Tapping the top notch

With its health system clients scattered across the country, Stoltenberg Consulting Inc. needs employees who can work well without someone looking over their shoulder. They also must know health care information technology and how health care systems work from a clinical perspective.

“They don’t have to have management experience, but they have to know how to work by themselves to put things together and move things along,” says founder and CEO Sheri Stoltenberg.

Not surprisingly, recruitment has been the toughest task for this 11-year-old company, says Stoltenberg, yet it’s been able to attract a smart and stable work force that has helped it grow. Between 2002 and 2004, Stoltenberg Consulting Inc. grew its number of employees 68 percent, to 40. And its revenue, which was $5 million in 2005, made a similar jump during the same period.

Stoltenberg spoke with Smart Business about how Stoltenberg Consulting attracts, screens and hangs on to top employees.

What’s the most challenging aspect of fast growth for Stoltenberg Consulting?
The hardest part is recruitment. We’re very picky about the people we hire, extremely picky. We go through a lot of resumes and a lot of interviews. I’m not looking for people who just understand the software product or just understand management consulting. In today’s world, I’m looking for someone who has a clinical background, who understands how to use technology and how to do a little more than use it.

They also have to be able to manage themselves. I don’t have someone trailing them saying, ‘The next thing you’re going to do is this.’ They need to understand that they’re driving these tasks. … They’re working with people at hospitals to move things forward and accomplishing something.

How do you find the right people?
We utilize recruiting firms that specifically deal with health care information technology. There’s a lot of competition in that space for people. So what will happen is some of the very large companies are competing for the same people the smaller companies are competing for. They obviously have deeper pockets.

The way we grow, we look for long-term growth and long-term employees. The very first employee I hired still works here. The second person does, too. The reason we’re able to do that is we’re very clear in setting expectations.

How involved are you in the hiring process?
I talk to every single candidate. And they talk to other people that work here. And I’ve had people who want to talk to a client.

They usually talk to me first because … after I talk to them, I can get a feel for who they’d be comfortable talking to in the company. They can ask questions like, ‘Do they really pay the bonuses?’ or ‘How long does it take to get your expenses back?’

We pay the bonuses and we pay expenses back if they submit them within three days of the end of the pay period, but they don’t want to hear that from me. They want to hear that it really happens with the other people that work here.

How do you approach the interview?
First, I put (the candidates) at ease, because they’re a little nervous. Naturally, [I discuss] the culture of the company, the way we do business, what are the expectations.

I can hire people over the phone, without seeing them. The call will take a few hours, [and] there’ll be multiple calls, often only with me.

One of the things I look at from a management perspective, and [that] I continue to do, is ask, ‘What do you know, and where could you use some help?’ You have to earn their trust. You’ve got to get people so they’re willing to talk to you. You have to take down the barriers, get them to remove their guard.

What kinds of questions do you ask in the interview?
‘If you’re out there working on the implementation of a project, what’s your favorite thing to do? What aspect do you like best?’ That’s probably going to tell you what they’re best at, because people tend to gravitate to, and they always hang their hat on, what they’re best at. The things they’re a little uneasy about, they tend to shy away from.

How do you screen potential employees?
As I’m interviewing them, I’m writing down the things they’re good at. I have found that you get a few who think they’re good at everything, but a majority of people aren’t going to do that, because I’ll say to them, ‘I’ll ask you one thing in this interview: Don’t tell me you can do something if you really don’t know how, because if you come to work here, you may be asked to do it. My goal is you’re going to be successful in this company.’

How to reach: Stoltenberg Consulting Inc., www.stoltenberg.com