Dear StratExians… a letter from Adam

My fellow StratExians,

As I slowly come out of the fog of the surprise election results, I awake with a new vigor that a vote without action is not good enough.

skyline-office-viewWhen I sit in my office, looking out at beautiful views of the city we call home, Chicago, I am left with a strong conviction that being a citizen of this amazing city has certain civic responsibilities. As I read that the murder rate has gone from a sad number to an unconscionable one, I realize that reading about it, watching it on TV and talking about it while we shake our heads in disbelief is NOT ENOUGH. This is not a West Side or South Side problem, this is a Chicago problem.

We are left with a few hard choices: pack up our bags and move away from the violence around us, complain about it and hope somebody will do something, or get involved, speak up and give back.

When we started StratEx Serves, it was under the guise of action through volunteerism. One of the many things I love about StratEx is our sense of community and our desire to make a difference, not only in the product and service we deliver to our clients, but by giving back in our community.

I honestly don’t know what to do; however, I know that we all need to get involved and do something.

One thought that has remained persistent for me is that with hope and belief that one’s life has value, a person is probably less likely to be involved in gangs or gun related activities. When opportunities are afforded to each person that allows them to have a slice of the American dream, that is one way to break the cycle.

I believe there is a strong parallel between the hopelessness that a suicide bomber feels in the Middle East that allows them to come to the decision to strap explosives on their body, and the despair and lack of opportunity that some of our inner-city youth feel that takes them to the point where they engage in gun-related vendettas.

When that hopelessness and despair become overwhelming, one might feel their life has no value — so they engage in reckless activity. Perhaps, my fellow StratExians, one answer is providing more opportunities to those who don’t see any. Perhaps this means getting more involved in after-school programs, mentoring teenagers, becoming involved in a Big Brother/Big Sister program while at the same time insisting that our city and nation make it harder to have access to assault rifles and other weapons of destruction.

I am open to your ideas. And I will lead by example. I will stand up and be heard. We can and must do our part to make our city safe for all of us. Otherwise, the alternative is to talk and complain or pack up and move. I don’t know about you, but I don’t quit and I don’t give up. Those are words that are not in my vocabulary and lessons I do not want to teach my children…

Humbly submitted,
Adam

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.

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.