On “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” Ben Horowitz gives some advices about how to onboard new members into an already formed team:
- Give them objectives fast, even daily. Look for fast production;
- Everyone must understand the product, the market, the customers and the technology;
- Schedule meetings regularly and force them to bring questions about everything they don’t completely understand;
- Demand a report about what they’ve learned from each person.
In this post I would like to go a little bit further into this subject and talk a bit about how and why I do it in my teams.
0) Onboarding starts on the recruitment
Recruiting a new member for the team is probably the most important task in any company.
While validation of technical skills is important, validating the alignment between the person’s own values and motivations with the ones of the company is as, if not more, important.
While doing this validation (values and motivations) you’re exposing your future teammate to your own values and this constitutes onboarding step 0 for us.
1) On par with the technology and processes
If your company is more than a couple of months old and is a technology company, the amount of knowledge the new teammate has to process until being able to dive into the production source code is, for sure, pretty sizeable.
No amount of manuals will do the job here, at least if you want to speed up the process and get the new colleague comfortable with his new colleagues in the process.
So you will have to present, the technology stack you use, the tools you need to use so that you can be prolific in that stack while at the same time, reducing the time spent in the process and minimising the risk of getting low quality code into production.
How can we do this?
In my teams we’ve implemented a mentorship program.
Any new team member, no matter what is his previous experience, will be assigned someone, with at least one year working with us, as his mentor.
The mentorship program lasts one month maximum and the mentor has a set of obligations:
-Produce a plan to get the trainee up to pay with a previous defined set of skills and technologies;
-Regard the new team member questions as top priority;
-Produce weekly reports, 200 words maximum, to provide to the new team member as feedback;
-Produce a final report with an assessment of skills mastered and the ones needing improvement.
Having someone available to answer a question when needed and provide guidance is in our opinion fundamental to break the ice and incentivise a steady pace for the new team member while learning a new job.
2) Understanding the Business
This one is a little trickier.
Although exposed to the business since the first interview, in modern company cultures, where participation and opinion sharing is valued and incentivised, it’s extremely important that every team member get to know the why’s behind every, or most, of the decisions made.
Exposing this is extremely hard and should be a cultural trait of the whole company.
Decisions should be exposed as much as possible, getting out of the private communication channels (like email conversations) and as much as possible, move into company-wide channels like slack, that usefully keeps an history of previous conversations and a robust search engine.
Other important aspect of exposing the culture is to instigate curiosity by maximising the exposure of information in every possible aspect, like I mentioned in a previous post (Product development tools).
All this doesn’t exclude having an introductory presentation with all the business definitions, directions and explanations, that’s just not enough anymore.
3) Something to refer back to
Even with all the onboarding process perfectly put into place there are doubts that always arise over time, even for seasoned employees, so it should always be possible for someone to get answers in a clear way. This can be achieved by :
-Making perfectly clear to everyone who they can ask about anything work related;
-Making a manual where team members can refer to as a fast resort. Valve has a great one which I have written about here.
This is what we have in place in my present team and it seems to be working, how do you do it?
(@alexmc on Twitter or alexandre.carvalho at Linkedcare.com)