April 23, 2013

Onboarding: a new hire starts on time, so should you.

There are two ways to onboard a new hire. The first is the bad way: on their first day, get started. The second, higher road, is to get things in order in advance of day one so the new team member can sit down and get busy from the get go.

Doing a good job with onboarding can make a huge difference in the perceptions the entire team has of the company, let alone the new hire, and it saves tons of time by helping everyone be less involved in showing greenhorn the ropes.

So, what’s the typical process for onboarding at a small company like ours? I split it into two realms: logistics and getting to know the company.

Logistics of onboarding

Complete paperwork early

If your shop is similar to mine, there are ten or so critical documents that need to be completed: I9, W4, a contract, hr policies, benefit enrollment, non-competes, and so on. With effective onboarding, all of these docs will be read, discussed, and signed before the new hire steps foot in the door. In our previously paper-world, we stick it all in a folder and mail it to our new hire and have them drop them off, completed, in person (because of security).

Paying people is simple. Do it.

Getting a new hire paid is the lowest hanging fruit getting picked the rarest. Why’s it so damned hard to get a person paid in the next, natural pay cycle? I have no idea. We’ve screwed it up in the past, but for no other reason than disorganization. That should not be an excuse. Payroll is simple. You provide information to your payroll company or bookkeeper (maybe that’s you!), and you print a check. If it’s direct deposit, it’s easier, collect the bank routing info and account number and ka-zamm, the person gets paid. No excuses. Pay. Your. People. On. Time.

Setting up a workstation doesn’t require the new guy

If the new hire is working on site, you work to get a desk, computer, email, network connectivity/permissions, software, peripherals, and a phone running 3 days in advance of the person starting. Save for some personalization such as special software requests, this is repetitive, predictable work which can and should be completed on time. Imagine yourself starting a job as a writer, and showing up only to be told that your paper and pens haven’t arrived yet. This is 2013. Amazon delivers on the same day if you need them to.

Getting to know the company

The second realm of onboarding is what larger companies call orientation. It’s dark rooms with hr people reading powerpoint presentations to you while you sit and wonder why your computer isn’t ready yet.

At small companies, it’s a combination of interviews with the team, reading a handbook, and probably having someone show you how to use the coffee machine or how to yell for help if you get locked in the supply closet.

Whatever orientation means to your company, it should not mean sleep-mode for your new hire’s brain. Spread it out into manageable chunks over the course of several days. Mix it with project ramp-ups, team lunches, and plenty of being around to answer questions while not glaring into your portable rectangle of light.

Interviews with founders and managers

New team members will create natural connections with their peers just by virtue of getting acquainted with a project or codebase. What doesn’t happen without effort is the forging of relationships between the new hire and the founders, managers, and other administrative people at the company. The reason is simple enough: you’re often not working together. So, add a little kindling to these connections by scheduling one on one interviews within the first two weeks. At Mammoth, this is usually myself (as managing director), Lindsay (as people-ops director), Ka Wai (as tech director), and either Mike or Scott as project managers. For us, these are half hour sessions (though the technical ones take longer), which we pace out over the course of two weeks. We get early feedback on what’s working, answer questions, and address any immediate issues which may be affecting their experience.

Check-ins with a mentor

Now that your initial interview with a new hire has been scheduled, schedule two or three more check-ins, making sure they’re on the calendar before day one. It gives the new hire an expectation that you’re looking for feedback and that they’ll have an opportunity to voice some as well. Here at Mammoth we do check-ins at the one-week, 3-week, and 2 month interval, which then feeds into our quarterly review schedule.

By no means are these the only times to do a check-in, rather, it’s the bare minimum to ensure the teams doing a good job getting the new hire integrated, and to gather feedback and problems while they’re fresh.

Rinse and repeat: onboarding checklist

Once you’ve settled on an inventory of tasks and events for onboarding your employees write it all down into a reusable checklist. Onboarding isn’t a linear series of events. A checklist helps track all the goings-on between date of hire, start date, and the first few weeks on the job.

Make a lasting impression

If a company doesn’t do a good job managing a new employee’s early experiences, how well do you think it’ll do a year on, or even four? Taking the time to clean up the logistical and social aspects of onboarding works wonders for a team. It says to the new hire “My time is respected, this company is organized, and I can focus on my new job”. It saves the company money by getting the new hire productive more quickly and not reinventing the wheel every week. Remember: if your new hire can start on time, so should you.

{Craig Bryant is founder and product manager of Kin, and cofounder of We Are Mammoth, a web consulting firm in Chicago.}

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