On Boarding: Short Guide

What is onboarding

New employee's onboarding is a process of introducing a new team member to the company, to the team and to the project. Basically it is a process through which a new hire can get the attitudes, knowledge, skills and behaviors required to function effectively within an organization.

It's not only a process of learning a technical side of the project, if we are talking about software development team. But also a process of introducing all traditions and ceremonies of the company, introducing the new team member to the team, as well as introducing a team and a company to a newcomer.

Let's assume we are talking about onboarding in a team of software developers.
There are few stages needed to be prepared before the newcomer will arrive. Let's see the example first.

When onboarding turns to a disaster

Imagine you are a newcomer. Just signed a contract from a company you always wanted to work at or for a project which inspired you.

And finally the first day came. In the morning you decide to come 5 minutes earlier, just to make sure you are not late on your first day. You knock to the entrance door with an excitement, but at the same time with lots of different thoughts: how will it be, will you be able to cope with a new position, will the team like you, will it be a perfect fit for you. Office manager opens a door and asks who are you looking for, so you are telling it's your first day for a team X. Office manager answers: "HR is a bit late today, so let me bring you to your team." You are already excited to meet the team and start working together. So you came to the room, here is your table with no laptop on it (probably you need to go to IT department to get one). Hm, that sounds like there is nothing you can do now. The team is quite welcoming, but they are busy with deployments, so they suggested to wait for HR first. Finally HR came and now you have a laptop, so you could work. What's next? You are asking your team mates to give some hints. Around the lunch time needed environment is already installed, code base is cloned and you can start exploring. At the end of the day you are already tired of digging around and don't really know if you can leave after 8 working hours as everyone is still working. Suddenly a team lead is asking to suggest a solution how to make the project better, how to refactor the code. As you haven't seen everything yet, you are suggesting some improvements, but as it probably did not meet your team lead's expectations. He/she is disappointed with you and now you can go home, so maybe tomorrow you can suggest better solution. As a result you came home tired and upset how things went, probably it's not a perfect match. But let's give the team and the project some time, it will get better...

Few weeks later you got used to the way how all the things works in your team and how to succeed with the tasks. You managed to make some improvements for the project.. Few months later .. it did not get better, the first impression of coming disaster with the whole management is true story of how things are done in the whole company.

The first impression means a lot, it's the best way to show how organised the company is and how great will be working for the project and especially with the new team. There is no chance to have the second first impression.

There are two options: - company is prepared for a new comer and everything looks promising; - company is not ready and the first impression is ruined.

For sure in any case something can go wrong, even if everything is planned long time ahead.

Benefits of good onboarding plan

  1. Inspire newly hired with a company spirit.
  2. Engage newcomers with core company's values.
  3. Build trust and commitment.
  4. Let newcomer feel valuable and welcome.
  5. Engage newcomer with future projects.
  6. Make newcomer productive as sooner.
  7. Decrease turnover.
  8. and more...

Main steps for a good onboarding plan

  1. Before the newcomer starts.
  2. First day.
  3. Second day.
  4. First weeks.
  5. 3 months.
  6. Future development and working together.

Before the newcomer starts

When the contract is already signed, the team can already start preparing an onboarding plan. The best option is when one of the senior team mates or the team lead takes this task and checks all the steps. Good to create a check list with all the steps needed, so then nothing is forgotten. In any case, even when everything is planned and prepared, be ready to go with plan "B", as a backup if something will go wrong.

So the first points for the check list: - assign dedicated person to take care of the newcomer; - check with the newcomer if he/she is comfortable with chosen laptop/computer, mouse and keyboard (there can be something specific which will take some time to resolve in the future and will increase uncomfortable first impression); - make sure that all accounts are created on time (before the newcomer starts); - double check one day before, that all dedicated to onboarding people are still on track and remember all the activities; - prepare at least one engaging task for the newcomer to get to know the whole project and how the team works; - schedule all necessary introduction meetings and trainings for first days or even for the whole week.

First day

Agenda for the first day:

  1. Introduction and a tour around the office.
  2. Meet the team.
  3. Email sent to everyone to welcome a newcomer (it's better to put some details about his/her role in the company, past experience, few funny facts).
  4. Lunch together with the team.
  5. Intro to the team's flows, used tools, processes.
  6. Introduce the focus for the week.

Please don't expect that newcomer will be productive in his/her first days. It's better to give an opportunity to listen, observe and read the docs as a first task. But also very important to show how the team works, what is the usual flow. Always nice to have documentation as a backup for this valuable knowledge. His/her first task (after all the introductions) should be focused more on exploring the existing code. As my opinion, it's a bad practice to ask a newcomer to make improvements for the project, the team or existing processes in first days. As he/she can not see the full picture at this point yet.

Second day

Should be as important as a first day. Newcomer should feel welcome in the team and the company, should be involved in all team activities. It's a time of building relationships. There are plenty ways to do so, not all of them will work for all teams, it's very individual and can be adjusted on the fly. Some newcomers can adapt in few weeks, some need few weeks or even few years.

Further steps

Why focus on 90 days? It's a magical number, according to psychologists, it's an approximate amount of time it takes to make a new habit a way of being. The secret of these first 90 days for a newcomer becoming a good team member is to reshape his/her key habits during onboarding process.

Habits to keep:

  • collaboration;
  • balancing multitasking (be able to shift to other task);
  • respect for difference;
  • commitment for learning;
  • thinking outside of the box.

Habits to reshape:

  • lack of motivation;
  • "what's my grade" mentality;
  • success as an individual;
  • the loudest person wins (the team is about sharing the experience and tasks, about collaboration).

Take aways

There is no "right" way to onboard the newcomer and grow the dream team. Not all recipes and steps might work, as teams and companies' culture are different. Onboarding in not about making the team comfortable to work with the newcomer, but more about taking care of the people, helping new colleagues to integrate into the culture and all the traditions.
The best practices:
- make a plan before the first day;
- give the newcomer to know the way how to succeed;
- integrate the newcomer into the existing workplace culture;
- constant feedbacks;
- inspire great performance.

Used Sources

Book "90 days 90 ways" by Alexia Vernon
Improve onboarding experience
Top 7 benefits onboarding program