Chapter 17: How to onboard a new hire from anywhere
In the previous chapter, we discussed hiring from anywhere. After you hire someone, the next step is to onboard and bring them up to speed as quickly as possible. If you can refine your onboarding process to ramp someone in three months instead of six, that creates a massive efficiency boost for your business!
Like the previous chapter on hiring, I’m going to share high-level remote first tactics instead of sharing generic onboarding advice that you could find in another book.
Context is king
The most important thing you need to consider when onboarding new hires is that context is king. How have decisions been made in the past? What has the company learned over the past six months? What is rewarded? What are the quarterly goals for a team or department? How does the new hire’s work fit into the bigger picture?
This information is all organizational context. Another word for this idea is tacit knowledge — it’s the stuff that you learn over time that tends to be difficult to explain or document in writing.
I recommend abiding by the following principle: If you were to onboard a new hire tomorrow, how much could they learn and discover about the business before they need to meet with you?
If you have a ton of organizational context that is easily accessible, someone could learn on their own for days before they need to ping you. To be clear, I’m not advocating for ditching new hires. The goal is to make organizational context readily accessible instead of dripping it out through meetings. If you are the gatekeeper of this information, you will become a bottleneck and the new hire won’t ramp as quickly as they could.
At Friday, when a new hire joins, they can access our software platform and see months of activity around goals, weekly updates, kudos, icebreaker questions, and announcements. They don’t need to rely on meetings or random interactions to learn this stuff.
New hire: day one
When someone new joins, make sure they complete the following activities on the first day:
1. Walk through the company handbook
Hold a meeting to walk through the company handbook and highlight values, key goals, and other high-level principles. Make sure to ask if the new hire needs clarification on anything and make sure to share this information asynchronously so they can reference it later. Use their feedback to continue to iterate on your handbook and its contents.
2. Reinforce the key responsibilities and expected output
The next activity is to share a job scorecard that outlines what is expected from the new hire. Specifically, what does success in the role look like?
This can be a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data. This scorecard will most likely change over time, but you need a written artifact that the new hire and manager can stare at to understand if people are meeting or exceeding the requirements of the role.
To use a sports analogy, each player has a position on the field. While the team is expected to achieve a collective outcome (winning the game), each person needs a personal mission, like scoring points or preventing the opponent from scoring.
If a new hire doesn’t know what position they need to play, they won’t know if they are succeeding in the role. This is the purpose of the job scorecard. It creates clarity around individual performance and success. At a bare minimum, it helps you have richer conversations about these unspoken expectations.
3. Introduce to teammates ASAP
The next step is to connect the new hire to their teammates as quickly as possible. Do not assume that this will happen automatically. Some people will be extroverted and instantly ping others to chat, while others may feel nervous connecting with new people out of the blue.
4. Pair the new hire with an onboarding buddy
In addition to connecting the new hire with their immediate teammates, you should pair them with a dedicated onboarding buddy. The purpose of this buddy is to help acclimate the new hire to the company. Ideally, this person is on an adjacent team vs. the immediate team. Here’s why:
- A new hire may feel uncomfortable asking a "dumb" question as they are concerned about how they might be perceived by the rest of the group.
- The purpose of the onboarding buddy is to provide context about the company and how it works. Once again, context is king.
- It helps the new hire get to know someone on another team. Organizational silos form automatically, so you need to be constantly breaking them down.
5. Set up regular check-ins
Next, you need to create regular checkpoints for new hires. It’s tough to ask for help as a new hire. It’s even more difficult to ask for help when you are remote and don’t have the random interactions to rely on. As a leader, the responsibility is on you to create regular check-ins to make sure roadblocks are removed as quickly as possible. Every roadblock extends the time it will take to fully ramp a new hire.
Throughout this book, we’ve talked about reducing time spent in meetings and holding Zoom calls for times when you want to build relationships, collaborate, or remove blockers.
When onboarding a new hire, I’d encourage you to default to video conversations most of the time (at least during the early stages of onboarding). This helps you get to know each other, it makes it easier to work through complex issues, and get on the same page. This is a time when you want to default to video calls!
For many leaders, work can get overwhelming and you forget to sync up with a new hire as frequently as you wanted. That’s why I encourage you to pair check-in meetings with an asynchronous check-in. We will discuss this strategy in more detail in the next chapter, but you should ask a few questions once a week (or two):
- How did you feel about the week?
- Do you have any blockers that we should discuss?
- Is there anything I can do to help you?
The answers to these questions should only be visible to you vs. the broader group.
Adjust your behavior over time
Another strategy is to adjust your behavior over time as the new hire becomes acclimated to the role and the day-to-day work. In the book, High Output Management, Andy Grove calls this idea “task-relevant maturity.”
In short, you should manage differently depending on the level of experience someone has with a particular task. For example:
- When onboarding a new hire, you should be more hands-on and involved. By doing this, you speed up the pace of learning and help the employee onboard faster.
- For someone who has been working at your company for 10 years in the same role, they probably don’t need supervision as they know what they are doing. Therefore, you can be hands-off.
For a new hire, I will often set up daily meetings for the first week as a way to help accelerate the pace of learning. For someone who’s been working at the company for a few years, we may only need to meet a couple times a month.
Whenever I onboard a new employee, I will tell them that I am going to be more hands-on in the early days to help them onboard quickly, and that I will slowly back away over time. I find that setting this expectation provides clarity and helps me clarify that my goal is to help them onboard quickly vs. being a micromanager. ;)
“My onboarding experiences differ between the different positions I received over time. During my previous internships, my onboarding consisted of me receiving a checklist of my role and what I was expected to do during my time there. I remember there was a lot of paperwork to read. Then I was with all the other new hires while we went through the general overview of what to do and what not to do.
We then split up and went to our respective departments. I was taken to my desk and had a few online training courses to complete. Once I read all the information and was able to pass, I had my first meeting with my supervisor, where she introduced herself to me, went over my first tasks, and let me meet some people in my department.
My onboarding process at Friday was different because it was virtual. I was expecting a lot of PDF documents to review, but there was none of that. I was with one other intern, and Luke went through with introductions first, and then dove into the company handbook. I learned about Friday’s mission and values. I was able to ask any questions or mention anything that stood out to me. It was quick and concise.
Afterward, I jumped right into a call with the entire team. We introduced ourselves, said our positions and presented a fun fact. That broke the ice immediately. After chatting for a while, we went over the goals we wanted to accomplish in the following month.
Overall, my onboarding experience with Friday was shockingly effective. There was no time wasted for paperwork or online training. I knew exactly what my role was and what I had to do. I also met the team all at once, instead of having to walk desk to desk and potentially distract them.”
Final thought: discover what works for you
I’m going to let you in on a secret. Before the pandemic, many remote-first companies would encourage new hires to meet up in person with their manager as a way to accelerate onboarding. A new hire would fly to the city where the manager lived and hang out for the first week. While this may be impossible with a global team, it may be worth exploring as an option.
Think about it – if you can ramp up a new employee faster by meeting up in person during the early stages of onboarding, you could save tens of thousands of dollars in time cost. As a friendly reminder, the work-from-anywhere movement is about picking the right tool for the task at hand. If hanging out in person accelerates onboarding, you should do it.
Want to keep reading? In the next chapter we discuss how to lead a team from anywhere.