Companies usually wind up on the Inc. 5000 by being really good at what they do, and by managing extraordinarily fast revenue growth for a period of at least three years.
Try doing both of those things for nearly a decade. Because that's how long recruiting and staffing firm LaSalle Network, of Chicago, has managed red-hot growth. Now in its ninth consecutive year on the Inc. 5000 list, the Chicago-based company has also notched numerous accolades in the local business press for being one of Chicago's best places to work.
It does that by building a tight-knit culture that feels more like family than work, and by emphasizing a sense of humor and humbleness, says chief executive Tom Gimbel, who founded the company in 1998. LaSalle has 150 employees today, and expects to do more than $50 million in revenue for 2015. In 2014, alone, the company generated $40.8 million in revenue.
"It is essential here to be able to laugh at yourself," says Gimbel. "Everyone who works here knows they are a goof."
Gimbel has also benefited from his two decades of placing employees in other companies to know how to build a good one himself. The chief obstacle that most smaller businesses confront when attempting to build a cohesive workforce is that they focus almost exclusively on sales and revenue metrics, rather than on building a supportive culture that can sustain and foster continuous growth.
Here are three things Gimbel suggests as you do as you build your own company.
1. Don't separate executives from non-executive staff.
Most employees benefit from knowing that everyone is working on common goals, and they can also learn a huge amount by having access to experienced mentors, Gimbel says, adding that about three quarters of the time, he's out on the floor working with staff. Other C-level executives get out and mix too. His chief human resources officer, Sirmara Campbell Twohill, also spends about half her time on the floor. She compiles progress reports primarily by talking to employees, not by examining metrics and end-of-year evaluations.
2. Keep it real.
Really get to know your employees. That includes having lunch with them, remembering birthdays and anniversaries and acknowledging other important events in an employee's life, such as births and funerals. "You do the same things with your employees that you do with friends and family to show that you care about them," says Gimbel.
3. Keep it fun.
Every year on the founding date of the company, which is August 17, the company has a blow-out party. Employees are expected to contribute. This year, in an attempt to cut across silos, employees were assigned to 16 groups, based on tenure, and asked to make humorous videos for the celebration, which also included live comedy at comedy club Second City.
While some of this may sound a tad corny, it has meant a lot to Anne Gennett, a senior project manager at LaSalle. In her prior job, which she describes as a sales position, she says everything was driven by making her monthly sales numbers.
"If you didn't meet your metrics, your head was on the chopping block," Gennett says, adding that that created an unpleasant environment. While LaSalle also cares about meeting company goals and its own metrics, she says the organization works as a team first.
And that also fosters professional development and growth, she says.
"If you make a mistake or something goes wrong, management and the leadership team is there to help solve problems," she says. "Management is not the enemy, they are a resource and an ally."