The Smart Way for Startups to Spend

Invest money where it counts: in people

Written by Kim Shiffman

Human resources issues are widely neglected in small or emerging firms. It’s not because entrepreneurs don’t care about staffing. Rather, most founders of high-growth businesses have a background in sales, finance or engineering, which can lead to an underappreciation of the HR function. Still, the ability to attract and retain great staff has been critical to achieving super growth. To find and keep top-notch people, the smartest companies put HR systems, tools and personnel in place right from Day 1.

With the skills and experience gained as a partner at consulting firm Deloitte & Touche, Lynn Cooke implemented Fortune 500-worthy HR policies at 360 Visibility Inc., which provides outsourced IT to small and mid-sized firms. “Right from the beginning, we’ve had group RRSPs, employee share ownership and a bonus scheme,” she says. Cooke also practises open-book management: “You need to be able to explain to them why they aren’t getting a big bonus this summer.” Staff at 360 Visibility also enjoy profit-sharing, a formalized telecommuting program and flex-time.

To some, all these policies and programs might seem like too much work. Not to Cooke. “I didn’t see it as a huge administrative undertaking,” she says. “Having a group RRSP is one extra cheque you have to cut a month.”

But were these tactics really necessary when 360 had just seven full-time staff? “In order to attract skilled people,” she says, “we had to have these types of perks.” Her telecommuting policy meant she was able to hire a top-notch account executive who lives 90 kilometres from 360 Visibility’s headquarters in Markham, Ont. “I have to get the best,” says Cooke. “I don’t have the time or the resources to hire junior people to train.”

Originally appeared on