How do you scale without sacrificing culture? We asked 5 Chicago tech companies

by Andreas Rekdal
May 16, 2018

Culture is a huge factor in what makes a company successful, but maintaining that culture can be tricky as success begets growth. So how do you scale your team without giving up what made it successful in the first place? We spoke with four fast-growing Chicago tech companies to find out.

 

transunion chicago tech company

TransUnion’s technology is used by companies around the world to make more informed decisions about risk. In growing his team, senior director of analytics engineering Kevin McClowry said TransUnion has put a big focus on ensuring that every employee feels like their voice is heard — particularly when they’re bringing new ideas to the table.

What’s the most important factor in ensuring success for a growing team?

Our team has grown very rapidly over the past few years, and balancing growth against delivery can be a challenge. In order to ensure success, we have focused heavily on building an empowered team mindset. Individual opinions are highly valued, and we always remain open to new ideas and new ways to achieve our goals in a more efficient way. This helps our team members remain engaged and excited about solving problems that improve our products and processes.

Roles and responsibilities tend to shift as a company grows. How does that influence what you look for in new hires?

Our hiring strategy focuses on a combination of personality, drive, introspection and technical aptitude. We believe that all four components are extremely important, and we’ve had a lot of success hiring people with fewer years of experience but an obvious passion for what they do and an ability to honestly evaluate their previous work to determine how to improve. People who are driven to continuously grow, and help those around them, are the key to healthy growth.

How do you maintain your team's culture?

Our focus on hiring self-motivated individuals with a passion for doing things well allows our teams to connect and collaborate easily. We are always excited to share the lessons we’ve learned and the new things we’re playing with in order to drive our teams forward together.

 

morningstar chicago tech company

With its suite of services and proprietary tech tools, Morningstar helps investors of every stripe navigate the world of finance. To director of quality assurance Brad Boemmel, there are clear parallels between making sound investments and scaling a tech team successfully.

What’s the most important factor in ensuring success for a growing team?

Similar to how we encourage investors to invest in the long term, we grow our team and products with steady progress rather than through massive additions. This allows us to be selective in who we hire and choose only the best candidates who have the right skill sets and the proper culture fit.

Roles and responsibilities tend to shift as a company grows. How do you set new hires up for success?

To ensure that new hires are successful, our Morningstar Development Program for Technologists includes rotations that help us develop entry-level employees in multiple areas and contribute to building a strong technology organization. Additionally, regular interaction with other MDPs and a strong executive leader as a mentor reinforces to future leaders how important becoming a versatile full-stack engineer is in our culture.

How do you maintain your team's culture?

From new college hires all the way up to executive-level positions, potential candidates will interview for culture fit with at least two employees who are outside of the direct management chain for the position. Because we encourage mobility within the company, we want to ensure they possess the same qualities that we value in all of our current associates.

 

relativity chicago tech company

Relativity’s software is used by government agencies, Fortune 500 companies and all of the country’s leading law firms to organize and analyze documents used in litigation. As chief security officer, Amanda Fennell is building out a new cybersecurity team, Calder7, within Relativity. To her, having a clear idea of what her team is all about, paired with a healthy dose of team building, has been key to building the group from the ground up.

What’s the most important factor in ensuring success for a growing team?

Cultivating and maintaining a clear vision, which was collectively defined and orchestrated, has worked tremendously well for aligning Calder7’s goals and objectives. Given the rapid growth of the group, we’ve also put a focus on team building through off-site events to bring everyone closer together.

Roles and responsibilities tend to shift as a company grows. How does that influence what you look for in new hires?

We’ve found that we can use the strategic objectives of the team to identify the roles we need to implement, enabling a focused search to hire best-in-industry talent to deliver on these goals. Relativity has been fortunate in having a diverse and talented set of people who provide flexibility and patience throughout the hiring process. Each new position prompts the team to select the best candidate for the requirements, but also get to know the person on a more personal and fundamental level. Following the hiring process, we perform further assessments to determine their innate strengths and opportunities for professional development to secure the investment in our employees.

How do you maintain your team's culture?

Relativity makes a remarkable effort to support the cultural development of new and experienced employees. Along with the capacity to provide for team building exercises and employee development plans, our HR team works closely to help find the best fit for our rapidly growing organization. We’re able to take advantage of the support Relativity provides but also maintain a unique identity as the skills and personality of our group continues to evolve.

 

paylocity chicago tech company

Paylocity makes software that lets growing companies streamline their payroll and human resources operations. But the company is in the middle of a growth spurt of its own, with tech openings throughout the ladder all the way to the director level. To product and technology directors Christine Pellini and Brian Wolkenberg, the key to scaling successfully is to ensure that the team has a shared goal in mind.

What’s the most important factor in ensuring success for a growing team?

Pellini: Lead with why. Teams are more passionate and committed to getting to the best possible outcome if they have a strong grasp on the customer value they are unlocking and the impact it makes. We all want to work on something that makes a difference.

Wolkenberg: We also have to ensure that we continue to have a culture of small, empowered teams. As we grow into new markets and opportunities, or want to invest more in an area we’re already working in, we add additional teams with their own missions. These teams are fully empowered to deliver against their users’ unmet needs.

Roles and responsibilities tend to shift as a company grows. How does that influence what you look for in new hires?

Pellini: One of the most important pieces is a desire to learn and grow. They have to be interested in bettering not only themselves but Paylocity as a whole. A desire for status quo won’t work here.

Wolkenberg: We would rather hear a candidate say they've exhausted themselves trying to make a change to something important and been stymied, than hear a candidate say they've identified all the problems facing their team but done nothing about them.

How do you maintain your team's culture?

Pellini: As we look to grow our teams, we look for folks that will add to and improve our culture; tech skills are not enough.

Wolkenberg: We're fortunate to have a strong organizational culture and articulation of that in our principles, which we make part of our onboarding for everyone that joins us. There's room for each team to figure out what their sub-culture is and how they want to bring our principles to life. Successful teams engrain our principles into their routines and norms, and include regular feedback loops on how well we're living them. Lastly, we create opportunities for teams to meet up throughout the year to reinforce culture and strengthen relationships.

 

solstice chicago tech company
photography by chris murphy

Solstice works with Fortune 500 companies to help them adopt emerging technologies. To Paul Heckel, VP of customer experience, the most important factor in staying successful through rapid growth is to keep the bar high for every new hire.

What’s the most important factor in ensuring success for a growing team?

Maintaining the highest standards for talent and culture. We never compromise our standards when it comes to evaluating an individual's skill level or how much we expect them to add to our culture. We don't look for culture fits —we look for culture adds.

Our recruiting team does such a phenomenal job bringing only the best candidates forward, which ultimately allows our practitioners to spend more time on delivering world-class client service and our leadership to focus on running and driving the business.

Roles and responsibilities tend to shift as a company grows. How does that influence what you look for in new hires?

We are operating in an era of digital transformation. This means the only constant is the acceleration of disruptive change. The type of help our clients need is evolving, and the type of talent we seek must evolve with it. That applies across the board, from strategy to research, engineering and program management. We believe that change is happening for us, not to us. If new hires shares that mindset, chances are they'll succeed.

How do you maintain your team’s culture?

We have a number of formal rituals and celebrations that provide a lightweight structure for the rest of our cultural characteristics to grow from. We are very deliberate about making sure those not working in the Chicago HQ can participate in social, philanthropic and other events. We're certainly not perfect, but we absolutely focus on it and we will never stop attempting to radiate our culture wherever Solsties are on the globe.

 

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