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Have you ever started a new job only to feel like you have been dropped into the jungle without a guide, compass, or map? It happened to me early in my career.
I showed up on the first day eager to get started. But everyone seemed disorganized and even surprised to see a new person walk in. And worse, the VP of sales came in to tell me how awful the CEO was and that the last person in my job just gave up and left.
It may have been young, but I knew enough to recognize dysfunction.
Luckily, the company mostly got its act together — eventually. And I started to find my way and did some good work for more than a year until I found a healthier company to join. But that experience left a lasting impression on me. I vowed that once I was in the position to hire new people, I’d handle things differently.
I take hiring very seriously. It is arguable the most important job I have. I always make a point to be as well-prepared as possible. This is true both when interviewing candidates and welcoming new hires to our team. The process of hiring and onboarding new colleagues impacts our whole company. It is important to get it right.
At Aha! we are growing rapidly and have quickly expanded the team to meet the demand. To keep rolling, we must continue to build what customers love. That means we need to keep hiring, training, and nurturing top talent — as a fully distributed team (we allow our employees to work anywhere in the U.S.).
Scaling a hyper-productive team means that you need new employees to start contributing as soon as possible. And as their new boss, the onus is on you to give them access to information and the tools that will help them succeed.
Too many companies lose valuable time allowing new hires to “ease” into the role. Paradoxically, these same companies also expect new hires to “self-teach” and start contributing as soon as possible. If you think “sink or swim” is a good onboarding philosophy, you are likely the one who is drowning.
The end result is time and talent wasted — and often a resignation down the line. Those months that new hires spend “figuring it out” should be spent achieving company goals and building their own self-confidence. So, what can you do to put new hires on the path to success?
Start challenging them as soon as possible.
This does not have to be painful for you or your new hires. Having a few processes in place will cut confusion and strengthen your onboarding. The most efficient managers give new hires:
You cannot expect new hires to onboard themselves. As their manager, you are responsible for their ongoing growth. So, on a new hire’s first day, make time for a one-on-one discussion. Ask them to name one high-level goal that they would like to achieve in their first 90 days. Then, design a roadmap that will put them on track to accomplish that goal and other critical work. This genuine interest puts both of you on the same page — and can work wonders for employee retention.
If you have hired the best, then there is no reason why a new hire cannot contribute right away. Match their top skills to ongoing projects that suit their interests and aptitudes. The most productive employees are eager to get going. Giving them meaningful work from day one assures them that they can learn and contribute at the same time. It also boosts their confidence — which will help them take ownership of challenging projects later on.
Onboarding never really stops. This is especially true on agile tech teams, where responsibilities can rapidly change. As a manager on one of these teams, you should always be educating your team in new, insightful ways.
For example, I want every employee to understand our customers — regardless of their role in our company. That is why each new hire completes a live customer demo within their first month of working at the company. They prepare by sitting in on as many customer demos as possible to learn more about our software, our customers’ pain points, and how to articulate solutions.
This knowledge enhances their work whether they are in marketing or engineering. It also gives all colleagues a shared sense of knowledge about who our customers are and what they need. That puts everyone on equal footing to offer feedback and solutions.
The first few weeks of a new hire’s transition are critical. Her energy and enthusiasm are at a high — and it is your job to make sure they stay there.
The day that you hire a new team member is the same day you should start planning how to retain them. Most managers wait until an employee starts to stall out before doing this. Focusing on new hires and their career growth from day one yields long-term rewards for you, your new team member, and your company.
How does your team onboard new hires?
Brian de Haaff is founder and CEO of Aha! which is product roadmap software. His last two companies were acquired by Aruba Networks and Citrix, respectively.
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