Human Resources Today

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work rules


Culture Defined: Client Q&A with ORS Partners

photo3Every startup knows that culture is important, but it often takes a pivotal moment, challenge or obstacle for founders and leadership teams to realize it's time to focus.  We're so busy shipping code, getting product out the door or sourcing new customers we forget that it's people building the business. We love helping clients come to this realization, and ORS Partners was no different.  An outsourced recruiting solutions firm based outside Philadelphia, PA, ORS has energized employees and a strong growth trajectory. But they had the moment--the realization that if they didn't harness the energy now, their growth wouldn't happen in an aligned, bottom-line-driving way.

I sat down with exaqueo client Kate Brewer, ORS Partners' Marketing Manager to talk about why they decided to finally focus on culture and the results of their business-changing process.

Susan LaMotte, exaqueo: What was the driver for a renewed focus on culture at ORS Partners?

Kate Brewer, ORS: Eighteen months into our existence as a company, we were – are – growing rapidly and onboarding new people every month, but needed to define who we are and what our mission is. We had been “running and gunning” as a start-up organization, but needed to take a step back as a leadership team and make sure our employees knew what direction we are headed. We had to put clarity around our business and what we stand for.

SL: When you made the effort to understand and strengthen your culture, what was your biggest learning?

KB: Our leadership team realized that we all understood and we could articulate our Mission, Vision, and Values, but we failed to communicate them effectively to our team. We knew our employees possessed all the qualities needed for success, but we realized we needed to better communicate the larger plan to make sure every employee felt engaged and empowered to do so. With a clear Mission, Vision, and set Values we are able to articulate our goals and tie all of our initiatives back to our core values.

SL: You're in the business of helping others hire. What have you learned about the importance of culture that you can apply to the work you do for your clients? 

KB: Culture-fit is everything. No matter how many credentials a candidate may have, if they do not mesh with company culture, they will not be successful long-term. We have always preached to our clients that they hire ORS to not hire candidates, just as much as they hire ORS to hire candidates. Our consultants are trained to identify culture-fit – one of first steps in client onboarding is for our consultants to learn and understand client culture and assimilate.

SL: ORS will continue to grow in the coming year. As you do your own hiring, based on what you learned, what kind of employees are most successful in the ORS culture?

KB: Through this exercise we have found that our employees are self-motivated individuals who thrive on watching their client companies achieve talent acquisition success with their support. Even more so, ORS employees are team players – we are not recruiters on an island, but members of a large team backed by leadership and account management, a strong sourcing center, an employee led learning and development platform, and a toolkit of resources and technologies that help us reach success more efficiently and effectively.

SL: How does culture fit affect recruiting? Now that you've defined the ORS culture more clearly, how will that enable you to hire more effectively?

KB: As all good professionals in our industry know, recruiting is more than matching a candidate’s skillset to a job description. ORS Partners recruitment consultants are helping clients attract the right talent that will help their businesses grow and develop. Essentially, ORS Partners is a company building business… and without understanding culture fit, we would not be able help take our client companies to the next level with the addition of human capital. Businesses succeed when the right group of people with the right personalities and right skills work together to create products, services, and solutions. Now that we have defined our own culture more clearly, we believe we will be able to hire the right group of people with the right skills – with personalities and goals that complement the organization’s characteristics and goals – to take our business to the next level.


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.


ORS Partners, LLC is a provider of Outsourced Recruiting Solutions (ORS), and is comprised of top professional recruiters hired to build and scale emerging growth, middle-market, and venture-backed companies along with Fortune 1000 companies.



Dealing With Difficult Employees When You Don't Have Time

There's a great scene in Shrek when Lord Farquaad breaks off the legs of the Gingerbread Man, basically torturing him for information. Gingy refuses to divulge anything until Lord Farquaad goes for the jugular reaching for his candy buttons. "NO! Not the buttons! Not my gumdrop buttons!," Gingy cries and gives in. This is how leaders of growing companies deal with talent problems. You wait until it's going to cause you real pain. Fundraising or new hire? Client problem or co-worker disagreement? Valuation or toxic employee? When you're focusing on getting investment, customers, attention and Board approval, there's no time for talent. Until there has to be.

But you don't have to wait until it's gumdrop buttons serious. You can manage talent while you're running a business.  And you can handle difficult employees before you get to the point where you're ready to break their legs off. Or where your other employees just want to run.

Deal With It Now

If there's a problem, deal with it in 24 hours. Don't cancel an investment pitch for a difficult employee, but don't ignore the problem for days or weeks either. That demonstrates to other employees that the behavior is tolerated. It also means you forget what exactly happened and move on to putting out other fires. No matter how busy you are, ask the employee for time to talk in the next 24 hours and make it happen.

Give Regular Feedback From Day One

If you bring employees on board, focus on execution and never give them feedback on what's working and what's not, the first time you tell them there's a problem, it's defensive city. They're surprised, you're annoyed and the chasm of communication breakdown gets wider and wider.

From day one, tell new employees when they'll get feedback and how it will be delivered. Share things they are doing well and things they need to improve on. And then actually do it. Regularly. It makes it easier when things get tough, for the tough messages to be delivered. Employees will be used to the conversations -- even if they're on the fly -- and be prepared to ask questions and won't be caught off guard.

Use Your Culture to Make Your Case

Without values modeled by the leadership team, culture is just a collection of silly perks and CEO sound bytes. If you have a set of values and what exaqueo calls work rules, you can always point back to them as a guidepost of how business gets done in your organization.

For example, let's say transparency is one of your core values and you have an associated work rule that describes how and when employees need to be transparent. Then, when an employee hides something or doesn't want to admit there's a problem, you point back to the work rule. If they can't adapt, they're out. Otherwise your trading commitment to culture for one person.

Don't Hide Behind Technology

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.

Give Employees a Chance, But Not More Than One

An employee who makes a mistake can learn and change. A toxic employee can't. That's why multiple chances don't work. Don't count to three or give start-up employees long leashes. You don't have time for that. Instead, be clear about the problem, connect it back to your culture and be honest that you don't have time for it to happen again. Encourage communication--if they aren't sure what to do, ask! But don't give out chances like candy.

You may be able to ignore or de-prioritize difficult employees until they cause a major problem. But waiting means the problem is now big enough to really impact your business.  Do you have time for that? Don't cut off your legs to spite your face. And by all means, don't wait until it gets this serious.



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.




Four Reasons Perks Won't Help Your Culture or Hiring

4 Reasons Perks Won't WorkToo often I hear company leaders or recruiters say things like: "Our culture is great. We have free lunches, you can bring your dog to work, and there's free beer every day at 5pm." Workplace culture does not equal perks.

Perks aren't culture. Even ridiculous perks.  Culture is culture.

Culture is the way in which you work--the norms and values that define who you are as a business and what makes you different. It's how you get work done and the way people are expected to behave.  Culture is your foundation and then your build your business around it--including perks.

Here are four reasons you shouldn't confuse perks and culture:

1) Perks Are False Promises

If you just focus on perks, it's like promising a gorgeous engagement ring--without meeting the guy. If the guy sucks, the ring is only sparkly for so long. Then you get tired of it. No one stays at a company for the perks. They stay for their boss, the product, the potential, the work. Why waste time luring people in only to lose them after the fourth date (week)?

2) Perks Can Blow Up In Your Face

Sure, dogs in the office are cool. But what if that new developer you're trying desperately to hire is allergic? Think about the ridiculousness of that conversation: "We'd love to give you an offer, but we typically have dogs in the office so this isn't going to work." Really? You'll give up a great candidate for that?

3) You Don't Want a Candidate to Make a Decision Based on Perks

When you get that fantastic candidate to fill the void on your sales team, do you really want him to take the offer based on free beer? No. You want him to be passionate about what he's selling, the team behind the product or service and the future of the business.

4) Perks Don't Make Your Employees Perform Better

Free drycleaning or a easy-access gym might make employees' lives easier, but it won't turn an average developer into a stellar one. Culture, values and work rules are much better at vetting out candidates who won't perform well in your environment. For example, one candidate might be a Ruby rockstar but she can't get used to your super-fast product development cycles or deal with the complete transparency that's part of the way you do business

Should you ignore perks? No--they're important rewards and incentives to your business. Just don't hang your culture and hiring hat on them. Otherwise you build a company based on fringe benefits instead of on values.

And when you create perks for your business, tie them to your culture first. If one of your core values is customer service, perks should be designed to make it easier to service customers (making it quieter, freeing up your time, or giving you a budget to spend to develop relationships with customers).

Don't want to give up on perks? Don't. Just make sure your culture, values and work rules are strong. And sell those first.


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.



Work Rules: What They Are and Why You Need Them

Work Rules: What They Are and Why You Need ThemEvery company wants to be cool in some way -- more specifically, be known for something: a great place to work, a cool thing to be part of, a place people brag about joining. That's where the values come in. Whether valuable or not (pun intended), core values are the hot topic when it comes to culture. You have to have them. And whether you're Toms Shoes, Whole Foods or Teach for America, your values set the stage for your business.

While values and culture creation is the first step, it's not the most important. Enter work rules.

What Are Work Rules?

"Work rules" is a term we've developed here at exaqueo. Work rules are a way to make what a company values real and hold employees accountable. You can have the best list of core values ever, but if you don't hold employees accountable and align the way you do business to them, they don't mean anything.

Here's how it works:

Take one of Whole Foods' core values: "supporting team member excellence and happiness." Sounds good, right? But what exactly does that mean? How is that manifested in the day to day operations of a Whole Foods store?

It could mean personal support -- doing right by each other when it comes to learning and development, lots of time off, special dispensation for family needs, stipends for personal interests. Or, it could be about the business -- supporting team members who need help stocking shelves or find themselves overwhelmed with a line of customers at customer service.

You Have to Define Your Values

Specifically, what do they look like in practice? And at Whole Foods, this particular value is focused more on workplace happiness than happiness outside of work.

Nothing wrong with that -- in fact, their clarity is commendable. As an current or future employee it's clear what they mean by happiness. I can expect very fair wages. I shouldn't expect extra time off.

Another example of a value many companies might have is "customer service." But what kind of customer service is valued?

That's where work rules come in.  Maybe the focus is on deep customer relationships and problem solving. Or it could be about fast service, getting customers served efficiently and correctly. Either way, work rules help you better define what great performance looks like in your organization, and that makes hiring and performance management better. And it helps your company stay focused.

If you're wondering if it's worth it, if there's real, monetary value in this, let me know. I'll send you a real-world example from one of our clients.

If you need the motivation to get started, ask yourself how important talent is to growth.

There's your answer.

exaqueo is a human resources 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 grow in the right way.