Andy: When do you think you figured out how to onboard someone new to your team?
Emma: Lol what do you mean “figured out”?
Andy: It’s tricky business! On top of, you know, all your normal work, you now have to pinpoint exactly what a new person needs to learn, and at what point they need to learn it, while also guessing how this person learns best. Plus right now, most of it’s going to be over video…
Emma: Here’s the number one most important thing I’ve learned about onboarding: most people, at most jobs, will take around three months to onboard into their role. And that means any sort of onboarding plan you develop needs to span 90 days. Lots of my “onboarding programs” tapped out at about…a week?
Andy: At least you had some sort of plan! I know plenty of managers who just kind of wing it starting the first day: here’s your keycard and your employee handbook, read these six packets of Important Background Information…now start working!
Emma: Ha, I’ve done that version too. I think it’s really easy to forget that, when you hire someone, you’re mainly hiring their potential. Most of the qualities, knowledge, habits, protocols, and so on you’d expect from someone who is fully integrated into the team need to be developed. That will happen naturally over time as your new hire assimilates and observes and makes mistakes and gets feedback. It will happen faster, and with less frustration, if you set the stage for success during onboarding.
Andy: These days, we both use a 30/60/90-day framework for onboarding new hires — a document that describes where we want a new hire to be by the end of each month, and what we think it will take to get them there. I think the most reassuring thing about the 30/60/90-day plan is a shared definition of success for both the new hire and their manager. When things seem overwhelming, confusing, or messy, either one of you can turn to this plan and see what exactly a good first few months looks like.
Emma: Exactly. It’s like a scorecard for the first 90 days. If your newbie accomplishes what’s on this document, it’s confetti popping time. If not, no biggy — you both know precisely where to focus your attention.
Andy: We’ve listed everything we think about when we start putting together a 30/60/90-day plan — the future we try to predict, the questions we try to answer.
Emma: No onboarding is going to be perfect — humans are too complicated and messy and individual to actually follow a plan. You’re going to iterate like crazy…but at least you have a plan to iterate on. Good luck!
Everything We Think About When Creating an Onboarding Plan
Ideally this document would start coming to life while you’re writing the job description; at least give yourself a week or two. That will give you enough time to know what assignments/projects/clients/
It’s also enough time for you to gather intel from the rest of your team. If it’s your first new hire, your teammates can give insight to what they think the most challenging and/or important concept is to grasp, what qualities or skills they want to see from their new colleague, and so on. If it’s not your first new hire, plumb your last few hires for feedback on their onboarding experience: what worked, what didn’t, what do they know now that they didn’t know when they started, how and when did that click for them.
In the first 30 days
What do they need to learn? We find this is easiest to think of in the context of the 60- and 90-day goals. If they are going to be fully integrated into the team by the end of 90 days, what learning needs to happen to get there? This could be everything from technical skill to interdepartmental processes; industry best practices to team-specific quirks.
What do they need to do to learn those things? This may depend on your new hire — their personality, how they learn, what level of technical skill they are coming in at. You can be flexible and adapt this portion throughout the first 30 days. In our experience, it’s typically a mix of hands-on assignments; shadowing/collaborating with other team members; lots of meetings and walkthroughs; and some reading (wikis, guides, manuals, team documentation).
Who do they need to meet? Name names here! What do they need to know from these people?
What meetings do they need to attend? List them! And how frequently they occur, and what the goals of each of those meetings is. Do you have any expectations for your new hire’s participation in those meetings? List those too.
How will they show that they’ve learned? What will give you confidence that they are ready to start doing more next month? (This is especially important to figure out if you lean toward micro-management.)
In the first 60 days
What can they start to do? What assignments or projects or tasks are they participating in, and at what level of quality do you expect those to be done at? There is a balance here: we know it will take around 90 days to be fully onboarded into the team, but by the end of the second month, we want our new hire well on their way.
What assistance, safety nets, shadowing, partnering, teamwork, etc. do they need or would be useful? Your colleagues and former new hires will be very helpful in answering this.
How will feedback and coaching be delivered? Consider how often, in what format(s), and from whom.
What will you be measuring at the end of 60 days? Your new hire should know these the whole time.
By the end of 90 days
What should they own? What projects, or parts of projects, can they complete independently and at full scale? This should essentially be the job description you wrote three months ago. There will probably still be a few learning curves here and there, but your goal is a full-blown teammate owning their entire job.
What deadlines will fall within these 90 days? This is likely what your new hire will be working on or towards.
How will feedback and coaching be delivered? Again, consider how often, in what format(s), and from whom.
What will you be measuring at the end of 90 days? And again, your new hire should know these the whole time.
Emma: Are you still reading??
Andy: If yes, there’s a good chance you’re the type who’s going to love a few more tactical tips for a great first day.
6 Tips for a Great First Day
1. Make some sort of calendar or checklist that captures all the stuff that needs to happen before your new hire walks in the front door. We’ve worked in companies that design and manage this process for you — usually it comes from someone in HR — and others where we had to make it up ourselves. Basically: figure out who needs to know what and by when, so you’re not scrambling to find a power strip for the workstation you’re trying to set up at 8:30am day-of. This might include:
— IT to set up a new computer with login, access to servers and accounts, etc
— Facilities to get a new desk set up or ID card made
— HR to go over employee handbook, W-9, insurance packages, company policies
— Your team, especially anyone who is going to be working closely with this person or helping onboard them
— Your report! Send them an email ~3 days before their start date that (ideally) expresses excitement that they’re joining the team, and goes over what time to arrive, what they need to bring, and whether or not you’re going to take them to lunch. (Here’s our full series of New Hire Email Templates we’ve used at past jobs that you can use as a starting point.)
2. Have them start after you start. If you get to work around 9a and they arrive at 9a, you’ve given yourself zero minutes to get ready, and no wiggle room if something goes wrong. Besides, there’s probably not going to be a lot for this new hire to do — they’ll just be getting blasted with a ton of new information. A full 8 or 9 hours of this isn’t necessary. (Caveat: Disregard if you’re onboarding an hourly employee who needs a full 40-hour week.) We both like a 10a or 11a start time. If you’re not remote, take them out to or host a nice welcome lunch.
3. Don’t fill the first day with a bunch of reading. This is the worst: Welcome to your new job. Now sit at this desk and read for 8 hours! Reading a bunch of wikis and handbooks in a brand new environment with no context for how to assimilate the information is a terrible way to learn. It also puts a lot of pressure on the new hire to know what’s important, what they’re going to need to remember, and when they’ll be using this new information. Give them time to take in this information over time and in various formats.
4. Assign them someone to answer all of their questions. This can be you, but only if you’re going to be present and available for much of the first day and week. If you’re in a lot of meetings, it should be someone else. This person should want to be the question answerer, and relish the opportunity to show their new teammate how to access the server, remind them of everyone’s name, give feedback on their first assignment, and so on.
5. Have your first 1-on-1. This will take about an hour. The goal of this meeting is to give your new hire a sense of stability and security: this is all new, but they’re in good hands. Use your 1-on-1 to start laying out what it’s going to be like to work together and on the team. Walk them through the 30/60/90-day plan you have put together. Describe your expectations. Explain what’s coming up for them in the next week or two. (Emma: I read this old post from the Rands in Repose blog, and I’m pretty sure it’s his outline for a new hire’s first 1-on-1. Andy: He’s so himself! I love that — it inspires me to be so myself. Sometimes with Rands I have to remember not to copy him exactly, but to copy his intent and deeper spirit.) Keep in mind that you will have to go over all this stuff again, probably more than once.
6. Let them leave early! Unless your new hire is an hourly employee, there’s no reason to make them stay once they’ve gotten a lay of the land, logged into all the necessary spots, set up their email signature, met with you, maybe shadowed someone on the team. They are going to be exhausted. The first day doesn’t need to be a marathon.