An in-depth understanding of the business and rapport with the rest of the team are must-haves for any new leader, and on both counts, internal candidates have a definite leg up against outside hires. But those aren’t the only advantages of promoting from within. We asked six Chicago tech companies about how internal promotions drive company culture, and what rising through the ranks actually looks like for their team members.
UrbanBound builds relocation management software that makes it easier for companies to help their employees move for a new opportunity. Lauren Decker joined UrbanBound as a product marketing manager in early 2015. Today she is the company’s director of product — no relocation required.
What has the journey from product marketing manager to director of product been like?
“Since joining UrbanBound, my managers have empowered me with the autonomy to help advance our business,” said Decker. “Now that I’m managing a team, I’m excited to pass that forward. I’m most excited about continuing to help shape the journey UrbanBound is on and help my team achieve their personal goals along the way.”
Why does UrbanBound emphasize promoting from within?
“As our company continues to grow and new roles are created, we always look to see if these positions can be filled by members of the team,” said CEO and co-founder Michael Krasman. “We already know which skill sets that they have, which gives us a much higher degree of confidence in their ability to do the job. The learning curve is substantially shorter because they are already familiar with the company, the industry and the the reasons why the new role exists. Third, it reinforces the fact that, despite our smaller size, UrbanBound is an incredible place to develop in your career because new opportunities are always being created.”
Headquartered in the Merchandise Mart, VelocityEHS creates digital tools that help large companies reduce their environmental impact and make their operations safer for employees and surrounding communities. Maya Israel joined the company as a web developer in 2000. Today she is its director of software development, overseeing all engineering operations in the United States and Canada.
What has the journey from web developer to director of software development been like?
“Each new role within VelocityEHS has provided its own set of challenges,” said Israel. “Like any job, there were aspects of more responsibility that came together seamlessly and some that required more work and creativity to get to a positive end result. But knowing that I had the support of the people I work with helped me succeed and inevitably get to where I am today.”
Why does VelocityEHS emphasize promoting from within?
“Retaining good talent not only helps build a strong work culture, but is essential to our company’s overall success,” said President and CEO Glenn Trout. “We are very picky about who we hire in the first place, so it’s not surprising that when we’re looking to fill new positions, the best talent available is already part of our team. Personally, seeing our employees grow and thrive is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.”
Hireology makes HR software that streamlines the process of building a team with features like branded career sites, automated onboarding processes and payroll administration tools, to name a few. Since joining Hireology as a sales development representative in 2013, Dave Palash held roles in the company’s finance and product teams before becoming its Salesforce.com platform manager in 2015. For him, that path was made possible by constant opportunities for professional growth.
What has the journey from SDR to Salesforce.com platform manager been like?
“I genuinely love coming to work everyday. The people are incredible and the work is always changing,” said Palash. “Hireology has always pushed me to grow professionally. From classes and certifications to larger roles in internal projects, I constantly have the opportunity to gain a wider skill set. The most exciting part of the journey has been the company growth. The company size is over six times larger today than it was when I was hired, and there is no end in sight.”
Why does Hireology emphasize promoting from within?
“At Hireology, we grow and move fast,” said Chief Operating Officer Julie Rodgers. “As a result, there are constantly new challenges and opportunities for our team to tackle. We believe offering our employees a chance to take on these opportunities and learn new skills will help propel company growth. But more importantly, it will help develop our employees as professionals. Looking to current employees to support Hireology's growth is a true win-win situation.”
A marketing and digital communications firm with operations all over the world, Havas has hundreds of employees in its “Chicago Village” in River North. When Senior Strategist Anna Russett joined the team as an intern in 2014, she wasn’t even sure if marketing was her thing. Now she hosts Instagram meetups at work.
What has the journey from intern to senior strategist been like?
"To be frank, I never thought I’d be interested in advertising or that advertising would be interested in me, but Havas valued my unique experiences with social media and let me carve out my own path that I’m still continuing to carve with them today,” said Russett. “I like working at a place that learns from me as much as I learn from it. Many leaders at Havas became important advocates for me and have given me so many exciting opportunities to grow and excel, from traveling to Berlin to speak on behalf of the annex at a leadership conference to hosting my own Instagram meet-ups at work with my followers."
Why does Havas put an emphasis on promoting from within?
"Our main goal is to always hire and develop great talent. And if you don't have a path for great talent, then you're not going to be able to keep them,” said Chief Talent Officer Jennifer Marszalek. “We also believe that it's important to recognize and promote the skills and talent and expertise that we already have on our team. People want to grow and progress in their careers and we make sure to have opportunities that employees can grow into."
A Chicago development firm with an emphasis on emerging technologies, Solstice works with Fortune 500 companies on improving their digital strategies. Before joining the firm as the UX team’s first designer in 2012, Jessica Hiltrop was a traditional graphic designer at a small full-service print shop. Five years after that first foray into the world of UI/UX, Hiltrop is now Solstice’s UX principal.
What has the journey from designer to UX principal been like?
“Structuring the UX team was what really allowed me to get my first promotion, and from there I started figuring out how to refine that structure in a scalable way,” said Hiltrop. “Now I am actively looking at how to how build program teams, and how we continue the rapid growth on the UX team while making a team culture that people love walking into. Solstice has supported me in each and every one of those things, and I was able to put my trust in them that when the time was right, the promotions would come."
Why does Solstice emphasize promoting from within?
"Every person has their own growth path at Solstice. When employees are performing at the next level consistently, they are promoted,” said COO Marisa Mann. “We work to ensure that hiring experienced talent for our growing firm never prohibits the career growth of our current employees. We invest in each and every full-time employee from day one by pairing them up with a mentor, providing a personal $5,000 training budget and offering internal SolsticeU trainings to enable the acceleration of new leaders across the firm."
Sprout Social makes social media management software used by brands like Grubhub, Dropbox and Zipcar to communicate with their customers and improve on their engagement strategies. Having grown tremendously over the past few years, Sprout has made a priority of ensuring that employees flourish alongside it. Manager of Customer Support Jen Juang joined the team as a customer advocate in late 2014, and became became a team lead within her first eight months there.
What has your experience of rising from the entry level to a manager position at Sprout been like?
"Sprout has doubled in size and changed pretty dramatically in the two and a half years that I've been here. That type of rapid growth could have been scary, but our culture of open communication and taking personal ownership actually made it really exciting,” said Juang. “Rather than just being along for the ride, I’ve been integrated into the decisionmaking and problem-solving that has brought our support team to where it is today. It’s been really fulfilling and ultimately also very professionally rewarding.”
Why does Sprout Social emphasize promoting from within?
"Two things are at the heart of Sprout’s success: our people and the products they build,” said Director of Talent Jim Conti. “Investing in our team members’ growth means giving them new challenges to tackle and opportunities to grow, and internal promotions play an important role in that. We also offer ongoing training, like our program for managers, to ensure that every employee has the support they need to succeed."
Images via featured companies.