Building a “Best Place to Work”

By Tom Salonek, an EO Minnesota member and CEO of Intertech

An engaged approach to human resources makes all the difference to your bottom line and work environment. As the founder and CEO of Intertech, a software development and training firm—and 10-time winner of The Business Journal’s “Best Places to Work” award—I know a thing or two about creating and sustaining a high-performance culture. Here are a few of the strategies we’ve adopted to cultivate a work environment that’s built to thrive:

Hire with Meticulous Care
Creating a “best place to work” company culture begins with hiring. We require all serious job candidates to take the extensive TriMetrix Assessments. Although the tests cost us US$500 per candidate, the results give us a much clearer picture of how the prospective employee thinks, makes decisions and approaches work challenges. Most importantly, it helps us understand whether a candidate’s personality will fit with our collaborative approach. It’s no surprise that one of our biggest challenges is hiring, because we bring on only one in 20 candidates.

Empower Your People at All Costs
In my experience, traditional micromanagement methods treat employees as immature children and kill creativity. If issues arise in the company, I make it a point to empower those closest to the problem to resolve it within given parameters. For example, if the infrastructure to support our remote salespeople is a problem, I’ll tell the relevant people to make the changes they think are appropriate. If it costs, say, less than US$5,000, they can handle it directly. We also implement a flexible work-from-home policy and sabbaticals. And employees get a “FedEx” day every year— 24 hours to work on whatever they choose, with whomever they choose. The result of this organic collaboration has been a new website, formalized cross-selling between our two divisions and improvements in our hiring process.

Create a Sense of Ownership
Creating ownership among the ranks requires execution, not just empty talk. We do it by offering benefits like equity participation, bonuses tied to performance, paid overtime and annual dividend payments on equity shares (even though we are a privately held company). Also, senior employees get options on phantom stock. These benefits allow everyone to share in the rewards when we do well. It also means that everyone—including the management team—has a personal stake in the success of the company, especially me. Everyone at my firm knows that I take a commensurate compensation hit if Intertech fails to meet its annual targets, as 40% of my compensation is based on pre-tax net profit. If we have a great year, the firm can afford to pay me more. If we have tougher years, like the last recession, my pay is dramatically less. This transparency helps drive ownership company wide.

Tell the Truth about Performance
When it comes to crafting a remarkable workplace, you can’t be shy about your performance. We share our financial information with our staff every month, and host an annual “town hall” where employees tell us what they need to excel in their roles. To encourage candor, these sessions are held without any senior managers present. Many employee-generated ideas from these town halls have been incorporated over the years, including a mobile website version of our time-entry system to allow consultants to enter time on their phones. When we can’t use the recommendations offered, we make it a point of letting our employees know why. And instead of performance reviews, which I think are focused on the unchangeable past, and therefore, a waste of time, each employee has three to five forward-looking goals with clear, measureable performance standards.

In the 23 years Intertech has been in business, we’ve received more than a dozen awards for being a great place to work. Our continued growth and success is only possible because of an open work environment, culture of engagement and employees who care deeply about how the company performs. I can count on one hand the number of employees who left us feeling disgruntled or thinking that they could find a better job elsewhere. Beyond all of the awards, that’s what makes me the proudest.

Categories: Best Practices Company Culture members


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