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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 27, 2018 2 months ago

Gaming the system for employee success, retention

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KnowBe4 brings fun, games and extra cash to its workforce.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Clearwater-based IT security firm KnowBe4 received 3,000 resumes in the month of February alone but hired just 30 people, CEO Stu Sjouwerman says.

That’s because the company operates its own internal recruiting office that has a specific set of criteria. One of the most important? Happiness.

“We try to hire happy people,” Sjouwerman says. A proven track record is important, he adds, but “we have found that happy people love producing, and there’s no drama. It helps create a cool team if everyone is upbeat by nature.”

“I'm not really willing to take a chance with someone in sales." Stu Sjouwerman, CEO of KnowBe4

Sjouwerman says Florida’s low unemployment rate has made it easy to be selective when hiring, given the volume of applicants. Some 90% percent of the roles KnowBe4 looks to fill are in areas such as sales support, customer service and accounting. “All of those are relatively easy to fill,” he says. “The only thing that’s a challenge is finding developers, meaning software engineers. For those, we go nationwide.”

Sjouwerman, to keep people happy once they get to KnowBe4, has brought the concept of gamification, in rewarding employees with a $100 bill when the company hits its break-even number for the month, and then an additional $100 bill for every sales milestone after that. Sjouwerman pays out an additional $1,000 in cash, on average, to each employee every month. That's more than $300,000 a year. 

Gamification, says Sjouwerman, "keeps all noses pointed in the same direction — everyone is focusing on the same goal.”

KnowBe4 runs a wide variety of other games, contests and promotions to keep employees engaged — so many, in fact, that the company has a full-time “games commissioner” to manage them all. There’s also a bit of whimsy to the proceedings: Each month, one employee is chosen at random to have a one-on-one lunch with Sjouwerman.

Sjouwerman’s three simple rules — do it right the first time; do it fast; have fun while you do it, govern the company’s corporate culture, but when it comes to hiring, he’s serious about one position: sales.

“I'm not really willing to take a chance with someone in sales,” he says. “You’re gonna have to have an explicit, proven track record in a very similar job for us to hire you.”

That being said, KnowBe4 has taken risks — and reaped big rewards — on other new hires. The company’s in-house counsel, Alicia Dietzen, came to KnowBe4 “straight out of law school,” according to Sjouwerman. “She had no track record to speak of, but we were really impressed with her and she’s been a massive success … we are thrilled with her.”

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