If I Were a Butterfly

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Editor’s Note: This post is less about Daxko and more about a team member and something they do that they hold near and dear to their heart. It’s important to see our team members outside of work and learn about their passions, motivations, and how they give back. So… read on!

When I’m not busy being a Project Manager at Daxko, I find myself drawn to a lot of different things, many of which can be attributed to my parents. I’ve been playing video games since I was a kid, when my parents purchased the original Nintendo Entertainment System. They bought it for themselves, but I quickly latched on and before long, I was stomping on goombas and destroying the robot masters with the best of them. They thought (perhaps hoped) I’d grow out of that…but they were very wrong. On a daily basis, I’ll find myself digging too deep into a dark cavern or attempting to talk myself out of a zombie apocalypse. Somehow, I always manage to come out unscathed.

What I am most thankful my parents passed along to me (even more than Zelda) is something called Special Session. This week of summer camp takes place at wonderful, wonderful Camp McDowell (located near Nauvoo, AL, which is somehow smaller than it sounds). This year was Special Session’s 20th year, and I am very proud to say I’ve been involved from the very beginning: I started as a staff brat, being my parents’ tagalong before graduating to driving golf carts, then to being a counselor, and finally joining the ranks of adult staff. We had two separate weeks of camp this year, our first-ever time splitting it, and by all accounts it was an incredible success.

Special Session is an intentionally regular week of summer camp, complete with pool time, arts and crafts and pie-in-the-face bingo, with one small exception: the campers are mentally and physically handicapped. I choose the word small here with purpose: everyone has disabilities, and while some people’s disabilities and special needs are more obvious than others, this does not stop us from having a good time. We celebrate our differences and are thankful that we are exactly who we are, how we are.

There is a theme that we roughly adhere to (this year being Willy Wonka and his World of Pure Imagination), but usually we offer the same activities every year. Above, you can see my friend Shea riding on a horse and absolutely loving it. He rides on a horse every year and beams with that happiness every time. Below, Dennis has his whistle ready to go in case someone needs saving at the pool (while the real lifeguard sits to the right).

Both Shea and Dennis have been coming for years and are some of my oldest friends. They’ve seen me grow up and have helped form the person I am today. They’re old pros at Special Session, so when we have a counselor (who are normally in the mid-teens to early twenties) who might be nervous about how the week will go, we let Shea or Dennis, among others, hang out with them for the week. The campers don’t need any help, but the counselor might: we know these two will take good care of them.

Another highlight of the week is the Talent Show. What happens on that Special Session stage is magical and is tough to explain in words. We have all kinds of talent showcased, from singing and dancing to extreme smiling and coat hanger twirling. Dennis will often grace us with his harmonica playing, and we get to see Michael Jackson’s songs come to life. We’ve had Pokémon battles, we’ve had arm wrestling competitions, we’ve had a guy tell us all about his cats at length: we’ve had everything.

And the crowd goes wild for it. On Talent Show night, every single person is a star on that stage. You can feel the energy as Geoff walks on stage to tell us on exactly what day of the week any random person was born, or the rapt attention as Jurdy reads us a poem she wrote. Breath is held as we wait to see which of the four contestants will be this year’s most extreme sitter or if Jeremy is going to be able to make his bed in that perfect way that he does. If there was more excitement in the room, the air would crackle with electricity.

The other heavy hitter of the week is the dance, which is the final night. This year, as our normal musical talent was unfortunately ill, I was volunteered as someone who might be able to DJ. What if I mess it up? What happens if I play the wrong song or someone doesn’t like my tunes?  I’d never done this before and was nervous: I’ve come to Special Session for twenty years and the dance is the single most impactful moment of the whole thing.

The first image in this post is of that night, right as a conga line is breaking out as I play one of the Soul Train themes; you can see me to the right finding the next song. My fear evaporated as Dennis, Shea, Moose, Philip and this large cast of characters I’ve come to know danced and cheered with each new song; as I should have expected, they took good care of me. It is at the dance where the underlying message of the week is most apparent: it is more trouble than it is worth to discern who is a camper and who is a counselor. We are all loved, we are all special and we are all incredible.

It’s hard to stop talking about Special Session. It’s a bittersweet feeling knowing that I’ll see all these people again in a year, knowing that I must wait a year. Life returns to normal and the most we can do is hope we hold on to the special parts of the week. You would think I would have a lot of practice but it is still sad to see my favorite week of the year, every year, pass by once again.

There’s always next year though!

A very special thank you to the incredibly talented Allison Kendrick, who took the photos. Check out her other work on her website: http://www.allisonkendrick.com/.


McKee S. is a Project Manager who loves playing video games and kickin’ around a hacky sack.

May 2017: Be a Brand Ambassador Through Social Recruiting

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On May 3rd, our lovely Talent Marketing Manager (and editor of the Culture Blog that you’re reading right now!) Janna Stevens-Bradt led a Daxko TMD encouraging us even in its title to ‘Be a Brand Ambassador Through Social Recruiting.’ Self-styled as our ‘Daxko’s chief story-teller,’ Janna is the marketing extension of our People team, ensuring that we are recruiting as many good hires as we can.

In an earlier TMD, the idea that we should want to impress our interviewees as much as they want to impress us was proven to be beneficial for all parties on both a personal and professional level. This plays into how recruiting has changed, as well: we live in an increasingly globalized world and economy. Top talent is no longer wooed by local companies, but nationally and sometimes even internationally as well. In a job market where nets are being cast so far and so wide, companies must go out and search for the best and the brightest. Utilizing social media, be it LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or whatever platform you prefer, it is possible to reach a much wider range of applicants. For example, Glassdoor is now our top source of influence for candidates. Since January of this year, we have had a 214% increase in views on our Glassdoor page.

As an example, Janna asked us to raise our hands if, when applying for Daxko, we had sought out the company on social media. As expected, the grand majority of hands were put in the air to indicate that most of those present had done so. Having an engaging and inviting social media presence is a good way of showing Daxko culture to potential teammates.

Now that Janna had proven how integral recruiting through social media is to a company’s hiring process, she had some guidelines on what to share and what not to share. Sharing career opportunities or photos and videos of neat Daxko gatherings is of course recommended! As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words and in this case, some find it easier to tout a company’s strengths with a picture as opposed to written word. However, many of us aren’t so great at taking pictures… which is why I choose to write for the Culture Blog! Be it submitting a post or simply an idea, we’re encouraged to contribute to the Culture Blog in any way we can. After Glassdoor, it is the second highest source of influence for our candidates.

Janna concluded with how we should put our best selves forward: be professional, be fun and be responsive. Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date and, really, if you’re already active on social media, just keep doing what you’re doing. Tagging Daxko and throwing out that shout-out, showing that you’re excited about your job and the company, will continue to cast the net of social recruitment far and wide.

April 2017 TMD: From Where I Sit – A Candidate’s Point of View

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April started off with a perspective that everyone at Daxko has seen at least once, but few of us consider as much as we should: the view from the other side of the hiring table. When someone is going through the interview process, what do they think of Daxko and how we conduct ourselves?

Talent Acquisition Specialist Beth Wolfe led a TMD entitled ‘From Where I Sit – A Candidate’s Point of View’ which went into detail about how we present ourselves and how our candidates like us. Beth started off by asking the unspoken but perhaps subconsciously thought about question: so what? Aren’t they trying to impress us? Why do we care how we come across in the interview process?

Well, of course they’re trying to impress us. As everyone surely remembers, interviewing is a scary process that makes even the calmest and collected persons anxious. Alleviating any trepidation an interviewee has is of course a high priority, which is one big reason we want to ensure our candidate experience is top-notch. Another big reason is like the customer loyalty post from recent memory: when someone goes to talk about Daxko online, be it through Glassdoor or Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, we want the review they leave to be a positive one. Not unlike purchasing a product on Amazon, reviews of a company’s interview process are important in providing the applicant an idea of what they’re getting into. Especially now more than ever, these online reviews are incredibly important, as we’ve seen a 444% over the past calendar year compared to the previous year.

How do we measure how our candidate’s experience goes? Well, again hearkening back to the customer loyalty TMD, we utilize NPS. Essentially, on a zero through ten scale, how likely is the candidate to recommend applying for a job at Daxko? We break this out across three different parts of the application process: the actual application itself, the interview and then the onboarding. Let’s look at the average score given at each part of the process:

  • Application – 8.8
  • Interview – 8.0
  • Onboarding – 9.5

Not too shabby! While anything above a 7 and below a 9 is considered ‘passive,’ we’re very close to breaking through to a score indicating ‘promoter’ on two of the three fronts.

This put us at the question to be answered: what can I do as a Daxko team member to make a candidate’s experience better? Beth told us about how when she was interviewing here, during her tour of the office, she was greeted by two Daxko veterans who introduced themselves and made her feel more at home with the company. She said that the peer interview is a great time to show our Daxko values and strengths to candidates, as well as a great time to be positive, to reassure any anxiety the interviewee might have. Transparency is important: tell the interviewee what the job is, as well as what it isn’t.

While I would consider myself personable, I was certainly bettered by having attended the TMD if for no other reason than I’d not thought much about how the candidate feels…well, since I was a candidate here. It makes absolute sense that we should be polite and cordial to an applicant, but going above and beyond to provide the best experience we can for a candidate, whether hired or not, will ensure that Daxko is well staffed for many years to come.

March 2017 TMD: Own it Like Oprah

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For March’s TMD, many teammates and I congregated in the Garage to learn how to Own It Like Oprah, courtesy of our VP of People, Dawn Burke. This TMD, promising tips to be an outstanding presenter, certainly did not disappoint, as I left the session with ideas to ponder and practices to perfect (at best; at worst, I had to break some old habits).

Dawn got right to the heart of things by asking the group how, on a day to day basis, we present materials. Her point, of course, was that everyone presents all the time, be it in Sales or onsite training a customer, or anything in between. This light conversation got the crowd engaged and feeling comfortable, which she later pointed out is a good technique to presenting well.

She then asked if there was anyone who had not heard of Oprah, to which the room was unsurprisingly silent. Be it for her magazine, her talk show, her book club, or her philanthropy, I would wager there are not many people who do not know Oprah. Her interviewing skills were the things we spoke about the most, how she has a way of making the interviewee feel as if they are the only person in the room as she asks questions, listens well and then asks follow-up questions. Her charisma and body language paint her as authentic, which makes her engaging.

This authenticity aspect was my big takeaway from the discussion: because Oprah is authentic, when she praises something, her viewers will see it as an honest and earnest recommendation and try it. Good examples include her Book Club and how those books rose to become best-sellers after Oprah’s recommendations. This authenticity led to a connection, and as Dawn put it, ‘the more you connect, the more you’re heard.’

Another excellent quote from Dawn, the one which she described as the biggest focal point of her presentation: ‘the reason you present is so people hear your message.’ Combined with the ‘authenticity’ piece above, it makes sense then that to successfully communicate your message to an audience, it is best to engage them well. Which leads us to Dawn’s 13 Tips on Talking (a name I just made up, but you’re welcome to it for a small fee, Dawn):

  1. It’s all about engagement. Dawn suggests immediately engaging the audience by captivating them with a story or some other form of ‘hook’ to immediately grab their attention. Anything that makes the audience want more will do, be it ‘Call me Ishmael’ or the opening riff on the guitar in the Rolling Stones’ song ‘Satisfaction.’
  1. Start strong. Similar to the above, generally speaking the first and last five minutes of any presentation are the ones that will stick with the audience. Hit the ground running and finish strong! A big point (for me, at least) that Dawn made here is that starting with an apology is seldom the best move.
  1. Slow down. Remember to breathe. Another important idea is to view the presentation as a conversation, which will make it feel more natural and, importantly, ease the feeling of wanting to sprint through the prepared material.
  1. Be aware of verbal garbage. The ‘empty calories of conversation,’ filler words should be avoided. Uh, um, like, y’know, ah…these are verbal ticks best avoided though, as Dawn points out, filling silence in this way is not as big a deal as many often make it out to be. Avoid using these when possible, but do not lose sleep over an errant ‘um.’
  1. Make eye contact. Making eye contact builds trust, though maintaining eye contact too long or in a manner that might be seen as inauthentic does more harm than good. Singling out one person and holding eye contact for too long makes all parties uncomfortable and scanning from side to side looks robotic. Move from person to person, do not linger too long.
  1. Know your audience. Without knowing your audience, you will have trouble connecting with them; without a connection, your communication will be hindered. Dawn revealed her questions in the earlier parts of the TMD were building rapport and a connection with the audience.
  1. Make Shakespeare proud. More for in person, but presentations, like Shakespearian plays, are better seen and not read, better as plays and not novels. Body language is crucial. Stand like an actor. Body language, though subconsciously, is more telling than speech.
  1. Hand-le with care. Continuing on that, your hands are the biggest tells your body has as to how you’re feeling. Are your hands in your pocket? That might come across as boredom. Are they across your chest? You now seem standoffish. Dawn recommends keeping them at your side or, if that induces too much discomfort, lightly linking your fingers together in front of your stomach.
  1. Don’t turn your back on the audience. Instead, use what she called the ‘actors’ cheat,’ which is when two actors are having a conversation and somewhat ‘open up’ to the audience, so that they’re included in the conversation. Turning your back to the audience is insulting at worst and, at best, it makes the presentation significantly harder to hear.
  1. Work the tools. Don’t let the tools work you. Have your technology together, have your files together, and know how everything works with one another.
  1. Have a Plan B. That being said, technology can and will fail, so it’s best to be prepared. There is no shame in taking a small break to resolve any issues that have sprung up before a presentation.
  1. Practice. A quote Dawn used here that I enjoyed: ‘make talking to yourself an art form.’ However, over practicing can lead to a rehearsed feeling, which is something we want to avoid entirely. Practice to the level of your own comfort and be comfortable in your material.
  1. Be yourself. You knew it was coming, but the last tip is to be authentic. Again, without a connection between the presenter and the audience, communication will be hampered. Be yourself, be authentic. Enough said.

As we were leaving, though, Dawn had one more piece of wisdom that seems to be the case regardless of any of the rules above: content trumps everything. Of course, the tips above are the stars for which we all shoot, but if your presentation is on a topic that is of immense interest to the audience, all the ‘ahs’ and ‘ums’ of the world will not be able to detract from your presentation.