Improve Employee Experience by Starting a Book Club at Work

If you want to create a consistently, stellar employee experience at your organization (and why wouldn’t you?), then finding ways to foster personal and professional development should be an integral part of your plan. Implementing an optional office book club is a fantastic way to encourage employees to try something new, improve themselves and connect with one another.

We recently hosted our inaugural book club session at ExactHire and read Radical Candor by Kim Scott. I had wanted to start a book club internally for quite awhile, but the timing just hadn’t been right until now. However, one chance conversation with a co-worker about interesting books ignited a spark of interest and our subsequent plan to meet 1-on-1 to discuss our first book. Naturally, I advertised the opportunity to the rest of our small organization and…voila! Traction. Before I knew it, six of us were signed up and ready to read!

This plan fit in perfectly with my own new year’s resolution to read twenty-six books in 2019; however, I was more excited to connect intentionally with co-workers in other departments and share different perspectives on something new and something more universally safe. What do I mean by “safe?” When you can look at other companies’ experiences, successes and tribulations, then it’s easier to challenge convention and have a strong opinion because it’s someone else’s situation.

However, the great thing about a book club in which people organically contribute is that you naturally start applying the concepts from the books to your own work environment. With internal trust, you can reflect on what has worked well (and what hasn’t), as well as use the book to reference a common foundation for handling scenarios in the future. For example, it will be easier to be more “radically candid” with each other at ExactHire moving forward–as many of us have studied the approach for doing so together.

Why we started an office book club at ExactHire

There are so many benefits to reading, such as gaining new perspective and improving your vocabulary; however, these basic benefits are multiplied when you also have the opportunity to discuss books within a comfortable group setting. Even though we’ve only had one discussion so far, I’m already seeing internal advantages such as

  • climbing out of a creative rut that can strike during the post-holiday gloom that often characterizes mid-winter,
  • breaking down communication silos by inviting members from all departments to participate,
  • feeling more connected with each other considering we have a very remote-friendly workforce,
  • better relating to the perspectives of co-workers at different position levels,
  • higher participation rates in development because it is opt-in-oriented with low barriers to entry,
  • giving more people the chance to have a voice, and
  • providing the perfect opportunity to practice listening more effectively.

How to start your own employee book club

When planning your office book club, think about how your culture will impact the level of formality in your discussions, and whether you use consistent discussion questions or switch it up every time. Additionally, the size of your organization may determine whether it makes sense to have many cross-departmental groups or champion department-specific groups. ExactHire is a smaller company and so I will share the steps we took to launch our book club.

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Generate interest and make it optional

The catalyst for our own ExactHire book club started with a conversation; however, yours may begin with a group email, a post to your company Slack channel or an agenda item in a company meeting.

Don’t write a novel of expectations for how it will operate at the onset (though some of you might think my invitation is quite lengthy below), but do emphasize to employees that the club is optional and should be educational and fun.

Office Book Club | Work | ExactHire

Stick with appropriate book genres

Give people a framework of what types of books should be expected and which genres would work best for a company book club. For example, titles about leadership, business, entrepreneurship, professional development and even some self-help books are all great options.

I recommend that the founder(s) of the book club select the very first book. Then, have all members vote on future sessions’ selections. Remember to keep book topics diverse and push yourself to read things that you wouldn’t necessarily pick up on your own–that’s a significant driver for many to participate in a club so that they are accountable to expanding outside the box of their typical reading preferences.

Make it easy for people to participate

The company should buy the books (or digital titles) for participants. It’s fine to encourage people to use any existing unlimited e-book/audiobook subscriptions they may have or to check their local library first, but ultimately the organization’s investment in a few books is a small price to pay for the employee development return on investment it stands to gain.

We pay for copies of our book club books, and we offer an optional employee benefit that pays for a portion of employees’ subscriptions to an unlimited online book service in exchange for their commitment to write a book-inspired blog quarterly.

And, remember that the book club itself is an employee benefit. Don’t forget to list it as such on your employment offers and the benefits list on your career website.

Make it convenient and accessible

Plan your book club discussion for a day when there are already a lot of people in the office. For example, at ExactHire we plan our book club to immediately follow the “Monthly Nom Nom” during which we all gather to share a catered (or potluck) meal together. Since many of us frequently work remotely, this is usually the day of the month with the most people in the office (serve them food, they will come)! Be mindful that the day you schedule your event isn’t already too packed with other meetings, and consider serving a light refreshment…or caffeine boost if it is immediately following a meal.

At ExactHire, we can never have everyone available to meet in person because we have teammates from Utah to Indiana to Germany! Therefore, we use Google Meet to video conference with our truly remote employees so they can participate, too. If you need to accommodate different time zones, be as inclusive as possible when scheduling the time of day for your book club session.

Finally, be intentional about the frequency for your discussions. Does it make sense to meet for shorter discussions bi-weekly to discuss a few chapters, or longer discussions that encompass the entire book on a monthly or quarterly basis? Within our book club, we’re starting with a quarterly cadence and discussing the entire book each time.

Do basic discussion preparation

The club founder(s) should lead the first discussion and should create an editable, shared document with ideas for discussion questions. This document should be visible to participants in advance of the meeting. Invite participants to throw question ideas on the document as inspiration strikes them, too. Also, remind people about the event about a week in advance in case anyone needs an extra nudge to finish the entire book on time.

Include questions about concepts within the book, but also list questions that will cause the group to take time to apply the concepts to real life examples from your organization, too. If you struggle to come up with questions on your own, do an internet search for notes and summaries on the book you are reading, and look for discussion guides that already exist online so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. This approach is particularly helpful if you are designated to lead a discussion after you listened to an audiobook while driving or working out (without the ability to take notes).

Here are some question ideas to get you started.

  • What did you encounter in this book that you weren’t expecting when you first took interest in it?
  • Which parts of this book did you dislike?
  • What is one thing you are going to implement or do differently now that you’ve read this book?
  • Pick your favorite passage/story, read it out loud to the group and explain why it’s important to you.
  • What was your “aha” moment while reading this book?
  • What was missing from the book in your opinion?
  • Thinking about the concepts within the book, how have we already applied them well within our own organization. Give examples.
  • Which book concepts do we need to better incorporate within our workplace? What are the appropriate next steps for doing so?

After the first book club event, ask for volunteers to take turns leading different future sessions. Don’t force participation, but let people rise to the occasion. When people vote on future books on a survey, consider asking them to indicate if they’d also like to lead that discussion if their suggested book is chosen.

“Don’t force participation, but let people rise to the occasion.”

Encourage active participation

Fortunately, it isn’t too difficult to get a variety of people to join the discussion at ExactHire. Our first book club included comments from all participants and there was a healthy banter during a variety of questions. Of course, perhaps this was because our first book was all about candor.

If all your attendees aren’t as willing to speak up, be patient and keep discussion questions focused on the book concepts initially rather than how they specifically apply to your workplace. As confidence grows among the group, you may find that discussion naturally moves to how the concepts can be applied to your workplace. As trust grows within the group, you’ll see that more inclusive, engaging conversation emerges.

Include everyone in future book planning

At the close of your first meeting, invite everyone to send suggestions for future books to one person who will compile them into a survey so that people may vote on a winner. This person may be the designated leader of the next discussion, or a consistent point person within your organization.

I’ve already received a number of intriguing book suggestions for our next discussion in April, and I’ll be using a survey to allow employees to rank their favorites. Be sure and share your survey with the entire company for each future session in case different employees prefer to participate at different times of year. Attendance will vary based on schedules and interest in the chosen book.

There are a variety of digital tools you may use to collectively keep tabs on books of interest for future discussions as well. I enjoy gathering ideas from posts on Pinterest and podcasts and blogs. Then, I keep track of books on my “to-read” list using Goodreads–an online community of book lovers.

Happy reading!

While these steps have worked well so far for my company, don’t be afraid to experiment with different formats for your own organizational book club. Your company culture, core values and current business challenges will guide you in a direction that resonates with your own employees.

Just remember to keep it fun and leverage the events as an opportunity to foster employee development and maximize the employee experience!


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.

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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!


Get The Most Out Of A Conference: Part 2

To get the most out of a conference, you need to have objectives, a plan to meet those objectives, and a system for processing and organizing the information you receive. These items should all be completed before you go to the conference.

All your planning and upfront work provides a foundation for success, but like anything else you need to execute. The following strategies will help you get the most out of a conference once you’ve arrived.

Arrive Early and Get Oriented

Arrive early. This sounds pretty obvious, but I’m not talking about arriving 5 minutes early…or even 15 minutes. Take a look at the conference agenda and look for the time when doors open. Sometimes this is not listed, so you might need to call. At a minimum, try to arrive 45 minutes early.

If registration is open, go ahead and check in. You might be able to do this before the official registration time too. Does this annoy the conference staff? Maybe. But that’s OK.

Once you have all registration items, walk around the conference space and identify the rooms and spaces that you will be visiting. For larger conferences, this will help you save time and worry later in the day. For smaller conferences…it’s another opportunity to possibly annoy the staff as they hurry to complete last minute setup. But that’s OK.

After you’ve gained your bearings, find a nice out of the way spot to look through your bag o’ swag. In part one of this series, I offered some tips on how to deal with that bag and that swag. But if you want the long and short of it now: get rid of what you don’t need and identify any freebies or coupons that are time-sensitive.

So now that you’ve arrived early, checked in, oriented yourself to the conference space, plucked out your happy hour tickets, and stashed your questionable phone charging accessory, you should start to see people trickling in. But more importantly…you should start to see the appetizer buffets filling up!

Take this time to once again annoy the conference staff. You can start by building a plate of fruit that ruins the caterer’s set presentation. But that’s OK. Spend this time munching, and then you’ll be free to do some hands-free, hunger-free networking as more attendees start rolling in.

With your hunger satiated, you are now ready to enjoy the conference. At this point you have some options based on your particular situation. You may want to use this time to network with other attendees, grab a front row seat for the keynote presentation, or coincidentally bump into a presenter who you really wanted to meet. Regardless of what you decide to do, you will have the time and space (in your mind) to do it.

Finally, make sure you give yourself enough time to take a good seat for the first session. Plan to be in your seat around 10 minutes before the scheduled start time for the session. Use that time to take a quick look at your objectives for the session and the day.

Listen for Key Ideas and Avoid Lengthy Notes

Conferences pack in a lot of sessions. Sessions pack in a lot of ideas. Ideas pack in a lot of information.

It’s important that you don’t try to unpack all of that.

It’s tempting to take as many notes as possible, vigorously transcribing presenters’ words and copying their slides. This approach is flawed, however, because your focus is solely on taking notes. Consider…

You may spend 5 minutes, head down, copying an idea verbatim…but what if that idea is not a good fit for your organization? You’ve wasted time and energy.

What if your notes describe ideas that your organization already implements, or has determined not to implement? You’ve received no value from your effort.

Your focus should be on connecting new ideas with your organization. For this, you need space in your mind to think about the ideas being presented, and to consider whether they could bring value to your organization. The notes you do take should be brief and powerful–just the key ideas that make you think “aha!”

By taking this approach, you allow yourself the opportunity to think about the specifics of how an idea can be implemented at your organization. Through this thought process, you may even generate “spin-off” ideas–ideas of your own that are inspired by your presenter.

You may fear that if you fail to take detailed notes, then you will lose vital information needed to sell or  implement the idea. It’s true that you could miss a few important details, but most presenters are more than happy to provide you with notes or additional information upon request.

And what better way to network with a presenter than to follow up with “Hi Nancy, I really enjoyed your presentation on employee engagement, specifically your idea on using technology to streamline the onboarding process. Could you provide me with a little more information on your considerations for purchasing HR technology?

Network Responsibly and Take Breaks

Speaking of networking…conferences are great places to network. A bunch of like-minded, like-employed, like-motivated people all gathered in one place is a powerful thing. But let’s face it, even grown adults have a limit to their attention spans…enter networking.

Networking–both formal and informal–is the oil that keeps conferences moving. It can also be the silver lining in an otherwise dry presentation on HR analytics. But too much networking can easily distract you and wear you out, leaving you exhausted and unable to focus on presentations. Try the following tips for responsible networking.

5 Tips For Networking Responsibly At Your Next Conference

  • Set limits. It’s not overkill to actually schedule your networking time. In fact, scheduling time to network will reinforce your sense of purpose in networking and ensure that you don’t miss out on other important activities.
  • Have business cards ready, but use discretion. Have a good conversation, and if it makes sense, exchange business cards at the end of it. Don’t lead with the card…that’s presumptuous and can make a bad impression.
  • Sales is a next level conversation. I know…I know… if you’re a salesperson you gotta strike while the iron is hot…make hay while there’s sun…and kill two birds with one stone. Sales are tough, but so are first impressions. Follow the same approach as with business cards. If a sales conversation makes sense, offer that at the end of the initial conversation.
  • Be yourself. Unless you moonlight as an actor or actress, trying to be someone else is exhausting. Conferences can be stressful enough on their own, you don’t need to add to that by morphing into Don Draper. So be professional, kind, and considerate…and hopefully that’s pretty close to being yourself.
  • Take breaks. Remember that part about scheduling your networking time? You should do the same for breaks. A break could be a walk to a nearby park or attraction. It could be exercise, like going on a run or visiting the hotel fitness facility. You might just need to go veg in your hotel room. Whatever you decide on, make sure you use some of your free time to get away from handshakes, elevator speeches, and happy hours. You’ll bring more energy to everything else.

Putting It All Together

In this short series on how to get the most out of your upcoming conference, we touched on several ideas. You’ll find that they all derive from two principles: have a plan and manage your energy. Most bad experiences can be avoided with proper planning and high energy. Follow your plan, and when things don’t go according to plan, overcome it with high energy.


ExactHire has had the honor to present at conferences in the past, and you can always find us with a vendor booth at the annual HR Indiana Conference. Whether presenting, blogging, authoring ebooks and guides, we strive to help human resources professionals improve their organizations.


7 Tips for Embracing the 80/20 Rule With Employee Talent

I’m sure you’ve heard of the 80/20 Rule before, but have you ever thought seriously about its impact on your talent management initiatives? Whether you like it or not, the Pareto Principle (another name for the rule) is likely at work within your workforce. Therefore, as few as 20 percent of your employees are driving about 80 percent of your productivity and success.

I started thinking about this principle after attending a very engaging program from my local SHRM chapter, IndySHRM, this week. The topic, “Total Rewards for a High Performing Culture” was jointly presented by Susan Rider and Karl Ahlrichs of Gregory & Appel Insurance here in Indianapolis. I enjoyed their presentation, and one of their slides discussed using a normal distribution (aka “Bell curve”) to segment the productivity of your workforce. This isn’t a new concept and has historically aligned with forced ranking performance management systems that assigned numerical ratings to employees grouped into three basic buckets–below average, average, and above average.

Taming the Long Tail of Performance

I support the idea that above average producers produce more per person than your large bucket of average producers, but it wasn’t until I came across this Josh Bersin article in Forbes that I thought about the “Power Law” distribution (aka “long tail”) as more accurately representative of the spectrum of employee productivity. And in my opinion, it is easier to support this because it optimistically suggests that everyone can move to being a “hyper performer” if they are in the right role. It doesn’t force the organization to have a set number of below average “1” ratings (on a scale of one to five for example). And, unlike a Bell curve, there aren’t an equivalent number of people above and below the mean.


Bell Curve Power Law Distributions

One of the hottest trends in human resources over the past few years is to rethink the performance management process and abandon the forced ranking systems of old. The good news is that the long tail distribution model supports that move and won’t disillusion people who have great potential by forcing them into the lackluster “average performer” bucket because there can only be a certain number of “above average” performers.

The bad news, however, is that your true top performers…your “hyper performers” as Bersin calls them…may impact your organization’s success to an even greater extent than you thought before.

You Must Treat Hyper Performers Differently

Does the header of this section make you feel uncomfortable? As an individual charged with human resources, talent management and/or business operations in your organization, you understand the necessity to value, engage and respect all employees…both from a legal and company culture-enriching standpoint. However, equality and equity don’t mean the same thing.

If you challenge, recognize and reward all of your employees equally, then your best ones (the left side “head” of the power distribution) will leave and your below average ones (the right side “long tail”) will stay. Then what happens to your productivity?

Long tail distribution head | ExactHire

So how do you disproportionately engage your hyper performers and your high potentials (i.e. on their way to being hyper)? If you don’t take action, then as Karl Ahlrichs said in the IndySHRM presentation, beware the sounds of smartphone pings in your office. They will be the precursor to your top talent leaving as recruiters engage them on LinkedIn.

Consider the following seven tips for motivating your most critically important high-performing employees. While many of these practices are good ideas to adopt for many groups of employees, their thoughtful application to the hyper performing group will reap the lion’s share of benefits…my estimate is around 80 percent, in fact!

1 – Understand motivators

When looking at your small group of hyper performers, don’t make the mistake of assuming that since they are all uber-productive, that they have the same long-term goals. One person may be purely driven by compensation; whereas, others might live for the flexible working arrangement you offer or the student loan debt assistance benefit you just rolled out.

Make strides to understand what motivates each unique person by using one or more of the following tools:

  • Have him take the StrengthsFinder assessment to unearth his five most prominent strengths. Then, try to align his opportunities with his strengths to bring him even deeper intrinsic satisfaction with his work.
  • If you used a behavioral assessment during the hiring process, such as the ProfileXT which shares primary interest categories for the individual, then double check that your employee has the opportunity to create…if one of her interests is being “creative,” for example.
  • Look back through notes from your employee’s interview or past 1-on-1 discussions to jog your memory on comments he made about what motivates him. Many organizations ask motivation-related questions during the hiring process and so you may already have the data at your fingertips. NOTE: Remember that a person’s motivators can change over time based on their current life experiences…so it doesn’t hurt to just ask, too.

2 – Conduct stay interviews

In lieu of an annual performance review, introduce the “stay interview” with the high performers in your organization. According to The Stay Interview by Richard Finnegan, employees–not supervisors–should set the agenda for these performance development meetings.

While the manager can get the discussion ball rolling using questions like “What are you learning here?” or “Why are you staying here?”, these are just conversation openers. As an employee answers these questions, the manager should ask follow-up questions to probe for additional insight in order to reveal the emotions or challenges at the core of the initial question responses, according to Finnegan.

3 – Communicate with context

My eight-year-old son recently reminded me that his elementary school has been studying Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People this year. The fifth habit is to “seek first to understand, then be understood.” The key to understanding the motivators of your top talent is to be a good listener and probe for additional information instead of just rattling off the next question on your list. In fact, a stay interview is a great time to do this exercise.

While listening is an essential part of communication, once you’ve heard your employees it is important to work with them to mutually discover how their interests may align with the overall objectives of the organization. When areas of synergy are identified, plan opportunities for additional development.

4 – Provide new learning experiences

With the 80/20 Rule in mind, consider the potentially high ROI on additional training for your best performers. These exceptionally productive employees may be hungry to learn new skills or be exposed to additional insights and perspectives; however, before you assume this note their motivations!

For the employees who do express interest, look for opportunities to send them to relevant conferences and courses. Involve them in the succession planning process and identify them as high potential candidates for specific roles. However, don’t tell an employee he is the shoe-in candidate as it can create entitlement and be counterproductive, according to a recent The Joy-Powered Workplace Podcast.

Gauge your hyper performers’ interest in a mentorship program. They may enjoy learning new skills while serving as a mentee to a more senior person in the organization; or, they might be motivated by the chance to help train other newcomers and up-and-comers within the organization. If you don’t yet have a formal mentoring program, perhaps one of your hyper performers would like to take that on as a special project.

5 – Offer stretch assignments

Speaking of special projects, your best performers may be at risk of becoming bored if they aren’t regularly presented with new challenges. Brainstorm with your senior management team, as well as your high performers, about any potential stretch assignments that could create a new efficiency and/or revenue stream for the organization, as well as give your best performers exposure to new skill development opportunities.

These individuals will appreciate the chance to explore new ideas, people and/or areas within the business, and it can be a good chance to feed their need to excel. At a minimum, this type of assignment can give them a chance to reinvent themselves and avoid burnout/boredom that may eventually seep into their daily work routine.

Additionally, being selected for a special stretch assignment is a nice way to award recognition to these exceptional individuals who are trusted to innovate for their employer.

6 – Customize recognition

We’re all hard-wired differently. While an extroverted, competitive salesperson may live for an unanticipated public mention of his name during the monthly staff meeting, an extremely introverted and stability-minded systems analyst would be quietly mortified to experience the same form of recognition.

If you’ve taken strides to understand your employees’ unique motivations, then your next step is to create customized recognition opportunities that will be welcomed by each individual on which they are bestowed. Maybe your systems analyst is a die-hard fan of chai lattes? Great, have your next 1-on-1 meeting at the local coffee house as a treat for her recent accomplishment.

7 – Disproportionately reward your stars

Consider this statement from the Bersin article:

“Just think about paying people based on the value they deliver (balanced by market wages and scarcity of skills) and you’ll probably conclude that too much of your compensation is based on tenure and history.”

Does that statement describe the state of compensation in your organization? If so, then you may have some work to do to keep your stars with your organization long-term. If your hyper performers, the 20 percent of them producing 80 percent of your company’s success, come to realize that length of employment is the most significant factor in improving their pay, then you’ve just crushed their motivation to work for you.

So what’s the answer? Why not recognize the substantial achievements of your most important talent with variable pay opportunities? While your fixed pay grades may limit you on salary increases, there’s room to get creative with one-time bonuses for important goal achievements that move the company forward (and arguably…pay for themselves).

But remember, not everyone is motivated by pay. So consider allowing your hyper performers to choose their own goals and corresponding bonus opportunities. A bonus could very well be a lump sum payment or additional paid time off; or, it might be the ability to enroll in a course (on the company’s dime) in which the employee’s been interested for some time. Involving the employee in the selection of goals and rewards allows her to take on a level of risk that suits her motivations as well as have a stake in her own reward outcomes.

A word of caution: with the privilege of selecting specific goals and rewards comes the responsibility of carefully measuring success and mitigating unintended consequences. Be sure to avoid creating an incentive for these unintended cobra farms (see #7 at this link).

Now that you’re equipped with some ideas for connecting with your best performers with the goal of keeping them productive for your organization, your next step is to reach out to them and better understand what makes them tick. While you hopefully already have a general sense of this for various high potential employees, you might be surprised by what you learn, too. Good luck!


Get The Most Out Of A Conference: Part 1

It’s conference season! Time to throw off the shackles of your desk environment and go to a place where everybody knows your name (because it’s printed on your lanyard) and they’re always glad you came (because you paid out the nose for it).

Maybe you’ll be attending pre-conference workshops, cocktail hours, dinners, and concerts. Or maybe you’ll have a chance run-in with an industry thought leader. And then there’s the swag, all that awesome, eye-pleasing gear that helps you justify–just a little bit–that hefty registration fee.

And are you staying at the conference hotel? If so, then hold on to your briefcase, because it’s like spring break meets summer camp meets college dorm…for professionals! Woo-hoo! …maybe that’s just my past conference experience.

In any case, a lot of excitement surrounds conferences, and it’s very easy to get caught up in it. But as most veteran conference goers know, it’s important to balance fun and work. Here is the first part in a two-part series on how to ensure that you get the most out of your conference.

Have a Plan

About a week or so before the conference, take a look at the schedule of conference speakers and events. It’s probably part of your welcome email, but also visit the conference website to check for any late changes. With an updated agenda in front of you, it’s now time to decide how you will spend your time at the conference.

First off, it’s a good idea to review the agenda with your supervisor and colleagues. If you’re attending the conference with them, then you can “divide and conquer” the sessions. If you’re going solo, then their input will help you create a schedule that brings value to both you and the organization.

In addition to creating a schedule of sessions, you should have objectives for each session. So if you are attending a session on “How To Enhance Employee Onboarding”, an objective might be: to learn how to improve coordination of onboarding activities among staff. This doesn’t mean that you might not discover other important takeaways, but it focuses your attention on how the content can help your organization today. If a speaker doesn’t address your objective, then it becomes your question for the Q&A or a follow up tweet.

Finally, outside of the sessions, be sure to schedule time for professional networking. This time should also have an objective, like scheduling time to:

  • Make new connections
  • Maintain existing connections
  • Meet current clients or customers

By planning out your time and attaching objectives to it, you can avoid wasting any time and quickly begin to gain real value from the conference.

Have a System

Much like planning your schedule for the conference, having a system in place for gathering and storing information is invaluable. Sure, you could walk into the hall with just your smartphone, grab a swaggy notepad and pen, and survive the day. But you want to get the most out of the conference!

For Notes

Whether you decide to go digital or keep it low tech with a notebook, there is a lot you can do before the conference to make it easy to gather and organize the flood of content you will receive.

Start by creating a page for each session–if you’re taking notes the right way, one page should be enough, but go ahead and use two if you must. For each page, write the title of the presentation, time and date, and speaker’s name. Then write your objectives for the session.

These easy, proactive steps save you time, reduce stress, and help you stay focused on the speaker and your pre-determined objectives. Apps like Evernote, OneNote, and a host of others can also be set up in this way.

For Business Cards

Reports on the death of business cards have been greatly exaggerated. Despite the popularity of LinkedIn and apps for paperless sharing of your contact info, the business card endures. That’s good news for printers and the manufacturers of business card holders, but it’s bad news for people like me who always seem to forget and misplace them.

If you use a portfolio binder, then the solution is easy. Just use the handy little pockets they have. But importantly, make sure you remove any old business cards that you’ve received beforehand. You only want your cards and conference attendee cards. This makes it easier to recall someone you’ve met earlier at the conference.

If you’re storing your cards elsewhere, like your pockets, purse, or manpurse, then the same rule as above applies. But also make sure that you keep your cards separate from the cards you receive, lest you accidentally give someone the wrong card or lose a card in your stack of cards.

After storing cards, you’ll want to review them at the end of the day. At this point you can store them digitally and/or take notes about the contact, like:

  • When you met them
  • What you talked about
  • Any follow up actions you need to take

Once you’re finished with reviewing and organizing your cards, toss the cards that are not useful to you–harsh, I know. Just don’t do this immediately after talking with someone.

For Handouts

Like business cards, there are the handouts that you may have and the handouts that other attendees and vendors will have. Keeping all of these organized and handy is a challenge. Let’s start with materials that you might have.

First off, if you have sales materials and you’re not at a booth, it may be a good idea to keep those in your hotel room. If you meet someone who is interested in learning more about your services or wares, take that person’s card, and then schedule a meetup for that evening where you will bring the sales materials. You could stockpile them in your European carryall and distribute them on-demand, but that’s not a good look, as others will likely avoid talking to you, the travelling salesman.

When you receive materials from someone, it’s likely because you’re at the vendor exhibition or had an unfortunate encounter with the aforementioned travelling salesman. The exhibition usually provides bags, so use that or just repurpose your swag bag from registration. And for the salesman…if you have the cargo space and are legitimately interested in the material, then go ahead and tuck it into your portfolio or bag; otherwise, just politely decline. When you get back to your room: review, purge and organize the materials you’ve received.

The goal with handouts and business cards is to only come back home with items of value. If you take back everything, you just might overlook an important contact or piece of material.

For Swag

I’ve listed this for one reason and one reason only: coupons and freebies. OK, technically that might be two reasons, but anyway…buried beneath the branded notepads, stress balls, water bottles, t-shirts, and iffy phone chargers, there are often some great coupons and vouchers. It’s easy to overlook these little guys and sometimes they are time-sensitive–like a free drink at tonight’s happy hour.

Assuming that you arrive early to the conference (do not do this during a presentation), go through your swag bag and pull out all your coupons, quickly separate time-sensitive ones, and discard the ones you’re not interested in. Put these coupons in a safe place (not with your business cards or back in the swag bag). Enjoy!

A Plan and a System

Attending professional conferences can be exciting and instrumental to the development of your career.
To ensure that you get the most out of a conference, you should start by investing time in the planning of your conference schedule and objectives. Then, be sure to have a system to process all the content that will be thrown at you. With these two items in place, you will arrive at the conference ready to squeeze every last bit of value out of it.

In part two of this series, I will discuss a few strategies for getting the most out of the conference once you’ve arrived.


ExactHire has had the honor to present at conferences in the past, and you can find our vendor booth at conferences like the annual HR Indiana Conference. Whether presenting, blogging, authoring ebooks and guides, we strive to help human resources professionals improve their organizations.

15 Tips for Improving Emotional Intelligence in the Recruiting Process

I love learning more about human behavior’s impact on employee engagement and corporate culture. I guess that’s par for the course in the human resources field. But specifically, the idea that emotional intelligence is an adaptable skill that can improve—or regress—based on an awareness of one’s emotions is fascinating to me.

I recently listened to Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry during a few of my lengthy morning commutes. I say “morning” because I generally only have the focus to pay attention to a book narrator in the early morning hours…by the end of the day I just need to decompress with music. Alas, one of my “a-ha” moments during the book was learning to truly be self-aware of my own prime times and circumstances for optimal listening. In fact, “self-awareness” is one of the four primary parts of emotional intelligence (EQ):

  • Personal competence
    • Self-awareness
    • Self-management
  • Social competence
    • Social awareness
    • Relationship management

In this blog, I’ll share fifteen golden nuggets I collected from Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and briefly relate how each of them are especially applicable for recruiters to bear in mind during the recruiting process.



1 – Think about what you are feeling when you are in the moment

As a recruiter, there may be times when you lose your composure or are, at the very least, mildly annoyed:

  • When a candidate blurts out an unexpected answer that you don’t appreciate.
  • When a hiring manager doesn’t get back to you with feedback in a timely manner.
  • When an interviewee shows up late to an interview.

By being aware of how you feel about a situation, you’re better equipped to recognize your feelings before they have an undesired impact on others. Then, you may instead take positive action to improve a situation–even if you didn’t cause it to go poorly. According to Bradberry’s book, the more you think about your feelings and how you wish to act, the more you strengthen the pathway between your brain’s limbic system (where emotions originate) and the part of your brain that helps you think rationally.

2 – Pay attention to the ripple effect your emotions have on others

Even the subtlest emotions–contentment, moodiness, irritation, nervousness and bashfulness–can have an impact on those around you. And as we already know, the more extreme examples of happiness, sadness, anger, fear and shame can significantly affect social situations and outcomes. Check yourself during your next candidate interactions to see how your most basic emotions may be influencing the recruiting process–for better or worse.

  • How has your personal demeanor impacted an interviewee’s answer?
  • Does your attitude perturb (or elevate) other stakeholders during the hiring process?

3 – Be aware of your physical reactions to situations

Whether you’ll admit it or not, the range of physical responses you experience during certain emotions varies from barely perceptible (though still detectable) to obnoxiously obvious. If you’re like many of us, you may do the following:

  • Tap your fingers when you’re getting impatient with an interviewee’s lengthy question response…or bounce your leg up and down under the table (I’m guilty of the latter).
  • Redden in the face or neck when someone says something that upsets or embarrasses you.

And while you can’t necessarily prevent these responses from happening, you can use them as the first clue that you’re heading down the path of experiencing a certain emotion so that you can take positive action to keep your composure and minimize the impact.

4 – Determine why you do what you do

Instead of simply reacting, consider why you behave in a certain way when experiencing various emotions. This may be just the ticket for better controlling the strength of your response–you don’t have to revert to your signature behavior just because it’s the way you’ve always done it.

  • Is your response rooted in a need to control a situation…or perhaps a desire to not have to be in control?
  • Are you worried about being ashamed if you mess up in front of your peers at your employer?

Once you’ve identified your motivations for behavior, then you may consider whether you may make any adjustments to eliminate your need to act that way in the future. Or conversely, what can you do to encourage more of the same behavior in the future when you are experiencing positive emotions?



5 – Just smile

This is old news, yet so easily forgotten. Smile when you are on the phone with a prospective employee or during a face-to-face interview. Bradberry’s book shares that, in this scenario, your face actually sends signals to your brain that make you happier.

6 – Schedule time to ponder

When you have ten different requisitions for which you are sourcing and you feel like you must schedule back-to-back phone interviews all day long, you’re not at your best. You can’t sustain that level of activity while having the best outcomes for all involved in the recruiting process for long.

Schedule blocks of time to decompress and think about candidate responses and make notes before making any decisions. That way, any emotions you were already feeling about certain candidates will be somewhat dissipated and you’ll be in a better position to process rational thoughts about each individual’s qualifications for a position.

7 – See your own success in advance

When I played basketball as a kid, my coach taught me to see the ball going into the hoop as you are shooting it. Visualization is an important tool to being successful in your endeavors…and it helps improve your free throw percentage, too. Once you’ve identified a situation that may cause you to lose your cool–even mildly–imagine yourself coming out of the scenario with a positive outcome.

The next time a hiring manager brushes you off and doesn’t respect your desire to get back to candidates promptly, visualize your conversation and actions with the HM instead of reverting to your normal response of annoyance, anger and/or helplessness.

8 – Keep your circadian rhythms in rhythm

If you’re anything like me, you sometimes struggle to put your laptop away once the kids are in bed. In order for you to be the most alert during the day, you need to give yourself the best chance for good sleep at night. Turn the computer off at least two hours before bedtime…stop screening applicants while watching DVR!



9 – Greet people using their name frequently

Everyone loves hearing his own name. Be sure and use prospective employees’ first names at an appropriate frequency during the interview process. If you’re the type of person that forgets a person’s name as soon as he tells you, then think of a mental image that will help you remember new acquaintances’ names. For example, if you meet a “Sandy,” picture her standing on a sandy beach.

10 – Be prepared for awkward silences

As a business professional, there will be times when you hit an uncomfortable lull in conversation in the workplace. While it likely won’t be on a phone interview, maybe it’s while giving an office tour to a final stage candidate. Have a “go-to” question in mind to circumvent those awkward silences. After all, part of your job as a recruiter is to make interviewees feel at ease at your organization. Here are some casual conversation question ideas:

  • Have you read any good books lately?
  • Is there anything about our organization that you’ve learned, but weren’t expecting?

11 – Don’t think ahead, just listen

Personally, this is an area in which I know I have room to improve…slowly but surely! Whether you’re interviewing individuals or working with your peers at your employer, don’t try to plan your next comment while “listening” to someone else speak. That’s not really listening and you’re bound to miss details…or at least the context of some of one’s comments. Whether or not the other person acknowledges your failure to focus, his behavior and respect for you will reflect his attitude about your inattention. Listen and learn from others’ talking points first and foremost.

12 – Be punctual

How many blogs have you read about job seekers complaining about never hearing back from companies…or hearing one promise, and receiving another outcome? Too many to count from my end. Respect the time of others and give yourself a competitive advantage–because enough recruiters and hiring managers out there don’t bother.

  • Be prompt with phone interviews.
  • Mind the clock so that interviews don’t exceed the allotted time expectation.
  • When scheduling interviews, be as flexible as possible with candidates to accommodate their own schedule limitations.



13 – Accept feedback famously

Some people are better at receiving constructive criticism than others…and what an opportunity to strengthen your EQ and your relationships if you can do it well! Solicit suggestions from job candidates and hiring managers about how the hiring process may be improved. Then, smile (remember #5!), be gracious about feedback and communicate plans for any action steps as a result of the feedback.

14 – Acknowledge the feelings of others

Let’s face it…you’re never going to agree with everyone about everything. However, the way you work through differences of opinions will certainly influence how smooth your interactions (and future disagreements) are with the same stakeholders in the future. It’s okay to disagree, but don’t minimize or ignore the feelings of others.

If you’re disputing which candidates should be hired with hiring managers, respect their opinion as valid before trying to come to a consensus, compromise or action step for further candidate vetting.

15 – Don’t be shy about having hard conversations

If you can have tough conversations in a clear, professional manner, then people will respect you more and know that you’re being upfront with them. The alternative approaches of avoidance and/or insincere sugar-coating only delay the inevitable and cause turmoil for yourself and others involved. Especially when delivering bad news to the final candidates who don’t get an employment offer, be courteous and give them a call to break the news and thank them for their time. Be direct but kind.

If you have not read any EQ-focused books yet, consider picking one up soon to continue exploring techniques for how you may improve your personal and social competence. Any improvements you can make will not only serve you well professionally, but also your employer as you represent the organization in the recruiting process.


Make time to boost your recruitment EQ

When you can save time and stay organized, you’re able to focus on your emotions and relationships. HireCentric is applicant tracking software that manages your entire recruitment process so you can focus on the more strategic aspects of recruiting.


Navigating the Minefield of Promoting from Within

In business, there will be occasions when you are required to create a job vacancy that holds significant responsibility. You could be expanding and need someone to run a new team, branch, or facility for your company.

Whether you promote from within or hire a new candidate can be a tough decision to make, as both have their advantages and disadvantages.

The Benefits of Hiring from Within

Matthew Bidwell looked extensively at the advantages of promoting existing staff compared to hiring in. In his study, he found that not only did promotion from within provide better results for the employer, but it also saved money in both the short and long-term.

One of the biggest finds from his study was that new hires are paid 18% more than those promoted from within a company for equivalent jobs, and were 61% more likely to be fired.

Performance review results were unexpectedly lower for new hires, and the main reason cited for this is that new hires often don’t have the support basis they require to do the job effectively from day one.

30% of hiring managers believe it can take over one year for their new hires to become effective. Other recruiters state it can take up to two years for new hires to become a valuable resource for their organization, while the Harvard Business Review believes it could take at least eight months.

The loss of a new hire can be expensive. The cost of hiring a new employee is on average between $40,165 and $56,770 per worker. When 46% of new hires fail within 18 months, the costs for your business can be extensive.

You would need to rehire for that position and the damage done to your organization might be unseen, but it is present and high.

An existing employee who is promoted knows how the organization works, how it’s run and who does what task. This can have a significant impact on the performance of a new leader. Good promotion practices might save you money in both failed new hires, lost productivity, and wages.

Yet this doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenges when it comes to hiring from within.

The Issues With Hiring From Within

When promoting from within an organization, candidates are often not asked to update their resumes and their interview skills are often poor. This can mean that their suitability for the position might not be apparent to hiring managers.

Candidates who are promoted can also change behaviors. They could try to make life difficult for rivals, which could lead to a sudden loss of key players within your team. Likewise, those not promoted might sabotage the work of the promoted employee to make his/her position difficult. This is not always so with seniority promotion, where those with the longest service are promoted, but just because they’ve served your organization for years doesn’t mean they are a great candidate.

Finally, promotion can sometimes be based on emotional preferences rather than data which supports a candidate’s suitability. You might like an employee better than another, but that doesn’t mean they will be better at the work. Emotional detachment is necessary for any potential recruitment process.

Navigating the Minefield

The above negatives about internal hires shouldn’t imply that they can’t be recruited successfully. There are many ways you can create a good internal recruitment process that can help you identify and promote the right candidates.

1. Use Goals to Prepare Staff for the Potential of Promotion

It is likely that at some point you will want to promote a member of staff. Therefore, you should look at your staff development early on. Giving good performance reviews, and setting and monitoring goals for your employees before a position is available, will help you:

  • Determine who is performing as expected within your organization.
  • Identify who has the drive to be successful within your organization.
  • Develop your employees so they are ready for the next stage of their career.
  • Give clear expectations to your staff of what is expected from them currently and in the future.

Staff who are given clear goals, will also be more focused on their work and more efficient.

2. Treat Any Internal Recruitment Process Like an External Recruitment Process

While you might think you can be more relaxed with your internal recruitment process, it is best to keep it professional and like an external recruitment process. Start with an official job opening announcement, place it on your intranet or another place that anyone in the company can view.

Then have a process that can provide reassurance to your candidates that it will be a fair process, by submitting CVs and attending formal interviews. Candidates should then be assessed as any new hire would be, and then a formal job offer can be made.

This helps your hiring team to prevent bad decisions based on emotional attachment or for potentially successful candidates being left aside because they don’t have the social connections within the office.

It is highly advisable to use applicant tracking software within the process to ensure every candidate is treated the same. Therefore, no-one can complain about bias during the recruitment process. ExactHire’s HireCentric applicant tracking system offers an employment application option for internal employee transfers for just this type of scenario.

3. Be Transparent With Decisions

One of the key areas of concern when promoting from within is how others will react. Generally, people in the office are supportive, but at times there can be conflict. This can be from jealous colleagues who feel they should have been promoted instead.

To minimize the risk, you should contact each applicant and talk about the decision. Why were they not chosen, why the successful candidate was promoted, and what is expected from them in the short and long-term.


Higher positions often hold more responsibility and greater influence on the success of the business. Therefore, you want the best people for the role from the start. While new hires might be suitable for your business, don’t discount the talent already working for you. They are already acclimated to your corporate culture, know your processes, and they can better adjust to new tasks than a new hire. They can also be more cost effective.

That doesn’t mean an internal recruitment process doesn’t have its issues and these need to be addressed with the correct short and long-term processes. With the right frame of mind, the best processes in place, and good technology you can promote from within and hire new talent at lower levels.

Need an Easy Employee Job Transfer Application?

Give HireCentric applicant tracking software a spin! We can customize multiple employment application options to suit your organization’s needs. Schedule a live demo today.