Chicago: The Great American Startup Town No One Talks About

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

If New York City is the finance capital…

And San Francisco is teeming with tech talent…

While Los Angeles is known as the hub of Hollywood…

What does that make Chicago?

We’re a city that’s outgrown our traditional transportation identity.

Sure, we’re still a critical nexus connecting the East Coast to the West, Connecticut to California; but as a serial entrepreneur who calls the Windy City home, I’ve seen for myself and would argue to anyone … we’re also so much more.

Consider the following:

There’s a reason why increasing numbers of startups – including my own – are making the strategic choice to call Chicago home.

Namely, a healthy, diverse ecosystem of business, big and small, that supports one another other.

Larger institutions invest in the agility, creative thinking, and potential of their smaller counterparts as a way to give them an edge over entrenched industry players. Because from banking to Boeing, IT to fashion, we all need upstarts to push the envelope and push ourselves.

One illustrative example. Scrappy Chicago apparel startup Trunk Club took on fashion powerhouses by being more convenient, more customer-service centric for savvy and reluctant shoppers alike. They paired personal stylists with individuals, and delivered clothing optimized for every consumer’s shape, style, and budget size.

Their success was meteoric – and continues today after being bought by Nordstrom for a formidable $350m sale.

But it’s not only symbiotic relationships that make Chicago’s business landscape so great – it’s our sheer diversity. Where as other cities can cling to one sector, Chicago defies the mold and brings numerous differentiated industries huddled together in one place.

Among the Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the greater Chicago area: United Airlines, Allstate Insurance, McDonald’s, Exelon, Motorola, Kraft Foods, Sears, Walgreens- from healthcare to technology, I could go on, and on.

Here’s what I can say from personal experience: what makes Chicago a great place to live and work is that this is a city that brings people, professionals, and businesses – from all walks of life – together.

What makes us different, makes us complementary, makes us stronger.

Chicago has an energy that all it’s own, one that you can’t easily summarize or quickly stereotype.

It’s the startup town no one is talking about, but probably should.

The Limits of Traditional Talent Management

Why More and More Companies are Ditching the “Old” and Ushering in the “New”

You don’t have to flip far through the Business pages these days to find yet another report of a Fortune 500 Company dumping its outdated performance assessment structure.

Take the example of Goldman Sachs. Apparently no employee likes to be reduced to a number – not even those who trade in them.

Goldman, like dozens of forward-thinking companies in every sector, of every size, is scrapping traditional, top-down quantitative performance systems in favor of egalitarian qualitative performance evaluations.

Here’s why the Goldman decision matters for you and your business.

First, quantitative structures ignore naturally occurring biases and human subjectivity. On a scale from 1 to 5, a certain manager’s ‘three’ may be another manager’s ‘four.’ And unfortunately, it’s all too often the employees themselves left scratching their heads to figure out what really means what, and what that really means for them … really.

Qualitative structures acknowledge the stabilizing framework of aggregated results, but go deeper by prompting for much needed constructive explanation.

What is it, exactly, that makes Tom’s presentation skills so resonant and Tina’s client management so masterly? And how can they apply the learned dexterity from one aspect of their job to become more efficient, more effective, in all that they do?

People learn from personalized, individualized reviews – not numerical equivalencies.

Second, top-down performance systems follow organizational hierarchies. Executives reviewing VPs, VPs reviewing directors, directors reviewing associates, and associates –well, you get the idea.

The problem? Finding solutions to your most pressing business problems doesn’t usually work that way. As any crowd-funded success story will illustrate, good ideas often bubble from the bottom, up.

Successful leaders understand that their job isn’t to claim a monopoly on all the right answers – but to spot and support them, wherever and whomever they come from. Performance systems that not only allow, but encourage colleagues from different business and departments to offer their words of advice to one another make it easier for leaders to spot, support, and sustain emerging talent. That makes the organization as the whole better, more unified, and stronger.

Third, old-time quantitative systems most often take the form of annual assessments. Think about that for a moment … do you want your employees only to improve once per year?

If you’re like the rest of us, you’d prefer to measure and monitor meaningful continuous improvement. That’s why when everything in our lives, from TV to food delivery, is on-demand, so should be workplace guidance.

Qualitative and open-sourced performance structures allow for employees to intake reviews on a deliverable, a project cycle, a growth term as you define it.

That’s employee development, on your terms.