Hit the ground leading: How 6 Chicago tech companies set new managers up for success

by Alton Zenon III
November 14, 2018

At a fast-growing company, your first day on the job may come more than once, and being promoted to a leadership role for the first time can be a real challenge. Thankfully, many tech companies recognize that challenge, and are working hard to prepare employees for their first forays into leadership. We got insights from six of them to find out how. 

 

Groupon team working in conference room
image via groupon

Groupon connects consumers with local businesses and the experiences, services and goods they provide through its online marketplace. Head of Global Talent Development Eliza Wicher said leaders who are able to listen and adjust their plans based on employee input are valuable to the company.

 

What resources does your company provide to first-time leaders? 

We have a program for new leaders called FS90. It is a blended learning program that spans 90 days and equips our new leaders with a number of tools they get to practice using in the real world as they progress through the program. We also have an online resource where managers can search for a wide range of content about managing a team.

Groupon leaders stay humble — they drop the ego, are open to feedback, and are willing to change directions and let the best idea win.”

 

What is the most important quality you look for in a leader?

We expect our leaders to live the Groupon values and the Groupon leader habits. For example, Groupon leaders stay humble — they drop the ego, are open to feedback, and are willing to change directions and let the best idea win. They also get things done — they remove roadblocks and make connections for others. They know when to be a doer. Great leaders live and model our culture.

 

SMS Assist team posing for photo
image via sms assist

SMS Assist uses its proprietary cloud and mobile-based platform to give companies a more efficient way to manage maintenance and repair for their buildings. Chief Human Resources Officer Becky Lowe said their in-house program cultivates new leaders to be successful in their roles via a variety of developmental tools.

 

What resources does your company provide to first-time leaders?

For SMSers promoted to new leadership roles, our talent development team created Anthology: a collection of courses on building emotional intelligence, dealing with conflict, providing critical feedback, and more. Over eight weeks, these first-time managers participate in classroom workshops, watch microlearning videos, receive coaching aids and have direct access to the talent development team.
 
We also have a mentorship program built into Anthology, which pairs our less experienced managers with more tenured leaders. When Anthology ends, each SMSer receives a diploma and a handshake from CEO Taylor Rhodes, or as we look at it, from one leader to another.

We also have a mentorship program built into Anthology, which pairs our less experienced managers with more tenured leaders.”

 

What is the most important quality you look for in a leader?

We’re in the business of empathy. Relating to others, fostering understanding and building trust — these are all elements of empathy and valuable leadership traits that start within our four walls.

 

Home Chef team posing for photo
image via home chef

Home Chef fills the bellies of consumers with pre-portioned meal kits and cooking directions sent directly to their doorsteps. Lisa Bomrad, vice president of people, said emotional intelligence is a trait leaders at their company must have to succeed, and Home Chef works hard to cultivate it.

 

What resources does your company provide to first-time leaders?

We launched Home Chef Leadership Essentials, a six-month, in-house leadership development program based on emotional intelligence for all of our leaders. The program focuses on specific behavioral changes that will make the leader more effective. Home Chef also offers training to develop a manager’s skills for all phases of an employee’s life cycle. This includes interview training designed to help managers evaluate and select the best talent and performance management training designed to help managers give constructive feedback. 

Home Chef also offers training to develop a manager’s skills for all phases of an employees’ life cycle.”

 

What is the most important quality you look for in a leader?

It’s imperative that our leaders have high emotional intelligence in order to be strong people leaders. They should also have the flexibility to change directions when a better idea comes along and work to embrace the different perspectives among the people on their teams.

 

Upwork team photo
image via upwork

Upwork is a platform that allows freelancers with skills in everything from marketing to mobile development or accounting to connect with businesses in need of their services. Robert Merritt, vice president of enterprise sales, said one of the company’s leadership development programs gives new promotees the chance to test their mentorship abilities right away.

 

What resources does your company provide to first-time leaders? 

We’ve developed two major, formalized processes to identify and support our future leaders. First is a leadership program called On-Deck, which gives all individuals within sales and customer success the opportunity to be selected into a six-month development program. Future leaders go through a curated leadership curriculum and coaching, get increased access to Upwork’s leadership team and are individually mentored by our executives.

The second is a formalized mentorship program that pairs all new hires with budding leaders and gives mentors the opportunity to jump right into real-life leadership challenges and actively coach new hires through their first months in their new roles.

The most important quality is the ability to combine accountability and empathy into one leadership practice.”

 

What is the most important quality you look for in a leader?

The most important quality is the ability to combine accountability and empathy into one leadership practice. The best leaders know what the business needs to accomplish and hold themselves and those around them accountable to these expectations, but they do it in a way that’s human. They seek to understand and connect with their people, and they’re in tune with the challenges and obstacles that impede progress toward mutually agreed upon goals.

 

Hireology staff around a table chatting
image via hireology

Hireology’s platform allows companies to manage their recruitment and onboarding processes, as well as payroll, HR and benefits after a hire. Vice President of People Shannon Ward said that in addition to providing new leaders with the training they need, the company also gives resources to existing leaders for their ongoing development.

 

What resources does your company provide to first-time leaders? 

We support customized and self-selected opportunities for new managers, such as requesting mentorship or attending external training. We also provide Bravely as a resource to our team, and in the past, we’ve hosted an annual training for managers. This year, we are creating a training program designed to ensure our new managers are well-equipped to lead successfully, as well as offering content designed to foster continuous improvement for our more experienced managers.

This year, we are creating a training program designed to ensure our new managers are well-equipped to lead successfully.”

 

What is the most important quality you look for in a leader?

We have a set of five core values that we live and breathe. The most important trait we look for in any leader is that they can lead by example in consistently demonstrating all of these core values every day.

 

cleverbridge team posing with trophy
image via cleverbirdge

Via its cloud-based software platform, cleverbridge presents companies with opportunities to optimize their e-commerce, recurring billing and payment processing capabilities. Human Resources Leader Adam Perry and Human Resources Specialist Samantha Kawalko provided insight into the company’s efforts to assist their new leaders.

 

What resources does your company provide to first-time leaders?

Perry: We developed our own leadership model based on the concept of empowerment. Every leader is expected to communicate with transparency, provide regular feedback and recognize great performance. This commitment inspired us to create leadership workshops for every leader in the company. 

We also launched a peer coaching network called Learning Groups to provide ongoing support and skill-building opportunities for all global leaders. This network creates great opportunities for knowledge sharing and exchange between brand new and more seasoned leaders.

We want our leaders to be coaches, but being a coach doesn’t mean you need to have all the answers or make all the decisions.”

 

What is the most important quality you look for in a leader?

Kawalko: We look for people who are truly passionate about leading teams. We want our leaders to be coaches, but being a coach doesn’t mean you need to have all the answers or make all the decisions. Instead, a great leader points their team in the right direction and ensures they are playing to their strengths along the way.

 

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