This year we canvassed the Inc. 500 for smart ideas on managing fin-de-siÈcle growth. Not surprisingly, all we heard about was employees--finding them and keeping them. So we're devoting this entire section to the subjects of recruiting and retaining the staff you need to grow. --The editors

Avoid the Stuff That Sucks

One day in 1994, Harry Griendling noticed that his little consulting venture had grown to five employees and a quarter million in sales. But Staffing Solutions Group still had no salary guidelines, no offices, no dress code, and no vacation policy. It was time to get serious about forming a real company, he decided.

But not too serious.

"We wanted to create the kind of workplace we could never find for ourselves," Griendling says. "We figured the best way to do that was to make a list of everything stupid we'd seen at other companies." He called together his team of recruiting consultants, who worked from home helping corporate clients find employees. They sat around a table in a rented hotel conference room, gleefully dredging up all the idiotic practices that had irked them in previous jobs. Griendling wrote them down on a giant sheet of paper, boldly labeled at the top "Things That Suck." It was a list of practices that the group swore never to follow.

Using the list as a "don't go there" guideline, Staffing Solutions formed a company that, for Griendling and his workforce, doesn't suck. Employees wear what they want, work when and where they want, vacation when they want, and pay themselves what they want. In return, the employees, who recruit workers for client companies, have grown billings enough to land Staffing Solutions in the #251 spot on this year's Inc. 500 list, making sales shoot from $255,000 to more than $3 million in five years.

A company filled with employees who work when and how they want sounds suspiciously like a company full of entrepreneurs, the kind of people who are notoriously difficult to manage. Which is why Griendling lets them manage themselves. And so far it seems to be working. In the past two years, only one employee---one who had a family crisis---has left the company.

The first big thing that sucks, according to Griendling, is hiding the numbers. "Say I go to my boss and ask for some financial information, and he tells me it's on a need-to-know basis. That's like entering a marriage and not knowing things about your spouse," he says. Staffing Solutions holds quarterly meetings to explain the company's financials, which are available at any time to employees who ask, says Griendling. "They need the tools to do their jobs," he says.

And another thing--those sexy sales junkets. "In big companies the sales guys get to go somewhere every year," Griendling remembers. "I was so annoyed that I was building their product and nobody took me to Hawaii." At Staffing Solutions, all employees and spouses attend yearly training seminars at splashy locations like Key West and South Beach, Fla., and Snowbird, Utah.

But what really gets Griendling's goat is employee reviews. "They're demeaning. Who likes to be reviewed by another person, being told their opinion of your strengths and weaknesses? Well, in my opinion, your opinion doesn't count, especially if I think you're stupid." After Griendling and his employees dissed traditional evaluation and compensation methods at the original Things That Suck meeting, they began to build an ingenious model that puts the onus on employees to evaluate themselves. And it all begins, alarmingly, with employee-set salaries.