Doug Coull on the Benefits of Flexible Workplaces

I had the pleasure of speaking with Doug Coull, CEO of APS, Inc., makers of SmartSearch applicant tracking systems. Doug keeps a close watch over his company and has a genuine interest in making his company an employer of choice. He has a clearly defined approach for what it takes to keep employees happy and engaged and understands the value this has for the company, its employees, and SmartSearch customers.

Q: What are the most significant benefits of having a workplace culture where employees are provided flexibility to live a balanced life?

A: If people are going to be productive they need to have some outlets in their life besides work. We try to give people the opportunity to pursue outside interests, to accommodate people’s schedules, especially those employees with children. Sometimes people need to step away from their work and get out of the office; they need breaks and to go on vacation. Further, we believe in aligning the company’s goals with the goals of the employees. They make up our culture, so they’re instrumental in shaping its form and substance. We try to make it a fun, relaxed place to work and allow our employees to do their jobs without being watched and questioned about everything they do. We give people reasons to remain employed and engaged, because the longer someone works for our organization, the stronger they become and the better contributor they become. We try to structure our workplace in such a way that it facilitates an inviting, collaborative and supportive environment. So, I can honestly say, this approach has garnered us positive results; we have employees, and customers too for that matter, who have been with us for many, many years.

Q: Tell us more about having a pet-friendly culture and the benefits this brings to employees.

A: I’m an advocate for animals and believe pets enrich people’s lives. There is a ton of research that supports why having pets benefit us in myriad ways. They help us to live longer, to be happier, and enjoy better health.

We encourage our employees to bring their dogs to work. I regularly bring one of mine, Lucky, and everyone seems to enjoy having her around, and my being the CEO has nothing to do with that. <laughing> She’s become a mascot for our organization and has been bestowed the title of Chief Security Officer. She takes her job very seriously, just ask the UPS delivery person. <laughing> But seriously, having pets is one of the joys in life, and we certainly want our employees to be happy at work and outside of work so if this means that having the love of a pet helps them, we are all for it.

Q: Does having a relaxed culture make people more productive and if so, why?

A: I’m convinced it does. People aren’t productive when constricted, micro-managed, or made to feel like they can’t deviate from rigid corporate policies and procedures. We are proponents of independent thinking.

In keeping with a relaxed environment, we don’t impose a formal dress policy or make people clock their time. We hire the best people to do the job and trust they will do it to the best of their ability. Further, when people are provided opportunities to show their personality, it makes them more human and works better towards creating partnerships and collaborative situations which is very important to us, especially when it relates to interacting with clients.

We, also, understand that everyone has a unique internal chronometer, which means some people are going to be more productive in the morning and others in the afternoon, so we provide beverages and food to sustain them and make them more comfortable.

Q: APS, Inc. has gained recognition as an employer of choice for supporting people transitioning out of the military, as well as for serving in the military reserves. What does it mean to you to have your company recognized for its support and flexibility?

A: I’m happy that we have a couple of great employees who spent time in the service and continue to serve in the Reserves. As a business owner, I believe it’s part of our civic duty to ensure we provide the individuals who serve with opportunities to thrive and find meaningful careers in the private sector.  They do their part to support our country, so we as employers need to assist them when it comes time for them to transition.

Q: With all things being equal when companies are recruiting new talent, why is hiring for culture fit more important than hiring someone for their experience?

A: Deciding between skills and culture fit is a fine line to walk. Obviously, someone’s qualifications can be key to the person’s success, as not everyone can be brought in and trained to excel at every job. Think of it this way, people with deep technical skills are, in many instances, formally educated to advance their knowledge on how to create software, administrate a network, or design websites, for example. Though we have the talent in our company who can do these things, it’s often better for them to come to us with this knowledge and we’ll supplement their education with additional training and learning opportunities.

That said, cultural fit is important when it comes to adding value to an organization and ensuring that new hires will come into an organization as a link in the chain which ultimately strengthens the entire chain. We have found the right culture fit helps them and ultimately, the company to excel. Every organization is different, but in general, smaller organizations, tend to be more relaxed and don’t burden employees with strict procedures and policies. However, some employees need a structured and siloed environment to be successful. It’s a matter of knowing what works for you as an employee and what you need to get from your career.

When it comes to hiring, brands need to understand their unique culture and play up those attributes when they present themselves to candidates, but they also need to be adept at determining if the candidate is an appropriate fit for their environment. When employers ask well-thought-out questions that give people a chance to tell a story, they will learn a great deal about someone’s communication skills, as well as get a better understanding of their knowledge and experience. And certainly, using the profiles of successful employees to evaluate job candidates is an excellent barometer for determining culture fit.

Q: Do you believe smaller companies provide more intrapreneurial opportunities for employees versus large corporations?

A: Yes, because small companies, generally, lack heavily siloed walls which reduce exposure to more aspects of the business. Having an intrapreneurial environment allows people to explore new ideas without the worry of retribution and gives them the latitude they need to investigate new ideas. This isn’t universally true, but smaller companies tend to want people who are flexible to learning more about the company and use their own life and work experiences to bring new, fresh ideas to the table. Also, when people have a chance to be intrapreneurial, they can explore things more openly and feel that their voices get heard. This opportunity is very empowering and along with that engagement rises and when involvement elevates, so follows a happier workplace and happy people are more productive people.

When it comes to cultural fit, each company needs to assess their own unique culture to determine who the best people are to align with the mission, vision, and values. Skills will always matter because some jobs call for a specific education or certain types of experiences. In the long run, however, hiring people with the “right attitude” and desire to excel will win out in the end.

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