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startup talent


The Path to Startup Culture: Q&A With Raoul Davis

Raoul DavisI saw another post today touting the great culture of a company and showcasing the office space. That's great, but a cool office does not make a culture alone. A culture is a set of values and norms that define the behavior of an organization. Sure. perks and cool chairs can be an extension of that, but you have to start with what you believe. Today we continue our series on companies not only passionate about culture but making the effort to pull that through. Our goal is to show you talent not only matters but can be the difference between success or stagnation.  This week I connected with Raoul Davis, the CEO of Ascendent Group. Raoul's on a mission to amplify the message of socially conscious firms led by visionary CEOs.  

Susan LaMotte, exaqueo (SL): You're in the business of people everyday. But can you describe your corporate culture in three words?

Raoul Davis, Ascendent Group (RD): Highly effective and human.

SL: Simple and clear--important for future employees to understand if they fit with your organization. I know it hasn't been easy, but when you have made an effort to understand and strengthen your culture, what did you learn the most?

RD: That people are resistant to change. Culture shifts take time 6-18 months to be exact and it is a continual process that has to be beaten into the culture. Just when you think it is going smooth you've got to further emphasize things again. Building a culture by design is a process, however; it is sure better than having a culture by default.

SL: Speaking of employees, what are the first three things you first notice about an employee?

RD: Their demeanor, willingness to contribute, and overall attitude.

SL: And how do you manage having the right talent to meet rapid growth?

RD: Don't limit your geographic area. Hire based on your cultural pillars and hire slowly.

SL: What have you learned about the importance of culture that you can apply to the work you do for your clients?

RD: That if you build culture then you give your clients a consistent experience. When you have people fall outside of the culture it creates a bumpy experience and creates unease with the clients.

SL: Tell me about a time you felt company leadership went wrong. What did you do?

RD: I'm actually going through a period now where I assumed the culture was fully embedded however I learned that isn't the case. So we are about to shrink to get things more focused and so I can spend more time on ensuring we have the right things happening. Also you have to accept that when there is a leadership issue the person to look at is the one in your mirror. When your team fails don't point the finger. Figure out what you can do better to help them continue to mature. Entrepreneurship isn't easy, people make mistakes; even the most well intentioned and experienced people make errors. Prepare to have some grace but at times you'll have to adjust or fire quickly. 

SL: So at the end of the day, why does talent + culture fit matter?

RD: You can have a bunch of high performers and not win the championship. Just ask the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers or most of the NY Yankees teams over the past ten years. Despite consistently having one of the most highest payrolls in professional sports [they] have only won one championship. A team has to come together, be cohesive, and all work in the same direction with egos being put aside for the greater good. It takes culture to do that. Without culture by design you get culture by default and that doesn't win championships.

Raoul Davis is the CEO of Ascendent Group help mid size leading companies increase their top line revenue through a unique process called CEO branding. We help the CEO increase their visibility through PR, speaking engagements, book deals, social media, and strategic networking directly in front of their target audience. Learn more about Ascendent Group.

Susan LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.




The 3-5 Year Gap: Finding Talent With Actual Talent

There’s no shortage of college graduates searching for jobs–some have internship and project experience, but they’re still new, and entry-level download (1)talent has to be trained. Programs like Nashville’s Software SchoolApp Academy, and Hackbright Academy are helping to fill the gap. But that doesn’t help when you have jobs that require experience now and you can’t find the talent. You can take a newbie and try to train them up quickly, but sometimes a role requires more than just skill–things like decision-making ability, patience under pressure, or team management experience that takes a few years to cultivate. In these situations, it’s tempting to outsource the problem. After all, you’re busy running companies, bringing in new business and customers, running beta tests–you don’t have the time to devote to a recruiting strategy. Thing is–neither do most external recruiters. They’re going to focus on sourcing the position like you did and then charge you a sizable percentage when you choose one of their candidates. Not that you should avoid external recruiters completely, but what if there were a way to save that fee without exceptional effort?

Experienced talent is out there–they’re just often already employed, aren’t aware of your company, or don’t think a small company would hire them. Here are five ways to find that experienced talent using the resources you already have.

1) Recruit nationally

Look outside your city for experienced talent. You love your city, right? Surely you can make a pitch for others to consider moving there, too. Use the jobs or careers page on your website to host a “why live and work in [your city here] page.”  Include details on benefits that would be attractive to candidates: low cost of living, commuting options, networking or entrepreneurs’ groups, community events, etc.  Feature employee transplants talking about where they came from and why they love the city now, too.  And when you post jobs, indicate an option to provide relocation assistance–it’s often much cheaper to do that over paying a recruiter.

2) Consider the alumni connection

We may only think of universities when we’re recruiting new grads, but most career service offices have alumni functions to help experienced alumni looking for a new gig.  Shoot off your job description to the alumni contact at your own alma mater or other target universities. Oftentimes they’ll do the sourcing for you to help eager, unemployed alumni find jobs. Ask your employees to share it with their alma maters, too, and reward them with university-themed gear if the hire is made.

3) Poaching from big companies

There are thousands of employees stuck inside big companies who are dying to get out and work for a startup or high-growth company. They just may not realize it or know your small company even exists.  Advertise in places these employees flock, and use targeted language to suggest you’re a good respite from the big company dramas. Sure, you want to screen big company candidates to make sure they can work in a more ambiguous, fast-paced culture like yours, but an opportunity to work in a different way, have more responsibility, and be a part of something could be just the ticket. Plus, talented employees from big companies often come full of ideas that a scaling company needs–systems, processes, programs.

4) Revisit job descriptions...

Continue reading this post over on Tech Cocktail.


Susan LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce strategy that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.




Talent and HR News Roundup: How to Be Better Edition

Ever have one of those weeks where you got some great feedback on how to be better from multiple people?  They are rare, but fantastic. Most of us know what we're good at, but we're not always aware of how we can be better. And unfortunately one of those things most of us aren't good is giving developmental feedback. So this week, we've pulled together some really relevant pieces on how you can be better. You know, in case no one will tell you. 1) The Best Kind of Entrepreneur to Be from Inc.

"Maybe you're afraid to start a business because you feel you could never compare to the brightest stars in the entrepreneurial firmament. Or maybe you shrink from the thought of having to work and sacrifice and struggle towards a goal you may never accomplish. Or maybe you think other people have some intangible entrepreneurial something--ideas, talent, drive, skills, creativity, etc.--you just don't have. If that's the way you think, you're wrong."

2) How Your Team Can Stay Nimble While Growing from OpenForum

"When your team is small, your biggest barriers tend to be external in nature: needing more funding, press or market traction. Internally, though, you can turn on a dime. Yet as you grow, keeping your team aligned and coordinated becomes increasingly challenging. The single best tool you have in keeping your growing team agile is building a culture of effective communication."

3) Dealing With Difficult Employees When You Don't Have the Time from exaqueo

"As founders or leaders, we’re always on the fly. I’m writing this blog post from an airport lounge! But that doesn’t mean I should text an employee if there’s a problem, or shoot off an email, hit send, and shut down the computer. Feedback has to be a two-way street real-time. A ten-minute phone call now will save you five emails later and an employee so frustrated, stewing about the feedback that he doesn’t focus for the rest of the day. Always direct, always in-person (or on the phone)–the only way to give feedback."

4) Staying Calm is Important from SmartBlogs

"Yelling, screaming and berating others is not acceptable behavior from a leader. If you have a tendency to “go off” on others, you set a bad example (people are watching you and copying your poor behavior) and make the objects of your rage feel terrible. Motivation is killed. More importantly, your employees will avoid and abandon you when you need them most to knuckle under and get the work done or to go the extra mile."


exaqueo is a workforce consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.