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Onboarding - The Deluge

Created: December 22, 2020

"Here's your desk! and your offer letter and your employment contract and your tax forms and your employee handbook and your onboarding checklist and our culture manifesto and your compensation package and your benefits paperwork and your NDA and your direct deposit form oh and I almost forgot your welcome letter! Have a great day! Let me know if you have any questions!"

While I'm being a bit hyperbolic about my own first day as a NetSuite developer, I sincerely hope this doesn't sound like your developers' first day on the job. In the absence of any structured program, Day One tends to be a flood of information, paperwork, setup, and introductions. All of those things are certainly necessary, but an employee's first day forms another life-long impression; don't squander the opportunity by drowning them in waves of paperwork and emails and chat messages and meet-and-greets. What's more, a high percentage of developers are introverts, which means having them meet everyone on the team in rapid succession is going to quickly and completely exhaust their energy. Of course many are extroverts, so if they want to go meet everyone they walk by or see online, amazing! There shouldn't be any barriers to doing so, but it also shouldn't be required. Introductions, just like documents, can be presented in a controlled flow.

Your hiring and onboarding process is about establishing and building a long-term professional relationship, not about checking boxes in a process. I write that with the full understanding that I am writing about - and advise my clients on building - Onboarding "Programs". Perhaps you feel there's some irony there, and perhaps you're right, particularly if your interpretation of "Program" is "a fully automated process." But I don't see them as the same, and I don't advise building fully automated onboarding processes. If the absence of a Program leads to a flood, what I advise clients to build is not a dam but a canal - a deliberately designed series of locks only allowing as much traffic as necessary to flow into each one.

Certainly, there are pieces of an Onboarding Program which are very mechanical: filling out tax forms and reading policies and setting up a computer; those are the parts of the Program I do recommend automating as much as possible so that the people participating in the Program can focus on the critical human parts of onboarding: meeting and establishing rapport with their team, learning about expectations and support, understanding the culture and the communication norms, the daily flow of life in this job. Use automations and self-help systems to facilitate the mechanics of Onboarding; have personal conversations to build relationships and impress culture.

The experience people have going through your team's Onboarding process - or lack thereof - is a microcosm for the experience they'll have working at your company and on your team. If the process is haphazard, chaotic, disorganized, last-minute, then there's a fair bet that your projects will run the same way. Onboarding and culture feed each other in a continuous cycle. Whether your Onboarding process is done with forethought or as an afterthought will be clearly reflected in the culture of your team. The more intentional you are with the Onboarding stage for your team, the more influence you have on its culture. Set your vision for the team, align the onboarding experience with the vision, and every new hire you provide that experience will bring the vision closer to fruition.

When you look at your own Onboarding process, is it a dam that opens the floodgates on Day One? Or is it a canal which deliberately and methodically controls the flow of traffic and information running through it?



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!