Street Culture: Parking App SpotHero and Employees Working Out the Kinks

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“Don’t get stuck in traffic.”

At SpotHero, that phrase is thrown around often – sometimes a reminder between coworkers to take a breath, other times an opportunity to ask for some help when the workday “traffic” gets overwhelming.

SpotHero, an on-demand app that helps drivers find parking spots, is at a turning point in its growth. Headquartered in Chicago, the company grew from 35 employees to 75 in 2015, and is currently hiring for about 20 positions. The company is anticipating employee needs and is working to stay ahead of the curve in creating policies that will keep everyone engaged and the business moving forward.

Elissa Beckman, head of talent and HR at SpotHero, started at the company in September 2015 after being enticed by the co-founders.

“All the conversations I had [during the interview process] were very real, and that, to me, speaks of a place I want to be,” she said. “A good culture, I can kind of sniff it out. They were very honest about things they want to work on and where I could add value. That was what I wanted to hear. I could see right away what I could come in and help do and help grow. I could tell it was very authentic.”

Beckman’s whole career has been in the technology startup space, she said, and it’s where she likes to be. Her last position before working at SpotHero was at financial technology company Avant, which grew from 250 to 800 people in the 14 months Beckman worked there. At SpotHero, Beckman’s job is to formalize processes and policies, on everything from recruiting to hiring to onboarding, training and developing company culture. First on deck is SpotHero’s performance management, an assessment that Beckman said doesn’t always work for every company.

“We’re a young company and I’m the first person who is in-house HR, so we haven’t had formal processes for a lot of things,” she said. “There are a few reasons for that. [The founders] wanted it to happen organically and not force any type of performance management on managers. But now that we’ve grown, we need to have something in place. With companies at this size, people start asking for something. They want to see, ‘How can I start growing personally in the company? I’m carving my career path; what’s available for me in the future and how do I get myself there?'”

The process Beckman wants to try out – one she has implemented at previous companies – includes managers holding informal check-in sessions after three months and then again after nine months, to review company values, address problems, and brainstorm solutions on how to eliminate roadblocks.

“The formal process will be something you fill out as a self review, then the manager will review as well, all based on company values,” Beckman said. “We’re looking at it on a grid where the X axis is the core values, all culture-type things, and the Y axis is individual performance.”

But the key to formalizing this process is whether or not it works for the employees.

“We’re going to roll that out and see how it works and how people like it,” Beckman said. “It’s still in pilot mode and we want the entire team to participate in this and get feedback from them. It’s not just for leaders. If people don’t like it, we’ll either not do it or we’ll make the proper adjustments. It’s really important that all our people are brought into our process when we launch something like this.”

With companies experiencing fast growth, lots of employees often are fairly new all at the same time, and Beckman knows that being proactive with procedures will help them.

“This generation we have, they always want to know, ‘What’s next for me and how can I get there?’” she said. “In those environments where companies grow so fast, career growth is so important.”

Offering paid internships is one way SpotHero finds talent – one intern liked the work so much that he went back for a second internship a year after his first, and then was offered a full-time job when the internship ended. But identifying that perfect person who fits in with the team and has the right skills for the job isn’t always quantifiable, Beckman said.

“It’s also about the energy somebody has,” she said. “An innate feeling that someone will fit in well here, fit into that chaotic type environment. We’ve had a couple people here who weren’t right, who were a little alarmed by how open and honest we are, which is what appealed to me. It might not appeal to everyone.”

Beckman described a recent situation where she and another employee were in the middle of interviewing a potential job candidate, when Mark Lawrence, SpotHero’s co-founder and CEO, called a drop-everything-now meeting.

“We had to get the team together and [a different person had] to come in and cover during the interview,” Beckman said. “We all immediately had to switch gears; the meeting was going on outside the door and it was distracting. Things like that can happen anytime and this candidate just rolled with it, was not thrown off by it. We thought, ‘OK, this person could be a good fit because they’re going to have to do this in their job too.’ It’s not always going to be what you thought it was going to be, and you have to adapt and be flexible.”

April Nowicki is a contributor to Street Fight.