5 Pro Tips for Quickly Pivoting to a Virtual Employee Onboarding Process

The new normal of living amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic is causing many employers to adopt new business processes…and to adopt them quite quickly.

For those organizations who are fortunate enough to continue hiring new employees, one of those business processes is to learn how to correctly onboard remote employees in a distributed workforce.

A hastily created employee onboarding process will put new hires at risk of feeling disconnected from their work and organization. On the other hand, a productive virtual employee onboarding program will forge a connection between the new teammate and the organization; thereby, positively contributing to employee satisfaction and the goals of the organization despite the uncertainty and hardship attributable to our current coronavirus reality.

Are you ready to pivot to a distributed workforce? Whether virtual employee onboarding is a brand new practice at your company, or you’re just looking for ways to fine tune employee onboarding for distributed workforces, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, I’ll discuss five best practices for quickly pivoting to a virtual employee onboarding process.

1 – Create a “remote-first” pre-boarding experience

With so much uncertainty on everyone’s mind, your new hire’s interactions with your organization in the days leading up to his start date shouldn’t further increase his anxiety. Make a toolkit of digital assets to share with a new teammate to make sure he feels adequately prepared and informed on day one. Here are some ideas:

  • Provide an organizational chart listing all employee names, titles and the hierarchy of the management structure. If you are a part of a very large organization, then a chart of the new employee’s department and/or division may be sufficient.
  • Create a task list or training schedule for the new hire’s first few days on the job. Create this in a shared document (e.g. Google Docs) that can be edited on-the-fly to include additional tasks as time progresses, as well as hyperlinked resource documents. With this approach, the employee can follow links to conduct further research to acquaint himself with your company and its organizational knowledge as his schedule permits.
  • Task relevant co-workers with creating video welcome messages to be shared with the new employee in the days leading up to the first day. We use a variety of tools at ExactHire (ranging from completely free to very affordable) such as video capture on our smartphones, and video applications like Soapbox, Vidyard and Camtasia.
  • Share a short, hyperlinked list of your company’s social media profiles with the new hire, as well as expectations about whether he is likely to be bombarded by social media invitation requests in his first week (as this can be a common way for remote workers to connect with one another).
  • Make it clear what equipment will be provided by the company (and by what date), and/or whether the new hire is responsible for bringing any of his own devices to his remote workstation. Ensure that all devices are accompanied by robust instructions on how to use and/or setup appropriate security protocols for effective work within the organization.

2 – Leverage the unique onboarding resources now available to your organization

While social distancing has caused many of us to approach the work setting in dramatically different ways, it has also led to the installation of a handful of new laws and limited regulations meant to help the American working population and employers cope with this crisis. Aside from new laws such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has also recently relaxed its normal requirements for Form I-9 compliance when hiring new employees. This change will help employees who have never hired remote workers to examine and temporarily approve employment eligibility documentation with confidence.

In particular, DHS has “[deferred] the physical presence requirements associated with Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9) under Section 274A of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Employers with employees taking physical proximity precautions due to COVID-19 will not be required to review the employee’s identity and employment authorization documents in the employee’s physical presence.”

However, not all employers meet the criteria necessary for taking advantage of the option to initially virtually examine new hire documentation. In fact, only employers who have gone 100% remote for all employees may utilize this temporary flexibility in document examination. For more details on which organizations qualify and what documentation is necessary to participate, check out this recent Forbes article.

3 – Make a short list of near-term new hire expectations

To make this pivot toward remote onboarding manageable and relatively fast, focus on only the absolutely critical expectations that you need all new hires to know right from the start. In doing so, make sure you communicate that the current situation necessitates focusing on the “must-knows” initially, but that icing-on-the-cake knowledge and nurturing will be sure to follow as things calm down a bit.

Your new hire will appreciate your candor, and be more likely to establish trust in the organization early because it is helping to flesh out priorities to ensure the new hire’s success.

Here are some examples of employee expectations that may resonate with your team. Be sure to educate your new hire about each of the items below that may be important for his work.

  • Training prerequisites that must be completed before certain aspects of a job can be endeavored (e.g. safety, password security protocol)
  • Preferred methods for co-workers to communicate with each other (e.g. email, phone, Slack, text, video conference, project management tool comments)
  • Mission-critical reports and metrics that must be updated…and with what frequency

Remember that while your ability to equip your new employee with these essential bits of information can shorten his learning curve and improve outcomes, don’t forget that our normal isn’t so normal right now. In fact, it reminds me of an unidentified quote that my co-worker shared on our Slack channel today…one that very appropriately describes the current plight for many of America’s remote workers:

“You’re not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.”

There’s a place for grace right now.

4 – Communicate your culture

While company culture can be somewhat nebulous to describe to others, as it is often something experienced for one’s self in-person, there’s no doubt that remote cultures exist, too.

However, it may take longer to assimilate remote workers to cultural norms if you don’t take strides to help them take seed early. Here are some ways to make your virtual culture more quickly tangible:

  • Facilitate video introductions between a new hire and fellow department members and other key co-workers. Make sure all teammates take a turn to introduce themselves, explain their respective roles, and offer suggestions on how they interface with the new employee in his job.
  • Recognize that your organization likely has a multitude of multimedia approaches for communication in different situations. Create a “cheat sheet” of common scenarios to give your new employees a head start:
    • Protocol for out of office messages
    • Appropriate channels for different types of Slack posts
    • Frequency for co-worker video meet-ups and the purpose of each (e.g. is this a project-related call or a virtual happy hour?)
    • General guidelines on how quickly to respond to different inquiries and requests (make sure to allow for time zone differences between co-workers)
    • Location of a schedule of regular working hours for different employees
    • Protocol on whether to use one’s video camera on conference calls (is it preferred or required by various departments?)
    • Acceptable format for email signatures
    • Preferred software applications for different assignments (e.g. MS Word or Google Docs when both are available?)

5 – Implement employee onboarding software for remote hiring success

Depending on the industry in which you work, you likely use a set of software applications critical to the productivity of your business–it’s your tech stack. From CRMs to POS systems, and project management suites to ticketing portals, these varied forms of technology are essential to different industries because they leverage technology to automate and improve repetitive, and perhaps otherwise manual tasks for different employers.

While health clinics may not need POS systems, and safety equipment manufacturers aren’t desperate for software issue ticketing suites, I will advocate that all employers who are currently hiring should consider employee onboarding software.

Moreover, if you are hiring remote employees, onboarding software gives you a significant competitive advantage as you can improve the new hire user experience (aka first impression) as well as minimize documentation errors.

ExactHire’s OnboardCentric employee onboarding software can be implemented either as a stand-alone solution to meet your urgent onboarding needs; or, as a hiring component integrated with our ExactHire applicant tracking system.

As employers face constantly evolving news related to COVID-19, they are adjusting priorities and re-allocating resources on a daily basis. Our team understands the need for fluidity and responsiveness, and we’re equipped to get you up and running with onboarding software quickly.

To expedite implementation and improve your new hire experience despite the current pandemic, we recommend that you start by implementing required new hire forms (e.g. state tax forms, Form W-4, Form I-9, direct deposit, etc.) and allow us to train supervisors who need access right away.

Then, as demands on your schedule decline, our team is happy to work with you to include non-essential nice-to-have new hire forms, discuss onboarding process best practices and conduct more advanced user training with all of your hiring managers. Our responsive team is ready to work as your partner through this crisis.

Demo ExactHire Onboarding Software

Are you ready to improve your employee onboarding experience and respond to the rapidly changing hiring landscape with success? Schedule a demo of OnboardCentric today.

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 Tips for an Awesome Office Holiday Scavenger Hunt

The ExactHire team continues its pursuit of the ultimate interoffice competition ideas, and is pleased to bring you the latest installment of the “Monday Funday” recap! Rather than simply provide a rehash of recent events, let’s break it down so you can recreate the fun in your workplace this holiday season! Here’s everything you need to know to plan a simple, yet fun-filled office scavenger hunt.

1 – Look into logistics

Before you get too far down the planning path, scope out the resources around your office and/or office building to get an idea of how far you might like your co-workers to travel in order to complete items on your scavenger hunt list.

Holiday Scavenger Hunt Road Sign

Posing by the road sign required the teams to go away from the office building to earn more points…but not too far!

While you want to add some items that have a greater degree of complexity, you don’t want them so far away that it becomes impossible for a team to complete many of the items in the time period allotted. Also, make sure you don’t plan holiday-oriented tasks that may not be inclusive of all religious preferences within your particular team.

Additionally, consider whether you want to run a digital scavenger hunt or a traditional one. With a digital scavenger hunt, you might require teams to provide photographic evidence of all the items they complete and text or email it back to the Gamekeeper. With a traditional hunt, remember to provide each team with a container/bag for collecting items they come across at each challenge. Then, they will have to present the items at the finish line for credit.

Lastly, as you think about how many employees will choose to participate (and it should be optional), decide how many players will be on each team and plan the teams in advance so that individuals have the opportunity to interact with people outside of their normal department or work area.

2 – Be timely

For many offices, productivity is one of the first things to suffer during the holiday season. Employees are thinking more about the next best place to hide their family elf or how many cookies they still have to bake than what is on their work agenda.

Give them a special occasion to embrace the holiday spirit, but be respectful of work schedules and keep it to no more than 15-20 minutes. That’s plenty of time to burn off some energy and bring people together for a quick culture-building activity.

In our experience, these types of competitions are best attended when they immediately follow some kind of department or all-hands company meeting. Everyone is already in one spot and therefore more likely to stay an extra fifteen minutes to join the fun. We do our Monday Funday events after our company meeting on the third Monday of each month.

It can be tempting for employees to rush back to work after a company meeting, but by keeping it within its planned time frame you respect their time. Bribery with an exciting grand prize or bragging rights doesn’t hurt attendance either (wink, wink).

3 – Allow people to prepare

When scheduling an office scavenger hunt, give your employees plenty of advance notice and ask them to RSVP to the event. From participants’ point of view, this allows them to budget time to take part in the event, and it allows the organizer (aka “Gamekeeper) to plan teams and the appropriate number of scavenger hunt tasks.

If you do endeavor a virtual hunt, make sure participants know that they will be asked to take pictures and/or video in advance. That way, they can temporarily make space available on their mobile devices for that purpose, if necessary.

Holiday Scavenger Hunt Email Invite

It’s easy to throw a quick email invitation together with some festive clip art.


4 – Be clear about rules

Some of your employees…you know the ones…will be more competitive than others. So make sure you have rules or an instructions sheet that clearly outlines what teams must do to successfully complete scavenger hunt tasks and win the contest.

In order not to give anyone an early advantage, hand out the rules and task sheet to all teams just prior to the start of the scavenger hunt, but provide a verbal overview of the rules at that time and take time to answer questions.

This is also an ideal time to make sure all teams are paying attention to the rules instead of reading the tasks and planning their first move. All but two of the teams fell victim to this temptation during our recent ExactHire holiday scavenger hunt and so the Gamekeeper awarded a bonus point to the only team that was able to successfully repeat one of the key rules of the game. And wouldn’t you know it? That was the winning team in the end–their single bonus point put them ahead when all the teams successfully completed all the tasks within fifteen minutes.

Here’s an example of the rules and task sheet we used for our holiday hunt.

ExactHire Holiday Scavenger Hunt Funday

5 – Have a back-up plan

As I mentioned above, during our scavenger hunt all three teams completed all scavenger hunt tasks within the time allotted. The Gamekeeper wasn’t expecting this to happen, and so be sure that you have contingency plans for awarding bonus points or presenting a tie-breaker task at the end in the event of a tie.

Better yet, have more tasks than you’d ever imagine any one team being able to complete. At ExactHire, we awarded different amounts of points based on the difficulty of the task in order to allow teams more flexibility to plan their strategy, if desired.

Mailing Letter | Holiday Scavenger Hunt

Mailing a letter to the big guy in the red suit!


6 – Celebrate with refreshments

At the conclusion of your scavenger hunt, if teammates gave it their all, they may be a bit winded. Have refreshments available afterwards to bring people together to recount the humorous events of the hunt, celebrate the winner with a special certificate (and perhaps traveling trophy) and give people a breather.

During the fall and winter holidays, warm spiced apple cider or a hot chocolate bar are often well received beverages. Additionally, a plate of cookies, holiday trail mix or some caramel popcorn are great accompaniments to give everyone a little reward for their efforts. As you plan your mini-menu, be mindful of any dietary restrictions present with your staff members and try to choose options that will appeal to everyone involved.

Consider coupling the post-event festivities with another “feel good” activity, if time permits. For example, during our recent hunt at ExactHire we took time to write down what we are each thankful for professionally and personally and then we displayed the notes on a prominent wall in our office. You can keep it pretty basic (as we obviously did in the photo below); or, purchase a stack of pre-cut turkeys or snowflakes and use them as the message notes.

ExactHire Office Thankful Message Notes

7 – Spread the joy

While it really doesn’t take a huge amount of effort to put together a seasonal scavenger hunt for your organization, it is worth celebrating and sharing with others. Document the fun (and maybe the unexpected bloopers) of the event on social media or in a corporate blog (oh wait–I just did that!) as a shining example of your positive employment culture and brand. Just make sure you get permission to use the photos and videos you post before publishing. And yes, I did check to make sure I could share some of our holiday antics below…


Your holiday office scavenger hunt is a great resource for showing future employees the fun side of working for your company. Go plan your next “funday” scavenger hunt today!


Thanksgiving Video 2017 from ExactHire

There is so much for which the ExactHire team is thankful from the past year, and one of our favorite traditions is putting it together in video format to share with you! Please watch our short 2017 video to see the highlights and you may see the script below, too. Happy Thanksgiving!

ExactHire 2017 Thanksgiving Video

Thanksgiving Video Transcript

It’s time to give THANKS for the past year,
And for what we’re thankful, well…it’s quite clear

T is for Teamwork
Tag-teaming our booth at HR Indiana
Trendy laptop stickers with core values–their bananas!

T-shirt design contests, and of course
Team photos in snazzy shirts, you guessed the source!

H is for Healthy Competition
Hotly contested Monday Fundays
Hallway chair racing that leaves us in a daze

Hidden surprises in a cling wrap ball
Holiday ugly sweater contest…Ric Flair won it all

Heartbreaking rubber band archery injuries
Humorous corn hole champion certificate, and Harrowing mini, mini-golf games please

A is for Advancement — our products, our organization, ourselves
Activating a partnership with the talented DT Starts team
Authoring new content resources from onboarding to recruiting

Augmenting involvement in SHRM conferences and associations
Attempting to achieve new skills validation via HR certifications

N is for New Beginnings…like
New members of the team, and
Noshing on some schnitzel since moving to Germany…oh the dream!

Noteworthy farewell to Jeff who remains a silent partner
Nurturing office camaraderie, and undertaking home improvement projects to make 60% of our cribs look sharper!

K is for Keeping Perspective…making time for little things that make us happy
Kicking it into gear with TRX at the gym, and
Kisses for newborn babies, her precious new little him

Knowing that it makes sense to get away sometimes
Key moments in our families’ lives that give us smiles

Knocking the rivals down a notch with a team victory
Keen YETI accessories that make a statement…look at that man purse’s stitchery!

Kilometers traveled abroad in European style
Kind new best friends to greet us at home–relax for awhile

Killer 5K runs with a mom and her kiddo…time to refuel
Keeping it cozy with our loved ones at night when it’s cool

S is for Sharing Experiences and spending time together
Searching for clues during an escape room outing
Socializing on our weekly water cooler question for some weekend activity scouting

Sweet treat exchanges during the holidays
State fair lunch hijinks…deep fried you name it, five different ways

Sunning ourselves while eating strawberries downtown
Soaking in the melodies at Symphony on the Prairie in the best seats around

Savoring the flavors of the Monthly Nom Nom meal,
Sitting with each other and catching up is what keeps it real.

Most of all we are thankful for YOU!
As you give us all the opportunity to love what we do.

Happy Thanksgiving from ExactHire!

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!


12 Tips for Maximizing the Impact of Employee Testimonials

There’s no denying the power of social proof. When I’m getting ready to do a big project around the house, make a large purchase or plan a vacation, I turn to my peers, social media and review sites to help me narrow down my options. Not surprisingly, the same is true for job seekers as they endeavor to find an employer that will suit their career aspirations well.

So how do employers leverage the word of their existing employees to induce job seekers to consider a position with the organization? In this blog, familiarize yourself with twelve different action steps you can start today to maximize the impact of employee testimonials in your talent acquisition efforts.

Always Be Curating

“Always Be Closing” isn’t the only definition for A-B-C, and whether or not you’re a Glengarry Glen Ross fan, you still need to be ready to curate new testimonials at all times and from a variety of different sources. Keep your pipeline full! Here’s how…

1 – Automate reminders to look for new testimonials

If you can make the gathering of employee testimonials a new habit, then you’ll always have a compelling collection of content to showcase to job seekers. Use employee onboarding software to customize and create reminders to regularly collect new testimonials from newer hires. For example, build a workflow that pings a new hire a few months after her start date to invite her to complete a testimonial form. Or, schedule a call to get her verbal comments about what it is like working for your organization.

2 – Source from social media

Don’t wait for opportune comments to come to you–go find them where they originate. Scour social media for positive mentions of your organization by employees and then ask those teammates if you may turn their comments into an official testimonial for your website. Consider taking a screenshot of the actual social post so that you may use it as an authentic image on your website.

3 – Take advantage of special events

Think about specific events or activities that your employer hosts throughout the year and then use them as an opportunity to gather very targeted testimonials about your organization. For example, for an event that focuses on culture-building, snag the chance to interview a teammate about what “Monday Funday” is and why they enjoy it! Pair the testimonial with a fun, out of the ordinary picture from the event, too.


Employee Testimonial | ExactHire | Jessica Stephenson“I love working for a small company that offers me so much variety in my role AND the chance to impact the entire organization through my work. And as serious as we are about our work, I definitely look forward to Monday Fundays to have a good time and enjoy the moment. Winning the Golden Vase doesn’t hurt either!” – Jessica Stephenson


4 – Dig into email threads

In the same way your organization or department might forward a “happy note” from a customer that commends the team for doing great work, look for email correspondence with job seekers, applicants and/or new hires that uplifts your positive recruitment brand. If you find a few statements that would play well as a testimonial, then get the individual’s permission to use his comments in a public-facing testimonial.

Strategic Placement for Better Conversion

If you’re going to do the work to amp up your employee testimonial presence, then content is only part of the project. Don’t underestimate the power of placement!

5 – Pair comments with a call-to-action (CTA)

Rather than pile all of your testimonials onto a single “Employee Testimonial” page on your careers site, put individual testimonials near CTAs to influence your site visitors to take action to apply. For example, an employee’s smiling face along with her written testimonial next to the “Apply Now” button has the potential to influence more job seekers to start the application process than without that powerful social proof. Aside from placement near clear CTA buttons/links, testimonials might also be adjacent to a form job seekers complete to subscribe to job updates.

This practice of placing one or two testimonials near a CTA is more natural and effective than a testimonials page because it seems more legitimate. When you put all of them on a single page, then most people might skip viewing it anyway because it will of course only say positive comments.

Note for your marketing team: The exception to skipping the single testimonials page is when you see an opportunity from a search engine optimization (SEO) standpoint to rank and convert on a page optimized for “[INSERT ORGANIZATION NAME] Employee Testimonials.” If you do create this type of page, make sure you still sprinkle individual testimonials throughout other pages, too.

6 – Post testimonials on many of your best pages

Don’t be afraid of putting one or two employee testimonials on lots of different career site pages. For maximum impact, target the pages that are the most heavily trafficked on your careers site–whether they are informational pages about careers at your organization or actual job postings that receive the most views. Use your applicant tracking software reporting dashboard and/or Google Analytics to dig into data about which pages have the most traffic.

7 – Job descriptions can highlight employee comments, too

Don’t be afraid to put a written testimonial or embed a video testimonial within your actual job descriptions. Consider how this uncommon approach will help persuade the job seeker to consider converting on your job application. After all, if he knows a little more about what he’d get himself into at your employer before taking the time to apply, then you’ve removed one of the barriers to making that decision. Start with your hard-to-fill job listings first.

8 – Leverage third party rating sites

Embrace the fact that if your organization is large enough, you likely already have reviews and ratings posted about your employee culture, benefits, etc. on third party sites such as Glassdoor. See them as a chance to repurpose positive comments for your own career site and/or social media profiles, too. And by all means, address any negative comments or reviews about your employer by taking action to correct or improve circumstances.

Gain some control over what is otherwise out of your control by claiming your employer profile on these third party sites. Then, add content that is accurate (aka “from the horse’s mouth”) about your company (e.g. company history, benefits, awards and accolades, photos, etc.).

Create Contextual Relevance

Just like consumers, job seekers will respond more to content and experiences that cater to their own individualized tastes and preferences. Content that seems to be designed just for you will get your attention more than a generic testimonial that is boilerplate.

9 – Match testimonials to pages based on subject matter

Place testimonials on pages and job listings based on the content of each testimonial. For example, if you have an employee testimonial that details the richness of your benefits package, then make sure it is at least on a page within your careers site that lists employee benefits.

The more contextually relevant the blurb is relative to the page on which it is featured, the better chance of converting job seekers.

10 – Map the job seeker journey

Consider your candidates’ progress through the hiring process and introduce testimonials with the highest potential impact for that point in the journey into the experience. For instance, a testimonial that celebrates the empowerment of your organization’s client services roles could be a banner in the email signature of a recruiter. That way, an in-process Client Services Associate candidate would notice it when using email to reply about setting up an in-house interview.

Why work at ExactHire?

Employee Testimonial | ExactHire | Darythe Taylor






Or, include existing employee comments affirming that they made the right choice to join the employer’s team in employment offers to final job candidates.

Vary Testimonial Formats

Don’t forget that variety is the spice of life!

11 – Grab attention quickly

While a paragraph-long employee testimonial may be full of good advice, it’s length may deter some job seekers from reading it. Counteract this possibility by using words from the testimonial to create a snappy headline that can be bolded and placed above the entire testimonial. That way, a busy job seeker can get a quick idea about the topic of the comments before diving in to read the detail.

Here’s one of our own examples from the ExactHire team:


Nancy MeyerPositivity – With Clients and Teammates!

“ExactHire offers exactly what I am looking for in a role–a place to build positive relationships with clients and my team! Whether it be with our clients or any of my teammates, knowing that I can help others help themselves in their daily duties inspires me throughout the day.” – Nancy Meyer


12 – Mix up your media

Encourage employees to share testimonials in a variety of formats:

  • Use the typical written testimonial next to a picture of the employee who provided the content.
  • Shoot video testimonials when you may take advantage of a venue that might be appealing to job seekers (e.g. If you let employees work remotely, then have one shoot a video outside of her home in Germany!).
  • Do a podcast featuring a series of spoken employee testimonials and embed it on your careers site and/or in your talent blog.
  • Feature an animated GIF file and come up with a humorous meme to modernize your testimonials and prime them for widespread social media appeal.
Jeff Wins ExactHire Monday Funday

At ExactHire we work hard.
But we also make time for gift wrapping shuffleboard races.
Join us and you could, too. – Jeff Hallam, Co-Founder


Experiment with different approaches to highlighting employee testimonials and test results to see what works best for your organization. The more prominently and positively you feature your organization’s employee ambassadors, the easier it will become to collect more valuable comments!

4 Liberating Truths the KonMari Method Taught Me About Life and Work

Let me assure you that I’m not the kind of person that is going to end up on the TV show Hoarders. I’m not afraid to clean and I generally put stuff away when I’m done with it. So, when my sister told me about recently reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, I told her “that sounds interesting, I’ll check it out on Scribd” but I didn’t think it would radically change my current outlook.

However, as I work from home today (an amazing part of ExactHire culture and values by the way), I’m still on my “KonMari Method” high after continuing my quest to declutter my closet over my lunch break. The KonMari Method is Marie Kondo’s self-named technique for tidying up one’s possessions and home. I listened to her first book on my morning commute and during my workouts last week, and now I’m reading her follow-up illustrated guide, Spark Joy.

And, while I didn’t think I was a clutter bug initially, I now can come to terms with the fact that I am a sentimentalist and fervent upcycler. I haven’t met an old, patterned wool sweater I don’t want to eventually make into matching mittens and a hat for my children. The key is “eventually.” I’m a perpetual Pinterest pinner that never has time to create.

It’s not my fault. You see, it runs in my family. Growing up on a farm, we had tons of storage space for “things we might need someday” in the barn, and my mom and sister–being accomplished crafters and seamstresses on the side–saved leftover fabric in mass quantities to use in future quilts. In fact, earlier this week my dad emailed that he was bringing me a box of my old 4-H and sports ribbons. Oh good.

I told him I was decluttering, but I think my recent Facebook posts inspired him to get rid of things, as well, as he admitted that was why the box was coming my way. “But Dad, I don’t have three storage barns.” Argh. So while I’m an ardent supporter of my goal to KonMari my life, I’m enjoying the journey and all its challenges.

A welcome boost / kick in the pants

With the dreary winter behind us, and the trees finally budding out, this couldn’t have happened at a better time in my life. It’s given me a spring in my step; however, it’s been much more than just spring cleaning. What makes the KonMari Method unique, is the fact that you approach your endeavor to discard items by category…rather than location. In fact, you’re supposed to do so in the following order: clothing, books, papers, miscellaneous and sentimental items.

Starting with something as innocuous as clothing is supposed to help you hone your decision-making process so that by the time you get to the tough sentimental item category, you really know what you yearn to keep (and treasure).

I highly recommend you read this book for yourself, but in the short-term, I’ll share four truths that were mini-epiphanies for me along the way–and how they have impacted my home and work life so far.

1 – Do only what “sparks joy”

As the title of Kondo’s sequel suggests, the foundation of her method is to only keep items that spark joy when you touch them. While I’m still only on the clothing category (yikes…have I really had those shirts for two decades?!?), it has been a great exercise in forcing myself to reconnect with my own style and purge the items that I’ve held onto because

  • someone gave them to me,
  • they bring back certain memories, or
  • I’ll fit into them again in a few months (in my dreams perhaps).

This clothing catharsis has naturally re-calibrated my decision-making process in other areas of my life. It’s easier to vet which activities really bring joy and prioritize the tasks I make the most time for in my job.

For example: don’t continue to produce work that you feel compelled to do just because you’ve always done it that way. This is especially true if it doesn’t actively help to bring about joy, change or action with others. I recently pared down the marketing metrics that our department shares with the company considerably…and it certainly made others joyful!

Download ExactHire Company Culture E-book

2 – Decluttering your home space declutters your head space

While filling up garbage bags and taking them to Goodwill certainly declutters my house, KonMari wasn’t lying when she said this ritual does so much to purge doubts, stresses and concerns, too.

It works like this: when you have too much stuff, you forget what you have…and more importantly, what you really, really like. Too many options are debilitating. This is how I feel about the Cheesecake Factory menu. I’d much rather go to a restaurant with a menu that only has a couple of pages of customer favorites. But who am I kidding? I still won’t turn down the chance for cheesecake sometimes, too.

Now that my closet is color-coded, as well as organized by season and length of item (yes!), I do feel lighter and energized when I enter the space. My energy has been translated into a renewed passion for sharing ideas and things I really love. You won’t be surprised to learn that I’ve told no fewer than ten friends to read this book already.

Challenge: what can you get rid of in your office today? How about those dusty presentation handouts from last year’s state SHRM conference? You know the ones. Or, maybe you save them digitally? In either case, have you actually referenced the handout since experiencing the presentation? The presentation may have brought you joy, but it’s okay to accept that the purpose ended there and rid yourself of the desk (or desktop) clutter!

3 – Self-talk isn’t so silly

Upon reading the book, one of the ideas that struck me as a little kooky was Kondo’s suggestion to talk to your house when you get home to announce your arrival, and to tell your departing inanimate possessions “thank you” for the joy they previously brought you. The idea is to be emphatically gracious to your belongings so that you treat them with more care while they are serving a purpose for you, and also as a way of being at peace when you bid them a final farewell.

So, as I was toiling over the future fate of belongings from my collegiate glory days, I decided it was okay to say goodbye to my ratty 1998 (gasp!) Alpha Chi Omega bid day t-shirt once and for all. When in my right mind did I think I’d have time to make a t-shirt quilt? Let alone if I did, what makes me think I would actually display that quilt anywhere in my home? Truth. Shhh…I had a whole bag of old Alpha Chi t-shirts to eliminate. Extreme truth. I only whispered “good-bye” as I peered out my bedroom window blinds to see the gaping mouth of our trash bin after the garbage had already been collected.

Alas, it’s not the first time you’ve heard that positive self-affirmations do a body good. I mean, Stuart Smalley, right? But in all seriousness, believing in yourself, setting your sights on a new responsibility at work and staying focused are easier feats when you’re not overwhelmed by clutter when you walk into your home or office.

4 – Tidying does promote wellness

As human resource professionals, many of us are empowered to make strides in improving our workplace wellness initiatives. Perhaps a group office clean-out party is just the ticket to energize your efforts! In fact, Marie Kondo claims that many of her clients lose weight and improve in health as a consequence of decluttering their life.

It makes sense. With a renewed effort to keep and do only things that you love, it’s probably easier to stay focused to achieve the physique and well-being you truly seek. I know my appetite has been easier to manage since I’ve started decluttering. After all, I’m often focused on my next tidying steps rather than distracted by the idea that a cookie would make a good snack! And, I’ve been more than happy to hit the gym in our building on my lunch hour…if only to listen to more business-related and self-improvement books while I work out.

Purging unnecessary and unloved possessions really does help lighten your load both physically and mentally. It brings to light which commitments you have been approaching half-heartedly and which relationships are worth preserving or repairing (both in your personal life and at work).

Maybe it’s

  • the fresh air (once the dust has been cleared in the now breathable closet),
  • the peaceful serenity of letting go of once beloved items the right way (sayonara oversized cotton tees), or
  • spring cleaning enthusiasm!

Or, maybe it’s just reconnecting with yourself and identifying what you are truly passionate about having, doing and pursuing in life. If anything in this blog struck a chord, what are you waiting for? Go check out Marie Kondo’s book!


10 Steps to Rolling Out Core Values at a Small Business

There are many reasons that organizations choose not to craft a core set of values. Sometimes, senior management doesn’t think core values are a big deal because they think every employee already knows how they are supposed to act to succeed. Or, key employees may have had a bad experience with values at a previous organization that were essentially meaningless. Moreover, not having any recognized values relieves any obligation for an employer to deal with employees who would not live up to a set of corporate values.

If it’s too easy for your organization to find an excuse not to commit to forming a relevant, celebrated value statement, then your business will never reach its full potential. It’s just not possible when conditions aren’t in place to align a workforce with the principles that an employer holds sacred.

At ExactHire, we only very recently rolled out our core values. While the company has been in business since 2007, our management team had some of the same objections that I initially mentioned. However, when we first decided that it was time to make a change and embrace the value process, we made the classic rookie mistake of involving everyone. As you can imagine, it resulted in a hot mess of groupthink…complete with vanilla platitudes that can only result from trying to be everything to everyone. And not surprisingly, the trite single-word adjectives we selected were quickly forgotten.

The Better Way to Craft Core Values

However, after some frank internal banter and a commitment to make our values amount to more than just a framed wall poster, we embarked on a mission that led us to G.E.C.U.S.P.

ExactHire Core Values
While we’re extremely happy with these new core values, we fell a little short on a catchy acronym. But hey, there’s only so many ways to rearrange letters. In this blog, I’ll share our process for creating, unveiling and embracing the ExactHire core values that truly represent our small business. To better understand how to implement the values and make sure the team is on board from day 1, consult our Free ATS Guide.

1 – Owner ownership

We were fortunate to learn, with only a minor hiccup, that you can’t involve everyone if you’re going to capture the true values of your organization. Keep your values “discovery team” small, and ideally comprised of only your founder(s) and perhaps certain long-tenured senior managers. The values of the organization should reflect the values of the founders, and so owner ownership of the process is essential. They are the ones that will model the behavior to the rest of the organization.

2 – Give context and get buy-in

Especially when members of your values discovery group are skeptical about the potential impact of spending time on core value development, you must set clear expectations. Talk about what will be different this time compared to their past experiences and get their feedback. Discuss ways in which the values will be woven into daily work life beyond the initial announcement. Assign stakeholders to own various values initiatives.

Then, consider announcing to the rest of the company that you are creating values and that it is a process that is taken very seriously. Then, when the eventual values are announced later, employees will know that they were formed with careful intention and not just copied from some business book.

3 – Brainstorm independently, but with parameters

Each member of the small discovery team should come up with a list of values on his/her own. If you’ve selected the right core group of people (e.g. founders, key long-time employees), and they are being honest about how work is really done at the organization, then their separate lists should have many similarities.

However, to start them down a productive path, clarify the following:

  • They are to list actual core values, not aspirational values. As Patrick Lencioni details in this Harvard Business Review article, aspirational values may be necessary for the company’s eventual success, but are not representative of the traits that the company can honestly claim today.
  • They should avoid one-word overused “no duh” adjectives like “innovation” or “integrity.” At ExactHire, our team focused on short phrases.
  • They are welcome to look at values from other organizations that they believe have a similar culture to get the creative juices flowing.

4 – Collaborate to edit and refine

In our experience, we knew we were on the right track–as when we gathered to compare notes–our lists were about an 85% match. That reassured us that we were on the right path, and then the process of rephrasing statements and combining categories to come up with a succinct list was relatively painless.

During this process, we honed our list by asking questions like these:

  • Are these actual or aspirational values?
  • Are there any obvious outliers that won’t seem authentic to employees?
  • Is the language gritty enough to represent how we do business? Does it make our priorities clear?
  • Are these values complementary to our employment brand? Strategic planning process? Performance management process?

5 – Simmer

Once we were content with our final values list, we knew that we had to give it some time to make sure it really fit the organization. We tabled the process for a couple of months in order to let them sink in to ensure their credibility before announcing them to the rest of the organization.

6 – Plan a big reveal

The definition of “big” will depend on your organization’s size. However, no matter the size, don’t just send out an email or make a quick announcement that your new values are posted. Plan a reveal that will be memorable and engage employees to quickly learn the values.

At ExactHire, we planned the announcement during our monthly company meeting, and took time to explain how we approached the process and why we involved a very small group of employees. Prior to the unveiling, we designed a logo that incorporates color and different fonts to make it easy to remember our G.E.C.U.S.P. However, we knew that employees wouldn’t necessarily take it upon themselves to periodically glance at the logo. So, we ordered die-cut laptop stickers (from my new obsession Sticker Mule) and presented them to employees during the meeting.

ExactHire Employees Core Values Stickers

Tom, Jess and Darythe showing off ExactHire core values!

Now, many of the laptops you see around our office proudly sport our values and make it easy for them to be top-of-mind. While stickers may be the norm for a software company, if mugs, water bottles or magnets are more your speed–go for it! The point is to select an item that is frequently close to your employees and reinforces the values visually on a daily basis.

In our meeting, we also handed out the unabridged internal document that defines our values…complete with bullet points that clarify what each short phrase means.

ExactHire Core Values Bullet Detail

7 – Cultivate employee values engagement

To add to the excitement of our initial roll-out, we wanted to keep the momentum going in the early adoption phase by giving employees the optional opportunity to participate in a t-shirt design contest. We had been meaning to get company t-shirts for some time anyway (what cool tech company doesn’t have an employee picture in matching shirts after all?), and this seemed like the perfect chance to meet that need while getting teammates excited about incorporating values into an aspect of our culture.

We passed out this contest rules flyer during the company meeting, and employees were invited to select the winning t-shirt design via anonymous survey a week later.

ExactHire Core Values Tshirt Contest

And the winner is…

ExactHire Core Values T-shirt Winner

NOTE: We haven’t produced them yet at the time of this writing…hence no cool team picture in matching outfits yet–stay tuned!

While our contest rules didn’t stipulate that the new values had to be explicitly represented on the t-shirt, I was pleased that the majority of the submitted designs did actually incorporate the values anyway…a sign that we were on the right track. If employees don’t believe you’ve selected the right values, they won’t want to wear them!

Here are some other values engagement ideas:

  • Plan book club discussions about books that are based on some of your selected values.
  • Challenge employees to self-identify how they can better align their own work and behavior to core values.
  • Invite employees to blog about how they see values represented at the organization from their own perspective. This is a great way to promote your values to the external world in a very authentic way, as well.

8 – Share your values externally

Don’t stop at blogging when it comes to sharing your values outside of your organization. Organizations that walk the talk will be more attractive to job seekers, potential customers and business partners. Consider the following ideas:

  • Include your values graphic on your company’s “about” page.
  • Weave values into your jobs portal or applicant tracking system. Include a link to information about your values in job descriptions. This is a great tool to get some less desirable applicants to self-select out of your hiring process.
  • Create a slide deck about your core values that can be embedded in social media posts and web pages.
  • Invite employees to do testimonials that talk about how each of your values impacts their work life. These can be in written and/or video format.
  • Use your values as a basis for selecting organizations with which to partner for charitable donations and volunteer hours. When contributing silent auction items to noteworthy causes, choose items that can be easily tied to your values.
  • Creatively display your values in your working space, especially in places where customers, partners and job candidates will visit.

9 – Live your values everyday

Don’t fall into the dreaded cliche of rolling out values and then forgetting about them the next day. Build in triggers to live them. For example, if you are in Human Resources, a department that helps champion work culture and supports senior management initiatives, set periodic reminders to intentionally think about values and how recent events can be correlated to them. For example, if a customer sends in a “happy note” about the service he received, then have a founder forward the note to the entire company with a comment that ties it back to a specific core value being positively represented.

Other ideas for reinforcing core values:

  • Make them the deciding factor on company decisions.
  • Use them to inspire internal traditions like Monday Funday.
  • Evaluate whether your performance management process appropriately accounts for employees’ embodiment of core values.
  • Revisit your interview process and incorporate questions that give you an opportunity to discuss core values with job candidates.
  • If your organization is large enough, consider a quarterly prize that recognizes individuals who have done something that specifically reinforces a certain value. Document these employee stories and share them with incoming employees to build a tradition of celebrating value alignment.

10 – Re-evaluate your values periodically

It’s important to be vigilant about engaging employees to your core values, as well as ensuring that senior management models them appropriately. Additionally, while core values would rarely (if ever) change for an organization (assuming founders remain involved), there may be times when an additional value is warranted.

Conduct employee pulse surveys from time to time to ask questions that will help you take the temperature on whether the organization needs to be doing more to promote value alignment.

I hope that the lessons we learned during the value formation process for ExactHire can help inspire action for other small- and medium-sized employers. We’re still in the learning process, too, as we look for more ways to reinforce them everyday…but we’re heading in the right direction.


How Important is Hiring for Company Culture Fit…Really? [VIDEO]

In this ExactHire vlog, listen to ExactHire Co-Founder, Jeff Hallam, explain what we can learn from a high profile sports team employee termination, and offer tips on how to better assess a job candidate’s potential ability to fit in with your corporate culture.


Video Transcript:

Hi, today’s topic is to talk a little bit about culture, and when I talk about culture not so much in terms of what you can do to make your culture better…it’s not really my realm of expertise at all. But more so, to talk about how important keeping your culture in mind is when hiring. This came to light a while back with the GM of the Colts here in Indianapolis being let go despite having a pretty good run over the last four or five years.

Hiring for Culture Lesson Learned from the Colts

And, as much as there have been issues and there have been rumors that have swirled around that, and just because it’s such a high-profile role, what came to light after the fact I think surprised a lot of people, myself included. In essence, despite the success that was had, it became clear that the way this person behaved internally…how they interacted with others…certain things that they did or didn’t do didn’t really line up with the culture that the owner of the Colts had in mind in terms of how they should be functioning day to day. It made me think, a lot of times especially with what’s happened in the candidate space over the last couple of years with the job market really tightening, the candidate pool continuing to seem from an employer perspective like it’s shrinking…there’s a lot of talk about trying to engage candidates better.

All of that’s perfectly valid—that is absolutely critical to try to get people involved and interested in your roles. At the same time, I think once people show that interest there are a couple of things that you can do just as final steps to make sure you’re not skipping through that process too quickly and find yourself in the same situation the Colts did.

Assess Job Candidates’ Potential Company Culture Fit

Getting a good performer, especially in a prominent role, is critical and we all know that–but sometimes in the interest of trying to move past that it’s easy to skip a couple of core things that can maybe help prevent that. So one of those things is the notion of taking the time to do reasonable reference checks. Again, understand you’re not going to do that probably for roles that are paying a little bit less or aren’t going to interact with others as much. But for these roles where people are going to touch others within the organization with their actions, with their words; or, for those who are going to interact frequently with your clients…that reference piece can be pretty significant in terms of making sure you’re getting what you thought you were getting.

So making sure that you have a handful of people who have interacted with that person before, and having a very clear notion of what you’re looking for–what you need to know about that person–can absolutely help raise any potential red flags that otherwise you might not see until later in the process.

Use Social Media to Better Understand Candidate Professionalism

The other thing you can do is…and there are various channels and tools out there to do this…one that I just became aware of recently is called Really powerful and neat little tool, but whether you do that or just visit them on LinkedIn, or look at their Twitter profile…or whether you use this third-party plug in…the notion is look and see how this person conducts themselves via social media. Doesn’t matter what their views on certain things are, etc. But if they’re offering up any kind of inflammatory comments, or they’re sharing views or things that are inappropriate…lots of things that might otherwise again not fly in the face of how you like things to operate within your culture.

Better to know those things upfront…be aware of them, and at that point then you can determine whether it’s based on feedback from the references or what you see on the social media gamut, you can better determine whether those are items that help reinforce your hiring decision or whether those are things to be aware of and perhaps modify with that person once you bring them on board.

Download ExactHire Company Culture E-book