6 Ways to Turn Today’s Silver Medal Candidates into Tomorrow’s Gold Medalist Hires

How often have you progressed through the hiring process and ultimately realized that your final two candidates were almost evenly matched–one just slightly nudged out the other for the gold medal employment offer? While it’s great to be in that kind of position as the employer, it can be tough to turn down a talented second choice candidate.

However, these “silver medal candidates” pose a significant opportunity for your company and great care should be taken to continuously engage them. You never know when you may need them to step up to a gold medal platform in your organization.

Have you already had the opportunity to groom silver medal candidates into eventual hires? Or, perhaps you were previously a second choice candidate that was later given the opportunity to finish first for a different role. If so, then you understand that with thoughtful practices in place, your employer can leverage a silver medalist pipeline to edge out competition by sourcing top talent quickly and in a cost effective manner. In this blog, I’ll share six behaviors that you can implement to foster enduring positive relationships with your silver medalist applicants.

1 – Set expectations from the start

So much of the content I write underscores the importance of setting clear expectations in the hiring process–but it’s so true. This critical step begins before you ever know someone will end up as your silver medalist candidate for a role. An expectation that is a part of any respectful hiring process is that the recruiter or hiring manager should tell the candidate

  • the milestones involved with the hiring process,
  • an estimate of process duration, and
  • the method by which the candidate will be informed of his/her status during and at the end of the cycle.

The added bonus of setting expectations well is that this behavior naturally forces accountability. After all, a recruiter who doesn’t follow through with what he says he’ll do is going to damage his reputation, as well as the employment brand of the organization.

2 – Promptly communicate

To reinforce the expectations set at the beginning of the hiring process, employers should communicate with candidates regularly and promptly. Even with multiple job requisitions open and oodles of candidates, there’s no excuse not to touch base with applicants thanks to the communication automation tools that are capable of candidate personalization available in applicant tracking systems.

While it can induce less stress to communicate with candidates earlier in the process, it can be trickier to do so with the final two candidates…particularly if the top pick is reviewing an employment offer you already extended while the silver medalist waits to hear if she is still in contention. If a deadline passes while you wait on an answer from your gold medalist, message the silver medalist to explain that circumstances have changed and that you will touch base with her again in a reasonable amount of time. Then, make sure you do.

Timely communication shows your respect for the candidate, and even if she doesn’t make the cut this time, she’ll remember how you treated her and the resulting word of mouth will more favorably represent your company.

3 – Reject expertly

No one likes delivering bad news, but when there are only two candidates left in your hiring process and they’ve both invested a great deal of time completing employment applications, taking assessments and interviewing, you owe the silver medalist a formal let-down. Call him–don’t just email (or worse yet, an automated email)!

And if that’s hard, make yourself accountable heading into the final phase interview by telling him (in the expectations period, remember?) that he will receive a phone call either way at the end of the process.

Then, also follow up with an email thank you and let him know of your sincere, continued interest in him for future roles within your company. Tell him how to learn about future job postings via your ATS job alert feature, and be honest about how often you might hire for positions that fall into his wheelhouse.

4 – Connect for future follow-up

During the phone call and email thank you, let the candidate know that you’re open to connecting on social media (if you haven’t already) so that you have an easy means of staying in touch with each other in the future. This is a great way for the candidate to be exposed to future career-related content that you may personally post or that is shared from your company social media profiles.

If your organization isn’t likely to be hiring relevant roles anytime soon, offer to help the silver medalist by connecting her with others in your network through virtual introductions.

To help prepare the candidate to go for the gold at the next job opportunity, make her aware of resources that might help her improve her job-related skills or knowledge (e.g. certification study courses, industry-related member associations, etc.).

5 – Nurture candidates with technology tools

Use your applicant tracking software features to designate talented second place finishers as great future candidates for other roles. Use applicant status codes or tags to mark them as “#silver,” for example. Or, better yet, “#futuregold!”

Then, it will be easy to target this group of candidates to share culture- and job-related content with them periodically. Take it a step further and observe how they interact with social media posts and engage in follow-up. Make note of their connectivity in their candidate profile within your hiring software so that future hiring managers and recruiters in your organization have a rich record of not only their potential qualification for other roles, but also their organizational engagement.

6 – Put silver medalists on the fast track

A surefire way to disengage silver medal candidates is to make them reinvent the wheel to apply to future roles that interest them. Consider that they’ve already gone through your entire selection process, so there must be opportunities to put them on the fast track for certain roles.

If you proactively source them for a new position, do the equivalent of giving them a “bye” in your recruiting tournament and start them at a later stage in the hiring process. The one exception to this may be if your organization/industry must adhere to certain compliance requirements that necessitate each individual experiencing every stage for a position.

Nevertheless, your applicant tracking system should make it easy for them to optionally pull forward previous resumes and standard application questions, while giving them the opportunity to answer job-related questions that are unique to the new role for which they are applying.

If they previously took an employee assessment that you use for many job categories, then there’s no need for them to retake it. And, especially if they are interviewing for a similar position the second time around–and you specifically invited them to apply–consider taking an informal approach with a coffee conversation to gauge the candidate’s interest, and to find out what’s new as it relates to the position and their career.


With proper grooming of silver medalist candidates, it will cost fewer staff hours to assess and hire the best candidates for the position because they will already be ready to go in your talent pipeline.

Choose Right HR Software | ExactHire

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.

Download ExactHire Company Culture E-book

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.

Maximize your employee engagement ROI with these 5 steps

Organizations are built around people, so creating a high-engagement work culture is essential for sustainable business success. In the last few years, more companies have started to benchmark employee engagement, hoping that this data will provide insights on how to be a better place to work. But, often employee engagement surveys lose steam after the initial data collection because no one knows how to act on the data, and so the results are left to collect dust until the next annual survey.

Here are five best practices for implementing a survey to make sure you get the most out of your employee engagement efforts.


Many organizations claim to measure engagement; however, few can provide a singular definition for the concept. This is a big red flag. You can’t measure anything scientifically, let alone change it, without first being able to define what it is.

ADVISA has synthesized decades of research to create a concrete and accurate definition of engagement, and then used this definition as the basis for developing our engagement survey:

Engagement is an internal motivational state to which people choose to opt in at work. We use the words “opt in” purposefully. Ultimately, employees choose to engage at work, and organizations must work to create the kind of environment that encourages the maximum number of people to opt in. Engagement is also characterized by three dimensions:

  • Focus – Engaged employees stay present, in-the- moment, and focused on performing high
    quality work and accomplishing organizational goals.
  • Energy – Engaged employees put energy into their work. They are also an energy contagion; they
    spread energy and engagement to others around them.
  • Meaning – Engaged employees find meaning in and identify with their work and the
    organization’s goals.

As a result of this motivation, engaged employees are high performing and put discretionary effort into their work.


Building a survey seems simple on the surface, which tempts many organizations into building their own engagement survey. However, if you’ve gone down this path before, you’ve quickly realized that this becomes a trap. It takes a significant amount of time and science to build a high-quality survey, and for something that will touch every member of your organization, designing something in house actually presents a big risk.

How do we avoid leading questions?
How do we get honest responses?
How do we know if we’re asking the right things?

These are all important questions, and they speak to the reason you should have a partner who understands the science of survey design.


After you’ve collected data, you shouldn’t have to wait months to receive the results. Between leadership changes, turnover, reorganization, and market shifts, a lot can change in a few months, and employee engagement is dynamic. To see the ROI on your engagement initiative, it’s important to act while the data is fresh. Quick access to your results is an absolute must when choosing the right partner. In fact, your turnaround time should be no longer than a month from finishing the survey. Make sure your partner can help you answer the “now what?” question that inevitability presents itself when data is returned.

Further, when looking at your engagement data, it’s important to be able to look at trends overall and to slice and dice the data into meaningful groups. Data should be divided based on factors like location, department, level, and generation. Looking at the data this way gives you visibility into micro-cultures within your organization and allows you to action plan for maximum impact. Beware the temptation to slice too finely, however. Digging too many levels deep can erode anonymity and trust in the process,
and cause analysis paralysis. Make sure your partner can help you identify the sweet spots that get the most meaningful insights.


All too often, survey results remain a secret, only to be viewed by those in senior leadership positions. This lack of visibility decreases trust in the process and in leadership, and can actually make it more difficult to collect data from employees in the future. If you’ve asked your employees to take an engagement survey and provide you with honest feedback, it’s your ethical obligation to communicate survey results widely.

While not every employee needs access to every detail, providing some level of feedback and takeaway is essential. A good partner will not leave you with piles of data and no guidance for how to use it. Make sure your engagement survey partner plans to provide you guidance, recommendations and strategies for communicating and cascading data to the ends of the organization.


Few things build cynicism faster than the combination of over-surveying and under-acting. Many engagement survey vendors will encourage you to collect survey data and pulse quarterly, monthly, and some even weekly! While rapid surveying can help you detect changes in real-time, I wonder what cultural changes people expect to see so quickly.

Engagement has to do with a real connection to the job and the organization and can only be changed through the hard work of building an intentional culture. This work doesn’t happen quickly, and REAL engagement can’t be shifted through quick fixes like company outings, more snacks or cool swag. So, rather than providing you with more relevant information, rapid surveying may only bring you increased administrative burden and cost.

The frequency of your surveys shouldn’t be dictated by the calendar, rather, it should be dictated by the work you’ve done to create change. Consequently, the most important part of any engagement survey process is what you do with the data. Having a partner that will help you create an action plan is vital for getting the most out of your engagement process.

ExactHire and ADVISA frequently work together to bring smart workforce solutions to mutual clients. To learn more about ADVISA’s DIALOGIC engagement survey and partnership process, contact us to start driving your high-engagement workplace today.


Erin Wood, M.S. is a Leadership and Organization Development Consultant at ADVISA, a leadership consulting firm that advises leaders on how to engage and develop their people for the long-term success of their organizations. Erin’s expertise includes deep knowledge of assessments, engagement, and using data to help businesses inform people strategy and solve business challenges. At ADVISA, Erin focuses on addressing business challenges and improving company culture through enhancing the areas of leadership development, employee engagement, selection, succession planning, and other talent management processes. Erin holds a master’s degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and is an active member of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

Are your employees treated kindly?

Employee engagement has been a popular topic over the past few years. Business articles, blog posts, webinars, ebooks…you name it, all have tackled the topic from many different angles. Frequently, it’s raised in discussing how Human Resources professionals can impact a business’s bottom line. So, of course, there are now software solutions offering to measure it.

But can you really measure something like employee engagement?

The Nutshell Effect

The idea of employee engagement is, like many other useful ideas, the victim of what I’ll crudely call the “nutshell effect.” This is where an innovative, nuanced idea–the product of much critical thought and consideration–is squashed into an easy-to-understand, conveniently vague definition.

The nutshell definition of employee engagement makes it possible to define almost any activity as part of employee engagement. This inevitably leads to the creation of employee engagement programs that are nothing more than a sprawling list of activities, many without a clearly defined purpose. Sure, you can measure all those activities, but do they really make a difference? Do we reach a point where if everything is employee engagement, nothing is employee engagement?

Don’t get me wrong, the nutshell version of employee engagement does have an advantage. Namely, it’s easier to pass the idea around. Imagine if the only way to share an idea like employee engagement was through a 40-page academic paper. Yikes! The vast majority would open it up, scan the headings, and toss it.

The nutshell version is useful because it exposes the idea to more people, faster. The problem arises when the nutshell fails to contain the essence of an idea. Too often, ideas and discussions around employee engagement–and the resulting initiatives–miss the mark by failing to reflect the essence of employee engagement.

The Essence of Employee Engagement

Rather than crack the nut of employee engagement, let’s boil it down to its essence! Then, instead of creating a new initiative with hundreds of planned activities, metrics, and supporting resources, simply ensure that your current activities align with and support the essence of employee engagement. So what is the essence of employee engagement?

Kindness. That’s the essence of employee engagement….let that sink in. Now, if you’re still here and you’re done rolling your eyes, hear me out.

Small Things Matter

Kindness may seem like a “small thing” to the C-suite. I get it. It’s a fluffy idea from a profession that has long been accused of bringing fluffiness to the table. “We can solve our employee turnover and productivity challenges by being kinder to one another,” the Director of HR proclaimed…before being summarily dismissed and forever shamed.

But Emily Dickinson wrote, “Take care of the small things, and the big things will take care of themselves.” You may not agree with this, but it’s hard to deny that there is some wisdom in it. The wisdom comes with understanding why we call some things “small” and some “big”, and how those things impact our work.

It’s small…because it can be overlooked and its impact is minimal. It’s big…because it cannot be overlooked and its impact is significant. That seems straight-forward enough. But what happens if you have the same “small” things to do everyday…or several times a day? Suddenly, the impact of overlooking such things becomes big and can possibly undermine the big things themselves.

Everyday Kindness

The challenge of successful employee engagement is in taking care of the small things, everyday, with kindness. But what exactly is kindness? Kindness is “helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped,” according to Aristotle.

So an employer may send out an employee engagement survey, implement a few initiatives, or offer new perks and, through the process, stumble upon an apparent increase in employee engagement. This “increase” will rarely be sustainable, however, because the actions that led to the increase were, by design, intended to increase engagement.

Kindness is a selfless gift, not an investment. So if you’re seeking a true ROI for your canned employee engagement initiatives….you’re not going to like what you see. Meaningful employee engagement cannot be measured, however you can measure the products of effective employee engagement, which happen to be productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction–terms that the C-suite cares about.

How to Be Kinder in the Workplace

Kindness as an organizational value must be present in order to effectively engage employees, which will in turn increase important measures of an organization’s health. Sorry, there’s not checklist or secret hack for this.

It’s not good enough to paste this value on a wall or mention it in a 30-page employee handbook. It must be actively practiced and valued among all employees. Most importantly, leaders must model kindness and begin to think, “what’s good for my employees is good for the company,” as opposed to “what’s good for the company could be good for my employees.”

People aren’t numbers. They aren’t machines. They aren’t market forces. People are defined by their thoughts and feelings that occur every day, all day–many of them outside work. And to the degree that an employer can positively impact the thoughts and feelings of its employees by cultivating an environment and culture of kindness, it will succeed in engaging employees. All other ideas–tactics, apps, events, swag, etc.–only succeed if they imbue, project, and come from a place of kindness.




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!


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

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

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

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

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

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

A welcome boost / kick in the pants

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

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

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

1 – Do only what “sparks joy”

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

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

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

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

Download ExactHire Company Culture E-book

2 – Decluttering your home space declutters your head space

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

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

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

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

3 – Self-talk isn’t so silly

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

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

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

4 – Tidying does promote wellness

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

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

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

Maybe it’s

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

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


10 Steps to Rolling Out Core Values at a Small Business

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

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

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

The Better Way to Craft Core Values

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

ExactHire Core Values
While we’re extremely happy with these new core values, we fell a little short on a catchy acronym. But hey, there’s only so many ways to rearrange letters. In this blog, I’ll share our process for creating, unveiling and embracing the ExactHire core values that truly represent our small business.

1 – Owner ownership

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

2 – Give context and get buy-in

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

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

3 – Brainstorm independently, but with parameters

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

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

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

4 – Collaborate to edit and refine

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

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

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

5 – Simmer

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

6 – Plan a big reveal

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

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

ExactHire Employees Core Values Stickers

Tom, Jess and Darythe showing off ExactHire core values!

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

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

ExactHire Core Values Bullet Detail

7 – Cultivate employee values engagement

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

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

ExactHire Core Values Tshirt Contest

And the winner is…

ExactHire Core Values T-shirt Winner

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

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

Here are some other values engagement ideas:

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

8 – Share your values externally

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

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

9 – Live your values everyday

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

Other ideas for reinforcing core values:

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

10 – Re-evaluate your values periodically

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

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

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


Four Ways To Warm Up Morale During Winter

While we’ve been pretty lucky this winter to have mild weather compared to past years, cold weather can still be a major downer to many and can affect the overall mood of a small business. As a small business leader, you may want to look for ways to “warm up” or improve company morale during the winter, so here are my top four:

1. Work from Home

This is a huge one, especially if weather is bad! No one wants to drive 5 MPH in snow and ice, dealing with accidents and bad drivers. If you allow your staff to stay home and work during crummy weather, they will be more productive in the long run. They will also have extra time by avoiding the awful driving conditions. I know that I’m very happy when I have the flexibility to stay home, avoid the roads and stay in comfy warm clothes at my own desk.

2. Offer Training or Development

Sometimes people just get in a rut. It seems to happen frequently during January or February. The “high” from the holidays is over and people get bored of winter. This can show up in employee productivity. Offering some type of training or development to your staff is a great way to get around this “funk.” Suggestions could be lunch and learns or off site training, depending on your industry. If seminars (or webinars) are available, offer these to staff to break up the monotony of winter and improve company morale.

3. Keep Employees Informed

Bad weather can affect everyone at the office, from upper management to the newly hired intern. Make sure to keep everyone aware of changes to schedules or policies, as the new year is a normal time to make adjustments at work. An informed employee feels like they are included in the big picture of the company.

4. Keep It Fun to Improve Company Morale

We are pretty good at this one at ExactHire! We have monthly FunDay Mondays and try to do group outings a few times a year. Even if your office is not able to do something frequently, make sure to keep things interesting, especially during boring winter months. Good suggestions are coffee or hot chocolate bar, chili soup cook off (more on this to come later in the month!), or even just playing board games for an hour one afternoon with popcorn. It can lighten the mood and help the whole team reconnect and re-energize before conquering the next big project.

As you can tell, none of these items are rocket science or expensive. It really is the little things that go a long way, especially for small businesses looking to improve company morale. Everyone on the team is imperative to the success of the company – make it a fun winter, not a dull one!

** Disclaimer: I wrote this before 60 degree weather in Indianapolis…in February – Crazy!! **