How Asana And BambooHR Take Employee Onboarding To The Next Level
A lot can go wrong on a new hire's first day.
That’s why, here at StatusPage, we put a ton of effort and thought into how we’re onboarding new hires. Because as the business grows, we need more people. That means more people to be introduced to the team, learn their jobs, learn our product.
It’s a huge responsibility. There’s a lot to learn on the subject. Great employee onboarding is so much more than “fill out these forms and find your desk.” Great onboarding can have compounding effects for decades in the company, helping make sure the employees you hire (and eventually the employees they hire) are as effective as they can possibly be.
But it’s not easy. To help us learn more about how great companies handle onboarding, we were joined by friends at BambooHR and Asana. Bella Kazwell is a senior engineer at Asana and Rusty Lindquist is VP of HR Insights at BambooHR. Both have extensive experience with onboarding best practices. They joined us for a live chat recently in our new series of Startup Roundtable discussions. Check out the video below for the recording of the talk.
Why We Bother With Onboarding
Let’s start with a quick game of Devil’s advocate. Why even bother onboarding new employees? Isn’t the idea to hire smart people who can figure things out on their own? If we’re hiring correctly, we don’t need to worry about onboarding, right?
That’s the approach some companies take. Others simply fail to prioritize onboarding and never really make a plan for it. These companies are putting themselves at risk by treating onboarding as a nuisance, or an afterthought. The smartest organizations realize it’s one of the most effective uses of time, and one of the biggest opportunities, in the hiring life cycle.
As Lindquist pointed out, organizations spend so much time building relationships with a new hire during the interview and offer process, but often drop the ball once the person shows up on the job.
“What onboarding really attempts to do is get them some inertia in the organization,” he said.
That inertia can come in several forms. Social inertia is particularly important, Lindquist added. It’s been well demonstrated that the quality of social connections at work has a huge impact on employee effectiveness and how long they’ll be with the organization.
At Asana, some of the brightest engineers and developers are coming together around a world-class product and culture. The caliber of people they’re able to recruit and hire are some of the best. Yet even at Asana, the company knows the value of onboarding. Good onboarding gets engineers contributing code on day one, Kazwell said.
“If we just let them figure things out on their own, it’s going to take weeks,” she said.
Here at StatusPage, we’ve seen how good onboarding can make an employee as effective as they can possibly be. Bad onboarding, or lack of onboarding, might make that person a little bit less effective through the life of their career.
It might be a small difference, but imagine that hire eventually goes on to hire people under them. And those people in turn hire people some day. You can see how this gap in effectiveness will compound at each level of hiring, eventually leading to a lot of employees who are way below their potential.
Before Day One
Bad companies skip onboarding. Good companies make a real effort at onboarding on a hire’s first day. Great companies understand that onboarding isn’t a practice that starts and ends on day one. It’s actually a spectrum that starts before they join the team and extends well beyond their first day.
“Its really about cultivating an experience, a personal experience between the brand, the organization and each individual employee,” Lindquist said. “And the earlier that can happen, and the longer you can tolerate that, the more impact you’ll actually get.”
Companies have actually studied this and found:
- Organizations with longer onboarding programs gain full proficiency from their employees 34 percent faster than companies with short programs
- It takes new hires 8-12 months to grain proficiency comparable to their tenured co-workers
- 83 percent of the highest-performing organizations begin onboarding before day one
So how do you start effectively onboarding before day 1? It’s more than just getting paperwork and red tape out of the way. It’s an opportunity to create loyalty and identity with the brand.
Lindquist compares it to the way a well-run airline creates an experience with its valued passengers. You get a personal greeting at the airport lounge, you’re offered a comfortable place to sit, offered a drink, there’s the cocktail napkin with the airline logo. All these little pieces come together to make a pleasing brand experience well before the plane leaves the ground. You should be doing the same thing with new hires:
For new hires, this could mean:
- Getting them a free copy, or access to, your product before they show up
- Send them a company t-shirt and stickers, or any other gear you have
- If you have any books that reflect the company culture and are held in high esteem internally, send them a copy
- Send them a link to any talks or interviews company leaders have done that showcase the values of the organization
Culture and Social Integration
Even if your new hire is the world's greatest technician at whatever skill they were hired to do, failing to help integrate them to the culture and social environment is setting them up for failure.
At Asana, new hires are paired up with an onboarding buddy, selected based on the experience of the hire and the kind of mentorship they might need.
This partnership helps not only with the technical obligations, but also with introducing the new hire to the team. On the first day this buddy will send out an email to the rest of the team introducing them to the new hire and telling them about their hobbies and interests. If someone sees that one of the interests is board games, for example, others in the company who run a weekly board game gathering might see that and have the chance to invite the person along. Otherwise, it might be months before the hire finds out he has colleagues with similar interests.
It’s been a great way to get people started making friends and building strong connections at work, Kazwell said.
The onboarding buddy also sets up lunches and meet and greets with others in the company. They also make sure the new hire has a computer and workspace all ready to go, so day one can be spent actually working on a project.
Lindquist also recommends being straightforward about any tensions within the company. A lot of management is shy to mention any interdepartmental conflicts. But it can actually be very effective at making sure the new hire navigates properly.
“Often you know where some of the sensitivities are in your organization. To pretend those don’t exist is unhealthy. We find it’s best even when people say something like, ‘by the way, you should know there’s this sort of healthy tension between engineering and product management. Or between product marketing and creative, whichever it is, and here’s kind of the dynamics and here’s how it works out,” he said.
BONUS TIP: Feedback
The onboarding process is a great opportunity to get unfiltered, honest feedback that you wouldn’t normally have access to. Those who are in the trenches of your workplace each day are often too close to the action to give an honest assessment of your culture. Biases start to filter their vision and they fail to see the forest through the trees.
“This is your opportunity where you have someone who has been brought in, who has bought in to the vision as you described it, and now they’re here. And it’s your opportunity to say, 'tell me how you see our culture,’” Lindquist said.
It's not just your culture you can get feedback on. This is a great time to get product feedback. Show them the product and watch them learn how to use it. Do they pick up quickly? Do they stumble? Do you find some features are impossible to explain? This is all valuable data.
Likewise on the onboarding process itself. Ask the hire what they thought of their first day. How it went, how it compared to their assumptions. What they wish was included. Again, valuable information you might otherwise not have a chance to learn.
Just like good onboarding doesn’t start on day one, it doesn’t end on day one either.
New hires need weeks, if not months, of continued onboarding before they’re contributing at the level of their colleagues.
At StatusPage, we host regular one-on-one meetings and performance evaluations with new hires to be sure they’re going in the right direction. This also gives new hires an opportunity to share any concerns or questions that may have come up.
You’re not going to sit down in a meeting one day and spec out some process that will solve your onboarding questions from here to eternity. At Asana, the project new engineers work on day one is always growing and changing. They’re always considering what worked well and what can be improved upon. Your onboarding process should do the same. There’s no one set of guidelines that will work for every hire and every stage of a company. Growing and changing companies need growing and changing onboarding processes. But start implementing some of these tips — start thinking about onboarding as a long-term strategy and not a one-day checklist — and you’re on the right track.