It's hard to over-invest in onboarding–at high growth companies, your newbies start outnumbering your oldies pret-ty quickly. Here are some principles and tactics to consider if you want to make onboarding really, really great.
- The right owner for the whole thing: It should be a single person's job whose mission is to make this Disneyland-level amazing and tell them so. Like many things, if the responsibility for greatness is split too many ways, the results will be diluted.
- A steady drumbeat of leader reminders that it's business-critical to do a great job: Your existing team has a ton of stuff going on. It's going to feel like a low priority to go on a coffee walk with some rando that just showed up on Slack. It's going to feel like a time suck to take the extra 30 minutes to walk the new team member through using this bespoke tool that feels super obvious after using it for the the last year. But, everyone's gotta do it! And leaders can remind them about why, proactively. How? Show how excited you are for the new start class by reacting on Slack/email. Spotlight the great work the onboarding team is doing. Do a QBR on it and publish notes to the team. Give feedback to a team member that the most awesome thing they did that week wasn't ship that thing, but rather getting super hands on with their new team member to show them the ropes.
- A deeper conversation about values: One critical part of onboarding is showing new hires the culture of their new home, and helping them integrate into it. One thing companies often forget is that everyone is coming with their own scar tissue from past experiences–you may have had a great experience with direct feedback, but a new team member might have had a screamer of a boss once upon a time. Facilitate a deeper conversation about the values and what hits their ear funny on first impression. It will get vulnerable, but that's the point.
- Go high on personality and soul in your spinups: So, all the content is being delivered to get your new teammates spun up on the industry, product, users, business, and org structure. But, is it compelling? Do people like consuming it? Does it feel like you? Does it reflect what your company values? I'd recommend regular audits of the content to make sure it's up to snuff. One way to do this in a scalable way is to record sessions (you can even delete them after some time period) or have leaders from the company drop in from time-to-time (give facilitators a heads up!).
- Rotating spin-up facilitators at a regular cadence: This will create a baked-in experiment in content and delivery. When you ask your new teammates about their favorite sessions/how they'd rank, you'll start to see trends in what actually works.
- Get your newbies to ship something ASAP: big or small, a ship's a ship. And this boost of confidence and productivity is so important early on.
- Manager feedback loop: Are your people getting integrated into the company culture and up to speed fast enough? What’s missing from company-wide onboarding? What's missing from team onboarding? Where does that information go? Many teams have a "how'd this go?" survey for new employees post onboarding, but I'd recommend having one for managers too.
- Cohorts at a set cadence: Have lots of people start on the same day to the extent possible. (Even if it means someone starts two weeks later). It's a much better new hire experience and you'll probably get those two weeks of efficiency back down the road. Beyond that, this program takes a ton of work. Batching them makes it more likely that your owners, facilitators, and spinup buddies can keep the energy up.
- Raising red flags: The hiring process doesn't get it right every time and your flavor on onboarding might not suit everyone. How do you keep tabs on who might be flailing early on? And, what do you do to support them? Many teams have some way for employees to document their first impressions of their new organization, but I'd encourage managers to do this, too. Then, it can serve as a low-stakes performance review of sorts where the only goal is to get them the support they need (or, help them move on as quickly as possible before really investing). And remember, this isn't a punishment, it's just a way to get some extra help. In my days playing competitive soccer, if you failed the pre-season fitness test, you had an extra fitness session added to the practice regiment before breakfast (we called it "breakfast club," and it honestly had it's own camaraderie since we were all working extra hard to better the team).
- The 10x spinup buddy: Some people are real naturals at being a spinup buddy. These are probably your empaths/the one's that love organizing team fun. It's going to be tempting to rotate buddies around the team for fairnesses sake, but do yourself a favor. If you've got a 10x spinup buddy on your team, make it some explicit part of their job and sic them on all your new hires!
- Be in constant conversation with new team members: it's hard to pipe up and ask for things, especially in a new environment where you want to look extremely competent. Have people constantly asking, proactively, how things are going. And, have escalation paths for any white flags (likely directly to the manager). This can be some combination of spinup buddies, manager, and anyone else they casually meet around the company.
- First Impression Doc Changelog: It's easy to forget people are new when there are even newer people starting. 3-4 months in, have still-new employees publish a changelog on their first impressions doc and share it with their managers to get a sense of how things are progressing. If you want this one to be a bit more prescriptive, provide a template for some questions to muse on.
- Then, run a group retrospective: Have cohorts get back together ~6 month mark for a retrospective on the onboarding program. They may have some great ideas for you while they're still relatively green but have the benefit of onboarding being in the rearview a bit. Also, it's always just fun to get the (likely very crossfunctional) crew back together.
- More ritual: facilitate a spiritual connection to each other and the organization. Make this unique to you!
- (idea) Interview feedback reminder: I've had a hunch that interview feedback might have some clues in it about what support employees might need when getting started at their new company. Starting at a new company should be a clean slate, but it might be helpful for the manager to revisit interview feedback to look out for any places she may need to lend some extra help. Either way, it might clue you in to what's working and not about your interview questions/process!
Psst. Full onboarding 101 checklist in the paid version here.