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Ramping-Up a New Person

Onboarding

2 August, 2020

Shelly Bezanson
Shelly Bezanson

Director of Release at Thoughtexchange

Shelly Bezanson, Director of Release at Thoughtexchange, shares her checklist of ramp-up activities that should help with the successful and seamless onboarding of a new person.

Problem

Startups are notorious for having loose job descriptions and roles that are changing over time. Setting clear expectations on the role and responsibilities and creating the process that will enable the successful and seamless onboarding of a new person is an absolute must. I have created a checklist of ramp-up activities that would set everyone up for success -- a new person and the team. Onboarding is a team sport and all those activities should be fairly distributed to all team members.

Actions taken

Here is my list of ramp-up activities:

  • Have a framework in place.
    Many smaller, emerging companies have no framework for bringing on new people. If you don’t have a framework that should step-by-step guide the onboarding of a new person, you should immediately start developing one. You can start with a MVP version of a framework; this is far better than ad hoc, random actions lacking both structure and purpose.

  • Set clear expectations.
    Expectations should include those around the role and responsibilities as well as company-wide cultural expectations that may include respectful communication, punctuality, humility, etc. Cultural expectations are almost never laid out in job descriptions and often open to an ambiguous interpretation. To avoid any future misunderstandings have them listed in writing. It can be very helpful to have examples to capture the objective qualities of softer skills.

  • Have regular check-ins.
    Regular check-ins during the introductory period should ensure a new person is performing to the level you expected and is receiving the necessary support. You should choose an adequate format to evaluate their performance. Instead of unmethodical and arbitrary questions, follow a script-like procedure that would enable accuracy and measurement. Considering the evaluative nature of check-ins the format should lean toward a more formal one in comparison to a more relaxed setting of one-on-ones. Your goal as a manager is to make sure the new person is successful in their ramp-up. Early course correction and honest feedback are critical and would help you avoid more difficult conversations later.

  • Document everything.
    For better or worse you should be able to look back and see how things are progressing over time. Solid and updated documentation would make reviews much easier, enable comparisons and will serve you as a reference point for any future decision.

  • Track progress.
    Every two months we would do an evaluation summary that would highlight what works well and what’s not and for what’s not working well we would come up with a plan on how to address it. Also, we would regularly do 360-degree feedback type of evaluation, so everyone would get an opportunity to anonymously share their feedback and everyone would get to rate everyone else. As a result, a new person will be able to see what they are doing well according to the whole group and what they need to improve by receiving performance feedback from all angles.

  • Delegate onboarding.
    As a team leader, I was often responsible for onboarding new people which is time-consuming and demanding on multiple levels. In addition, I would get to know a new person, but no one else from the team would. To overcome that I came up with a list of all the things that have to be done and some nice-to-haves and would distribute these across the team. I would look at what everyone on the team would be doing and what they could share with the new person. Everything is listed in a spreadsheet and I would either assign people or have them sign up for different activities offloading some of the processes to different people.

  • Keep communication channels accessible.
    Since we use Slack to communicate within the team, part of the onboarding should include making sure a person is in the right channels, they are given a bit of a tour, shown some features, etc. If an organization uses multiple channels make sure a new person has access to all the channels and if needed a personalized account.

At the end of the six months introductory period, we do a small celebration and would send out information about a successful onboarding to the whole company.

Lessons learned

  • Having in place a functional and meaningful structure (framework of the process -- it's more than anything else a terminological difference) and setting clear expectations that you could always refer to will not only help you with onboarding but will be your anchoring point if something goes wrong.
  • Having some formality and structure makes the ramp-up easier for both a person you hired and you as a leader. Hiring is expensive and time-consuming, the easier you make it, the more time and effort you will be able to save.

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