High Hopes

The Hiring Line

According to the PricewaterhouseCoopers study, 84 percent of small high-tech firms plan to add more workers by midyear. Small tech firms desperately need more workers if they want to achieve their lofty revenue goals. Consequently, the majority are laying out the welcome mat for new employees.

Yet finding and retaining qualified employees remains a tall order for tech companies of all sizes. Competition for talented techies is verging on the cutthroat in a job market that remains startlingly constricted.

Experts say offering flexible work environments, generous stock options and an anything-goes dress code isn't enough anymore. One of the best ways to attract and keep talented technical personnel is to embark on new, innovative projects. "These are people who need a challenge," Alter says. "They put their heart and soul into their work--and need to have excitement."

Linda Yates, CEO of Menlo Park, California-based Strategos Inc., an innovation strategy firm that specializes in collaborative learning software, is providing just that. "We wanted to become the antidote to Dilbert," laughs Yates, 35. "So many people are disconnected from work, yet they spend so much time there. We wanted to find a way to get people really excited [about their work]."

A key part of Strategos' philosophy is creating opportunities for innovation within the company, which now has 30 employees. "Companies are losing out on opportunities by not providing their employees with what they need [to be innovative] inside the office," Yates explains. "There's no law that says companies can't build inside if they create a space for people to do that. That way, [employees] don't need to create spin-off companies."

It's not surprising that Strategos is taking a creative approach to building employee loyalty. In fact, innovation is what the firm is all about. So far, three businesses have been created under the company's umbrella: Strategos, an innovation consulting company; Strategos Institute, a think tank for innovation ideas; and Strategos Innovation Environment, a software company that creates Web, video and CD-ROM tools for collaborative innovation. Employees are given responsibilities in all three businesses to keep their interest level high, and many have been influential in developing these companies from the ground up. "We give employees more free rein," says Yates. "We don't micromanage people. They get to be innovative."

At Strategos, all 14 high-level directors earn, in addition to their salary, a yearly bonus divvied up according to how members' contributions to the firm are rated by their peers.

Another sign Strategos doesn't follow the crowd: Employees are actually encouraged to take time off. Many members take long trips, sabbaticals and mental-health breaks, with the assurance their jobs will be there when they get back.

"Our belief is that [travel] actually makes people better participants in the company," Yates says. "They get the opportunity to pursue those interests that are good for their personal development."

This laissez-faire attitude has paid off. Since its inception in February 1995, Strategos has grown from a
$7 million to a $15 million company.

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This article was originally published in the March 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: High Hopes.

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