Feedback, flexibility, education and more give Intertech, a training and consulting firm in Eagan, a competitive edge in attracting good workers.
Bad managers helped drive Tom Salonek to launch Intertech and make what is now one of the state’s largest combined software-developer training and consulting firms a place where people like to work and want to stay.
In one case, a manager at the big firm where Salonek had worked presented his solution to a technical glitch in a meeting with higher-ups without crediting Salonek. Then management shot down his inquiry about using the firm’s tuition reimbursement program for his evening MBA studies, telling him, “Basically, we don’t see you going down a management track.”
Salonek soon left to start Intertech in 1991. The company — projected to reach $15 million in revenue this year — has gone on to win more than 45 awards for growth, innovation and workplace best practices, including placing first in this year’s Star Tribune Top Workplaces survey among firms in the small-company category.
“It’s creating an environment where people are held up if they have a good idea and recognized for it; where we don’t feel that for me to get ahead, I have to hold you back, and that’s very supportive of educating and growing people,” Salonek said of the culture at Intertech, which also finished in the top 10 in its category in last year’s Top Workplace evaluation.
A positive workplace gives Intertech a competitive edge in attracting and retaining good employees, Salonek said. Elements contributing to that include:
Communication. On their first day at Intertech, employees receive communication guidelines that set ground rules for internal and external interactions.
When an employee has an issue with another employee, for example, he or she is to speak to that party directly, Salonek said. Similarly, if someone brings a problem to a manager, he or she needs to offer potential solutions.
Feedback. At a town-hall meeting each fall, employees discuss strengths the company could leverage and weak areas to improve or discard, with that input going anonymously to leadership, Salonek said. A new time entry system for consultants is a recent result of the meeting.
Transparency. Monthly webinars update employees on sales, revenue and other financial information, and quarterly headquarters meetings offer more detail. Newsletters highlight company developments and employee achievements while reinforcing core values of attitude, commitment and excellence.
Flexibility. The company instituted a work-from-home policy after recognizing that more than 40 percent of its consulting revenue came from clients who didn’t require consultants to work on site. New employees get a $1,500 bonus to outfit a home office. A paid sabbatical program gives employees three months off for every seven years of service.
Education. Every employee, including Salonek, has a yearly learning objective. “Our goal is that if we did zero hires over the course of the year, as a company we should be stronger because we’ve invested in education,” he said.
Stringent hiring practices. Only one of every 20 applicants gets hired. “We’re really selective about who we bring in, and after that, we focus on getting great work because for us to have great people we need to have great work,” Salonek said.
“Strategically, we’ve tried to go to places where especially large companies couldn’t match us,” he said. “We’ve tried to do things that give people flexibility and work-life balance and are things that are hard for larger organizations to match.”
Jim Welby, managing director of Insight Technology Unit, a St. Paul software development company owned by nine Midwestern farm credit organizations, said he’s a fan of Intertech and its “competent, confident yet humble” consultants. Welby praised Intertech’s training services for helping to “teach us to fish rather than just supply us with fish.”
“I can tell they do go to a lot of effort when they recruit new staff,” Welby said. “They make sure those staff members are the right fit for their organization and the client’s organization. It’s more than a paycheck because these are highly qualified people who could get a paycheck anywhere.”
The expert says: Mike Harvath, CEO and president of Revenue Rocket Consulting Group, a Bloomington firm that consults with tech companies, said the best companies in software development, training and consulting — with the best growth and profitability — are those like Intertech that have great cultures.
“The companies’ ‘products’ leave the office and go home every day,” he said. “A firm that does not take care of its people and does not create an environment where they can grow both personally and professionally tends to have above average employee turnover, client satisfaction issues, and, ultimately, the productivity of the entire organization is affected. The game is won or lost based on your ability to attract, retain and grow talent.”