I’ve worked for a lot of companies over the course of my career – both as a full time employee and as a consultant. If there’s one thing that I’ve noticed during that time, it’s how often one of the most important aspects of bringing people into the company is left as an afterthought – the onboarding process.
It almost always seems like the process to getting someone onboarded to almost any company just sort of gets put together on the fly whenever someone joins. This leads to gaps in knowledge transfer, access to resources, and sometimes even forgetting to tell someone they need to fill out timesheets for several weeks (I’ve seriously seen this happen more than once).
To any of my past or present employers and clients, don’t think that I’m calling any of you out. Like I said, almost every place seems to have this problem judging both from personal experience and the shared stories of people that I know.
I know that running a business (or even just a department or team) is legitimately hard. I’ve been there firsthand and count myself just as guilty as the rest. There are 30+ things on your mind at any given moment and “what do we do with new people” only tends to be one of them when there is a new person.
That said, however, we really need to do better.
While your interview process is the first peek into your organization that a person has, your onboarding process is the first real experience they’re going to have with you. If it takes too long for them to get the things that they need in order to succeed in your organization, you run the risk of losing them.
Interviewing sucks and most people dislike dealing with it, but if they spend too long not being able to do their jobs after they’re inside, they’re going to take that as a sign of what the normal day-to-day is like and start talking to the other companies they had offers from.
I’m not saying that to be alarmist. I’m just telling you the truth.
So, in order to make the onboarding experience better, what can we do?
Realize That This Is Part Of YOUR Job
The job of onboarding new people is your job. Don’t shove it on some random member of your team and don’t leave it for the new person to figure out how to onboard themselves. You’re the one who knows the landscape. If you just throw them at it, they’ll miss things and it will be your fault.
You’re not doing someone a favor by hiring them. You’re engaging in a mutually beneficial relationship. Act like it.
Automate Everything You Can
If you work on VMs, have multiple base images for your different employee types. One base image isn’t going to work because the needs of your sales people, for example, are vastly different than the needs of your developers.
If you have compute resources that can be granted access to through things like AD groups, take the time to set that up. It’s much easier to add someone to a couple of groups than it is to add a user to individual resources.
Automating the work also helps prevent mishaps like the user not having access to basic resources because you forgot to add them to one item while you were adding them to the other 20. This is a good thing.
Front Load The Work
User accounts, email, and all of the basics should be ready to go before your new employee even steps foot inside your org (virtually or physically) on their first day. Anything that can be done before they join should be done before they join.
I’ve walked into companies where I didn’t even have a computer for the first couple of days even though it was known weeks in advance that I was joining. That’s a bad sign.
A lot of teams and businesses just sort of try to remember what new people are going to need by going with what comes to mind. This is a mistake and I’ve seen it bite employees, leads, and managers in the rear more than once (in fact, I’ve been the one bitten by it a few times).
Anything that can’t be automated should be documented somewhere that it’s easily accessible. Team wikis are great for this.
From the manager side, you should have a step by step set of instructions of things that you need to do in order to onboard someone – everything from requesting an account for someone to adding them to AD groups.
Update this list regularly as requirements change (because they will).
From the employee side, there should be a fairly comprehensive set of steps that they need to take in order to configure their machines if necessary (it almost certainly will be), any common knowledge that they’ll need, etc.
I realize that the documentation seems like a lot of work (and, honestly, it can be), but the good news is that it’s surprisingly easy to start. When you onboard your next team member, take notes of what you had to do to onboard them. Work with them to take notes on what they had to do in order to onboard themselves successfully.
Congratulations, you have documentation that’s useful because you were writing it as you were doing the thing. With every new person that you onboard, have them make suggestions for things to change in the documentation (because requirements change and sometimes we forget to write a step that we take for granted). Each iteration of onboarding people will get easier if you do.
Onboarding people is difficult and stressful when you’re expected to keep making progress toward whatever goals the stakeholders have set but it’s vital that we do it well. If we can make it less random by following the advice above, we can make it better.