In a fast-growing industry like tech, many employees find themselves with more leadership opportunities, and responsibilities, than they’ve ever had before.
Growing as a leader inevitably involves some degree of trial and error, but having a support system can make a huge difference. That said, there isn’t just one way to support new leaders. We spoke to five local tech companies about their approaches, and what employees take away from the experience.
SMS Assist uses technology to streamline repair and maintenance processes for Fortune 500 companies who manage multiple properties. To support its efforts to promote from within, the company established a leadership development program, SMS University, in 2014.
SMS University introduced two new programs for Chicago employees this year: Amplify! and Anthology. Amplify! brings emerging leaders from across the company together for professional development workshops and opportunities to learn from executive-level leadership. Anthology pairs new leaders with more experienced mentors to support them as they grow into their new roles.
“The Amplify! program opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking and communicating and has been a tremendous help both professionally and personally,” said training and development coordinator Doug Cochrane. “Knowing the company really wants us to grow — and invests so much in developing leaders from within — it’s incredibly energizing.”
CCC is a technology provider for the automotive industry and connected industries like insurance and collision repair. Through its internal learning program, CCC Learning Academy, the company offers opportunities for employees at every level to develop time management skills, business savvy and a full-picture understanding of what goes on across the company.
To that end, CCC regularly brings leaders from different departments together so that they can learn from each other’s perspectives, wins and pain points.
“As a group, we learned some advanced principles as well as practical techniques in people management and team development, which are very good guidance to a team leader’s day-to-day work,” said Long Hei, director of data science. “It felt like a learning community. I look forward to participating in more leadership trainings in the future!”
CCC’s emphasis on understanding the whole business extends beyond the leadership team, however. Once a year, the whole company comes together for a week-long learning event called CCC Ideas Week.
“Being able to talk with leaders during CCC Ideas Week class was incredibly helpful,” said casualty support specialist Tiffany White. “I learned so much about what CCC is doing outside of my department. Additionally, there was separate course on building solid relationships and interfacing well with customers; it was eye-opening!”
West Monroe Partners is a consulting firm with a specialty in helping companies adopt and develop technologies tailored to their specific business pain points. The company’s milestone training program takes a long view of an employee’s career trajectory, with each promotion unlocking new courses to take and skills to master before reaching their next promotion.
But West Monroe also sets aside space for employees to grow and take on responsibilities outside of their day-to-day work. Its “chiefs” program lets individual employees claim responsibility and manage budget for an aspect of company culture they really care about, becoming the company’s chief running and fitness officer, chief hot sauce officer or chief golf officer. And its Fischer Fellowship lets employees apply for several months of paid leave to engage in a long-term volunteer project, like supporting small businesses in developing countries or contributing to humanitarian efforts.
Tricia Anklan spent her time as a Fischer Fellow in Nicaragua, working in rural communities to test water quality and help locals treat their water supplies.
“During my Fischer Fellowship I learned how to inspire the people I lead,” said Anklan. “The magnitude of the problem in front of me — providing clean water access for thousands of people — was overwhelming, and I knew I couldn’t install thousands of clean water systems on my own. So, I learned how to inspire people (in Spanish) to take action — and collectively we made a more significant impact. Back in my day job, I now have better experience and tools to understand what drives individuals so that we can meet our collective goals.”
Built on the premise that finding the right neighborhood is as important as finding the right home, Neighborhoods.com combines house and apartment listings with data and in-depth content about the area surrounding the home.
Neighborhoods.com offers a “team lead” track for engineers who have leadership potential but who don’t want to give up coding just yet, allowing them to pick up new leadership skills and experience organizing a project.
“Being a team lead has helped me develop a distinct leadership style and has made me an overall better engineer. It's been fun to watch others grow and to be the one helping them to get there,” said team lead Noah Lepai. “We just completed a major project, and it was incredibly satisfying to see us overcome knowledge barriers, learn new skills and see the feature come together at the end and turn out even better than we expected.”
He added: “I feel like I have a newfound respect for what we do. To be more involved from the beginning, making decisions that shape the outcome of a project, deal with the curve balls thrown our way and to then watch that project (or in some cases, team member) develop along the way into something awesome has given me a feeling of responsibility to put forth my best effort, trust my team, trust my knowledge and skills, and know that we can accomplish a lot.”
CapTech provides technology and analytics to some of the world’s largest companies. To keep its talent pipeline strong and help its employees grow, the firm has developed specific leadership development programs for both account managers and subject matter experts.
For account managers, the program starts with a self-assessment of strengths and weaknesses, followed up with classroom learning and on-demand training programs. Throughout the process, account managers are partnered with a seasoned mentor who can answer their questions and keep the learning on track.
The company’s subject matter expert program is similar, but it also features a lunch-and-learn program where employees can learn more about potential career paths they can pursue, as well as training in how to create and sell their solutions to clients.
“Our mentorship program provides a platform to learn and share best practices,” said managing director Joe Keller. “It’s a great opportunity to glean a multitude of perspectives from other’s experiences.”
“This past year I had the privilege of mentoring under two of our seasoned leaders in the account management space,” added managing director Tom Krieger. “Through probing questions and encouragement, I was challenged to grow my executive presence. Leadership guidance from those who had many years of managing CapTech’s largest accounts was crucial in helping me to lead and grow our client relationships.”