JuntoDay: Hiring People and Crafting Culture

The second session at JuntoDay was on the topic of people: recruiting, hiring, managing, and building a culture. 

Our presenter was Frank Riordan, founder and CEO of DMC, an engineering and software development firm in Chicago that was named the #1 workplace for Millennials and #3 for Generation X, by Crain's Chicago Business in 2015. The company has nearly 100 employees in five cities, many hired as new college graduates. Frank's leadership, and recruiting and training practices, have driven the company's growth and crafted its award-winning culture. Frank's session covered a wide range of topics but much of it was focused on three areas: core values, company culture, and the hiring process. 

Core Values: Aspirational or Operational?

DMC was founded in 1996 yet didn't craft its values statements until about seven years ago. Frank told us that there was a point where he didn't even believe in things like mission, vision, and values. But over time, he began realizing the importance of them, especially if he wanted to grow the company. 

Here are the company's values that were crafted at that time and have stayed in place since:

  1. HIre smart people.

  2. Respond to the customer.

  3. Make things happen.

  4. Be profitable.

  5. Share information.

  6. Have fun.

  7. Tell it like it is.

By articulating its core values more than 10 years into the company's maturity, DMC was able to craft what Franks calls operational values - beliefs that reflect what the company actually practices on a day-to-day basis and directs its future practices. This contrasts with aspirational values which describe what the company hopes to practice. 

Culture: Letting the People Build It

Around the same time the values were articulated, Frank and his team became intentional about culture, and much of their efforts were inspired by a single idea.

He learned that one of the main reasons people stay at a company is because they have friends there. But friendships aren't typically created in the office so to move in that direction, Frank decided to empower the DMC team to achieve this objective. Beyond just supporting it, however, Frank decided to put his money where his mouth was.

His leadership team created an activity fund: a monthly budget that anyone in the company could use to plan and lead an outing as long as everyone at DMC is inviited, at least five people attend, it's legal, is social in nature, and pictures and videos are taken. Examples of activities its employees have organized over the years include movie premieres, skiing trips, bowling outings, and rooftop baseball parties. 

By enabling such activities to occur, Frank's belief was that over time, friendships would begin to develop enabling the company to maximize employee retention. Those friendships at the office also help lead to a more energetic, loyal, and healthy workplace, reflected in the recognition the company has received. Today, DMC has 5% annual attrition rate, and even that is most often due to what Frank calls "healthy departures."

Hiring: To get the ROI, Make the Investment

At DMC, Frank and his team spend an unusual amount of time and money in the hiring process. As an engineering services firm, the company hires mostly technical talent from major universities across the nation. 

This fall alone, DMC's team is recruiting engineering students at 20 different colleges and universities, attending career fairs, meeting with professors, and leveraging employees as ambassadors. They're looking for the top 10% talent for each open position so it takes an extra effort to find such candidates.

Furthermore, the company has multiple steps in the recruiting process, including interviews with current employees whose main objective is to learn whether or not they'd simply enjoy working with the candidate being interviewed: another example of how DMC is thinking of retention and culture...as early as the recruiting process.

Proven Practices, Not "Best" Practices

In closing, Frank emphasized that what has worked at DMC may not work at other companies but that the attendees were doing the right thing in simply wanting to learn more about these topics. Hiring and firing in a startup, how to improve culture, and other topics related to people are critical to a company's success. The main takeaway from Frank's session was that it's never too early to begin thinking about and working on these areas.