How 3 Colorado tech companies encourage professional growth

August 24, 2017

Today’s tech workers want more from their employers than a paycheck and a ping pong table. They want opportunities to grow, learn new skills and advance their careers in meaningful ways. In response, many employers have begun formalizing professional development programs as a way to recruit, retain and nurture top tech talent.

 

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Ibotta’s consumer shopping app is all about “life rewarded,” but the company also promotes an internal culture of “work rewarded” that enables it to maintain a rapid growth pace. Chief people officer Alison Meadows, who leads the company's professional development initiatives, shed some light on what Ibotta does to reward and encourage ambition. 

What professional growth opportunities do you offer employees?

Employees have different needs at different stages in their careers, so we put together a slate of offerings that range from self-directed learning programs and employee-led workshops to more formal leadership development programs.

We have a learning library where employees can check out books and other resources. Employees can also sign up for workshops led by their colleagues, as well as formal development programs called “People First” and “Leadership Edge,” which are run by Denver-based consulting groups that offer leadership coaching.

People First is a program for first-time leaders and managers who haven’t had much formal leadership training. Leadership Edge is a little bit different in that it’s also for those who work in a cross-functional role across departments and need to elevate their strategic position in the company.

A recent graduate of Leadership Edge was a quieter leader going into the program, and she is now a much more vocal and confident leader cross-functionally. Managers and other leaders nominate employees for both programs. So far, about 60 employees have graduated from them.

How have these initiatives evolved as the company has scaled?

What’s evolved as the company has scaled is the need for us to continue to develop the internal resources necessary to provide growth opportunities for an incredibly wide range of people. So we’re encouraging more employees to step up and run workshops to help their teammates grow and develop. Our VP of data analytics, Bijal Shah, is working on a seminar right now called “How to Have an Effective 1:1.” 

We also encourage our employees to attend conferences and workshops externally to help them acquire new skills and grow. We had a woman recently who worked on our client success team, but who had a passion for coding. She learned Python on her own and made the leap from client success over to our data analytics team.

How have your professional growth initiatives impacted the internal culture?

Well, there have certainly been a lot more nominations for the more formal programs. The cross-functional connections and relationships formed continue to help strengthen teamwork across the entire company.

In People First, participants are grouped into “triads” — groups of three people who serve as each other’s personal board of advisers. These individuals typically don’t work together, but they become sounding boards for continued development long after the program ends. This helps create a whole web of connections among leaders across the organization, which ultimately helps preserve and grow Ibotta’s culture as we scale. These programs have helped everyone become better contributors and get better results at the end of the day.

 

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Managed mobility services provider Mobile Solutions focuses heavily on its people. The company has built a culture that celebrates internal career advancement. Director of operations Amber Hollenbeck, who started on the service desk six years ago, shared how internal promotion and defined career paths keep employees motivated and excited to come to work each day.

What professional development opportunities do you offer employees?

Hollenbeck: The most important aspect of any business is the people. We believe that, and we live it every day. Whenever there are open positions, we look internally first. Skills can be taught, but the intrinsic characteristics of integrity, reliability and hard work are what we hire for. To that end, we meet with employees regularly to discuss their career paths and to help them achieve their goals. We offer leadership training and skill development classes to ensure our people succeed. To give you an example, 11 of our people who started on the service desk have been promoted.

How have these initiatives evolved as the company has scaled?

Hollenbeck: As we’ve grown, our people have grown with us. With over 60 employees now, we are offering quarterly trainings to develop employees in their professional lives. And as the company continues to expand, our career paths have become more defined. Of course, finding a work-life balance is huge as well, and we offer weekly lunch and learns to leverage the diverse skill sets of our employees. We all have something to learn from one another, whether you’re on the service desk or the leadership team.

How have your professional growth initiatives impacted the internal culture?

Kyle Post, lead generation specialist: I started a year ago on the service desk, and I was instantly hooked. There was a friendly environment, and the people around me were all excited to be here. Kim and Jim are so gracious to us. They provide a fully stocked kitchen — and food truck Fridays! They noticed my hard work; that’s something I haven’t experienced at other jobs. They talked to me about opportunities and then they offered me a position with the sales team. I’ve grown so much here.

 

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Mobile adtech company AdAction Interactive launched in 2013 and has grown to a team of almost 40. With a number of millennials among its ranks, the company realized how critical development opportunities were to keeping people engaged. Dianne Wright, manager of people and culture, explained how the company supports its employees’ efforts to move their careers — and the company — forward.

What professional growth opportunities do you offer employees?

AdAction is committed to the growth of our employees, as it only makes us a stronger company in the end. We want our employees to be successful in their current roles and we also want to help them grow their skill sets for the future.

We have covered the cost of Excel courses and sent employees to workshop conferences. We also always encourage employees to take on projects they are passionate about and that will help move our business forward. Most important to us is for the employee to take the initiative and show a genuine interest in continuing their learning. Each individual owns their own development, but we are here to support them and give them access to resources.

How have these initiatives evolved as the company has scaled?

As AdAction has grown, we have made a point to formalize processes around performance reviews and career path opportunities. This has allowed us to be consistent and more transparent in how we evaluate success and growth within our teams. It has also set clear benchmarks for our employees, so they understand what they need to focus on in terms of their potential for advancement.

We have also identified developmental paths within our organization that help candidates build foundational skills in mobile advertising and campaign operations, which ultimately helps them become more skilled, well-rounded industry experts.

For example, candidates initially join our team as coordinators to learn the basics of the industry. As the employee develops specific skills and abilities, they advance into a senior coordinator position where they are challenged with tasks and projects from internal departments, providing more exposure into those departments and in-depth insight into the business as a whole. Based on their interests and abilities, the candidate’s next step is to move into a team lead role or transition into a more suitable department that continues to build upon their key skill sets.

We want to invest in our rising stars, build an internal pipeline of highly qualified candidates for each department and help our employees achieve their own professional goals within our company and beyond.

How have your professional growth initiatives impacted the internal culture?

Above all else, it has provided a platform for people to talk about growth opportunities more openly and frequently. Knowing that there are paths for them to move forward and understanding how to get there is really motivating for our employees.

I have seen multiple coordinators join the business, prove their worth, ask for additional responsibilities or classes, and, ultimately, prove their value to the company. This is the kind of initiative and self-drive that we love to see from our staff, and it is what led to a handful of them receiving promotions — some in less than a year! Their success not only drives them to keep pushing for more, but it also inspires and motivates their peers to want to achieve more, too.

 

Photos via featured companies. Responses have been edited for clarity and length.

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