01/23/2015 12:40 pm ET Updated Mar 25, 2015

3 Key Business Lessons I Learned in 2014

The start of a year affords us all the opportunity to reflect back on the good and bad times of the previous 365 days. What were your highs and lows? What lessons did you learn professionally? For me, 2014 was a year of re-evaluating how all of us at Nextiva communicate with one another, how we hire and how we maintain (and improve) the atmosphere in which our growing team of 300+ staffers work.

In no particular order, here are my three key takeaways.

Lesson #1: Free snacks do not make a company culture.
Don't get me wrong--free food is a bonus. Who doesn't appreciate the occasional complimentary lunch or Clif Bar? But what I learned this year is that just because a company offers free snacks doesn't mean employees are happy deep down. We changed our snack policy this year and are testing another culture-building strategy: to hone in on what our employees truly want in their careers.

After nixing the snack perk (we do still offer food from time to time; it's just no longer a daily thing), we created a team focused on improving the internal culture of the company. We scheduled one-on-one meetings with a number of employees and asked them to be frank with us about what they liked about working at Nextiva, what they wanted to see improve and where they saw their careers headed.

The responses were highly enlightening to our management team and we've since implemented new communications and training procedures. Bonus: we are getting much higher internal satisfaction ratings.

Lesson #2: Hiring for attitude is paramount.
There was a time when I was more impressed with a candidate's resume than his or her attitude. That time has passed. Over the years I've learned that skills can be taught, but attitude is inherent and it affects everyone on a team. If one person shows up to work with a negative attitude, it brings everyone down.

Case and point is an analogy I heard recently: Lets say you have a cup of water. It is clear and fresh. But then you put in one drop of ink. Although tiny compared with the amount of water in the cup, that ink spreads quickly and the water becomes contaminated.

It is the same with staff teams. One person can spoil it for the rest. Because of this lesson, we are increasingly selective when hiring and take our time to look at attitude first.

Lesson #3: Create a solid pre-hiring strategy.
Have you ever thought about the sources in which your best applicants originate? Up until last year, we, like many companies, spent a good deal of time tracking the ROI and communication strategies of our marketing and sales departments (we still do that, of course), but didn't give the same level of attention to hiring. That changed drastically in 2014.

Today we track which lead sources bring us the best candidates (be it LinkedIn, internal recruiters, other job boards) and are dedicating more resources to the sources that bring in the candidates that fit our culture.

In addition, we are paying closer attention to the hiring experience for each applicant--how we keep in touch, how we communicate with a candidate if he or she is a good fit of or a bad fit for the company, etc. This dedication has helped improve our internal culture (by choosing the appropriate candidates right off the bat) and, thanks to word-of-mouth and increasingly positive online employee reviews, we are now attracting more of the right kind of employees to join our growing team.

What business lessons did you learn in 2014?