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Onboarding - Day Zero

Created: December 21, 2020

Hello, there!

First and foremost, I want to welcome you to the Sustainable SuiteScript series and thank you for being here! I'm extremely excited to start this new series. My hope is that this will provide a place where leaders across the SuiteScript space can discuss, debate, and foster new ideas for elevating the ecosystem of SuiteScript.

I'm going to begin the series by exploring ideas for onboarding developers. In my opinion, nothing has more impact on the mindset and habits of an individual or on building the long-term culture of a team than the onboarding experience - or the absence of one - for new hires. As a contrast against my current thoughts, I'll share the story of my own entrance into the NetSuite world.

Having never heard of NetSuite, and never written a single line of professional JavaScript, I was hired as a NetSuite Developer at a small but insanely busy NetSuite consulting firm in late 2012. My arrival pushed the company headcount to 7 developers, 17 total - a far cry from the 3,000+ corporation I had just left a week earlier. As with any new job, there was excitement and anxiety and uncertainty that had been building up continuously from the moment I accepted the offer right up to the moment I pushed open the door for my first day of work. Many of those feelings came from my imposter syndrome forcing me to doubt myself as the right fit for the job or the company.

Unless you exclusively hire sociopaths, the chances are high that every single person you hire, regardless of seniority or skill, will have these same feelings, in varying magnitudes, leading up to their start date. Whether you realize it or not, bringing a new employee into your company doesn't start when they push open the door (whether physically or digitally); it starts with your response to their acceptance of the job offer. Your response and behaviour in the days or weeks leading up to their first day are crucial enough that I have given this stage a name; I call it the Day Zero of onboarding.

How do you handle Day Zero? How do you respond when a candidate accepts an offer? Perhaps it's with a mountain of HR paperwork, or a manifesto about your company's mission, or just a "Great, see you Monday!" The former two are fine - necessary, even - but they can probably wait for Day One instead as they do absolutely nothing to foster excitement or alleviate fear for the new hire.

That direct response, though - that first email or phone response - what an amazing opportunity that is to kick things off right. If you're not using that response to express your own excitement around bringing in this new person, to ramp up their excitement to work with their team, and to reassure them they're the right fit, then you're wasting a massive opportunity to set the tone for their new job. If you have a stellar onboarding program to introduce them to the company, then you can also mention that to boost confidence during Day Zero. How great would it be to be able to say in that email, "Oh and don't worry about a thing; we've got a great program set up to make sure you'll feel comfortable and confident here from Day One." Even if you don't have that program yet, a simple addition of, "Here's my email and direct phone number if you have any questions or concerns before you start" will take a huge weight off the new person.

If you're not genuinely excited bringing this person on board, if you can't spend a few minutes writing this one response, if you can't take some time out of your day to answer questions before they start, then you're not ready to hire someone. Find a short-term contractor to fix your availability issues; hire an employee to build a better team and grow a practice.

Reflect on your own experiences starting new jobs; what would you have loved to know and feel before you pushed open the door? Remember what that anticipation, that anxiety, that uncertainty feels like, and know that this is your chance to alleviate much of the trepidation for the people you're welcoming onto your team.

Your response doesn't need to overwhelm with details; you just need to establish a real, human connection by sharing some genuine emotion and planting a seed of confidence in this person you're bringing into the fold. I don't remember the details of my offer letter, or the minutiae of my first day, but the emotions I experienced in the days before and after starting the job are still crystal clear. Likewise, your new hires may not remember the words of your acceptance response, but they will absolutely remember whether you made them feel excited, welcome, and ready to push open the door.



P.S. I'm conducting some research on developer onboarding programs; I'd love to hear about your process (or lack thereof) in this brief survey. Thanks!