Defaulting to Open
SHOPIFY’S CULTURE TEAM EMPOWERS EMPLOYEES
TO GIVE THEIR BEST TO THE COMPANY
By Sarah B. Hood
Since it was conceived in 2006 with five employees working out of a coffee shop, Shopify has become
one of Canada’s most successful tech companies. Starting as a platform for small-to-medium online
merchants, the Ottawa-based company has definitively emerged as a leading commerce player. Its
software currently powers some 600,000 active stores, enabling about $63 billion in sales.
A pioneer in the new marketplace, it’s not surprising that Shopify is also an innovator in the human
resources realm. Today, Shopify manages more than 3,000 employees; some work in offices in Canada, the
U.S., Germany and Lithuania, while about 1,400 “Shopifolk” work remotely from locations around the world.
The company consistently ranks high in surveys like Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work in Canada (which
named it Number One in 2017). How do they do it? Apparently, it’s a question of culture.
Just as Shopify was quick to anticipate changes in the 21st-century marketplace, it has also stayed one step
ahead of changes in the workplace. “I think the biggest thing is creating more of that personalized experience,
trying to target the different experiences of employees,” said Lisa Madokoro, Shopify’s employee experience
Shopify has signalled the critical importance of its workplace culture by building it right into the structure
and language of the company. Shopify’s internal Culture Team is broken out into three sub-teams: Employee
Experience, Culture Design and Internal Communications. It is, Madokoro said, “focused specifically on
attracting talent and keeping people here. All together, we really have a pulse on the employee experience.
We’re really the owners of our company values. Company values are so key; we make sure our values reflect
the reality of Shopify.”
The Culture Team has been in existence since the company’s beginnings, she said: “often companies will
add that role after sizable growth. This role came from the early days of the company. Tobi Tobias Lütke,
our CEO, says the quality of our product is the quality of our business, which is the quality of our people.”
As the Culture Team’s design lead, Mandira Midha leads a team that works to create and deepen the con-nections
between the company and its people. “We focus on designing amazing employee experience events,
office space and internal branding. The intention is recognizing and building an environment that allows
them to thrive,” Midha said, pointing out that “more and more companies are trying to steer away from cor-porate
culture that constrains people to one that gives them autonomy and allows them to contribute. It
doesn’t have to be at a high level; everybody’s opinion is valued.”
As is only to be expected of such a forward-looking company, Shopify stays abreast of current human
resources trends. “One thing that is really important is creating the space for people to learn and grow; that
personal development, compared with professional development, is key to Shopify and that is one thing we
are very passionate about,” said Madokoro.
In order to address this facet of workplace culture, Shopify has created an employee perk called Own
Your Own Development, which provides a budget for employees to pursue whatever type of learning is most
important to them, from upgrading their tech skills to taking theatrical improv classes.
“I think it is unique to Shopify. We want to give people their own space to figure out how they want to learn
and grow,” Madokoro said. “We have an amazing talent development team internally. From day one, all of our
employees are part of our Start Up program, so they all have the same foundation. Boost is another talent-development
program; it focuses on levelling up talents and behaviours that are important to all at Shopify,
and Lead Level Up is a training program for new people leads.”
“Our culture has been intentional and has been built in from the beginning,” Midha said. However, “it’s
pretty interesting how much the team has grown over the past few years,” she said.
“One of the key things about our culture is developing our people. If we continue to build amazing peo-ple,
we’ll continue to build amazing products. Being a constant learner is one of our values,” she said. To this
end, “one of my personal favourite initiatives is our Coach’s Corner: a coaching team that focuses on a few key
Photos courtesy of Shopify
20 ❚ AUGUST 2018 ❚ HR PROFESSIONAL