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

Clean My House, and I'm Yours Forever

During Mike Holdcroft's first week at Quick Solutions (#323), in 1997, the newly appointed senior consulting-services manager discovered just how much the company wanted him and his wife, Pam, to feel good about the job change he had just made. A lavish gift basket filled with pasta, wine, and other gourmet goodies arrived at their home in Columbus, Ohio, welcoming them both. "I'm into first impressions," says Gary Quick, founder and CEO of the IT consulting firm.

Quick tries to set his company apart from others from the start by pampering both employees and their spouses. And Pam Holdcroft, for one, immediately took notice. "The basket was a really nice welcome," she says. "I worked at an insurance company for 15 years, and they never included spouses. When I saw how this company did, it was a nice change."

The family-friendly perks begin at orientation, when the company emphasizes how much it cares. "And then we have to demonstrate it," Quick says. So in addition to sending the pasta basket, Quick also gives each manager like Holdcroft a week's vacation in the company's condominium, on Florida's Sanibel Island. "We can't wait until next year to go again," says Pam, who adds that without the prepaid accommodations, she, Mike, and their new baby probably would have stayed closer to home.

The motive behind Quick's family-friendly perks stems from the 20 years he spent as a professional headhunter prior to founding Quick Solutions. "I had the opportunity to interview thousands of people, and I always asked them why they were leaving their current job," Quick remembers. "Most people said the same thing: 'My company doesn't care about me.' " Now, at the helm of an $18-million company, Quick says he's battling the tight labor market with perks that keep his employees and their families happy, even during crunch times. They seem to be working for Pam Holdcroft, who says those special extras really help when Mike has to work late.

The Holdcrofts are looking forward to Mike's future at the company. He'll soon be eligible for Quick's 36-month longevity program, designed to reward consultants for their service and to encourage company loyalty. "I looked at the organization and saw that we had a lot of two-year people that we want to make sure stick around," says Quick. So for those consultants who stay with the company for at least three years, Quick pays for a monthly professional housecleaning service and, each year, hands out a $1,200 vacation voucher. Mike Holdcroft says he's already planning his future Quick-sponsored vacations. "My whole family is going to Hawaii in 2001," he says. "I'll definitely be using the voucher to help pay for that." And Pam, counting down the months until she gets her housekeeper, come March 2000, is a big Quick fan. "He's got my vote," she says.

Which is exactly what Gary Quick is hoping for. "If someone is thinking of changing jobs, I want their spouse to say 'No, you're not.' " Which seems to be working, at least for the Holdcrofts. Despite offers Mike has received from other companies, Pam bluntly declares, "he won't leave." --Anne Marie Borrego

Will Work For Food

The way to your office manager's heart may well be through her stomach. That's the lesson learned by Professional Cutlery Direct (#131), which proudly employs chef Will Cook, who more than lives up to his declarative name. Yes, he's there because the company sells fine kitchen products through its catalog; Cook's formal role is product testing and customer service, answering such consumer questions as "Which knife is best for cutting sweet potatoes?" But as CEO Terri Alpert explains, Cook's informal morale boosting is equally invaluable.

Cook cooks for professional purposes, but the staff get to sample the end products. "Will keeps us very well fed during the Christmas season," explains Alpert. "That's when we need it most, because people will skip lunch to answer the phones." During the holidays, the CEO sets a weekly "R&D" budget of $50 to $100, versus $25 to $75 for the rest of the year. "I have no problem cost-justifying the ingredients that he uses," she says. "He absolutely has a very positive effect on quality of life here." For Alpert, Cook's soothing soups and stews reflect her North Branford, Conn., company's nurturing corporate culture, one that apparently keeps turnover incredibly low. "We have a tremendous level of teamwork," she says. "We started in business six years ago, and we've maybe lost two or three people, ever. That's almost unheard of in this economy."