Not taking reference checks seriously? Here’s why you should and how to go about them

Not taking reference checks seriously? Here’s why you should and how to go about them

Have you heard the story of the PERFECT candidate who was hired because of their supposedly great performance in past roles, only for them to turn out to be non-performers once hired?

The hiring manager then wonders: “What could have gone wrong in our assessment process? Or did we not onboard the person well?”

How can we really find out about a candidate’s past performance and behaviours? Even the best skill test and behaviour-based interview can’t tell you everything! In conversation with our clients we realize that while reference and background checks are deemed important, many managers don’t actually believe that they can work.

We suggest you ditch your old-school reference approach and commit to getting real information through thoughtful background and reference checks, which you fully integrate into the overall screening and assessment process.

Three reasons why your approach to reference checks is not working:

1) You’re using the SAME template/questions for EVERY role you hire for. By doing this, you are assuming that the criteria for assessing all roles is the same. Every assessment stage should be tailored to the role you’re hiring for; including the background checks.

For example, you can’t ask about the strengths of an Accounts Assistant the same way you’ll ask for those of an Operations Manager. Make the questions specific to what you want to hear to ensure you get tangible information about past performance.

Generic questions such as “What where their strengths in their last role?” will not get you far. Instead ask something like: “How did their strengths improve the departments performance? What were the results achieved?”

2) You’re calling the WRONG people. References listed on the candidate’s CV are noRH smallt necessarily going to give you the information you want. Cases of ingenuity during this stage are not uncommon. A candidate may list down their colleagues or friends as references. If you don’t conduct due diligence, you’ll likely fall for this. You’ll talk to someone who sanitises their weaknesses in past roles and think the person did no wrong. We recommend that you speak to people the candidate truly reported to, or other individuals who will give you a genuine, honest and critical assessment.

3) You aren’t actually doing it. You have let good charms displayed by a candidate during the selection process trick you into thinking you don’t have to do reference checks. “This person is very authentic.”

How we leverage reference checks so our clients make informed hiring decisions at edge

  • We corroborate information gathered from the different referees to gain a final  assessment. Did the same strengths and weaknesses come up consistently? Can you see the professional growth over the years? Is there one negative outlier, that would make you probe further?
  • We customise the process for every role!
  • We make use of the relationships you have and conduct informal checks. Find intermediaries who can connect you to a manager in their past company, even if it’s not their supervisor. Make use of the “I know a guy, who knows a guy who knows a guy” method. Go a step further and use LinkedIn to identify people to speak to. Only in an informal background check may you find out that John steals people’s food from the fridge, soo; not a great fit for your organization culture. Bye bye, John! On to the next one! Especially when digging about a candidate’s CURRENT job performance, you have to tread carefully, so speak to people who won’t compromise their job security by telling on them.
  • We are methodical in our approach: Ensure to speak to at least 1-2 people about their last three jobs each. Include direct supervisors, as they are a great bet at providing you with the information you require. Also include other key informants, such as managers of other departments, peers or HR managers in your list of people to interview.
  • We pay attention to red flags: At the end of the day, you want the person you hire to be a person that upholds your organization’s values, integrity and is a good culture fit.

Red flags you shouldn’t ignore during the process

  • Referees giving brief answers, taking their sweet time to return the forms, or not returning them at all. Once we sent forms to three former direct managers, but only one returned the form (and she put LITTLE effort in answering our questions and had written N/A to two KEY questions). That should tell you that their former supervisors don’t have a lot of positive things to say about them, if at all.
  • A candidate not providing you recent references. Imagine a scenario where you’re considering someone for a managerial position, and they have a total of 15 years experience. You expect them to provide contacts from their recent five years, but instead they give you those of junior jobs. While a candidate may be worried about their current employer being aware of their job search, after conversation with the candidate, they should provide recent references even if it’s peer managers, key clients, HR department etc. If you don’t see willingness to dialogue: red flag!
  • Reference forms that look fake. Yup! You read that right. How do we know, you ask? Well, we put two and two together when we receive forms where the writing style, formatting and language is EXACTLY the same. Or   So yes; collusion between a candidate and their referees does happen. Phone calls to verify content are also crucial.
  • And the last one: Candidate seems reluctant for you to speak to a former manager.  Certain behaviours just make you wonder: “My supervisor moved abroad, and I can’t reach them.” or “I don’t think you should speak to this person, they won’t be able to say much about me.”  Here you can choose: Try to reach the referee yourself (through LinkedIn or professional networks) or simply disqualifying the candidate based on lack of references.

As you can see, we’re really passionate about making this part of recruitment work!

We’d love to hear some of the crazy experiences you have encountered while conducting reference or background checks!

And don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to discuss how you can make your process more effective and ensure you make the right hires!

3 reasons why top talent is not joining your company

3 reasons why top talent is not joining your company

You have lousy managers

Hi there.

Take yourself on a managers evaluation date night. Buy yourself your favorite drink. Sit there quietly and ask yourself honestly: What is the experience my employees have in their day to day in their teams and with their managers? Why does no one want to stay? Do you know?

Let it sink in. What are you doing about it?

Are there skills your managers may be lacking to lead, manage and inspire their teams? Could there be  personality clashes you are unaware of?

Borrow a piece of paper if you didn’t bring your notebook. Write the 10 things that define what type of managers your company needs for people to stay.

Go to office tomorrow, start inculcating these traits one by one.

And if you don’t know what to do, we have many ideas!

Your website is uninspiring…

and lacks adequate information to inspire your ideal talent. Top talent is picky. They want to be associated with a strong brand. They want their experiences to matter. They have standards for how each experience connects to their big picture. Also, it’s 2019 and empowered job seekers have a say on who they work with.

So yes: The first place they go to is your website. They are looking for how you are telling the story of your work. How you talk about your team. Can they learn a thing or two about how it is to work with you? How much effort have you put into portraying your worth?

You simply don’t care and everyone knows 

If you know Nairobi well, then you know what “Nairobi hapa” means. You cannot hide in this city. Sooner or later, your dirty workplace laundry will be out in the streets.  And once it’s out there, who will apply to your company really?

On the contrary you could decide to care.

And what do we mean?

Simply see your employees as humans. The same load of personal problems you go through they do too. The same strong face you have been wearing for the last 2 years, they have been carrying it for a decade maybe.

To care means:

  • You listen to their needs and offer time to help them navigate them. Sometimes a simple 10-minute brainstorm will elevate pounds of emotional weight that is affecting their productivity.
  • Sharing your own personal struggles helps them remember you too are not a super human.
  • And maybe sometimes give them an unexpected day off because they worked too much last week.
  • Or you let them work from home when they are sick-ish; not too sick to not work, yet if they went to the office, they’d get worse.
  • Or you just show up with small surprise gifts they love because you have taken time to observe and learn their interests.

Do the simple stuff. Then watch what happens.

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Finding leave management boring? Connect to the higher purpose!

Finding leave management boring? Connect to the higher purpose!

We recently hosted a conversation with professionals about what their workplaces could do to improve the employee experience, one line keeps coming up: Give us our leave days!

Wait, what? You’re not given leave days as per employment laws?

Whether you nurture your introvert on the couch, rediscover gardening and arts, or you are a travel junkie discovering new places, we all deserve that amazing feeling of rest, adventure and of low stress, pressure and external demands.

Yet, a large number of employees we spoke to experience negative feelings when thinking about their leave days:

“It took only two days this whole year”

“It always feels like I am begging when I ask my supervisor!”

“My leave was not approved (or first approved, then recalled)…”

Most Kenyan employers know that they are obliged to give a minimum of 21 leave days per annum within the legal frameworks (some neighbouring countries give more, so do some employers), yet in reality most employees feel fatigued in the second half of the year, and rack up many leave days at the end of the year.

We also heard from some employers that they find leave procedures frustrating and tedious: Employees don’t apply for leave until October, others hand in leave requests last minute, or staff come back from leave with even less energy.

In the knowledge economy, taking leave can feel like a double-edged sword

Without rest and recovery, you risk your biggest resource: Your ability to concentrate, be creative, strategize, have convincing conversations, draw insights and remember important things in the right situation.

On the other hand, when people go on leave, they take their networks, knowledge, insights and brain with them. We all have tales of projects that failed while the person who initiated them, was on the beach, receiving frantic calls while they should be off. Some firms are technically closed for business, if a senior employee is off.

So how can you strike a balance and build a culture where performance and restoration go hand in hand?

We advocate for regular and consistent conversations about wellness and personal effectiveness in the team.

  • For example you can strengthen people’s awareness about what helps them perform, what makes them more or less effective through self-reflection and peer circles.
  • Support the ideation and development of healthy and effectiveness habits of all types in your team, from the basics like breaks between meetings and lunch away from the laptop to home-office policies and fruit baskets.
  • If as a manager you are truly okay with someone going home an hour early because they’re tired, or prompt people to take a day off after a hectic period, you will be much more credible when you start discussing leave days (whether you end up approving or re-negotiating a leave request).

Things you can do now for a healthier and more effective 2019

  • Lead by example! Plan leave, organize yourself, and then: switch off until you experience the power of rest!
  • Don’t have someone in charge of leave management? Appoint someone! Even better: Make it a well-understood system that runs by its own and promotes people’s personal satisfaction and well-being.
  • Have employees hand in their leave requests now. Then use a well-understood system to distribute the precious weeks around mid-year between the employees: Some departments map out leave among them by consensus, others use a first come first serve policy, others reserve school holidays for parents.
  • Make sure everyone takes a real break latest at the half-year point. Make it a policy if you have to, but a meaningful conversation often does better, especially in small teams. Also discuss whether one week provides meaningful rest in your profession!
  • Talk through the responsibilities that come with taking leave. Have people prepare handover manuals and together set realistic timelines for handover procedures. This includes for example people listing , starting to hand over their work to their colleagues at least 3 days before going on leave, and briefing them at least 1 week prior.

The new year has just started, but you can never start planning for leave days in your team too early.

We want to hear your opinions and experiences!

What scares you when you think of your employees being away for long?

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Boss Horror Stories and What We Can All Learn From Them

Boss Horror Stories and What We Can All Learn From Them

Why do people quit jobs? Many business leaders believe that “good people have options” or that “millennials don’t commit for long”.

To build a growing and performing organization, we need to dig deeper and understand why people leave. We asked over thirty Nairobi professionals about their experiences with bosses that made them quit. We were shocked hearing what people had to say – these are true horror stories:


The Blaming and Defensive Boss:

“I quit. It was the worst experience. My boss was a micro-manager, played the blame game, and overall there was a lack of leadership by management in the company.”

“My boss was very defensive of her actions and always blamed the other party”.

The Boss Who Held Me Back:

“She will not let me go for professional training! She has no college degree, she hates people with degrees”.

The Boss Who Expects Too Much:

“Being thrown into the deep end work with tasks that I had no knowledge of, yet my boss expected the best outcome or performance!”

“She would always delegate huge tasks last minute with important partners then would expect results without me having any experience”

“Very mean. Asked me to babysit for her autistic child with no prior idea of how.”

The “Bully” Boss (30% of the respondents’ bosses fall here!):

“Mood swings, she terrified everyone once she was having a bad day”

“I was called a ‘mental case’ after I challenged the opinion of my boss”

The ‘Sleep With Me and Get A Job’ Boss:

“I once had a boss who wanted to give me a job only if I accepted to sleep with him. I couldn’t believe it since he was a family friend”

“He asked me out and then didn’t call me for jobs after I stopped going out with him”


Dear bosses,

Are you one of the above?

Even if you’re not, it’s important for you to know what employees go through out there and to be empathetic. This means that you have to actively and consciously display the behaviours and values of a proper and humane boss. Some of your behaviours might be interpreted as abusive, even if you wouldn’t want to be called as such. So below our suggestions for being a well-meaning boss.

1) What does this mean for you as a boss when you handle job seekers?

  • Always hold interviews in an office and only during the day. Make no suggestive remarks, jokes and compliments, especially towards the opposite sex. Avoid looking ‘sleezy’ at all costs and remain professional at all times. If you can’t keep it together when hiring, have a second interviewer joining you. Also, strongly consider going for counselling, as this matter is likely to affect you in how you manage people as well.
  • With new hires, be very clear about certain expectations of the job that are beyond the typical work environment, for example: working hours, weekend work, travel and any specific physical and mental exposure the job brings: Is it especially hot or cold? Are there lots of failure situations based on the type of business you run? What type of pressure should they expect from clients, the team, investors and even you? New hires should be aware of this information when making their choice to accept your offer, to avoid any surprises in the future.

2) What implications does this have for relationships and culture in your office?

  • Have an open door policy where people can come and ask you any questions or offer their opinions. Give coaching and advice on people’s work when they need or want it.
  • Steer clear of ‘Blame Games’ and ‘Guilt Tripping’ at all costs. I repeat, don’t look for culprits and who to blame if something goes wrong, at least not in the heat of the moment. Instead, be solution-oriented, if a project went off-track put all energy (your own and the team’s) towards getting it back on track. The time for feedback and a debrief is later, when people are more calm and everyone (including yourself) is less likely to be defensive and aggressive.

3) What does it mean for your ideal management approach?

  • Take care of your own physical health and mental well-being. Take time out if you feel that you are getting to the edge. Avoid anger outbursts and mood swings in the office.
  • Make performance expectations clear through conversations with each individual you manage, and put them in writing.
  • Give corrective feedback in private. Simply point out the behaviour you need to start or stop, but avoid passing judgement.
  • Do all you can to gather honest feedback from your team. If no-one gives you feedback or honest feedback, you might have a problem. Make sure to schedule these feedback mechanisms on a regular basis to elude tensions building up in the office.
  • For more tips on being an approachable boss and shaping your management approach, take a look at our blog post, “how to get your people to focus on their work”

Dear Job Seekers and Talent,

We were overwhelmed by hearing what you go through at work. In reality, many of you need the salary, so you might choose to stay even if you are truly unhappy in your job and with your manager. We encourage you to take charge of your own experience and prevent yourself from getting stuck in the victim mind-set as it can affect your performance, CV, and even your mental health.

Here are a few considerations:

  • Leave when you have to. In the end, your mental and physical well-being are very important and matters more than your job.
  • Know your rights when it comes to salary, sexual harassment, leave, working hours etc. Read the Employment Act and attend forums where you can learn more from seasoned HR professionals and labour lawyers. All HR policies need to be in compliance with current labour laws. If there are no HR policies in your organization, then the labour laws will prevail.
  • Despite your frustrations, ensure you stay professional. Focus on bringing results and ensure that people besides your boss see your performance, attitude and skills (clients, colleagues, partners, suppliers etc.). Once you apply for new jobs, you will need recommendations, references, and a CV listing your results and achievements.
  • In the same line, getting a new job might take time. As you’re in this impossible job and you feel that you are not growing professionally, remember that no interviewer will be impressed by hearing that your boss undermined you and therefore you had no results in a whole year. Think through how else you can position your profile towards potential employers. For example, you can run projects and build achievements in the volunteering space, or you can enrol onto online courses to sharpen your skills.
  • How can you manage upwards and possibly turn around you and your boss’s relationship? Schedule meetings with your boss, report to him about your work and achievements, prepare and run the agenda if your manager won’t do it, clarify your role and what is expected of you. Take minutes of what was discussed and share this via email with your boss to ensure there is a track record of conversations. Communicate upwards if projects are delayed in advance to avoid an angry blow-up. We have a lot more tips on our blog post ‘Scared of approaching your boss, 5 tips to make communicating with your boss easier’ read it here.
  • Always remember, you have options, you are not trapped! Stay positive, surround yourself with people with a ‘can do’ attitude. Think creatively through your options, whether it’s employment, self-employment or free-lancing. Consider how you can manage your personal budget better in order to save up money. Sometimes an extended leave can help you see your options more clearly. Think about what’s best for you not just professionally but also for your mental well-being and happiness.

If you are currently in a bad boss situation at work and you’re thinking of leaving or switching careers entirely, sign up here for our Career Masters Program. This program will give you the skills and the confidence to take bolder steps towards your dreams in life.

We would love to hear your thoughts and opinions about these boss horror stories. If you’ve had an experience of your own with a bad boss, please share your story with us in the comments!

Handy methods to improve internal communication at the office

Handy methods to improve internal communication at the office


A well-functioning internal communication will improve your team’s performance, collaboration, and their productivity. The right mix of written and in-person conversations, of clear updates will reduce the likelihood of conflicts within the team, and as a manager it will save you valuable time. In this article, we will share with you our tried and tested internal communication tips to solve your team communication woes.


Give meetings meaning

  • Each meeting needs a uniquely crafted agenda. Clarify the purpose and expected outcomes before and again, when starting the meeting. For management meetings, clarify the expected outcome for each agenda point.
  • Keep meetings short. People are then more likely to pay attention and remember important points and issues raised. Get a team member to sum up the next steps at the end.
  • Use apps or trackers for giving updates and tracking tasks instead of meetings.
  • Host communication spaces such as Monday or mid-week check-ins, or monthly/ quarterly reviews to see how the team is doing. Use these as opportunities to discover what people are happy or unhappy about in the workplace, and what they need in order to perform better. A start-up we know hosts monthly sessions where people bring their happy and sad moments on post-its. The team then discusses together how to create more happy moments and digest the sad moments. It’s a great idea and works wonderfully for them.

Use tools to stay organized

  • Create a (google) calendar for all office events including team sessions, activities, meetings, birthdays etc. Let people block their leave on the same calendar.
  • Put up flipcharts and cool posters or print-outs on the walls as daily reminders of previous meeting notes, future or current projects and to communicate goals.
  • For tracking projects and work, use apps like Asana, or create (google) spreadsheets so that everybody is constantly updated on what has been implemented or not, the results, who’s doing it and so forth.

Avoid death by email

  • Emails are not designed for discussion. For topics that require discussion, use a communication app like Slack instead of emails. Besides saving people time sitting in front of their inbox (which few people like anyways), it has other advantages. In a big organisation, the people ‘higher up’ are more reachable to everyone at the office and the rest of the team will feel more involved as they can easily access these people. It’s also a great technique to get people to share their ideas. This space can give people who are more introverted an opportunity to have their ideas at the forefront.

Make time for reviewing and planning (in workshop format)

  • As management, you’re thinking of strategy, structures, approaches and procedures all the time. Your team is not. Everyone is busy DOING. So from time to time, reserve a day or two on the calendar to take a bird’s eye view together with the team. External facilitators, like us, can lead these workshops. Every 1-2 months is a good rhythm to revisit and review tactics, every 1-2 quarters is a good rhythm to review strategy.

Help people help each other

  • Does the team know who to go to for help with graphics, spreadsheet hacks, and film editing just to name a few? Create a space where people can list their skills, knowledge, and competencies either in the form of an online folder or a ‘team skills collage’ poster. This encourages team collaboration where no one suffers in silence, as it’s easier to reach out to the team for help. Within this set-up, people’s strengths and passions will shine and be recognised at work.

Work on team spirit

  • Plan out-of-office events such as team buildings and hang-outs. These events will foster relationships, create a feeling of unity and can improve communication within the team. Make sure these activities are really outside of the office, to create a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere for team members. Fun events will give people something to look forward to which increases engagement. Think about your own role at those events too. It’s a time for people to get to know each other, so don’t do most of the talking!

Be open and accessible to your team

  • If you are approachable to your team members, they will in turn be more open to you. Have an open door policy, host ‘Ask Me Anything Hours’, or reserve slots on the calendar where the team can just reach out to you when they need you. If you are a caring and available manager, your team will be encouraged to share their issues with you and they are more comfortable to present their solutions to you as well.

If you have any internal communication tips that you feel we’ve missed, please share your comments with us!

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How to Retain Talent in a Start-up

How to Retain Talent in a Start-up

Retaining talent is of utmost importance to your organization’s growth. After you have invested in hiring and developing your people, you want them to stay and help your start-up take off!

Perhaps you can’t offer a great salary package, health insurance, pension, a company car etc. so what value will they derive so that they stay in your organization? Other than work experience and a salary, what can you offer your employees? What can you offer them that the big players can’t or don’t?

If retaining talent in your organisation is a serious problem, it is imperative to be open to change. Figure out why your employees are leaving, and discern what it is you need to change or implement in order to keep them. After all, why should you replace great talent when you can easily retain them instead? Here are our tips to help you attract and retain talent.


Value your team

  • Treat them well. Show them that you actually care about them. Ask them what would make their time there better, what do they need? How do they like to work? If it’s something you’re able to offer, then offer it! They will feel valued and trusted.
  • Empathise with your team. Working in start-ups generally comes with a lot of pressure and work-load. Have a good support system for your team to make sure they are not over-burdened and stressed. Care about the state of their mental health and general well-being. If they are taking on a lot of pressure and stress caused by work and there’s nothing or little you’re doing to support them, they can’t perform, and might eventually leave.
  • Are you recognising what your people contribute to your organisation? You should. Give your team a morale boost if they did a great job on a project, emphasise what an amazing job they did, what benefit it brought to the company and how it made you feel. Give credit where it’s due, show them they are a real asset to your organisation and they will, in turn, respond to you by staying and continuing their great work. And, if employees do overtime regularly, reward them with a day off.
  • Do ‘stay interviews’ in addition to ‘exit interviews’. If your people decide to leave, make time for a genuine exit interview and find out why by asking them if they had any expectations that weren’t met by the organisation. Is there anything you can do to change this? Otherwise, new hires will follow suit for the same reasons, and this adverse cycle will injure your employer brand. But you shouldn’t wait for someone to leave to find out how your company can improve. Talk to your best people and have regular conversations to find out any issues you are not aware of.

Avoid micro-managing and start trusting your people businessman-3036181_1920

  • This is crucial when you have a small office as start-ups often do: it’s easy for you to look over everyone’s shoulder. If you micro-manage your team, they will not only feel agitated, but they will believe that you don’t trust their capabilities, and nobody likes being seen as incompetent. Having autonomy and choices are a crucial psychological conditions for people to perform and stay. Trust that you hired the best talent (which you did!) and that they can handle it on their own, and you’re there for them should they need your help. This will also give you the chance to be more creative with your own time where you can find ways to innovate your company, for example, as you now have more time to do so.

Create opportunities which nurture their passions and strengths

  • Creating opportunities for growth will develop your team’s skills and fuel their passions. For example, if you notice an employee taking time to get to know new interns and hires and exhibits coaching skills and leadership skills, utilise this talent by creating this as a new role for them. By doing this, you are recognising their talent and elevating their position within the company. Your employee may not get this opportunity (as fast) in a larger organisation.
  • Take them along to events, meetings, and other learning opportunities which will allow them to grow and integrate more within the company.

Make work a fun place to be

  • Get to know your team personally and build bonds to strengthen relationships with them by incorporating activities such as team building and out-of-office hangouts. You can discover new things about them you didn’t know before. Creating a fun work culture disrupts the rigidity and monotony of everyday tasks as it gives people something exciting and different to look forward to. These fun activities will correspondingly boost your team’s creativity which is vital in a start-up.

Untraditional working structure

  • Be mindful about what enables people’s performance rather than creating traditional office behaviours that do not boost productivity or creativity. Have flexible work hours, remove unnecessary ‘corporate policies’ such as dress codes (within the limits of the work you do). Casual dressing inspires creativity and recognises individuality. Read more about the science of creating productive workplaces
  • Create an office ambience that enhances people’s moods. Have plants and flowers in the office which according to Psychology Today, reduces stress, promotes productivity and raises job satisfaction! Read more about this here
  • Remote working spaces is a huge perk for people if your business is located within a large city with terrible traffic, like Nairobi, Mombasa, Kampala, Dar er Salaam etc. With no commuting hours, people can be more productive with those valuable hours instead of wasting their time in traffic. For a lot of Kenyans, a company’s proximity to their home is very important to them in choosing where they want to work. According to ConnectSolution’s Remote Collaborative Worker Survey, “77 percent of respondents reported greater productivity while working offsite”. If you want to attract resourceful employees be ready for them to value geographical flexibility.

Create a safety net and get your finger off the trigger rawpixel-658262-unsplash

  • If you fire people often and seemingly at random, people will think you don’t follow HR procedure, and it will also make you come across as unpredictable. Out of their concerns over job security, your people will start looking for a plan b. Clarify procedures in writing and follow them at all times.
  • Allow your team to grow and make a few mistakes. Mistakes do happen as after all, ‘mistakes are proof that you are trying’. Show your team there is a safety net for these times and they will not work in fear of being fired. They will be more forthcoming to you with their ideas and their ineptitude in certain tasks when they are not in fear of being fired. This will create an open and honest working relationship between you as a manager and your employee. To learn more about how to get rid of fear in the office, read our blog here

Get in touch with us, we would love to know about your experiences in applying these tips in your company! Contact us to find out how our innovative tools and approaches can boost your organization’s human capital.

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