Congratulations, Chelsea!

Chelsea Garot, one of our HR Account Managers, is being celebrated today at StratEx!

Chel_Grad2

Chelsea will be graduating from Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business with her Masters in HR this weekend. We are proud of her and her accomplishment, and know that this is just another indicator that she is an asset to our company and the clients she serves.

Congratulations, Chelsea!

March Madness at the Office… Embrace it!

(Expanded from Adam’s interview on WBBM Noon Business Hour)

Each year when the NCAA Tournament kicks off, figures emerge about March Madness and the huge productivity losses it causes for employers.

This statistic comes out every year, and every year I laugh because, whether it’s social media sites or NCAA Basketball, employees are going to find anything to be non-productive if they don’t want to be productive. At StratEx, we embrace it. We’re in the heart of Big10 country where there’s seven teams participating in the tournament this year. Since it is such a pull for our employees, we may as well demystify it, make it fun.

It’s only two days out of the work year, why not make it fun? We have employees that went to different colleges competing in the tournament and they can compete with one another while’s it’s on in the background of the office. They’re going to get work done that they need to get done and they’re going to have fun if they want to have fun.

In our office, employees can wear their alma mater colors, we have an office pool and TVs are around the office showing the games. They can even stream it on their computers—no need to use one of those ‘safe buttons’ to pull up a spreadsheet when a manager walks by.

The heat of the madness only lasts two days and employees are going to watch it anyway, so you might as well have fun and build company morale while you’re at it.

Jim Vetta Award Winner 2015

On March 11th, 2015, StratEx awarded its annual Jim Vetta Award to Robin Hawkins, a Project Specialist. Robin is hard-working, thoughtful and collaborative; an exemplary StratExian. Congratulations to Robin- well deserved!

Robin“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

George Bernard Shaw

Zero Friction

I have been thinking lately about how to quantify what differentiates our company and offering from competitors like ADP and zenefits.

There are the obvious answers, we have a complete, integrated, single-database, single-system, end to end solution. We have, according to our clients, the best personable customer service. We have, in my view, the best software application in the industry. This is all good, but not enough. I mean I hope everybody in our industry strives to have great customer service and continues to update and innovate on the software front. I would consider that a minimum baseline and not a distinguishing feature, not a company identity.

While I am pondering those thoughts in my head I saw a beautiful UltraHD 70″ Vizio t.v. at Costco, selling for a good price.

my gorgeous t.v.
my beautiful new t.v.

I went home and found out that Costco.com had a special on it for $500. The initial warehouse price already matched Amazon’s, so with the $500 off it became a no brainer and I purchased one, delivered to the comfort of my home.

Then when I was setting it up, I saw that it came with two bags of screws, each with four screws, identical color, almost identical size and look. The screws are used to assemble the stand and to attach the stand to the back of the t.v.  One set was used to assemble the stand and the other set to attach it to the t.v.

screws

So far so good, I cannot visually tell the screws apart, but they are different sizes according to the caption. So I reached out to the bags of screws and the only thing printed on the plastic bags was a sequence of digits, a product number maybe, with nothing significant as far as telling me which is the 20 mm and which is the 23 mm screws. So I took a gamble and chose the screws that looked a tiny bit larger as the 23 mm screws. I installed it, and of course I had picked the wrong set. So I had to start over and swap them. Not a big deal, just added few more minutes to the installation time.

Then it hit me. That’s what differentiates us from everybody else. Ever since we started on this journey back in 2008, our goal was to create a zero friction experience for our users.  When deciding between printing a random set of numbers on a bag of screws or clearly identifying the bag as “M5 de 20 mm” we always chose the latter. When deciding between telling our clients to reach support via automated, cumbersome, systems or assigning them a real live person they know by name, email and direct phone number, we chose the latter. We never had an automated, maze-like, drive me crazy, support system, and we never will. When choosing between cubicles, opaque walls, or open office environment we chose the latter. When choosing between trying to integrate separate payroll, HR, benefits, Applicant Tracking, performance review, time keeping systems and building a kick ass, fully integrated, cohesive, single source, single database, system, we chose the latter.

Most importantly, every spring, when we sit down and ponder the next set of innovations that we will tackle over the upcoming year, we always base it on what provides our clients a zero friction experience. Every time we look at something and have to decide between making it simpler, easier, more natural for the client to use, vs. developing it faster, cheaper, easier, we always chose the former. We always chose to provide a zero friction environment to our clients. We want the software to enable their productivity not to limit it or slow it down.

Are we perfect? Of course not. The minute we start thinking that we succeeded in delivering the zero friction experience is the minute we fail. We have a long way to go. We will always have a long way to go. We will never achieve perfection, but that will not deter us from always chasing it.

New Addition to the Dev Team

Say Hello to Jason Diehl
Jason is currently a student pursuing a JasonDiehlComputer Science degree at the University of Central Florida. Most of his programming experience comes from developing simulations and games within the Unity engine in C#. Before starting at StratEx, Jason was the lead programmer at E2i Creative Studio, a research lab funded by UCF that creates a variety of simulations focused on experiential learning. Jason is also a contract programmer, recently having developed an interactive virtual avatar system used for training therapists dealing with victims of Alzheimer’s. Jason’s alter go is Gahtzu, a professional Super Smash Bros. player that stuns crowds and slays many. He was recently ranked as one of the top 100 players in the world and broke a Guinness record for playing for 72 hrs straight during a charity event. We are happy to have him in our ranks!

Our StratEx Family

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Our StratEx family is spread out over half a dozen offices in six states. As such, we do not always get to see each other. Thus we make it a tradition that once a year everybody in the StratEx family gets together at our flagship office on beautiful Michigan Avenue for our annual Holiday Party.

The office sits on the 28th floor in a skyscraper in the middle of Michigan Avenue. The first skyscraper was built in Chicago after all, so it is apropos that we pay homage to our hometown and reside in one. The views are majestic day or night, overlooking the endless Lake Michigan or the car lights fading, seemingly endlessly, into the night. It is all gorgeous.

Years ago our holiday party included clients and partners. As we grew and our wings spread and our offices reached the farthest ends of our beautiful land, from sea to shining sea, we decided our StratEx family needed more “us” time to get to know each other better. Now a days we celebrate the holidays with our family, our loved ones and the occasional StratEx alumni that misses the vibe and wants to join in the festivities.

We celebrate the end of one year, we look forward to the start of another, most importantly, we celebrate each other.

Cheers my friends, my colleagues, my StratEx family.

@Born2Code

Ugly Sweaters

When we set out to build StratEx we did not set out to build the next ADP or Oracle or the next (insert name here) big company. When we started we decided to build an organization based on two correlated tenants:  Customer Happiness and Employee Happiness. We try hard to make sure one causes the other instead of negating it. A positive feedback loop. Not every company out there focuses on employee happiness. Many companies claim to focus on customer satisfaction (which is not the same as customer happiness), most pay lip service to that tenant. Some sacrifice employee happiness in order to achieve customer satisfaction.

At the same time, we are the eternal startup company. No matter our revenue, number of employees, or number of clients. We always want to be nimble. We always want every employee of the company to feel they have an extended family in their StratEx family.

At our headquarters we always had a pool table. If you walk in any time during the day you may see people taking a break and playing a game of pool, or bean bag toss, or watching a college basketball game on one of the big screen TVs. We work very hard at StratEx, but that’s not enough, that’s not at the expense of our employee happiness. We also play hard. That’s one of the reasons why we got nominated for one of the best companies to work for in Chicago, and we are proud of that distinction.

Going into the upcoming year, we are establishing a culture club at the company to make sure we keep refining our company culture and keep it aligned with our tenants of employee happiness and customer happiness.

As part of our culture club initiatives for the coming year we will be giving every employee time off as a reward for community service. An employee goes out and volunteers for service in their local community? we will reward them with paid time off.  We typically do events at the company for the whole staff. now we are going to make sure it happens at least once a month, on the first Monday of every month we are inviting the whole company for lunch.  We want our employees to be healthy. Starting this coming year we will reimburse employees for gym membership. We want everybody to stay healthy and stay happy. If volunteering makes you happy, we will reward you for it, if working out makes you happy we will reimburse you for it, if both make you happy, you are in luck 🙂

We have other nifty things planned as well, next time you are on the phone with a happy StratExian just chat them up.

But wait, there is more 🙂 Starting this year we will be hosting an annual Ugly Sweater contest. So put it on and bring it on. Coolest Ugly sweater take home the secret prize.