.
It’s important to both make and receive suggestions in documents with kindness and empathy. We should have the humility to debate the pros and cons and decide on whatever’s right for the product.
Because documents at HashiCorp are generally accessible to everyone in the company, they help employees feel included — no matter how long someone has been on the team. New hires can quickly get up to speed on how and why past decisions were made.
At a lot of companies, you only hear about the outcome, not the thinking behind it. We want team members to understand the whole process: the problem, the solution, and the other solutions we decided against.
Synchronous communication at HashiCorp is also designed with inclusivity in mind. While the specific structure of a meeting will depend on its goal, it should always surface multiple perspectives—and approach problem-solving with pragmatism and integrity.
Our culture encourages us to do the right thing, and in meetings I see active efforts taken to ensure everyone’s voice is heard. We believe diversity of thought and experience drives innovation and we try to be intentional about making that a reality
Informal meetings serve a critical cultural purpose alongside more structured sessions—especially on a distributed team like ours.
I joined HashiCorp during the COVID-19 outbreak, so I’ve yet to meet my teammates in person. Randomly paired one-on-ones and other social meetings have definitely helped me connect with people.
Our operating cadence is the way we set and review goals on an annual, quarterly, and weekly basis. With this process we emphasize the ritual of review more so than the precision of setting goals. We recognize that setting goals is an imperfect process, and that the value comes from reflection — the routine practice of assessing progress with integrity and making changes with humility. Our operating cadence is an embodiment of the principles of reflection, integrity, humility, and communication.
The ritual of reflection keeps my priorities top of mind and helps me stay focused on what's important.
Where We’re Going: Evolving HashiCorp’s Culture
Just as culture cannot be directly created, it cannot be directly changed; instead, we change culture by improving our people practices and systems practices. This is an ongoing journey, and with each new person we hire or system we improve, we have an opportunity to further align ourselves with HashiCorp’s principles.
Evolving a culture requires being open. Some people will have reservations about change, and we need to identify and address those concerns in order to grow.
In some areas, we are already approaching the consistent application of principles we will need to succeed; in others, we have more work to do. And across all practices and systems, the likelihood of inconsistencies will grow with the size of our team. Gathering input from every teammate, as we did when we were five people, isn’t possible when we are over 1,000. Likewise, some of our roles will feel further from the customer than they used to. But rather than allow transitions to render our principles obsolete, we should recognize that, as we grow, our principles are more critical and relevant than ever before.
We know our culture is healthy and our principles are working when people feel comfortable telling Mitchell and me that we’re wrong. As long as it’s done with humility and kindness, that’s a great sign.
What’s more, a strong culture will create a virtuous cycle: When we all feel valued and heard — when we learn that we can trust our colleagues to respect us and our contributions — we become more likely to speak up again. Thus, by following our principles, we make HashiCorp a place where each employee knows they belong, and where collaboration ensures the best ideas flourish.