June 6, 2023
Just as a sports team is only as good as its players, a tech company is only as good as its talent. Unfortunately, most companies are struggling to attract and retain the tech workers they need. Finding tech talent is difficult in part because of a widespread skills shortage. By 2030, there is slated to be a global shortage of 85 million tech workers.
But recruiting isn’t the finish line -- it’s the starting line. In the wake of a global pandemic and the accompanying Great Resignation, followed quickly by the current economic downturn, companies are still struggling to retain and grow happy tech teams. This is partially due to ongoing instability around the very nature of work and the tech sector at large. Tech employees don’t want to return to the office. While some research has shown workers are more efficient at home, there’s also research showing many workers instead feel less connected when working outside of the office environment.
The reality is that employees are more likely to grow disconnected if they have not been properly onboarded. With such a talent shortage, companies cannot risk recruiting and hiring tech workers only to lose them shortly down the road. Tech employees are more important than ever, which makes their proper onboarding equally urgent. Research by Brandon Hall Group found that organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%.
Gone are the days where new employees have a few meetings with HR and get let loose into a new work environment with limited direction and oversight. In-depth onboarding about the company goals, cross-functional processes, team dynamics, and individual responsibilities is critical. I recommend taking that a step further to a prescriptive onboarding plan. By that I mean, a very detailed, tactical plan for the first 90 days in which new hires focus on learning first and suggesting changes later.
Prescriptive onboarding is in direct contrast to the actual long-term goals for most tech positions. We ultimately want our employees to be able to work autonomously and to bring great ideas. Here are three reasons why this is still my recommended way to onboard:
1. Prescriptive onboarding creates an open, transparent manager/reportee relationship.
It can be tempting, as the manager of a new employee, to think that giving them free rein to think outside the box and be creative is the best way to build rapport and trust. In reality, the opposite can be true.
Prescriptive onboarding embeds directness into the relationship from day one, laying the foundation for ongoing collaboration. At our company, new employees use their onboarding plans as checklists and we ask them to literally mark items as completed before moving onto the next task. The checklists can also be used as a pre-built agendas for at least part of their weekly 1:1s with their managers. After each 30-day period, the manager takes dedicated 1:1 time to do a retrospective review and give the new employee feedback and guidance.
By engaging in prescriptive onboarding, the tone for the relationship between a manager and their employee is set early on. Expectations are extremely clear with regards to what is expected of the employee and with regards to how well the employee is actually meeting those expectations.
2. Prescriptive onboarding helps employees gain recognition for their strengths.
By explicitly outlining the responsibilities and priorities of a new employee, the employee’s manager will be able to recognize more quickly where the employee’s strengths are. In turn the manager helps that employee build recognition and credibility across the team and key stakeholders.
I’ve seen this firsthand at Babylist when a new team lead was tasked with taking ownership of our CRM system, including owning a particular number of active incidents. Without such prescriptive onboarding, there’s a good chance this new team lead would have simply been told to learn or evaluate the CRM system -- a much vaguer directive. Because the new employee was the incident commander on several high-profile incidents, a few things happened: they were forced to learn quickly and on-their-feet; they met and worked with key stakeholders on a real problem; and they solved something with obvious value to the business. In turn, they got a lot of visibility quickly, which made them feel like an integral part of operations sooner.
3. Prescriptive onboarding fosters a sense of community immediately for all personalities and job titles alike.
Some companies may view onboarding as simply a way to convey information and policies to new employees. However, onboarding should also be a time for building relationships and fostering a sense of community within the organization.
A few examples include a dedicated onboarding buddy that you meet with two to three times per week for your first month or so, a dedicated time to shadow someone on the employee’s project or a support rotation or setting specific meetings to introduce yourself and ask them for advice on how to be successful. With prescriptive onboarding practices, there is a level of detail and attention applied to employee experience. This, in turn, fosters more focused conversation, deeper connections, and a seamless ramp for the employee to get to know key players within their team and beyond.
Is There Rigidity in Prescriptive Onboarding?
I’ve seen many tech leaders describe perspective onboarding as rigid and inflexible. Some employees may feel that they are being forced to follow a specific set of procedures without any room for creativity or individuality.
To overcome this pushback, we’ve taken years of feedback into our onboarding strategy and to review it with senior leadership regularly. This includes new learnings based on the way the company is evolving, how employees communicate they learn best, and new tools we may be rolling out within the organization. An employee’s manager will meet with them 1:1 on the first day to review the plan and incorporate feedback. After they’ve been in their seats for 30 days, their perspective on how to spend the next 60 days is valuable -- and regularly leads to fantastic output.
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