Avoid the Sickening Thud
Created: December 23, 2020
I'm not sure where the phrase "Hit the ground running" originated; even dictionary.com is unclear about it - though they do have some evocative candidates. For our purposes, let's go with the "airborne troops" origin, although we'll shift away from the war analogy. Business is not war.
"Hit the ground running" is a phrase we use commonly in the US, especially when hiring a new person and particularly if it is for a senior-level role. In the appropriately named Nobody hits the ground running chapter of their book It Doesn't Have to be Crazy at Work (no affiliation), Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson talk about it like this:
'We just want someone who can hit the ground running' is the common refrain for companies seeking senior-level job candidates ... The fact is that unless you hire someone straight out of an identical role at an identical company, they're highly unlikely to be instantly up to speed and able to deliver right away. That doesn't mean that a particular opening might not be the best fit for a senior-level person, but the decision shouldn't be based on the misconception of immediate results.
At the point you hire anyone, they've been sitting on a long flight with the same crowd of people for some time. Whatever the impetus - uncomfortable seats, turbulence, pilots who talked too much - they've decided to jump out of that airplane mid-flight to join your company. Their world has completely changed; they're alone, in free-fall. The onboarding experience you provide for them determines the gear they have available to them as they descend.
Do you send them a warm, welcoming message before they start?
Hey! There's a brightly painted landing zone. Now how do I get there?
Do you have their team's processes documented and accessible?
Yey! A parachute! Wait how do I open this thing?
Do you have a repeatable process for bringing them up to speed?
Oh, it has an altimeter and deploys itself? Awesome. Now how do I steer it?
Is that process spread out over a reasonable time? (weeks, not hours)
Steering handles? Hey this isn't so hard.
Do you provide frequent mentoring and prioritize relationships over automations during onboarding?
Is that a limo waiting at the landing site?
Once they've jumped, it's not their job to "hit the ground running"; that's not even a reasonable expectation. They don't know your people, your norms, your processes, or your tools. They're falling blind.
Once they've jumped, it's your job to ease them in from free-fall, help them land safely, and then build them up gradually to a run. The less you do to help the transition, the more you risk the sickening thud of the door slamming six months down the road.
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!