Why these 3 Chicago companies take peer mentorship seriously

by Michael Hines
November 7, 2018

Peer mentorship is invaluable in the tech industry. At many companies, formal and informal mentorship plays a role in everything from preparing employees for leadership positions to helping new hires quickly get up to speed and feel welcome. We recently spoke with four Chicago tech workers to learn more about peer mentorship at their companies and the impact it makes.

 

NextCapital Chicago fintech company

NextCapital’s cloud-based platform provides personalized planning, advice and portfolio management services to individual investors and institutions. According to Design Lead Jake Ross, mentorship at NextCapital is a collaborative effort and not the responsibility of just one person.

 

How does NextCapital encourage and promote peer mentoring?

A new hire’s team will create prescribed pairing sessions and set up ample shadowing across the company’s many areas and levels. Getting new hires familiar with a wider range of our small-to-medium enterprises and role players prevents them from always taking the easy route to one mentor. Successful mentoring and continued development of mentees is seen as a requirement for advancement into management tracks. Ensuring management cares and places importance on people development is paramount to success.

Successful mentoring and continued development of mentees is seen as a requirement for advancement into management tracks.

 

Can you share an example of how peer mentorship has helped you grow?

One thing I think has been really helpful is pairing our new hires, especially those earlier in their careers, with a senior-level employee in their role. We then assign small slices of the senior-level employee’s work that can be seen as low-risk delivery items for the new hire. The solution is developed with the guidance of the mentor. Working closely with a colleague in this manner, the new employee learns a lot of the little things that formal mentoring and education miss, while also delivering production toward milestones.

 

Guaranteed Rate peer mentoring
JEN MORRIS (R)

Guaranteed Rate’s digital mortgage solution enables home buyers to apply, and be approved, for a mortgage in as little as 30 minutes. All new loan officers go through the Liftoff program, a five-week training where they shadow and train with mortgage specialists. Beyond the liftoff program, Executive Vice President Lizzie Garner and SVP of Marketing Jen Morris weighed in on the additional ways peer mentorship makes an impact across the company.

 

How does Guaranteed Rate encourage and promote peer mentoring?

Garner: For years, I ran a small, informal organization called GROW: Guaranteed Rate Organization of Women. We met in person annually, but the true value was that we built a community to provide options for mentorship by highlighting each woman’s specialty. We focused on learning to leverage self-declared “superpowers,” or those bestowed upon us by others. We provided names of the women who specialize in unique loan programs, discussed how to learn from those who excel at marketing themselves, and pointed them in the right direction for when they needed help organizing current priorities. We’ve worked to formalize this organization over the past six months and look forward to expanding our GROW community to support the needs of all female employees.

I’m especially proud that two of my direct reports have either been promoted or taken on additional team members.

 

Can you share an example of how peer mentoring helps team members grow?

Morris: I’m especially proud that two of my direct reports have either been promoted or taken on additional team members. Both are exceptionally talented, and my goal was to simply help them prioritize the initiatives that will have the most impact on the business while giving them the opportunity to spread their wings. I stressed the importance of using data to make decisions and tried to show rather than tell. As a result, they are mentoring their teams in a similar fashion, which is making our department stronger every day. I’m also learning from them because they are proactively bringing fresh ideas and process improvement recommendations to me. It makes mentoring a two-way street, which is extremely rewarding.

 

IMC Chicago fintech company

IMC is a tech-driven market maker that trades on over 100 stock exchanges around the world. Hardware Engineer Hayden Roche joined the company out of college and has been mentored by one of his team’s more senior members. In addition to learning things he wasn’t taught in class, Roche said this relationship has helped him take a better approach to problem solving.

 

How does IMC encourage and promote peer mentoring?

There are mentor-mentee relationships that IMC creates for all its new grad hires, with new employees paired with more senior ones. While this is the most explicit form of mentorship, more informal instances abound. One of the best things about the culture here is that nearly everyone enjoys teaching. You can walk up to just about anyone, ask a question and enter into a discussion that’ll be met with enthusiasm. IMC really values building up its new employees, and everyone recognizes the importance of these less-formal teaching opportunities. In addition, every employee will at some point participate in the company’s leadership training, which is run by our Center for Creative Leadership. A major focus of this program is learning how to better deliver and receive feedback, which is essential for growth in a mentor-mentee relationship.

One of the best things about the culture here is that nearly everyone enjoys teaching.

 

Can you share an example of how peer mentorship has helped you grow?

I have learned immensely from my colleague Coqui. Coqui is a senior engineer on my team, and he has a lot of experience in the industry that I lack. He reviews most of my code, and, through our discussions, I’ve come to view the problems we’re solving with a better engineering mindset. When it comes to designing computer systems, you must often make choices between performance and resource consumption. These types of trade-offs constrain the design process and aren’t something you get a whole lot of experience working with in college. Coqui’s mentorship has shown me how to approach our problems by thinking in terms of these trade-offs, which has helped me work both faster and smarter.

 

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