Weave “Why” Into the Hiring Process, Or Don’t Bother Recruiting!

Have you thought about your organization’s “why” lately? Why do you exist as an employer and is it compelling inspiration for your employees and for job seekers?

I’ve been thinking about this a ton lately, and when I kept on hearing about Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why, during my weekly digest of business podcasts I decided to listen to the audiobook. I’m seven years late to the party as it was first published in 2011. Sinek was talking about this in his TED Talks even earlier; yet, this idea is still relevant today.

Many of Sinek’s business examples (e.g. Apple, Southwest Airlines) focus on how clarity around their why inevitably drove customer acquisition and retention. Customers will buy from brands that inspire them, and what resonates for one person will fall flat for another.

In the book, Sinek shared how former Southwest Airlines CEO, Herb Kelleher, championed this belief with the culture he fostered in his organization. Years after Kelleher’s death, his legacy lives on in a still powerful culture that endeavors to give everyone the freedom to fly. In fact, my nephew Andrew, a airplane mechanic with Southwest Airlines, is a prime example.

Andrew and his wife were on vacation returning from the Pacific Northwest last year when their Southwest flight was at risk for further delays due to mechanical issues. Although my nephew had never worked at that airport (which was not a Southwest hub) and was not on the clock, he realized they were short on mechanics due to an extenuating circumstance. Consequently, he informed them that he was a Southwest mechanic and volunteered to assist in the time of need. He was motivated to help his family to have the freedom to fly home more quickly; however, Southwest still had to be responsive to empower him to step in at an unfamiliar location. They did respond, it worked out and he was commended in an all company publication shortly thereafter–a public reinforcement of Southwest’s why.

Having clarity about the purpose of an organization benefits the recruitment process and employee retention, too. In fact, inspiring job seekers and employees is even more important than customers, because without the passionate commitment of your employees, your customers won’t be inspired either.

Align recruiting strategy with your why

Are you currently painting the picture of why you exist to your potential future workforce? If you’re not sure, then you may be leading with the “how” and “what” of your organization (like so many employers) rather than following Sinek’s “Golden Circle.” In the circle, why always precedes how and what.

Remember, a candidate’s experience in your recruiting and hiring process will drive whether they believe your culture is true to the expectation you set. You must craft an experience that exudes your organizational why in order to truly engage job candidates.

At ExactHire, a piece of our why is to use technology to enable flexibility that allows people to balance work and personal life. That element of championing employment that accommodates your own lifestyle is repeated in our sixth and final core value.

ExactHire Core Values

Our work to truly articulate our ExactHire why is a work in progress, which can sometimes be frustrating. Nevertheless, enrichment is often realized in the journey more than the destination. Our newer journey has led us to build a new hiring software application that embodies the piece of our why that champions flexibility in the employment experience. Its first release will especially serve employers of large numbers of hourly, relatively interchangeable positions. This is the applicant sourcing world of “Just In Time” (JIT) hiring, and if that recruiting reality resonates with you, then you already know that it demands flexibility.

Weaving our why into hiring process design

The essence of our employment experience is previewed to candidates via the structure and activities involved with our recruiting and onboarding process. We think intentionally about incorporating our why throughout our hiring process.

Hiring process stakeholders

Before I ever post a new job opening at ExactHire, internally we’ve planned which teammates will be involved at which step in the process, as well as what their objective is in participating (e.g. questions to answer, information to impart). We talk to candidates during interviews about how the trust we place in employees allows us to enjoy flexibility in our working schedules. We can instill that trust due to the careful vetting process job candidates undergo. The ones who make it have chosen not to withdraw from the process despite our consistent candor about what it’s really like to work at ExactHire.

Additionally, the technology that we develop (which we use in our own recruiting process of course) must be flexible to

  • meet candidates where they are,
  • allow them to communicate in the manner that they prefer, and
  • nurture their current engagement level (even if they aren’t ready to make a move yet).

Hiring process steps

Since our why focuses on flexibility, then our how must include regular, clear communication. At the onset of every ExactHire candidate’s recruiting experience, we describe all the interview steps involved in the hiring process, as well as how long we generally review candidates at each stage. There is nothing secret about the steps we take to hire; if we aren’t up front with what is required and our preferred time frame, then we’ll waste the candidate’s time and our time with people who can’t accommodate our needs. We treat people like adults and trust them to opt out if the career opportunity we’re serving isn’t appetizing.

We recently interviewed candidates for an additional salesperson for our team, and for this particular job, the following steps helped us demonstrate our why:

  • Short, initial employment application – While we have many questions for applicants, we recognize that they won’t answer all of them in the first step. So, we only ask a few key questions at the onset.
  • Phone interview – While this is a somewhat traditional approach to screening candidates, if we’re hiring for an inside sales position then phone presence is critical to assess.
  • Remainder of employment application – Once candidates have been engaged during the phone interview, they are more flexible to complete the remaining questions on our application.
  • Behavioral and cognitive assessment – These tools provide us with great data, but that data is only actionable for us because we know our why and which assessment scales are most critical in supporting that why.
  • Video interview – For our recent salesperson selection process, we did a video conference interview instead of an in-person interview to flexibly accommodate everyone’s schedule more easily. Video presence is also an important skill to assess given that modern technology has made it easy for some sales calls to be done via video conference.
  • Job shadow – The final step in our hiring process is a hands-on session during which the candidate experiences what it’s really like on the job and makes sure it is the right fit. He/she can experience our why first-hand.

Job description language

I support Sinek’s suggestion to be brutally honest about the realities of a job. After all, you want to hire people that want the job that you actually have, not one that you bait them with in an airbrushed job description. Here are some tips for incorporating why into your job descriptions.

Don’t hide your warts

Be honest about the thornier aspects of the role and your company. For ExactHire, that means I’ve included job listing truths like

  • our web developers work longer hours while we build a brand new application,
  • we have a 401K plan but no corporate match,
  • due to our small company size you must have a trailblazing mentality–as there is not always a precedent for situations you encounter, and
  • employees must be resourceful and seek help from our whole team–they can’t depend only on their boss.

Highlight your best features

Don’t forget to showcase your organization’s strengths, too. Focus on ones that lend authenticity to your company’s why. For us, these include

  • a relatively flexible work schedule (e.g. I don’t have to use PTO to take my kids to the dentist),
  • the ability to telecommute, and
  • the chance to impact the entire organization and be empowered to help our clients bring flexibility to their job seekers and employees, too.

Be practical

If you only focus on the why in your job title and description, then you will be doing yourself a disservice. For example, you should still use job-relevant keywords in the description because not all employers will attract the same kind of job seeker attention that Simon Sinek does when he posts a job. While your job description should inspire the right job seekers, it can inspire on a larger scale if it’s able to be found via keyword-relevant queries on search engines and job boards.

Appreciate quality over quantity

With brutal honesty in your job description and thoughtful consideration for your organizational why, know that you may not be flooded with applicants. However, the quality of candidates you receive and your potential for cultivating longer employment tenure will be much better.

If you can’t tolerate the thought of fewer applicants as a result of better articulating your why and your expectations, then you’ve either completely missed your why; or, your why isn’t compelling enough when conveyed in its present form.

Employment brand champions

No matter how pervasive your why is across the organization, some employees are better advocates for your company purpose than others. Identify these teammates and spotlight them on your careers site, in social media and print, and within your interviewing process.

Consider using video testimonials with employees telling personal stories about how they identify with the vision of the employer. Also, create blog content that paints a picture of why (or why not) certain types of people should work for the company. Authentic, employee-inspired content does a fantastic job of setting expectations with job seekers regarding their potential fit with your organization.

Engagement during pre-boarding phase

The time between when a candidate accepts an offer and when he actually begins work is a delicate phase. I’ve seen organizations stood up by new hires on day one because the new candidates were not engaged by the organization appropriately during this pre-boarding period.

Reduce new hire “buyer’s remorse” by sharing examples of your company living up to its why during pre-boarding. During our recent recruitment process, I sent a photo of the team enjoying our annual holiday event on a Monday afternoon to remind our yet-to-start new hire of our focus on work-life balance.

This type of image is great content for the company social media profiles, as well. It helps illustrate your why to additional passive job seekers and existing employees and partners.

ExactHire Team Holiday Outing 2018

Employee onboarding

Senior leaders are caretakers of the company why. They must support the vision and inspire others through their actions. Involve these leaders in your new hire onboarding process–whether they sit down and meet directly with new hires or record a video that is shared during the first week of employment.

Due to the scope of their positions with the organization, they are generally busy people and it can be hard to find time to align them with the onboarding process to help support the why. However, while their frequent focus on profits, product features or service agreements is critical, without their attention directed to a compelling why your offering may be at risk of becoming just a commodity.

Keep walking the talk – don’t blame others

Organizations should put their best foot forward to support the why during the hiring process; however, don’t make the mistake of forgetting to reiterate the why to long-term employees, too. While it is a group effort, you have a stake in supporting the vision as well. So, what should you do if you find yourself among co-workers who are disengaged or a supervisor who isn’t representing the why?

While it can be easy to blame others and try to change their behavior, your best chance of making a difference is to be the rising tide.

“If you want to change someone else, change yourself. People change because they’re inspired by someone else’s example, not because they were coerced into doing it.” – Rachel Hollis

What about when you are the one needing the lift–especially this time of year? I can relate and offer this advice. While I can’t snow bird just yet to escape the drab, bone-chilling cold of the Midwest in winter, I can fight any of my own creeping disengagement by creating opportunities for us all to be more engaged.

“If you wish to feel more engaged, fulfilled and happy at work, make it your obsession to help the people around you find more engagement, fulfillment and happiness in their jobs.” – Simon Sinek

I was inspired by a conversation with a co-worker recently to start an optional quarterly book club at work. And while Start With Why isn’t actually our first reading assignment, we have chosen Radical Candor by Kim Scott. I believe it will help us dig into better articulating ExactHire’s why and where we still need some work connecting to it.

Don’t undervalue the business why

You can’t get this part wrong. If you do, it will weaken everything in your company. While inertia may sustain the organization for awhile, eventually the most talented people will leave to seek more challenge and/or something energizing or inspiring to support.

Which is Celebrated More at Your Organization–Talent or Tenacity?

How do you know when it is time to throw in the towel on your latest project? The answer will vary from one individual to another, and perhaps it is dependent on the current environmental circumstances, too. I have to say…January in the Midwest is an easy time to be a quitter despite all the best new year resolution intentions. So many things are stacked against you…the cold, the ice, the deprivation of consistent sunlight and the post-holiday withdrawal. So what keeps some of us going despite the odds?

Well, a tolerance for bearing subzero temperatures and a lifetime of Indiana winters is probably a decent start. But when it comes to losing weight, getting that degree, earning a promotion or achieving that lofty departmental goal, what matters more: talent or tenaciousness?

I think most reasonable people would say “a little of both.” However, Angela Duckworth makes the argument that “grit” counts for more than most people tend to believe in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. She comments that most people would say that being a hard worker is more important than being a “natural.” Surprisingly, though, research studies suggest the subconscious proves the opposite. For example, this study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology has shown that individuals presented with two different musicians’ profiles (one celebrating talent-based achievement and the other citing effort-based achievement) tend to pick the talent-based “natural” as the more successful musician upon hearing a musical selection–even though the two different selections are actually played by the same musician.

In this blog, I’ll share how concepts from Duckworth’s book can be applied to fostering grit and tenacity in your life and in your organization. First, let’s understand the relationship between talent, effort and achievement.

Why do we overemphasize talent?

One might argue that having a bias toward talent is a form of self-preservation. Would you rather beat yourself up for not having the swimming skills of Michael Phelps; or, would it be easier to chalk up your lack of pool prowess to the fact that Phelps was born to swim and isn’t even in the same category as you?

When we compare ourselves to genius…or even to a perceived “natural”…then we don’t have to feel bad about falling short because our relative disadvantage is out of our control. It then becomes easy to discount the long hours of practice that an expert has expended on his skill to achieve greatness.

Talent alone is not a means to greatness

But still, talent can’t be ignored, right? I mean, Michael Phelps does have a seven foot arm span which hasn’t hurt his gold medal prospects. There is in fact a place for talent. But what is worth more…talent or effort? And, what combination equals achievement?

In her book, Duckworth proposes that “with effort, talent becomes skill and, at the very same time, effort makes skill productive.” And so you must start with a little bit of talent…but natural talent left unpracticed will fall short of skill honed through effort over time. In fact, she argues that effort counts twice:

Talent x Effort = Skill

Skill x Effort = Achievement

So, you might conclude that the more effort applied, the more your skill improves and the more you are capable of achieving even if you start with very little talent. Can you think of an example from your own life where this equation rang true?

I can. I played varsity basketball in high school and managed to be a starting forward my senior year, but my position was tenuous at times. I was decent, but less accomplished than the other starters. The one thing that over time distinguished me from the others was my ability to shoot with my weak hand on the left side of the basket. All the other players would generally practice with only their dominant right hand, but I started to see a knack for shooting–if only reasonably awkwardly–with my weak left hand when under the basket on the left side.

Seeing a spark of talent for doing so and with the encouragement of my coaches, I continued practicing with my off hand everyday until it felt like a natural move during the game. My flexibility to play both sides of the lane made me a valuable player in the starting spot and I even favored the left side because it gave me a competitive edge–particularly when I was fouled with an “and 1” opportunity rather than stuffed after shooting into a defender’s arms with my right hand on the left side.

Talent is a starting point for skill, but consistency of effort is what matters in the end. And while it might be fairly easy to examine this with the lens of your own life, it is applicable from an organizational standpoint, too. So, do the tenacious have a place at your organization?

Four elements of grit for your workforce

“A combination of passion and perseverance makes high achievers special.
High achievers have grit.” – from Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Duckworth identified four elements of grit in her book: interest, practice, purpose and hope. While the context of these was mostly focused on curating grit in individuals in her book, employers can use these same components to inspire conditions for creating gritty workforces.

  • Interest. Passion doesn’t exist unless employees enjoy what they do most of the time. While intrinsic motivation may not happen on day one, creating an environment in which employees have the opportunity to consistently develop their interests over time is a step in the right direction.
    • Encourage employees to belong to special interest groups.
    • Encourage cross-training between departments.
  • The capacity to practice. For grit to exist, there must be a drive toward skills mastery–the perseverance to continuously improve. Does your organization make it easy enough for employees to do deliberate practice of their skills–free from distraction?
    • Ensure that employees have access to quiet places to work without interruption.
    • Encourage supervisors and direct reports to work together to set stretch goals. When those are achieved, set new ones.
    • Champion a culture of timely feedback so that employees understand what adjustments to make to master their skills.
    • Train leaders and mentors to be effective coaches for employees as they practice their skills.
  • Purpose. Knowing that your work matters is powerful external motivation that can persist even longer than passion alone. Savvy employers successfully connect the work of individual employees to the energizing purpose of the overall organization. When an employee finds her purpose, it can be the difference between just a job and her life’s pursuit.
    • Challenge employees to evolve their job responsibilities to meet emerging organizational needs and satisfy their own developing interests.
    • Ask employees to seek out professional mentors that can help them connect a strong sense of purpose to their interests.
  • Hope. Hope is stick-to-itiveness–the ability to keep going when it’s tough, and be resilient enough to have a growth mindset. Does your organization empower employees to believe they have control over their own outcomes?
    • Foster optimism rather than helplessness when breaking tough news with business explanations that are temporary and specific, rather than permanent and broad, according to Duckworth’s book.
    • Train mentors and managers to be encouraging and open-minded rather than rehearsed and standardized in their approaches.

What are you doing to foster grit in your workforce?

The good news is that grit can grow. I think of it like a contagious muscle…if you surround yourselves with other gritty people it catches, and the more you exercise it the grittier you can become. Of course the opposite is true, too, so don’t fall into grit lethargy!

Start identifying activities that are gritty

With the necessity of being interested, having the ability to practice, finding purpose and having hope…it can be daunting to know which activities will catapult your employees to be, as Duckworth calls them, “paragons of grit.” She recommends starting with the “hard thing rule.”

The “Hard Thing Rule.”

Do something that is both interesting and hard…and do it for more than a year.

As I was reading this I thought, finally–justification for me running my two kids around to multiple activities such as scouts, soccer, basketball, and choir year after year! My own comment when defending my actions to others was that I want my kids to be used to being committed to and involved with something that teaches them something new….so that as they become teenagers they are used to being busy and don’t fall into the jaws of poor life decisions.

But the key to success is to let your kids…or your employees…chose their own interests/activities. To become truly gritty, however, studies referenced in the book suggest that involvement in a specific extracurricular activity must last two years. So, perhaps consider two year terms for your employer’s committees. Endurance and stamina for a task apparently count more than intensity in this context.

Create goal frameworks

What if your employees have lots of interests and goals? It might be hard for them to decide what to quit and what to focus on? Duckworth recommends prioritizing goals within a pyramid-like framework or ladder. The top level goal is an end in itself that remains unchanged for extended periods of time; whereas, the bottom level goals are minor tasks that are done to support the middle level and top level goals. The bottom level goals may be frequently replaced in the pursuit of other goals that might better support the top of the pyramid.

Organizational Tenacity | Create Goal Frameworks

So then, one might say that a gritty organization is one with a sound and well-communicated goal framework. The primary organizational goal is a big, hairy audacious one that takes some time to achieve, but that gives meaning to all initiatives below it. Less gritty organizations don’t have clearly defined hierarchical goals; or, they have a bunch of mid-level goals that compete with one another more than support a primary initiative.

Does your senior management team have passion and perseverance for big goals, as well as the capacity to lead supportive goal setting efforts throughout the organization?

Champion a gritty culture

When you hang around groups with strong social norms, then you either adopt many of the same behaviors for yourself over time or you eventually leave the group. If you want gritty employees, you need to have a gritty culture that challenges people to pursue interests, practice them over time and persevere despite setbacks.

Is there a clear breakpoint in employee tenure at which turnover significantly drops at your organization? If so, it’s probably the point at which newer employees feel as though they’ve assimilated fully into your culture–the point at which they’ve adopted your norms as their own and they identify and embrace them…even champion them moving forward.

  • What are you doing, then, to assimilate people into your culture more quickly?
  • Are you training managers and mentors to be beacons of grit?
  • Are you living your core values everyday?

Tenacity catalyzes talent

In conclusion, it is clear that you can’t forget the role talent plays in achievement. However, talent is amplified when continuous effort is applied to hone skill and lead to achievement. If you want gritty employees who have the capacity to put in the effort, then you might hire tenacious people who have demonstrated past performance of sustained effort on extracurricular interests. This can be unearthed in the interview process.

Additionally, examine your culture and workplace practices to see where you might apply the four components of grit to foster greater achievement within your organization.

Consider ATS Integration with Predictive Index

7 Steps to Reform Your Company’s Work Habits and Effectiveness

I’ve been trying to get in the habit of reading professional development-oriented books more regularly lately. Not surprisingly, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg caught my eye for that very reason. Of course, trying to lose that last 10 pounds might have initially fueled my interest in this book, too.

Let me say that this book is TRANSFORMATIONAL. No joke. While the neuroscience behind habit formation and reformation alone is already interesting to me, I never would have anticipated reading such a rich tapestry of interwoven stories and cultural knowledge as a means to comprehend the science behind our daily rituals. Here’s a teaser of the topics awaiting you in this work:

  • The presence of kebab vendors and their impact on the potential for restless citizens to riot.
  • The astounding ability for patients with brain injuries resulting in no short-term memory to still find their way home.
  • The Mad Men-esque story of how strategic advertising focused on habit cues launched Pepsodent into early toothpaste dominance.
  • The investigative research that turned the Febreze product from forgotten to famous.
  • The path from habit to addiction, and the moral questions surrounding the culpability of individuals stuck in the habit loop.

And just as individuals can slowly develop habits over time, whether positive or insidious…organizations are susceptible to the same tendencies as a group. This blog is about taking responsibility for organizational behavior and introducing small steps that can help form and reform positive workforce habits. These seven steps–now applied for the workplace–are inspired by concepts discussed in The Power of Habit.

1 – Identify your employer’s habit loop(s)

According to Duhigg, the “habit loop” is comprised of a cue, a subsequent behavior, and the realization of a reward. As simple as that sounds, it isn’t always obvious to us which cues trigger undesirable behavior habits. Moreover, the anticipated reward is sometimes obscured in a collection of different possible incentives.

Company Work Habit Changes

For example, in the book Duhigg recounts the story of a woman who had an embarrassing nail biting problem. Once she took the time, with outside help, to understand her habit loop, she realized that her cue to trigger the nail biting behavior was boredom, and her reward for doing so was the reassurance of pressure on her fingertips–something solid to ground her in an otherwise stressful day.

While scientific research tells us that innate habits never completely go away, we have learned that they can effectively be overwritten with new behaviors–as long as the behavior follows the same cue and leads to the preferred reward. For the nail biter, keys to change involved noting the number of times each week she had the urge to bite, and then replacing the biting behavior with tapping her fingers on her leg instead. With time, she was able to completely overcome her urge to nail bite by tapping her fingers anytime she became bored. After all, this new behavior still rewarded her with the pressure she craved on her fingertips…but in a more socially acceptable way.

What organizational habits bog down your employer? Do you suffer from

  • toxic communication styles,
  • the tendency for managers to skip 1-on-1 conversations with direct reports,
  • a culture of cutting corners when it comes to quality, or
  • inadequate and rushed employee onboarding processes?

Toxic communication styles could manifest in a number of different ways. But let’s say a common instance is managers who publicly undermine their direct reports by individually faulting them in internal communications and company-wide meetings. The cue for this behavior could be something as simple as the manager receiving a monthly report of goal progress from senior management, and the manager’s reward may be striving to look (arguably) good in the eyes of the C-suite.

It’s up to you to determine a positive behavior to replace this demoralizing and destructive blame game. For example, the manager might instead seek out the direct report to discuss the matter individually, and then together, come up with a plan to improve the goal progress the following month.

You might also explore tweaking the cue (in this case the email received with the monthly goal report) to make it less inflammatory and/or a means to remind the manager of the appropriate behavior that should follow.

Improved Habit Loop | Employer | ExactHire

2 – You gotta believe

While it’s true that habits can change, there’s a powerful obstacle in the way of habit transformation…cravings.

Duhigg explained how the repetition of the habit loop over time builds up anticipation of a reward in advance of actually receiving the reward. So, aside from simply altering cues and changing behaviors, a key element to overcoming bad habits is having the belief that it is indeed possible.

For the attendees of Alcoholics Anonymous (according to the book), that often boils down to the simple belief in an agnostic “higher power” plus a built-in support system to encourage you that you can succeed in conquering addiction.

For employees in your organization, fueling the belief in eventual habit change can happen in a number of ways:

  • Messaging from senior management that enthusiastically verbalizes belief in the new task at hand and the strength and ability of its employees.
  • Citing examples of past instances when the employer has realized positive change and what it took to get there.
  • Anticipating pitfalls that could lead to falling off the proverbial bandwagon and making plans about how to avoid those missteps in advance.
  • Empowering employees to be a part of the process by actively involving them in ideation, execution and evaluation of change management.
  • Pairing employees with peer buddies or mentors to whom they may turn when the urge to revert to past behavior resurfaces.

3 – Don’t underestimate the impact of small wins

An easy way to fuel your organization’s collective belief in the ability to change long-ingrained habits is by creating opportunities for frequent and attainable small wins. In Duhigg’s book, he details how Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps builds confidence in himself with pre-race rituals that form mini-habits on which he can build larger habits that enhance his performance and help him visualize his future success. Simple examples include his music playlist, the fact that he gets on and off the swim podium a certain number of times and his race week diet.

What small wins can you introduce at your company to build momentum for your organizational habit reformation?

  • Distribute afternoon snacks on Mondays.
  • Endeavor shorter, more digestible goals that are achieved over a couple of weeks rather than an entire quarter.
  • Take requests to play songs over the intercom on Fridays.
  • Hit a bong every time a new sale is made.
  • Offer a means for employees to publicly appreciate co-workers who go above and beyond during a specific week.

4 – Strong values support habit reformation

Consider how your core values support your existing company habits. Or, if you don’t have established core values that are officially recognized, you have an opportunity to create them and give employees expectations–essentially a plan–for understanding the right behaviors to fall back on when stress and time constraints take over.

In The Power of Habit, the story of how tension between surgeons and nurses at Rhode Island Hospital led to grave surgical mistakes was a powerful reminder that values and an organizational culture are significant drivers of habit. So contentious was the way in which many surgeons minimized the suggestions of assisting nurses, that on more than one occasion doctors operated on the wrong part of patients’ bodies despite urges from nurses to double check details–sometimes with fatal results.

Fortunately, however, the hospital amidst much public criticism and many malpractice lawsuits was able to engineer a turnaround. It instilled the importance of collaboration as a value and offered examples of how nurses and surgeons could implement protocols for working effectively together as a team before and during surgery.

5 – Focus on keystone habits first

Much like a keystone locks all the other stones in an arch into place, forming positive keystone habits can influence and change other habits for the better, as well. In his book, Duhigg tells the story of how mega coffee retailer Starbucks identified a keystone habit capable of influencing customer service in an optimal direction.

The challenge for Starbucks baristas was to deliver outstanding customer service despite the occurrence of cranky customers on a daily basis. I suppose in the coffee industry the instance of perturbed customers in search of their caffeine fix isn’t all that uncommon! Starbucks executives realized that “willpower” was their critical keystone habit at an organizational level, and they needed to turn it into a habit so that their employees could have the fortitude to be pleasant and helpful despite the occasional negative customer.

To do so, they built training curriculum around empowering employees to choose what their reaction would be to a negative customer well in advance of ever experiencing various situations. They essentially taught willpower and trained it as a muscle. That way, once the cue of a certain customer complaint arrived, baristas would already know the appropriate behavior to implement.

The book cited examples of how the identification of keystone habits can lead to widespread habit improvement. For example, people who start exercising (a keystone habit for many) often start budgeting expenses more regularly and getting more sleep. Families who eat together (another cited keystone habit) tend to raise more responsible, confident children.

Our ExactHire team recently rolled out the “Monthly Nom Nom,” which is a meal shared together the first week of every month. We did it as one of many ways to foster better connectivity in our office which is sometimes challenged by a very flexible work from home policy. Six months out of the year we plan a themed potluck, and the other six months the company springs for a catered, in-office meal. The result has been a better understanding of each other’s daily obstacles simply because better communication has been fostered by breaking bread together. Would the same keystone habit make an impact at your organization, or within your department? Or, perhaps one of these other habits could serve as your organizational keystone:

  • Wellness – Offering opportunities to feel better physically can have mental benefits, too.
  • Safety – Provide more confidence at work and in others’ effort to take precautions.
  • Customer service – Award incentives (aka “pieces of flair”) to employees who set the best example.
  • Continuous learning – Create opportunities and rewards for additional learning/training milestones (e.g. book clubs, certifications).

6 – In with the old…AND the new

Given my personal affinity for marketing strategy, I was especially intrigued by the real-life examples of how various organizations have induced consumers–through marketing tactics–into adopting new purchase behavior. Given especially large organizations’ access to highly-sophisticated predictive analytics tools, it is fairly straightforward for a company like Target to predict which women are pregnant before they have even shared the news with the public.

However, Target learned that access to this coveted knowledge can certainly “creep out” consumers if handled too directly. Essentially, they found that the difference between a direct mail piece that says “congratulations on your forthcoming bundle of joy” and a normal coupon mailer that subtly inserts baby product coupons amidst other innocuous household product coupons is billions of dollars in revenue.

Duhigg remarked that to sell something new, you must first wrap it in something familiar. Let that sink in, and then think about its application to your workforce. How many times has management forced a widespread change without buy-in and success amongst employees? The key is to introduce change alongside something that is comfortable and palatable for the audience.

Consider the example of moving from printed new hire paperwork to a paperless employee onboarding software application. With any new software roll-out, user adoption can be a struggle if not prepared for carefully. One way in which you might wrap a new onboarding software platform into something familiar is by emphasizing the fact that new hire paperwork forms will still look the same as in the past (just visible from a screen rather than printed out), but now that forms will be completed electronically it will improve legibility and cycle time.

7 – Don’t underestimate the value of social relationships

Just when you think it can’t get more varied than kebabs to toothpaste to Febreze to gambling addiction, Duhigg shares a compelling history of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycotts and Rosa Parks’ impact on the civil rights movement in America. He used these stories as a backdrop for understanding the dynamics that must be present for a widespread habit change to take root.

Not surprisingly, core relationships (such as with close friends and family members) are essential to igniting support for one’s objective. However, these relationships only reach so far into the potential network of supporters that are necessary to enact change at a critical mass. In the case of Rosa Parks, her refusal to move to the back of the bus sparked a revolution whereas African Americans who had done the same in previous years in Montgomery had not made their mark in history. So what was the difference?

According to Duhigg, it was the “power of weak ties.” Unlike her bus-riding predecessors, Rosa Parks was a member of a vast number of different social networks (through work, community organizations, ladies groups, church, etc.). She had a large number of loose acquaintances–aka weak ties. While these individuals weren’t her close confidants, they were likely to help her movement as a result of

  • peer pressure,
  • the wish to avoid ridicule or letting others down, and
  • as a simple form of self-preservation through reputation management.

Her large, loosely woven network was the fabric of change in the early civil rights movement. However, the final ingredient to changing the perceptions and habits of many Americans at that time was the emergence of strong leaders (e.g. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) and their ability to give new habits to people who would champion them on their own. For example, African Americans arranged carpools or walked to work instead of riding the buses.

So, from an employer standpoint, what can your organization do to leverage the social ties of your employees? After all, getting buy-in for change from your workforce will be much easier if employees perceive that their peers are on board. Consider the following:

  • Appoint well-liked, high-performing employees as employer brand ambassadors to help carry out and support new changes.
  • Make it easy for employees to share good news about your organization by providing suggested content for social media posts and emails to outside community influencers.
  • Encourage employees to talk about changes within their own corporate peer networks and brainstorm ideas for transitioning smoothly.
  • Make sure senior management offers employees a specific plan for which new behaviors to implement in the face of old cues and triggers.
  • Enlist the help of vendors, clients, partners and employee family members to help support employees’ efforts to implement change and form new habits.

The Power of Habit emphasized that half the battle of remaking a habit is becoming aware of it and then recognizing the habit loop with its cue, behavior and reward. Now that you are better equipped to do so, you have a responsibility to make a plan for positive change in your own life and organization. I hope your first step in that direction is grabbing this book and reading it for yourself!


How to Automate Workflow Within Employee Onboarding Software [VIDEO]

While web-based solutions that can automate new hire employment forms and documents do exist, very few solutions also empower employers to customize their onboarding software platform to automate all the new hire and existing employee tasks associated with a robust employee onboarding process. The ability to automate workflow is one of the core strengths of the OnboardCentric employee onboarding solution. Two features that are key factors in the ability to accommodate unique client workflows are FlexFields and Roles.

OnboardCentric FlexFields Roles Video

FlexFields at work

FlexFields, as the name implies, are flexible, multiple-choice data fields that store unique information about each employee within an organization. These fields are customized on a per client basis. Examples of different FlexFields might include individual employee attributes such as

  • division,
  • department,
  • exemption status or pay type, and
  • employee level.

The values selected for FlexFields on an employee record drive two primary outcomes within OnboardCentric:

  1. tasks assigned to the new hire, and
  2. follow up tasks assigned to an internal staff member.

New hire tasks

Let’s talk about new hire tasks. We’ll group them into two categories:

  1. tasks assigned to every new hire, and
  2. tasks assigned only to certain new hires.

Tasks assigned to every new hire tend to include the completion of required federal forms such as the I-9 and W4, state tax forms, and policies and procedures specific to a given organization. Please note that FlexFields do not impact those forms or documents assigned to all employees.

However, FlexFields are involved for tasks related to forms and documents that only a subset of employees are required to complete. In fact, the criteria that define this subset of employees are determined by the values of one or more FlexFields.

For example, if new hires in the Compliance Division should be assigned items that other new hires outside the Compliance Division should not be assigned, then “Division” would be setup as a FlexField. Likewise, if new hires at the Executive Level are assigned items that hires at other levels aren’t assigned, then “Employee Level” would be setup as a FlexField. To determine the FlexFields necessary for your business, create a list of all the attributes that differentiate one group’s employee onboarding tasks from another group’s tasks.

Once your FlexFields are created, they’ll be visible as drop-down boxes for each new employee you add to OnboardCentric.

Using the previous examples, there would be a FlexField for “Division” that might have values of “Compliance”, “Information Technology”, “Manufacturing”, and “Marketing.” If “Compliance” is selected, that new hire will be assigned extra tasks that new hires in the other divisions will not. Similarly, there would be a FlexField entitled “Employee Level” that might have values of “Associate”, “Executive”, “Manager”, and “Staff.” If “Executive” is selected, that new hire will have additional tasks that new hires with other values for that field will not.

Roles for existing employees

Next, let’s talk about how Roles work within OnboardCentric.

Think of Roles as the acting parts your existing staff members play in the onboarding process. You may have as few or as many Roles as necessary to handle any follow up actions that must be completed by your staff. These follow ups will always be triggered by a task completed by a new hire.

For instance, once a new hire completes his portion of the I-9 form, that will trigger a follow up for someone within your organization to verify/approve that I-9 form on behalf of the organization. Typically this Role is referred to as an “I-9 Approver.”

Other common examples of Roles include “Countersigner”, “Equipment Provisioner”, or “License Certifier.” In each of these examples, the Role name used may be anything that makes sense within your organization. Instead of “Equipment Provisioner,” you may choose to call that Role “Supply Orderer.” The key point to understand is that the Role refers only to what type of follow up actions you’ll want that person to perform within the OnboardCentric platform.

Accommodating people with similar tasks

The intersection of FlexFields and Roles occurs in situations where you have more than one staff member performing a given type of Role. For example, let’s assume that you have four different staff members who each have the Role of I-9 Approver.

In this scenario, the FlexField values you assign to a given new hire will then be used to determine which of the four I-9 Approvers will be assigned that follow up task once the new hire completes his portion of the I-9.

FlexFields and Roles allow OnboardCentric to accommodate almost any type of workflow necessary for the unique needs of your organization’s onboarding process. We encourage you to take advantage of these capabilities so that you may maximize your onboarding efficiency.


Get started on the path to better onboarding.

Contact ExactHire to learn more about OnboardCentric employee onboarding software.


How to Motivate Management to Support Company Culture Improvement

Hopefully you’ve had the pleasure of working for an employer with a deeply rewarding work culture. One of the reasons you enjoyed the experience probably had something to do with the actual work you accomplished there, but that likely wasn’t the only factor. Or, maybe you long for culture improvements at your existing employer, but struggle to make a business case to senior management to win their support and resources for what can sometimes be deemed as a “fluffy” back-burner endeavor.

However, the impact of corporate culture is anything but fluff. In fact, Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi, the authors of Primed to Perform, have repeatedly done work with organizations to quantify the marked impact that company culture has on employee motivation. They’ve based their work on research initially presented by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan a few decades ago, that suggested that there are six primary reasons why people work–three of which are direct motives being related to the work itself, and three of which are indirect since they are not connected to the actual work.

Direct Motives

  • Play – the extent to which you love the work itself
  • Purpose – the extent to which you identify with the impact of your work
  • Potential – the extent to which you stand to gain from the impact of your work

These direct motives tend to increase performance, with those motives being closest to the work itself having the most significant impact (i.e. play is more powerful than purpose, and purpose more powerful than potential).

Indirect Motives

  • Emotional pressure – the extent to which you work to avoid your identity being marred by some external force
  • Economic pressure – the extent to which you work to be rewarded or avoid penalties
  • Inertia – the extent to which you work simply because it’s what you’ve always done and not because you have any other sound reason

Unlike direct motives, indirect ones generally weaken performance. Emotional pressure doesn’t weaken it as much as the subsequent indirect motives because it is still connected to your identity even if it’s not connected to the work itself.

So Why Does This Matter?

Simple. Engaging senior leaders to your company culture improvement cause must start with applying the very same motives that will eventually drive your actual culture improvement efforts–once they’re approved, that is.

Let’s break down six common objections human resource professionals may hear when trying to make a business case for work culture change. Each of these objections will touch on one of the six aforementioned motives. By reframing each objection into an opportunity to maximize a direct motive or minimize an indirect motive, HR professionals stand a much better chance at creating total motivation (ToMo) to convince senior leaders to invest the time and resources necessary to engage employees via culture revolution.

6 Senior Leader Culture Development Excuses

Culture is warm and fuzzy. We have bigger fish to fry.



Do you sometimes think your company’s owners are singing “Shiny Happy People” by REM when your HR team brings up anything culture-related in conversation? Or, maybe their version is “Shiny Happy HR People.” They’d rather relegate warm and fuzzy culture development to the people who are more likely to enjoy that kind of work. It’s not their idea of play.

Maybe some senior leaders don’t love the work of cultural activity planning themselves, but maybe they do love enabling their department heads to do the work that invigorates them so that they find their own sense of play. Perhaps the owners’ idea of the play motive is entrepreneurial at heart…getting the right people on the team and then giving them the reins to do great things, to experiment and fail, but most importantly to learn what works and what doesn’t.

If this describes your relationship with management, then brainstorm ways in which you can appeal to your company owners’ work passions. That might include an experiment with trying a new, entrepreneurial approach to teaching the workforce how to play the game of business, or using business analytics to find patterns in what has engaged employees in the past.

I don’t understand what good will come from making changes.



The purpose motive highlights whether you personally identify with and are motivated by the outcomes of your own work. If your senior management team is skeptical that anything will materially change as a result of getting new swag for employees and holding a foosball tournament, then I wouldn’t fault them. They may not have experience with knowing what specific impact a focus on culture may have on the organization (and therefore on their identity as the leader of that organization).

Of course the previously mentioned cliche culture activities are not a sound solution to your employee engagement problems. Many other moves may fall short, as well, if you fail to set expectations with ownership about the desired positive outcomes that you hope to realize as a result of any changes. Help them identify with the potential impact of the organization’s focus on culture improvement on others and themselves.

Here are positive outcomes to which businesses often aspire when endeavoring culture evolution:

  • Greater sense of shared purpose (does your work save lives, help people in need, make life more efficient, etc.)
  • Intrinsic motivation (employees are self-directed)
  • Knowledge sharing (no department silos and selfish data hoarding)
  • Momentum for change; enhanced learning leads to richer workforce skills inventory
  • Expanded opportunity for “play” which leads to innovation
  • Better adaptive performance; or, the ability to be flexible with unanticipated demands and not just tied into rigid tactical performance
  • More productivity; higher revenue
  • Healthier workforce; fewer costs related to health insurance and absenteeism
  • Less turnover; faster time to productivity (this outcome alone is very easily quantifiable to the CFO)
  • Wide span of idea sourcing; really good suggestions come from all areas of the organization
  • Increased access to A-player talent when sourcing new hires

Frame your conversation in a way that makes it clear that these positive outcomes will result, in large part, from the owner’s own work to publicly support culture development initiatives.

I fail to see a link between the investment required and a future financial gain.



To be successful, you must quantify how culture change will move the organization from point A to point B in a financially lucrative way. But how do you quantitatively benchmark culture…that warm and fuzzy, you-have-it-or-you-don’t organizational je ne sais quoi?

The good news is that you can assign a ToMo score to organizations using an analysis of employee responses related to the six work motives. In their consulting work, the authors of Primed to Perform have done this over and over again at many different organizations. And, they found that “in many industries, the most-admired cultures tend to have 15 points higher ToMo than their peers” (e.g. Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, Apple Retail Stores).

The research suggests that a focus on having a positive work culture can materially move the needle and deliver a positive ROI. By sharing examples of these kinds of organizations and painting the picture of the impact your organization might have not just on employees, but also on your industry, potential will become clear to your leadership team.

I don’t think we have a culture problem. / I’m worried we’ll try and fail.



It’s not really my thing. I don’t want us (or me) to look dumb. I don’t want to acknowledge the cultural elephant in the room. Reframing excuses that relate to one of the indirect motives can be a bit trickier, but never fear. Any of the aforementioned comments reek of emotional pressure and are understandable, as we’re all human.

To overcome the insecurity that they seem to suggest, don’t just explain the “why” of culture improvement to your senior leaders, but supplement your plan with the “how.” You’ve heard it before: come with a solution, not just a problem. Letting your senior management team know that you’re in it to win it when it comes to improving your work environment alleviates some of the emotional pressure (or burden) they may have been feeling about it themselves all along. Double down by enabling senior leaders (and others) the opportunity to “play” to brainstorm ideas on how the culture change might go down. Acknowledging to others in advance that a change is desired, and that it might not be perfect the first time round, is okay. It’s a step in the right direction.

Additionally, during the brainstorm process make sure that managers’, employees’ and customers’ motivations are aligned to succeed. For example, if customer and management expectations for service involve a customized, hold-my-hand relationship, but customer service representatives are paid based on the number of cases handled, then emotional pressure is sure to weaken organizational performance.

It will cost too much.



Not every company is going to even come close to Google’s budget for culture. However, every company needs to set aside either some funding and/or employee time to intentionally focus on culture development. Focusing on ToMo score in this scenario is helpful in making an argument in favor of culture change, as well. When you think about companies that are admired for their culture like Southwest and Whole Foods–companies with leading ToMo scores in their industries–you’re also reminded that they’re highly successful.

So then the compelling argument to senior leadership becomes, what’s the opportunity cost of doing nothing? Surely, that type of economic pressure warrants consideration relative to the cost of endeavoring change (given that you’re reading this article). In fact, budgeting for culture and engagement may end up eliminating costs in other areas…areas that may include incentives that are eventually found to create the wrong behaviors that weaken total motivation.

It’s how we’ve always done it.



The dreaded inertia might as well be called “insanity” in the context of this conversation. After all, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. But inertia is comfortable, familiar, it doesn’t make waves. It’s insidious.

While on its face, this motive seems like the mildest of the three indirect motives, it is the most harmful to total motivation and performance. In fact, it may even be the culture itself…“the way” things get done around your organization.

Tackle this senior leader objection head on with proof that what has always been done no longer (or has never) produced the desired results when it comes to engagement and performance. This may involve an honest look at how your organization stacks up against his competitors in terms of market share, ability to source top talent and length of customer relationships (among other indicators). You may lessen the likelihood of continued inertia by disrupting the status quo with clear suggestions on how opportunities to incorporate play, purpose and potential can be baked into the change process.


Convincing senior management to support your company culture improvement endeavors doesn’t have to be a cringe-worthy event. By bearing in mind that the six main reasons people work are the same six reasons your owner works, you can isolate objections and counter with objectives that will both maximize direct motives to support your plan, and minimize indirect motives.

Company Culture Ebook Download | ExactHire

New Hire Onboarding Success with a SWOT Analysis

The purpose of a SWOT analysis in the business planning process is to make sure you’ve identified all the possible strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to your business.  Only then can you create a business plan taking into consideration all these aspects and setting your business up for it’s best chance at success.  The new hire onboarding process should be no different.

Some aspects of the SWOT analysis are designed to act upon.  For example, you want to make sure you capitalize on and take advantage of your strengths and seize your opportunities.  Other aspects are for you to be aware of.  You must be aware of your weaknesses and competitors in the market place.

If you really think about it, doing the same type of analysis for a new hire should be no different. To a new employee, changing jobs is a “new business” operating in a new environment with different conditions. Extremely savvy job seekers will do their own SWOT analysis on the company before joining.  Why?  They want to make sure they are setting themselves up for the best chance at success.

Your analysis of your new employee should occur over the course of his/her onboarding and should be a critical part of the employee onboarding process.  Ideally you would have done most of this during the hiring process.  However, it’s not an exact science and you may have missed some items. Hopefully, at a minimum, you determined the new hire should have a seat on the bus.  Now you just need to figure out what that correct seat is.

It’s not uncommon for individuals to be hired for a certain position then find themselves in another. This happens quite frequently in organizations that focus their hiring efforts on the type of person and their strengths and abilities, more so than technical knowledge and experience.  You can only gain this much clearer understanding of the best fit for the individual once she is on board and you have had a chance to analyze her capabilities against various positions.




This is the single most important aspect of an individual’s SWOT.  If you do nothing else, make sure you thoroughly assess strengths and figure out how to apply them appropriately. Getting a new hire aligned with his strengths is the best way to set him up for success in his new role.  

To properly identify strengths, you must allocate the proper time and training.  Just immersing someone in a new role will not yield the results you need to identify his core strengths.  Step one would be to have a simple conversation with the individual and see what he thinks his strengths are.  Consider a tool such as the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment to assist in this endeavor. Then have him work through various aspects of his role (and other roles if possible) to see where he naturally excels with the least amount of direction.  By doing this, you can identify where his best opportunity for success may be.




Awareness of weaknesses will avoid early failure and miss-steps for a new employee.  It is critical that he be given every opportunity to succeed, build confidence in his new role and gain confidence of his coworkers.  This doesn’t mean you don’t want to challenge him, but you want to make sure you are challenging him utilizing his strengths.

Once you’ve identified potential weak points, note them and work to avoid them.  The last thing you want to do is try to change someone or improve his weaknesses.  It’s much easier to focus on the strengths.  There’s also a tough leadership decision in this step of the process.  If it so happens that his weaknesses actually need to be his core strengths for the position, you will have to find this employee another seat on the bus — or another bus.




This is the fun step.  After your analysis of strengths and weaknesses you should have a pretty good idea of the direction(s) the individual can go within the organization after his onboarding.  These are his opportunities.  By the time you get to this step, the individual has probably started to see his opportunities as well and may have expressed some desire towards those.  

Don’t forget to have this important employee development conversation.  This will likely be the difference maker between an engaged long-term employee or a short-term employee.  Most employees will look for their next opportunity within the organization fairly quickly and if they don’t see one they’ll plan their next move — out of the company.  Your job as a leader is to make sure the opportunities they are seeking within the organization align with their strengths and avoid as many of their weaknesses as possible.




Typically addressing threats in a SWOT analysis takes into account competition.  We don’t want to think of competition in terms of an individual’s employment SWOT.  Rather, you want to look at what potential roadblocks stand in the way of his success.  The roadblocks you should try to identify are resource issues, process and procedural issues and potentially other individuals.

Ever wonder why they sweep the ice in front of the stone in Olympic curling?  They are grooming the ice and creating the best possible conditions for the stone to travel further and straighter.  As a leader you must continue to sweep the ice in front of an employee to ensure his optimal onboarding experience and continued success.  What you are doing is eliminating or mitigating the threats you know will stand in the employee’s way.   


If you’ve properly integrated a SWOT analysis into the new hire onboarding process you will be setting the stage for initial and continued success for the employee and your team/company.  It takes a little bit of discipline and practice to master, but really isn’t that difficult.  The most difficult part is evolving to the point where you only focus on aligning his strengths within the role, or a different role, and completely avoid any assignments that will draw on his weaknesses.

Done correctly, and applied correctly, a SWOT analysis will ensure a business stays on course, remains competitive in the market and services customers profitably.  This directly correlates with the same success of a new employee, his level of engagement, productivity and length of retention.

Looking for tools to improve your employee onboarding process? Contact ExactHire to learn how our employee onboarding software can automate your new hire paperwork and workflow.


The Best Intentions That Ruin the Pursuit of Great Company Culture

My son recently turned eight years old, and because his birthday falls in July during the summer months, our family generally seizes this opportunity to throw a low-cost party in our backyard rather than laying down a small fortune for the latest laser tag / foam ball pit / inflatable bounce house venue. As a result, I usually scour Pinterest to come up with a suitable party theme complete with activities to engage kiddos ranging from four to nine (when you count siblings). This year was no exception, and my best intentions of having a fun-filled water sport extravaganza reminded me of an important lesson along the way.

Sometimes even the best intentions can ruin the pursuit of…




…and perhaps at times…Sanity!


Water Balloon Fight Gone AwryHere’s why. You know that Zuru Bunch of Balloons product? It’s a magical invention that allows you to fill copious water balloons at once with your garden hose. Well, in my haste to keep a forthcoming water balloon fight “fair,” and prevent any one kid from having a cache of balloons to take out others, I tried to force the rules of the game too much at the expense of fun. By making all the kids line up twenty-feet away while they salivated about potential aerial aquatics domination, their aggressive race to the pile of balloons resulted in shoving, slipping and shouting.

The point is…I should have considered other potential outcomes for my carefully laid plans. Like what could happen when you route twenty kids down a narrow, grassy passage between a paver wall and a plastic sheet to a pile of water balloons?

The same thing happens with company culture all the time. Sometimes the consequences are extreme in their destruction, and at other times we can recognize them as valuable red flags that alert us to change our approach. In this blog, I’ll identify a series of good intentions that can burst like an ill-formed water balloon if not planned and executed with care.

1 – Attempting sweeping change, but biting off more than you can chew

Particularly if your organization has issues with how its work culture has turned out, when it does decide to take action to improve it, it can be easy to jump at every opportunity at once. With both economic pressure (“maybe sales will improve if we get our employee engagement act together”) and emotional pressure (“the latest employee survey makes it clear that our staff members are fed up”) to change, organizations might scramble to roll out recognition programs, performance management, lunch and learns and an in-house kegerator all at once. The key to sustainable improvement, however, is embarking on just a few key objectives at once.

2 – Starting with a clean slate, but forgetting where you came from

When rolling out a new set of corporate values, companies should be honest about the habits, behaviors and “ways of doing things” that are ingrained in the business. Just because some of them may be less desirable on their face, doesn’t mean they should be swept under the rug and ignored. Look for ways to leverage them as a positive cultural trait when possible. For example, an organization’s tendency for employees to be abrasively free-wheeling with their opinions could, with a little bit of emotional intelligence training, be channeled into a strength of championing candor for the effective continuous improvement of processes.

When you go against the grain, organizational change becomes harder than necessary. Follow Google’s example by incorporating ways to go with the flow. For example, according to this Harvard Business Review article, before creating paved, permanent pathways on Google’s campus, senior leaders waited to see where the informal pathways, created by worn down grass from heavy foot traffic, emerged. Then, they built the permanent pathways on the blueprint created naturally by employees.

3 – Ignoring prominent influencers in order to call upon everyone in the class

Great Company Culture Intentions | ExactHire

No one likes the kid that constantly raises his hand first in class and squirms in his seat until he’s acknowledged directly. Does it feel like you have a few employees in your organization who play that role only to cast other less vocal employees in the shadow? If so, you naturally want to encourage participation from others in the group. Just be careful not to shun the eager participants to the extent that they are no longer passionate about sharing ideas and improving your organization. Employ their enthusiasm into a more productive means of sharing ideas that doesn’t also alienate others. For example, have periodic one-on-one discussions to get their thoughts so that they aren’t as compelled to blurt out their grand plans in a group setting on a regular basis. Remember that while they are well-positioned influencers in your business, without constructive nurturing they can just as easily become unfortunately placed toxic influencers.

4 – Benchmarking KPIs, but ultimately measuring just for the sake of measuring

The sophistication of measurement tools has skyrocketed in the past decade. The availability and relative affordability of so many more resources has naturally led many organizations to embrace a metric mindset that is unprecedented.

Marketing qualified leads to won sales deals? Data coming right up.

Revenue generated per employee? That’s a breeze.

Time to first response on customer support inquiries?
Come on, at least make it challenging.


Pretty soon, some companies have a dashboard to end all dashboards…in fact the dash has wrapped around the entire vehicle and you need to have eyes in the back of your head to keep up with all the statistics. Eyes glaze over…and because everything is important, nothing is important. Don’t just measure because you can…measure because it is a critical performance indicator for your business. And when it comes to KPIs for culture, take a disciplined approach to evaluating which leading indicators are the true predictors of subsequent employee performance, engagement, and alignment with corporate strategy.

5 – Not getting overzealous about some success, but missing the little wins

Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched. We may have won the battle, but the war isn’t over. Our performance last quarter was good, but…

Sensing a pattern? If an organization tends toward a glass half empty mentality (e.g. values conservatism, perhaps?), all is not lost. However, when a company’s focus can’t be shifted even momentarily to celebrate the little wins and milestones along the way, then by the time it gets to its destination, there may no longer be anyone else left to really celebrate. Genuine recognition is at the heart of a healthy culture, and small–but not insignificant–everyday achievements gone unnoticed in the interest of delayed gratification are a grievous offense to a positive culture.

Download ExactHire Company Culture E-book

6 – Recognizing the wins, but oh wait…not in a forced manner

So you listened to the previous point about awarding recognition and celebrating achievement when it’s due; however, there’s a wrong way and a right way to do so. Relying only on formal recognition programs, complete with an unoriginal plaque and all-too-familiar group email message stink of insincerity.

Enliven your culture with spontaneous and/or organically-sourced recognitions and celebrations. If your business values continuous learning and collaborative personal development, then celebrate the efforts of others with a subscription to an audiobook service like Scribd or Audible. The individuals are rewarded with a unique benefit, and the organization benefits exponentially as the employees share the latest entrepreneurial ideas they heard during that morning’s commute.

7 – Incentivizing behavior, but unintended outcomes emerge

Going back to my birthday balloon story, as you might imagine, I was left with a lawn full of broken balloon bits. Itty, bitty ones. So, I told a few of the kids I know to be predisposed to be good helpers (you know the ones who raise their hands a lot in class), that if they helped pick up all the little bits in the yard that they’d each get a glow stick toy. The more bits they brought, the brighter their potential hand movements at dusk. Genius plan, right? Well, my little strategizers made the rules work on their behalf. Once they picked up the existing yard bits, they started grabbing unbroken balloons (perhaps out of the hands of those four-year olds I mentioned before) and popping them so they could get more bits, and thus, more glow sticks. A similar issue developed from a pesky snake population problem described here. I’ll take balloon bits over cobras anyday, but I think we can all agree…metaphor or actual maligner to your business…you must be careful about the design of your incentive programs. Otherwise, they can constrict your culture!

Constricted Company Culture Intentions | ExactHire

8 – Communicating, but in all the wrong ways

Many times a company’s problem with culture stems from a lack of communication. However, occasionally the communication is there, but executed in an unsavory manner. For example, consider the difference between blasting out an edict email message with numbered rules for a forthcoming policy change relative to a town hall-esque meeting between senior leaders and front-line employees with a chance for Q&A. Both scenarios have a different feel, eh?

Additionally, mind your grammar to communicate in a way that is accountable, responsible and never vilifies others.

According to a post by Jeff Shuck with Plenty Consulting

“One giveaway of a dysfunctional culture is that we hear the passive voice. Remember that from English class? Active voice sounds like responsibility: ‘I made the decision.’ In passive voice, the subject is removed: ‘The decision was made.'”

Passive communication leaves to passive engagement and a poor culture.

9 – Accommodating the newest generation, but minimizing the role of other generations

Depending on which definition of the generational birth year spans tickles your fancy, I arguably straddle the boundary between Gen X & Millennial. There is a gob of content about attracting and engaging Millennials. Undoubtedly, this is a critical endeavor as they lead increasingly important initiatives in the modern workforce and certainly impact organizational culture.

Just don’t get so wrapped up in the motivations of the most recent generation to be employed that you alienate the established, seasoned generations in the process. The older I get, the more I appreciate the perspective that I’m able to develop and how it guides the decision-making process. I mean, Robert DeNiro’s character was thought-provoking and indispensable in The Intern, right?!? And while that may be a stereotypical, if not obvious, encapsulation of the idea of including older workers, too, the message is clear.

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” — Isaac Newton

10 – Being too collaborative, and everything comes up vanilla

Last year, my organization attempted to come up with terms (we didn’t necessarily elevate them to true values) that we felt accurately described our organization. The activity was incorporated into a series of strategy sessions and ALL employees were asked to brainstorm and help narrow down a final list of potential terms together. The result was a resounding “FIR.” That is, Fun, Innovative and Responsive.

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that all of those things are true about us. The problem is that they could probably describe bunches of companies just like us. They are expected, and are borderline platitudes. Since everyone was involved in this collaborative effort, the senior leaders were beholden to reach consensus. However, the senior leaders are the ones who forged the initial behaviors and attributes that guided our business…not everyone. Moreover, since the three terms we selected are relatively innocuous, we haven’t embraced them in a way that makes them central to our daily behavior. Everyone (including myself) had the best intentions during the brainstorm effort, but our group think resulted in the desire to get the exercise done and land on terms that were just good enough.

11 – Promoting special benefits, but accidentally creating entitlement

So the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. While fatalistic in nature, this statement is a good reminder that organizations should periodically remind employees why specific benefits and perqs are offered so that no one starts to take them for granted and/or feel they are absolutely entitled to them.

At one of my previous employers, business was pretty slow during the December holidays, and so the two owners decided to roll-out a partial company shut down over the course of 2-3 weeks in December. It afforded hard-working employees five extra paid days off to rest and recharge their batteries for the new year. The problem is that after a couple of years, tensions arose over which weeks specific employees would get to take off based on department need, tenure, etc. Bickering erupted amongst employees and one day the owners threatened to just take away the extra time off since it wasn’t being appropriately appreciated. Fortunately, the proverbial horse learned to not bite the hand that fed it before any threats were carried out. But not without the evidence of an entitlement culture subtly influencing future management decisions in the process.

12 – Embracing company culture improvement, but failing to acknowledge mini-cultures

In your excitement to unify employees and managers behind a work culture revolution, be sure to leave space for subsets of that culture within the organization. Failing to manage and acknowledge mini-cultures will make it difficult to move any kind of cultural initiative forward. Respecting the attributes of these subsets is the key to making them come together cohesively in a culture that represents the values of the organization and the needs of its employees.

What about the difference between how in-office employees celebrate teammates’ birthdays and work anniversaries relative to those individuals who telecommute frequently or work entirely remotely? Let’s say the organization as a whole values the individual and prides itself on celebrating career milestones. If tradition dictates that in-office employees share a birthday cake once a month, then perhaps remote workers can revel in watching a good-hearted JibJab video starring the faces of their co-workers as an alternative.


Don’t let these cautionary examples of good intentions gone awry deter you from continuous company culture improvement. Do, however, bear the potential outcomes of your efforts in mind as you plan your activities. No one wants to get caught in the face with a metaphorical water balloon when they least expect it. Even if it was super easy and fast to fill up in the first place.

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Quickly Snaring Talent For Open Positions

A snare is a rudimentary tool that was once popularly used to catch small game. To be successful, it requires two conditions to be met:

  1. It’s well built for the intended target.
  2. It has the ideal placement for the intended target.

If either of the above conditions is not met, the chances of catching anything are dramatically decreased. OK, that’s the extent of my snare knowledge as it relates to small game hunting. Oh, and snaring is now widely regarded as inhumane in many parts of the world.

Now that we have a common understanding of the snare and the conditions necessary for its success, let’s look at how small- to medium-sized businesses can take that simple concept and apply it to “snaring” talent.

Build First? Or Place First?

Ahhh a question as old as time! Do we build a set of recruiting tactics first, and then go find the best place to implement it? Or, do we find the best place to recruit talent and then build a set of tactics to attract and hire the best? Which comes first?

For most organizations, I believe the answer is…neither one. Because while considering the set of tactics and where to deploy them are vital parts of developing a recruiting strategy, neither of these can be considered until the target audience is first identified. In other words, you can have the best snare placed in the best location, but by failing to consider your “intended target,” you might end up with a lot of rabbits when what you really wanted were squirrels.

Here are five questions to help identify your target audience–your ideal candidates:

  1. What is the position type? (exempt or nonexempt, executive or associate, internal or customer-facing)
  2. What hard skills/experience/education are required?
  3. What soft skills should be required, preferred, or ideal?
  4. Can the position be full or part-time remote?
  5. What candidate qualities will lead to a work culture fit?

These questions will help you develop ideal “candidate personas” that can drastically narrow down your target audience for specific positions and guide you in developing an overall recruiting strategy. With these candidate personas created, you can now consider placement and tactics.

Placing and Building The Talent Snare

Successfully executing your talent strategy is important.  However, if you are attempting to execute your strategy using a set of tactics or a placement that doesn’t align with your target audience, then you may catch talent, but it won’t always be the talent you want. Here are two key questions to ask when considering placement and tactics.

Optimal placement maximizes the chances that your ideal candidates will see your job posting. This is in contrast to “posting and praying”, where you spend more effort and resources get a few great candidates  in with dozens of mediocre or sub-par applicants.  A helpful guiding question to ask is:

Where are my ideal candidates geographically, demographically, and in real-time as they find and consider my job posting?

In considering recruiting tactics, the behavior of your target audience will inform you of the best approach. This information may be difficult to uncover, but cross-referencing your candidate personas with existing behavioral data of job seekers can help you answer the question:

How are my ideal candidates searching, considering, and applying as they engage with prospective employers?

Snaring Talent For Your Open Positions

The preceding questions may seem simplistic and obvious, but they are often overlooked by today’s hiring organizations. Often times, the vast array of recruiting tools and communication channels available can lead us to believe that our job posts are visible to everyone, everywhere, all the time. However, the truth is that without targeting our strategy to a specific audience, our job posts are at risk of being lost in the noise.

The placement and build of recruiting tactics are important considerations, but they must  be informed by the target audience. A well-crafted “rabbit snare” located on my urban sidewalk may never catch a rabbit; but nor will the best “rabbit snare” laid in a rural stand of trees stands succeed in catching squirrels. Ensure optimal placement and build by first identifying your target audience, and then develop a recruiting strategy that maximizes your success. Happy hunting!

ExactHire offers hiring and employee onboarding software to growing small- to medium-sized businesses that are looking to efficiently attract, hire, and retain exceptional talent for continued growth. To learn more about ExactHire’s HR solutions, please submit a brief contact form.

Feature Image Credit: White Bunny Up Close and Personal by George Bannister (contact)

New Leadership Must Inspire New Talent

The following blog post is part 3 of a 3-part series, which is adapted from a speech given by Harlan Schafir (CVO, CEO of ExactHire and Human Capital Concepts) at the Collective Alternative Executive Speaker Series on September 17, 2015.

In my previous two posts from this series, I discussed how changing demographics, views on the nature of work and the workplace, and rapid advances in technology have converged to create intense competition for talent in today’s job market. I believe that this has resulted in making talent management the #1 constraint to a business’s growth. As a solution, I’ve proposed that organizations seek to adapt their work culture to attract, hire, and retain top talent. Today, I would like to discuss how leaders of  an organization can do the same by adapting their leadership style.

Style, Not Substance

It’s easy for business leaders to become defensive when we begin to talk about “adapting leadership style”. I can imagine the response to such a proposition would be something like: “But my leadership style has been successful to this point!” or possibly, “I didn’t dictate the style of the leaders who led me! I fell in line and paid my dues.” or even, “ These whiny, spoiled millennials want everything their way.”

However, when we talk about “adapting” leadership style, it’s important to understand that this refers to changing the delivery of your values or principles, not changing your values and principles themselves. In other words, if you are a leader who values trust and accountability, then the change is in how you engage employees in imbuing those values through their work; trust and accountability do not need to be discarded simply because it appears that the two values are threatened by a shift in workplace culture like, say…an employee’s need for telecommuting or flexible work arrangements.

So the question before leaders today is: How do I effectively communicate my values and principles to a new generation of employees in a way that inspires their loyalty and motivates their work?

Leading a Multigenerational Workforce

Much has been written, spoken, and thought about the Millennial Generation. These blogs, tweets, posts, podcasts, ebooks, etc. have gone to great lengths–some based on dubious sources and research–in describing how DIFFERENT this group is from those generations before it.

So much has been written, in fact, that one might believe that “leading millennials” is the most pressing and important challenge before business leaders today. But I believe it’s much bigger than that. It’s about leading a diverse workforce that, for at least a little bit longer, will span 4 generations.

And while 4 generations working side-by-side is unprecedented, the concept of leadership evolving in response to generational shifts in the workforce is hardly anything new.

Leadership Styles Over The Years

Dr. Tim Elmore–a noted author, thought leader, and speaker on Leadership Development–speaks of the different styles of leadership over the past half century as being products of the time–and specifically products of each period’s emerging generation.

  • 50’s – 60’s (The Military Commander)

    Organizations were run from top-down. Authority was not questioned. If someone left a staff position, they were considered disloyal. These leaders led from positional authority.

  • 70’s (The CEO)

    This leader led by creating a vision that would influence followers to buy-in and work toward fulfilling the leader’s vision. Productivity was the focus. The style was still very top-down.

  • 80’s (The Entrepreneur)

    This leader was pioneering and often preferred the unconventional. They managed by “walking around.” They felt the most critical element was being the first to do it. Innovation was the focus. This style allowed for employees to share ideas that could be implemented, which helped them tolerate the fact that the leadership style was still top-down.

  • 90’s (The Coach)

    This leader assembled and worked with teams. They saw themselves as coaches of players. The leader found the proper roles for all the players, so that together–as a team–they could accomplish more than the sum of its individuals. This style was participatory, but still top-down.

  • (Today) Poet Gardener

    This leader is discerning of the culture and ideas that emerge from others. They gather thoughts from others and draw connections in order to make the best decisions–even if the ideas are not their own. They see their primary function as developing their people, and they equip and empower employees accordingly.  These leaders value individual and organizational growth, but see the the latter being driven by the former. This is leading with shared ownership.

Adapting Leadership Style

The fact that we can map the evolution of leadership styles and their differences is evidence that the challenge before business leaders today–to adapt their style to a new generation of workers–is not new; however, what could be considered unique is that meeting this challenge today will directly impact the constraint to an organization’s growth.

In other words, whereas previous changes in leadership styles evolved in order to increase efficiency or production indirectly through the employee, now this evolution in leadership is required in order simply hire and keep an employee. It has a direct impact on an organization’s ability to grow.

The mindset of “Here’s my leadership style. Here’s my culture. Accept it.” will not cut it. For businesses today, leadership style and culture may be more important than ever before. In order to grow, we must adapt to the new realities of a changing workforce.

“The mindset of ‘Here’s my leadership style. Here’s my culture. Accept it.’ will not cut it.”

Becoming A “Poet Gardener”

So how do we begin transforming our leadership style to one that engages and inspires a new generation of workers, while still serving to encourage and affirm preceding generations? Oh, and still results in the overall growth and increased profitability of our company.

I think it begins with listening. Until we are able to understand the needs and values of our employees and those that are prevalent and unique within each generation, we cannot effectively lead and inspire. I would like to provide a quick story of how I realized this.

Before starting ExactHire, I had spent over 25 years leading employees–mostly Baby Boomers. But it was with ExactHire–around 2012–that I began encountering a different type of worker: the millennial. What I noticed most in these workers was the change in expectations. And so, rather than forcing my leadership style–honed through managing Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers–I stopped and listened. And then I began to understand the expectations of this new generation of employees and how I could meet them.

The point here is that employee expectations change. Sometimes this is due to generational shifts in the workforce, sometimes it’s because of popular culture or societal shifts that span generations. But inevitably, employee expectations will change. Your approach to meeting these expectations as they change will define your leadership style and, ultimately, determine whether you retain top talent. 

And this is important not just in addressing a seeming crisis–like a massive generational shift in the workforce–but also in building the type of organization that, thanks to its leadership culture, is “self-sustainable” and can adapt to future change–long after you’ve gone.

ExactHire provides hiring and employee onboarding solutions to assist organizations in attracting, hiring, and retaining talent. To learn more about how you can leverage our SaaS solutions to optimize your talent management efforts, contact us today!

Feature Image Credit: Change by F Delventhal(contact)