Just How Important is Company Culture?

It seems like everywhere you turn, there’s another article about company culture. How to build a good one, how to avoid a bad one, how this company rocked it, or how that company completely screwed it up.

No one would blame you if you were tired of hearing about it. But here’s the thing: Company culture can literally make or break you as a business.

Who you are, how you act, and what you believe will eventually come back to you. 
Or come back to haunt you.

Very few people start a business with bad intent, and yet it’s shocking how many “good” companies end up with poor practices, corrupt leaders, and in horrific, cringe-worthy situations.

How does this happen? One (little) thing at a time.

Just about every business you can think of began with a great idea and few people dedicated to making it work. During the incubation stage, it’s pretty easy to create an atmosphere of teamwork, camaraderie, and commitment to the company goal. Start up culture is often known for being highly productive, ultra-creative and super exciting.

When new people and processes start to get added into the mix, it becomes harder to maintain that united passion, sense of purpose, and team spirit. As the business grows, so does the risk of bringing on individuals who aren’t a good cultural fit. It may be hardly noticeable at first, but over time the organization can shift from one person’s big, crazy dream to everyone’s big, crazy nightmare.

Now here’s the good news: Because company culture is created from within, it can also be changed from within.

How does this happen? One (little) thing at a time.

It all starts by clearly defining who you are and who you want to be.

  • What do you stand for?
  • What kind of people do you want on your team?
  • What are the values that will drive every action and interaction, from every employee, manager, and staff person, every single day?

Once you decide what matters most and how you will live that truth, you can start filling your bus with the right kind of people and reinforcing those values in big and small ways at every turn.

But getting and keeping the right people is only one part of the equation. To properly build and maintain the vision, organizations need to go all in on their values. They’ve got to live and breathe their core beliefs and be completely committed to demonstrating them with everything they say and do.

If you’re looking for an example of this concept in action, The Ideal Team Player is a quick read that illustrates how vitally important company culture is and how to go about finding and hiring ideal team players. The book identifies ideal team players as people who work hard, leave their egos on the shelf, and have a knack for dealing with a variety of personalities and situations. It also illustrates ways you can determine if your current and potential employees have these qualities.

But more importantly, The Ideal Team Player also paints a vivid picture of what can happen when an organization continually commits to its culture.

When it comes to culture, there’s no such thing as a little thing.

When you emphasize your company values in a strong and consistent manner in all things big and small, those who don’t share those beliefs will feel uncomfortable in the environment you’ve created.

Not only will they not fit in, they will naturally select out, taking their bad behaviors to a company that is more accepting of such things, or who isn’t as clear about how to live their truth.

And then you’ll know you’ve done it right.  


photo by Lipik Stock Media

Complaints Happen. What’s Your Policy for Handling Them?

You’re a great employer. You offer competitive wages and benefits, remote work options, paid time off, and even have an office dog. What could employees possibly have to complain about?

Maybe nothing. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a complaint policy in place just in case.

Dealing with discontent

Even businesses who try to do everything right sometimes end up in situations that cause unease for employees and trouble for the organization.

Employees could be unhappy about a number of things that are affecting their work environment or even their personal lives. Some will suffer in silence, some will simply leave, and others will gather the courage to speak up.

When thinking about these options, it makes sense to ask yourself which scenario is best for your business.

Would you rather have:

  • Disgruntled and disengaged employees?
  • Constant turnover?
  • An opportunity to learn what employees want and how to get them to stay?

You don’t know what you don’t know

Even the best business owners have seen things go awry at work. You could have a rogue supervisor or employee that’s acting inappropriately, a frustrating new technology, or a compensation structure that just isn’t keeping up.

You may think you don’t want to encourage employee complaints, but there is a big downside to a complaint free workplace.

If no one says anything, you’ll keep on trucking along, never knowing the real drivers of employee disengagement and turnover. Worse yet, if there’s some serious behavioral issues, you may be blindly heading toward a public relations nightmare and/or an expensive legal battle.

Create space for complaints

In doing so, you will also create space for growth and improvement.

The key to effective handling of employee complaints is to create a policy that is timely, confidential, and fair.

1.) Don’t wait.

If an employee lodges a complaint and nothing happens, this sends one of a few messages:

  • We don’t care.
  • Your concerns have no merit.
  • Yes, this is happening. And we have no desire to change it.

The longer you sit on these things, the more uncaring (or guilty) you appear. Whether or not that is the case.

Even if you are taking the time to research the issue and carefully respond, you’ve got to let people know. Communicate that the message has been received, tell that person you are looking into it, and provide a rough idea of when they can expect to hear back from you.

2.) Keep it confidential.

There are many reasons employees don’t speak up about sensitive issues.

  • They’re shy, uncomfortable, or embarrassed.
  • They don’t want to make trouble.
  • They’re afraid of retaliation.

A process that protects people during the complaint process is going to allow a more authentic conversation. Not only does it protect the person with the complaint, it protects anyone who might be on the other end of it until the matter can be resolved. The last thing you want is a sensitive complaint making its way around the organization before the facts have been laid out.

A good policy will provide a clear structure for how to go about lodging employee complaints. The nature and severity of issues could vary greatly, so make sure to build in multiple reporting options. Someone who feels harassed by their direct supervisor won’t feel comfortable lodging a complaint with that person. Create opportunities that allow for maximum honesty and fairness. 

3.) Check bias at the door.

You heard the part about fairness, right? With society more divided than ever, remaining impartial is becoming extremely difficult. According to Wikipedia, even Sweden isn’t truly neutral. Whaaaat?

The point is, people are picking sides on all kinds of issues and events based on personal beliefs, experiences, and what they’re seeing in the media. Many times, our “data” sources include incorrect information, rumors, or worse yet— gut feelings. And many of us are sticking to our tightly held biases, no matter what kind of facts and evidence are revealed. This isn’t good.

Life doesn’t happen in black and white. Getting to the bottom of employee complaints includes a lot of gray area. Make sure those who are handling complaints in your company are able to step back, remain objective, and look at the situation with impartial eyes.

It’s important that all complaints, investigations and resulting actions are applied fairly and consistently, each and every time.

It’s also important to recognize the opportunity for growth.

Keeping an open mind means more than just giving each employee the opportunity to speak up. It means being willing to look deep inside your company and see potential problems and other unpleasant things that may be happening, with our without your knowledge.

No complain, no gain

Hearing honest feedback isn’t always fun. It can be annoying, uncomfortable, and even downright painful.

But, if you’re able to reframe employee complaints as a valuable opportunity for self-reflection and growth, you could very well be on your way toward better communication, streamlined processes, lower turnover, and happier employees.



4 Ways to Manage Holiday Vacation Requests

No matter what the holidays bring to mind for you and your employees, chances are it will involve time off.

Depending on the size, format, and scope of your company, it may be easy to work around everyone’s holiday schedule, but if you’re a small business owner, clustered time off requests can be especially difficult to manage.

You need to keep the doors open and the lights on. But you also want to keep your employees happy. Some days, finding that balance can seem almost impossible. But there are ways to keep your business moving and give your people the time off they want and deserve.

1. Offer incentives

If your business needs to be fully staffed on holidays, your team might be more amenable than you think. The key word here is need.

If you’re in retail, hospitality, transportation, or manufacturing, you may have to keep things running no matter what day it is. But there are other companies who choose to stay open regardless of how busy they are. And this is where resentment can seep in.

They say you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Not that your employees are flies. The point here is if you really do need to stay open, you shouldn’t just pound your fists on the desk and demand that everyone stop whining get the hell back to work. This isn’t the way to elicit employee goodwill, foster an atmosphere of teamwork, or get volunteers to cover shifts.

If you want a full staff of team players, you’ll need to communicate in a way that that makes them feel valued and appreciated. And this where incentives can help.

Offering incentives is a great way to acknowledge that your employees are going above and beyond, to say thank you, and to provide a little something in return.

Incentives can cover a lot of ground. From free food to bonus pay to additional time off later, employees who feel like their holiday work is being recognized and appreciated are much more likely to show up— and with a good attitude.

2. Embrace the personal holiday

The images, views and traditions that surround various holidays are personal. Valentine’s Day can spark intense feelings of love– or dread. Some folks absolutely love Halloween! Some people turn off the lights and hide. Come December, many people look forward to gathering around the Christmas tree. Others? Not so much.

Some people celebrate religious holidays that aren’t as mainstream as others. And some people have a near-religious devotion to other events like the March Madness, Spring Training, or the World Series.

This is where personal holidays can come in very handy.

Have someone on staff who wants to celebrate Shavuot, Diwali, or Pioneer Day? Allowing them a few personal holidays in the bank will allow them to do so without worrying about how to make it happen.

Or maybe you have a team member who doesn’t get that excited about Easter, but lives for the Super Bowl. Offering personal holidays allows this person to have choices.

When it comes to holidays, one man’s Thanksgiving is another woman’s St. Patrick’s Day. Allowing your employees to celebrate the ones that mean most to them will go a long way toward making them feel appreciated.

3. Ditch the use it or lose it

Use it or lose it vacation policies are designed to encourage employees to take vacation— and reward employers when they don’t. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize these two concepts are working against each other.

These kinds of policies can be especially inconvenient in fast-paced work environments, where employees will often wait for a “less busy” time to take their vacation days.

But of course that less busy time never comes.

As the end of the year approaches, employees realize they are about to lose their days and employers end up with an onslaught of time off requests all at once. At the time of year when everyone else wants time off as well. Scheduling nightmare, anyone?

4. Be fair and flexible

Time off. Everybody wants it and only so many people can take it at once.

To make sure popular vacation times are doled out in a way that seems equitable, come up with a system that doesn’t favor any one group too much. Basing vacation purely on seniority seems like a pretty fair system, but if your organization has very low turnover, it can feel very unfair. Imagine being that “new” employee who has 10 years in at the company, but has never gotten New Year’s Eve off.

Consider creating a rotational holiday calendar or a lottery system to ensure that you don’t end up with all of the same people taking the same days off every year.

Once you’ve got that system down, allow room for flexibility within the ranks. If two employees both want to switch days or trade shifts, don’t pull out the rule book and wave it around. Sure, there may be some instances where it doesn’t work for some reason, but these kinds of side deals can often make things easier for everyone.

Your employees found a solution that made them happy, and you didn’t have to do a thing. Except maybe change that clause in the Employee Handbook.


Photo by  Elena Shashkina 

About that cover letter…

It used to be that job search was all about a good resume and cover letter.

When it came to evaluating applicants, the resume was the meat and potatoes. The main course, if you will. And the cover letter, well, that was more like the fancy appetizer. That special little something that not only looked impressive, but whet the hiring manger’s appetite and made them hungry for more.

Job seekers spent hours crafting their resume and cover letter templates, understanding how both pieces worked together to give potential employers the full meal deal.

But today’s recruiters aren’t as interested in cover letters. Forget the puff pastry bites! They’re going straight for the meatloaf.

Has the cover letter become irrelevant?

Today’s talent search begins online. Candidates are asked to fill out forms and applications and submit information electronically, and cover letters are often optional. Resumes are put through applicant tracking systems (ATS), scanned for key words and skills, then sorted by relevance.

After all that, the average resume only gets about 6 seconds of eyeball time before being tossed into one pile or another other. If recruiters are barely glancing at resumes, why on earth would they take the time to read a cover letter?

Good question

Many of them won’t. According to one study, the vast majority of recruiters don’t think cover letters matter much. And yet 26% of recruiters said they considered them to be an important factor in their hiring decisions.

So while the importance of cover letters is dwindling, they haven’t completely disappeared.  Are they a prerequisite? Not usually. Can they still be helpful in some circumstances? Most definitely.

If you use them correctly.

Fair warning

Your cover letter isn’t simply a recap of your resume. If this is what you’ve created, you might as well toss it aside because it won’t add any value to the process.

A well designed cover letter should provide something new. Something extra. More personal than a resume, it should be a summary of why you’re a good fit for the position and how you plan to bring value to the organization.

There’s a fine line here, and you need to be careful not to cross it.

Cover letters aren’t about why you want the job or what you want out of it. They’re about what you have to offer the organization, and why you’re the best fit for their needs. 

An employer doesn’t need to know how they can help you. They need to know what you can do for them. And this is where a great cover letter can make that extra bit of difference.

Dos and Don’ts

Even though the majority of recruiters readily admit they don’t read cover letters, there are times when it is appropriate to provide one.

When to include it:

  • The job listing rob requires or requests it
  • If someone has referred you for the company/position
  • You have additional information about why you’re a good fit

When to leave it out:

  • If job posting forbids (or politely requests) no cover letters
  • If your cover letter is generic, poorly written, or redundant

Tips for job seekers:

When cover letters are optional, many applicants will breathe a sigh of relief and happily skip it. In fact, 47% of job seekers did not submit a cover letter with their most recent job application. Including a well written cover letter with your resume can help you stand out in these situations.

That said, a bad cover letter can also make you stand out. But not in a good way.

A poorly written cover letter can actually be worse than no cover letter. If you’re going to write one, make sure it sends the right message— how you can help the business achieve its goals.

Tips for employers:

Forbidding cover letters may seem like a recruiting time saver, but it can also prevent you from having an additional way to differentiate between candidates, with little to no effort on your end.

You’re not required to read every cover letter, but if you’re down to the wire on a few candidates, cover letters can be a helpful decision making tool.

Take it or leave it

You may think cover letters have gone the way of VCRsroller disco, and Pepsi Light. And you may be right. But sometimes a little nostalgia hits the spot.

Should you or shouldn’t you incorporate cover letters in your job or talent search process? There’s really no wrong answer here.

Use your judgement based on the position, the candidate pool, the hiring manager, the job listing, and any other relevant factors. Then make the decision that seems best for you.


Photo Credit  stokkete

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Are Resumes Still Relevant?

Back in the day, job search was all about the resume and cover letter. Most job seekers spent many painstaking hours creating the perfect template for each one, and proceeded to use them over and over again. On a good day, you remembered to change the company name before submitting. On a bad day, you smacked your forehead, felt like a dummy, and moved on to the next job posting.

Sounds quaint, doesn’t it?

Modern recruitment and talent searches are vastly different. Most processes begin or happen exclusively online. Candidates are asked to fill out forms and applications and submit information electronically. Cover letters are often optional. But what about resumes? Do they still matter?

The short answer is yes. You need to have a document that summarizes your work experience, skills, and accomplishments. But now that document is just one piece of a larger career development picture, and it’s much more fluid.

Say goodbye to the trusty template

Of course you have a basic resume template. But if you’re actively seeking work, it’s going to change each time you apply for a new position. Many recruiters and companies are using Applicant Tracking Systems that scan resumes for key words related to the specific job in question.

The good news is that these systems can help reduce hiring bias by treating each resume the same. The bad news is that you’ve got to up your keyword game and customize your resume accordingly. Unless you’re only looking for positions in a very specific niche, you’re going to need to re-work and edit your resume each time you apply.

Tip for job seekers: Constant resume editing is a breeding ground for typos and mistakes. If you’re a job seeker, the spelling and grammar check is your friend. And if you have a real friend who is willing to take a look as well, even better. Reading your resume out loud will help you identify mistakes like missing punctuation, extra words, awkward phrasing, etc. 

Tip for employers: The days of disqualifying a candidate for a single typo are over. Look at the information in the scope of the larger picture. Are the rest of the desired skills and experience there? What kind of position is this person applying for? Perhaps precision writing isn’t critical to the job. Is English your candidate’s second language? Take that into consideration.

Say hello to LinkedIn

LinkedIn has become a critical job search tool, both for job seekers and recruiters. More than just an online resume, LinkedIn includes valuable information about who you are and what you are like to work with. Recommendations from your network can highlight not just your skills, but other attributes like work ethic, attitude, integrity, and commitment.

Meanwhile, your LinkedIn activity can reveal a lot about what kind of energy you bring to the table.

  • Do you play well with others?
  • Are you interacting in ways that make you a desirable team member?
  • Are your posts and comments negative and snarky or positive and thoughtful?

What’s that you say? You’re not on LinkedIn? That’s a problem.

Whether you’re looking for a new position, to fill an open one, or just happily employed, LinkedIn is an extremely valuable resource. You can make new business connections, join professional groups, and keep up on the latest business news and conversations.

Tips for job seekers: Recruiters use LinkedIn to search for candidates by key words, company, position, and job function. They also look at rival companies, industry groups, and even alumni from certain schools. Make sure your profile is up to date and filled out completely. Staying engaged and active on the platform will help build your professional credibility and brand. Treat LinkedIn as an office setting. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t be comfortable saying at work.

Tips for employers: Use LinkedIn to your advantage in the candidate search process. Create a company page that is enticing to potential candidates. Build a network you can go to for quality referrals. Stay in touch with former colleagues and valued staff members. Interviewing a candidate? Check out their profile to find additional attributes and/or potential red flags.

Say yes to the right fit

Talent search isn’t what it used to be, but that’s not a bad thing.

Technology allows the process to be faster, more comprehensive, and more flexible than ever. Take advantage of the tools and information that are available to you and you’ll soon be on your way to finding your dream job. Or your dream candidate.

Photo by Kirill Kedrinski 

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