Exercising Discipline to Succeed

The phrase “exercise discipline” can rouse different feelings.

On one hand, we dread discipline as a punishment for failure. Parents discipline a child for failing to get off the playground when asked. After failing an assignment, a student becomes disciplined and grudgingly chooses the library over the party.

On the other hand, we admire discipline as a character trait that leads to success. Elite athletes are lauded for their discipline and commitment to intense training regimens. The author who writes every day produces a bestseller through talent and discipline.

It would seem, then, that discipline is the cause of success and the remedy for failure. So why do we often fail to practice it?

Defining Success

You could argue that we aren’t actually failing to exercise discipline; we’re simply practicing it at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons. We either care too much about success in one area, or we want to succeed in all areas. In both cases, we waste effort, discipline breaks down, and we realize an unwanted failure.

For many of us, the path to success starts with defining (or redefining) success for ourselves. This is not easy, as it requires honest introspection that cuts through preconceived ideas of success. However, once that understanding is in place, we can move onto the next step of determining when to exercise discipline.

Foresight is 80/20

The Pareto principle is the idea that 80% of effects come from 20% of the causes. Here are some examples:

Applied to the exercise of discipline, we could say that 80% of our successes are caused by 20% of our decisions to exercise discipline or not. So what does that mean?

It means that to be successful, you do not need to exercise discipline 100% of the time. Rather, you must know when to exercise discipline… especially during that 20% of the time that impacts 80% of your success.

What is important to my success?

First, we need to throw out the idea that everything is important to our success. Trust me, I know there are people who believe everything is important (they’re real fun at parties), but the reality is that not everything is important. Now that being said, different things are important to different people’s ideas of success–who am I to tell an Instagram influencer that her latest post is unimportant?

The easiest way to determine what is important to your success is to simply ask the question: “Will doing this activity or making this decision take me closer to my idea of success?” If the answer is yes, then it’s likely that the decision to exercise discipline lies in that oh so important 20% that will cause 80% of success.

Get Things Done

For the most part, exercising discipline to succeed seems easy. You simply prioritize doing important things over the unimportant things. However, there is also a question of whether an activity is urgent–does it need to be done now or very soon? In the chart below, discipline means living in the blue quadrants, with an occasional trip to the yellow quadrant.

Things to Be Done

Exercise Discipline

You may not agree with how I classified my examples above; however, the point is that everyone has the ability to classify “things to be done” according to what they see as important and urgent for their success. In looking at my examples, one could assume that success for me includes: career, earning money, meeting commitments.

Prioritize what is important

Assuming you’ve taken the time to define what’s important in your life, it will be considerably less difficult to know when to exercise discipline. But it still doesn’t tell us how to exercise discipline. For that, we’ll need to prioritize what is important. A couple examples with “family” and “health” as important areas of success:

  • Family: nephew has ballgame at 7pm,
  • Entertainment: new season of Stranger Things 2 released at 7pm
    • Discipline: go to game and catch show later
    • Undisciplined: I am tired. There will be other games. I deserve some chill time.
  • Health: scheduled time to workout at 6:15am Monday
  • Entertainment: Binge-watched Stranger Things until 1am Monday
    • Discipline: go to gym on 5 hours of sleep, learn your lesson.
    • Undisciplined: hit snooze button, vow to reschedule for afternoon (fail to do so)

These disciplined/undisciplined decisions above are not shocking and the choices may seem easy. However, depending upon circumstances like our stress and energy levels, distractions, and upcoming commitments, it could be very difficult to exercise discipline in the moment.

Discipline is Action in the Moment

And unfortunately, exercising discipline in the moment is critical because discipline is action, not thought. The longer we think about doing something, the less likely it is that something will be done. This is where most people fall off the discipline train–they think about doing something, but fail to take action.

Of course, we don’t admit to ourselves that we’re undisciplined. We make excuses and tell ourselves that we deserve a break. We renew commitments and adjust our plans for tomorrow. The problem is that this failure to exercise discipline becomes a habit. And like any habit, it’s hard to break.

To make matters worse, this habit delays achievement, which then adds to our stress and decreases energy. Discipline becomes harder to exercise because we haven’t realized the benefits. Success seems to escape us.

Staying on track

Everyone knows that dedicating time to your sweet, kind nephew (not the bratty one) is more important than watching Stranger Things 2, but over a quarter million Americans binge-watched it the first day it was released. It’s safe to assume that many had more important things to do.

So while discipline is easy to understand, we must exercise it in order to realize success. This is done by defining success for yourself, knowing what’s important, prioritizing what’s important, and then doing it—whether that’s in the office, at home, or somewhere in between.


Disciplined Hiring: ExactHire develops HR software that makes it easy to develop consistent workflows for hiring and onboarding that help you realize success in talent management.

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!


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.


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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A welcome boost / kick in the pants

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

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

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

1 – Do only what “sparks joy”

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

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

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

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

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2 – Decluttering your home space declutters your head space

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

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

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

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

3 – Self-talk isn’t so silly

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

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

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

4 – Tidying does promote wellness

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

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

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

Maybe it’s

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

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


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.


A Strengths-Based Culture Drives Performance

Why are sports analogies commonly found in business? Because nurturing talent in sports is all about finding out what someone is good at and then making them really great at it–strengths-based culture. Coaches rarely focus their effort on developing the weakest part of an athlete’s game or ability. They will always find their best attributes and strengths and apply those–hence the term positional player.

Too often in business we place an individual in a position, give them performance reviews and identify the areas they need to improve on. Then we spend time and money working to improve the individual’s weaknesses while spending no time developing their strengths or placing them in positions that utilize their strengths to the fullest extent possible.

A strengths-based culture is developed by focusing on aligning strengths with requirements. To do this, a company’s talent management strategy must focus on hiring based on strengths, developing those strengths and applying those strengths appropriately. You must also adopt the tools and resources necessary to identify and evaluate those strengths.

Download ExactHire Company Culture E-book

Strengths-based Hiring

The interviewing process needs to be swift, targeted and effective in the limited time you have available. This doesn’t mean sacrificing quality, rather it means being intentional and focused on what you are trying to achieve. The intent of most hiring managers in an interview is to identify if someone is qualified for the position. Qualifications are also considered abilities. So ultimately you want to understand their abilities.

What you don’t want to achieve is a list of all the things a candidate is not good at. Interviews that focus on weaknesses will almost always lead the hiring manager to find reasons not to hire someone. Instead, focus the interview on strengths and then identify how those strengths fit the requirements of the position, or another position. Look for the reasons to hire somebody.

A good method to conduct a strengths-based hiring program is to have a few layers to the process. First, interview for strengths that fit the organization as a whole. Don’t get blinded by the exact requirements of the position they are interviewing for. Second, interview for strengths as they relate to the position. Even then, stay focused on the critical few required for success in the position.

Develop Strengths and Forget about Weaknesses

Don’t fall into the trap, and don’t let your employees fall into the trap, of strictly focusing on improving and developing their weaknesses. Be aware of weaknesses and avoid situations that highlight them. Instead, be keenly tuned in to strengths and actively seek to apply them in various situations.

In, “Strengths Based Leadership,” by Gallup authors Tom Rath and Barry Conchie explain their research that demonstrates effective leaders know their own strengths and invest in the strengths of others. The point being, you can get much further aligning strengths with objectives than you can developing someone’s weaknesses.

Have you ever been in a relationship where you focused on the other person’s faults and forgot about their features? Worse yet, you thought you’d be able to change them. How well did that work out? Investing in strengths is no different.

Develop Roles and Teams Based on Strengths

Your typical job description usually consists of all the things an employee is required to do — known as essential functions. There’s usually some ceremonial skills, education and soft requirements thrown in there, but usually without much thought.

Approach job descriptions from the “one-thirds / two-thirds” perspective. One-third of the job description should be the core essential functions only. The other two-thirds should consist of how success will be measured and the competencies and strengths required to be successful in the position. Evaluate employees and potential employees against these for strength-based placement.

How to Choose an Assessment

There are hundreds of assessments out there to chose from. They range anywhere from full day interactive processes that cost a few thousand dollars to 15 minute survey based assessments that can cost less than $100. After determining your budget and needs, you can begin the hunt for an assessment.

Choose an assessment that allows an employee to self learn such as the Strengthsfinder 2.0. ExactHire offers an array of assessments available to achieve the right job fit.  If you’re making an organization wide push for a strength based culture, utilizing assessments associated with books allows everyone to receive the same information and be speaking the same language. Additionally, these well established assessments typically come with training and development tools.

The downside to online only assessments is that they rarely provide an interactive learning process. A summary will be provided to the respondent, but that is usually it and leaves the employee guessing what the results were. You want to be able to sit down with an employee and be transparent about the results. Highlight their strengths and establish a collaborative plan to apply and develop those strengths.

Things to Remember When Using Assessments

Assessments are a tool in the toolbox. This is very important to remember. You should never use an assessment as the ultimate decision factor in hiring or placement. Think of the decision as a three-legged stool. You need all three legs for the stool to stand.  The assessment is only one of the legs. The other two legs consist of the person’s experience (what they’ve actually accomplished) and their competencies or abilities (what they can actually do). You must bring these three things together and evaluate them against the environment in which the employee will be performing.

Make sure the assessment is applicable to what you are trying to evaluate and achieve. Also, keep the assessment consistent across the organization. Using different brands of assessments for different individuals can be problematic. However, you may need to identify different assessments for different levels within the company, such as leadership assessments for leaders.

If you are able to align your core talent management practices of hiring, training and development, and placement with individual and team strengths you will see much better overall performance. Additionally, employees’ motivation and satisfaction will increase as they will succeed more often, be more engaged in their roles and satisfied with the work they are doing.


Looking for tools to improve your employee selection process? Contact ExactHire to learn how our assessment tools can connect the right employee to the right position.


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