There is no shortage of blog posts, articles, case studies and news stories focusing on company culture. They typically start something like this: “How to… What it Takes to… Six Steps to… Nine Ways to…” and always end with “…Create a Strong Company Culture.” We’ve probably said it ourselves.

But really, creating a strong culture isn’t always a good thing.

The problem lies with the adjective. According to one source, to be strong is to be “able to withstand great force or pressure.” This very definition is exactly the opposite of what a culture should be. If your culture is awful, do you want it to be indestructible? No. And no company is perfect, so keeping things exactly as they are with no hope to change them means your employees will be running toward the door.

Let’s talk about two cultures that would be worth creating.

Flexible. This is a culture means where you leave it up to your employees to create an environment based on their needs, personalities and work styles. It’s adaptable, agile and employees are encouraged to bring new ideas to the table that challenge the status quo. A cornerstone of a flexible culture is continuous feedback and two-way conversation.

Purpose-driven. It’s well documented that the younger workforce is driven by more than money. According to one study, more than 50% of Millennials would take a pay cut to find work that matches their values and 90% want to use their skills for good.

So, what’s a purpose-driven company?

This Fast Company article sums up the key differences and the type of culture it creates: “An organization without purpose manages people and resources, while an organization with purpose mobilizes people and resources. Purpose is a key ingredient for a strong, sustainable, scalable organizational culture. It’s an unseen-yet-ever-present element that drives an organization. It can be a strategic starting point, a product differentiator and an organic attractor of users and customers.”

It’s time for organizations to be more articulate when describing themselves and their company culture. In today’s job-hopping world, being able to attract and retain employees is what sets market leaders apart. Take the time to understand your culture, portray it accurately to job seekers, and attract the candidates that will work well in that environment. Be authentic about who you are upfront, and you’ll see employee engagement and retention rates rates soar.

So often, a goal is synonymous with an unattainable state, desire or outcome. Think about it. How many times have you heard “It’s always been a goal of mine to [insert unrealistic dream here]”? Being born independently wealthy or having 30 hours in a day is not a goal. As professionals, we find ourselves calling things goals when we neither have an actual way to achieve it nor understand how it will actually move us forward.

Now, we’ve all seen and heard hundreds of quotes meant to inspire us. Take these two, for example:

“Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”


“Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I’ll give you a man who will make history. Give me a man with no goals and I’ll give you a stock clerk.”

In What Famous Quotes Teach Us About the Goal Pursuit Journey, we share how wisdom, like the quotes above from ex-NFL coach Vince Lombardi and businessman J.C. Penney, can help HR professionals shape employee goal processes that lead to success. In the eBook we cover:

  • the importance of having the right mindset (fixed vs. growth, anyone?)
  • various goal methodologies and why you shouldn’t take a “one-size-fits-all” approach
  • technology’s role in helping you create a goals strategy with four main attributes of success

Download our newest eBook to learn how goals can lead to sky-high employee engagement.

Across industries and company sizes, HR pros are becoming better business partners and operating in an advisory capacity to the stakeholders they serve. Unfortunately, many of us are up to our eyeballs in alligators with the daily grind of critical, detailed work that needs to be expertly handled. Being a business advisor can easily morph into simply identifying what leaders want handled, rather than pivoting to a proactive talent partner. All too often, we hear our stakeholders and respond with the minimizing question — “How can I help?”

HR pros are in a pickle. Initially, stakeholders are happy because someone asked what they need. But the tradeoff can be career-deadly: when branded as the person who needs to be told what to do, you’re seen as replaceable and not adding enough value.

Transitioning to a true business partner requires shifting your mindset and approaching your calendar differently. Your HR acumen is important, and how you choose to invest your time will ultimately drive your success.

To become a better HR business partner, do these four things:

  1. Learn and be insatiably curious about the business , not just the people (and inter-personal dynamics). This knowledge enables you to connect more dots and add meaningful data to conversations
  2. Proactively detect and share both problems and opportunities based on facts and your own discovery– don’t wait to be asked. As you listen (truly listen) to what’s happening in the business lines, formulate ideas and offer insights.
  3. When innovating options and creating solutions, offer options. Importantly, be ready to offer your point of view on both the advantages and tradeoffs of each option– and what you’d recommend (and why).
  4. Advise by helping to separate the important from the urgent. Many talent issues can seem to be time-sensitive, but actually, they’re just annoying or difficult. Successful partners can calmly prioritize where focus is required.

If you’re genuinely uncertain how best to help a stakeholder with a sticky talent need, at the very least, rephrase the question with an important qualifier: “How can I best help you right now?” Over time, answers to those questions will reduce your need to ask the question again.

Catherine Malloy Cummings is a breakthrough human resources strategist known for her ability to transform HR teams into champions of revenue and agents of business growth. She is also a speaker and author, serving as a passionate advocate for HR’s potential to drive corporate strategic advantage. Follow her on Twitter at @ChiefHRChampion

Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Pegged as the “Me, Me, Me’s,” “trophy kids” or “selfie generation” – we often get a bad rap.

Countless articles portray Millennials as a completely different species of human beings when it comes to workplace behavior. But I’m here to say that Millennials do not stray far from other generations’ workplace values. (But we do stray into the middle of traffic to catch virtual Pokémon, that I cannot deny.)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve blogged about different aspects of employee engagement that illustrate how today’s multigenerational workforce has more in common than you might think. In case you missed it, here’s what I covered:

Yes, I’m a Millennial. No, We’re Not That Different.

I share how Millennials are much more similar to their preceding generations when it comes to behaviors and attitudes in the workplace.

Generation “Why?”

Outdated performance management strategies such as annual reviews slow progress and disengage employees of all ages. Millennials are not the first to crave feedback on their work, we just want it more frequently to grow both personally and professionally.

“How’s My Driving?” What HR Can Learn from Uber

HR can take a cue from Uber’s “rate your ride” review system. Here’s why soliciting feedback in real-time and surveying your employees regularly is the best way to drive improvement.

A Must-Do: Give Credit Where It’s Due.

Your multigenerational workforce may be motivated differently, but all employees appreciate being recognized for their achievements, not just the so-called “trophy kid” Millennials. Here’s why your organization should implement a modernized recognition and rewards program now.

Interning at Kazoo this summer while using our own platform, I feel as though I have grown both personally and professionally. I set and monitored my goals in the Kazoo app. Paired with check-in’s with my manager, I was able to track my progress of projects and expectations set by my department.

The most rewarding part of the summer was when someone outside of my department asked for my assistance on a time-sensitive project. Flattered, I worked hard in order to present the best work as soon as possible. Days later, after I had forgotten about the stress of the assignment, I was publicly recognized for my work.

Although I’d written about our application and the importance of publicly recognizing great work, I did not understand the impact until it happened to me – that’s the power of proper performance management.

I truly appreciate Kazoo’s ability to practice what they preach. I’ve observed countless instances where employees fulfill Kazoo’s core values. I felt fully immersed in the culture and community this summer. And even though Kazoo has a social feed built into its platform, I was able to create valuable relationships, in-person, offline.

How’s that for being a Millennial?

Five rings, every four years, three medals, two weeks, one city. The Olympics are underway in Rio de Janeiro, bringing nations together to celebrate the talent and athletic skills of their athletes.

Whether it’s the inspirational, tear-jerking commercials (just me?) or the pride felt when your home-country athletes step on the top podium, the Olympics remind us of workplace values such as dedication, teamwork and performing your best. Here are some parallels between the Olympics and the employee engagement in the workplace.

It Requires Preparation

In the same way athletes, coaches and host cities prepare for years prior to the Olympics, your employee engagement approach takes time, re-tooling and dedication. Increasing employee engagement is an ongoing effort that can never be marked as “complete” on your checklist. If you ask any Olympic athlete, practice makes perfect. Your strategy must be a continuously “practiced” for your organization to be fully engaged.

It’s a Team Effort

For each gold medal winner, there is a supporting cast and crew – the coaches, team members, trainers, dietitians – who are essential to success. Every athlete who wins a medal credits the hard work and effort of the people who helped them get there. Although day-to-day activities and roles differ, employees must work together to propel organizational success. As the 4×100 relay racers hand off the baton to their teammates, your team must be just as synced and in tune in order for your customers to have the best experience.

It Takes Dedication to Achieve a Goal

Athletes like Michael Phelps set clear goals and meticulously track progress toward them. Think about it: when swimmers finish a race, they immediately check the scoreboard to see their time. In the same way, employees need goals and a meaningful way to measure their progress against them. Achieving a business goal requires agility so, like athletes, employees can adjust as unforeseen circumstances arise.

It’s Time to Acknowledge Success

After you’ve put in the hours, gained support from your team and set your goals, it’s time to put everything in motion. Every Olympic athlete is going for the gold; however, it’s easy to forget that recognition of excellence does not always appear in medal form. This is similar to peer-to-peer, company-wide recognitions. It is important to credit success to those who helped make it happen.

Although we all may not flip over the vault quite like Simone Biles, we are all capable of setting and working toward goals, collaborating with a team and recognizing our peers’ efforts and achievements. The Olympics engage everyone involved by displaying the importance of teamwork, continually improving and dedication; your employee engagement strategy should be no different. So practice, practice, practice and go for the engagement gold.

Google defines Human Resources as “the department of a business or organization that deals with the hiring, administration and training of personnel.” Entrepreneur explains HR as “the department for support systems responsible for personnel sourcing and hiring, applicant tracking, skills development and tracking, benefits administration and compliance with associated government regulations.”

But these definitions focus too heavily, and almost entirely, on administrative duties. Its role is too frequently (and unfortunately) seen as supportive and supplemental within the organization. While these definitions might have been true a few years ago, HR’s role encompasses so much more in today’s workplace.

To get a more current definition, we turned to Kazoo’s own Chief of Staff, Jeremy Scott. He explained that, to him, HR “ensures the success and professional growth of employees, the integrity of personal information required by governing agencies and continued success and innovation of the organization. It does this through various strategies – recruiting, employee relations, benefits and perks, advancement opportunities, culture building and more.”

It’s time to start thinking of HR’s role in a new way. To borrow from phrasing used at last week’s Democratic National Convention, HR leaders should see themselves as the changemakers within an organization.

In the same way that every candidate is pushing their “changemaker” status to voters, HR serves as the necessary change agent within an organization. Here’s three ways they do this.

HR creates the processes by which employees are both hired and fired.

A member of the HR team is usually the first person you come into contact with at an organization – for your initial screening call. In this situation, HR has an enormous opportunity to create lasting change for the broader company. Internal recruiters have the critical job of determining which candidates would not only be best for the role, but for the company culture as well. If an organization is trying to shift their culture in any way, for example, recruiters play a big role in helping to do so by bringing in new employees that have those desired traits.

On the other end of the spectrum, the processes developed by HR determine whether or not an employee is fired. HR is responsible for creating a performance management process and selecting the engagement platform that managers and employees will use to communicate. A strong HR stakeholder can influence the adoption of the technology and effectively impact how successfully the process serves to evaluate performance.

HR sets the tone for how an entire organization interacts with each other.

HR serves as the steward for company culture. So while “creating a great company culture” might not be a responsibility listed on a job description, it’s one of the most challenging and imperative parts of HR’s role within an organization. HR has the difficult job of establishing the processes by which employees communicate, recognize and encourage each other. To ensure that these processes are effective, they must truly reflect a company’s mission and values. This makes it imperative that leaders know and understand the pulse of their workforce. Every team, department and location has its own goals and personality. However HR plays the critical, and sometimes difficult, role of unifier. It is now using analytics to better understand pain points and opportunities within an organization. Engagement platforms provide people data and give a more holistic view into performance and sentiment. Leadership is then better equipped to make recommendations to help the company improve culture.

HR gives you a seat at the executive table.

Regardless of age, role, tenure or experience, each and every employee has something to offer the CEO: their perspective. A business decision could be a great idea on paper, but in practice may actually be a huge mistake. By asking for your feedback, both informally and through frequent polls and surveys, HR gives all employees a direct line to the leadership team to voice concerns, surface new ideas or present alternatives. This feedback loop is critical to ensuring any business decisions are positive for the greater good of the organization.

Another feedback mechanism instituted and managed by HR is the exit interview process. Just as important as bringing in the right employees is understanding why they leave. Look to this article for some specific do’s and don’ts of the exit interview process. Conducting these interviews can help organizations collect, consider and act on constructive feedback to prevent future departures. This is yet another opportunity for HR leaders to affect change, yet this time it’s on behalf of those leaving the company.

HR is much more than the administration duties it fulfills. While all of its responsibilities are necessary to the success of a company, perhaps the most important function is to serve as the changemaker. Only HR can reinvent culture, establish fair processes and give everyone a voice. That sounds like a presidential platform, doesn’t it? In the famous words of a recent VP candidate… you betcha.

Employee engagement isn’t just something companies should think about for longtime employees. It starts at the very beginning of the employee lifecycle.

Sure, companies mean well when trying to get new employees up to speed, but it turns out many are making incredibly costly mistakes with their onboarding processes.

No matter what role you have at your company, recognizing the common mistakes below and utilizing the research-backed tips and tactics provided here will help bring out your inner Onboarding Manager and provide valuable input moving forward.

Your goal should be to set new hires up for success. Be equipped, knowledgeable, and comfortable giving feedback — good or bad.

— Kim Dawson

Mistake #1: Not making onboarding a priority

Does employee onboarding consist of little more than a quick presentation and a packet of paperwork at your company? If you’re just “winging it” while hoping new hires will pick things up as they go, you’re creating an environment of uncertainty and not setting employees up for success. Research shows this is a costly mistake in three key areas:

Performance – Onboarding is a critical phase for clearing up ambiguity and helping employees understand their roles. One study estimated that businesses in the US and UK lose $37 billion each year due to employees not understanding their jobs. Other research found that effective onboarding improved performance by 11.5%.

Turnover – It might feel strange to link onboarding to turnover in the employee lifecycle, but a Department of Labor study revealed that 66% of new hires who take part in structured onboarding are likely to remain with the company for over three years. That’s incredible when you consider recent research from SHRM revealing half of all hourly workers and senior hires will fail within 18 months.

Engagement – Multiple reports in the Journal of Applied Science have shown that when done correctly, onboarding can boost factors related to employee engagement, such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and lowered stress.

DO’S and DON’TS: Our advice for taking onboarding seriously:

DO: Document specific goals and milestones for each position being onboarded. A small time commitment up front will set the employee (and company) up for success.

DON’T: Assume managers have an in-depth onboarding plan employees will absorb immediately. “People won’t remember half the stuff they’re given on the first day,” notes Kim Dawson, Director of Employee & Customer Experience at Kazoo. Understand this when getting serious about an onboarding plan.

Mistake #2: Ending onboarding after one week

Onboarding needs can come at teams fast, especially during periods of rapid growth. In one exhausting flourish of activity, many companies feel they’ve done all they can to get a new employee exposed to multiple departments and a couple quick overviews in their first week, leaving new employees and their teams to pick up the pieces after that.

Experienced Onboarding Managers will tell you the process starts before and ends long after an employee’s first week. SHRM notes that conventional thinking asks employers to evaluate the first 90 days.

Continual monitoring not only helps new employees, it constantly improves your onboarding program. Dr. John Sullivan suggests surveying they at 1, 6, and 12 months to monitor progress and gather feedback. Glassdoor uses similar efforts to discover what employees really want from onboarding to gain insights into their efforts, and L’Oreal famously has a two-year “L’Oreal Fit” integration program.

DO’S and DON’TS: Our advice for taking onboarding beyond the first week:

DO: Allow employees to hit the ground running by prepping before Day 1: Set up email, clear their desk, provide needed equipment, and sync with department leaders.

DON’T: Forget the agreed-upon job description when organizing onboarding. If you’re evaluating the employee’s onboarding based on goals that weren’t agreed on, both sides will be disappointed.

Mistake #3: Failure to communicate

One of the biggest things companies don’t realize is that onboarding is mutually beneficial. Instead of being a rigid process for new hires to complete, onboarding should be treated like a two-way channel of communication that leaves both the employee and company better.

When you train your new employees in the ethos of the company while simultaneously showing them how to do their job, everyone wins.

— Maren Hogan

Communicate with HR – Go beyond an overview of benefits. Throughout the onboarding process, is HR checking in with new hires to gather feedback and address questions or concerns? This is an easy way to solve problems early.

Communicate with leaders – Help managers or heads of departments set up milestone meetings during the onboarding process. These can be brief, lightweight checkins for both sides to deliver honest feedback and make sure the company isn’t reneging on promises made during hiring. If you can, make them a fun opportunity for facetime. Dr. John Sullivan recommends treating onboarding as a celebration, not an administrative task.

Communicate with insiders – Onboarding is an excellent opportunity for cross-departmental collaboration. Find “culture ambassadors” within the company who aren’t on a new hire’s team and get them involved in the process, even if it’s for a scheduled lunch. SHRM’s research points to “organizational insiders” as one of the most important aspects of learning about a company.

DO’S and DON’TS: Our advice for overcoming communication failures:

DO: Build feedback into the onboarding process. Whether it’s through recurring meetings or quick check-in lunches with HR and leadership, these require small amounts of time but deliver big impacts early on.

DON’T: Treat onboarding like a honeymoon. If expectations aren’t being met in an employee’s first few weeks, this is the time to find out why and address any miscommunications, not gloss over the issue (or worse, dismiss someone immediately).

Related: Need advice for delivering constructive feedback? Check out these resources!
Kazoo Constructive Feedback

We’re on board: Kazoo’s checklist for onboarding new employees

The Kazoo team doesn’t just dish out employee engagement advice; we take our research to heart and make it our own. If you’d like a blueprint for avoiding common onboarding mistakes, check out this checklist of items that guides our own process, and see if you recognize how each items helps address the common onboarding mistakes we’ve covered:

Before Day 1:

  • New hire is invited to lunch with the team as a “soft welcome.”
  • Gets a personal email explaining first-day needs and what to expect during onboarding.
  • HR coordinates with team leader to set first-week onboarding expectations.

Week 1:

  • New hire arrives with company email set up, desk and equipment needs taken care of.
  • Meet with HR to finalize paperwork, see the onboarding plan, and get a full background of the company and its products.
  • Sit with department heads to learn department responsibilities and where the employee’s role fits in.
  • Facetime with the CEO to learn the history of the company.
  • Team lunch in which new hires share a “shocking fact” about themselves.
  • HR asks a company insider (we call them “buddies”) to volunteer help with any questions or go to lunch.
  • Employee gets an assignment from HR: Find out more about the company’s values.
  • Get a tour of the facilities and building logistics.

Goals beyond Week 1:

  • HR meets with department leads to assess onboarding and adjust the process if needed.
  • Set up brief check-ins with managers or leadership.
  • Ensure employees get real-time feedback as needed (and know how to provide feedback themselves).
  • Milestone meetings to look at the onboarding process together and suggest improvements.


About Kazoo:
Kazoo is a SaaS HR technology platform that redefines the way companies engage with their employees. By providing tools to connect, reward, reveal, and report in real time, Kazoo can consolidate employee engagement initiatives into one, easy-to-use mobile platform for teams of all sizes. Since launching in 2012, Kazoo has delivered its flexible software to small enterprises and Fortune 500 brands across several industries. Visit for more information, or schedule a quick demo here anytime. Continue reading “Bring Out Your Inner Onboarding Manager”