Effective onboarding and mentoring initiatives help teams and individuals reach their full potential. Here’s a look at why efforts to improve the employee experience are crucial and tips for developing teams.

Rod Garcia, VP of Software Engineering, Slack

October 26, 2022

4 Min Read
Group of software developers sitting at desk with computer monitors and working with codes of new software at office
SeventyFour Images via Alamy Stock

A team of skilled and collaborative software engineers have a large impact on products and their organization. They create and design solutions that are simple and scalable. A final product with novel, useful features just works.

Developing an engineer’s full potential -- much less a team’s -- can be challenging for today’s managers. The Great Resignation and a tech labor shortage give software engineers seemingly endless job options. And many leaders now have a tighter window to develop promising new hires and build high-functioning teams.

Effective onboarding, coaching and mentoring initiatives can help meet these challenges. Here’s a look at why efforts to improve the employee experience are crucial, how we do it at our company, and some tips for developing your team.

Create Dedicated Onboarding Systems and Procedures

Simply providing an employee handbook and some technical design documents doesn’t help new hires to successfully onboard on their teams. It’s important to implement a dedicated onboarding program that strengthens relationships and builds a solid understanding of how your team works.

Bring in speakers from different parts of your organization who can explain organizational, process-oriented, technical, and cultural aspects of the team and company, such as “These are our principles,” “How we build products,” and “Explaining the items within our operating contract.” Couple these with workshops that dive deeper into platform-level topics, which gives engineers hands-on experience with the breadth of tools, apps, and architecture they’ll be using. By dedicating the time and staffing to build out these programs, companies can ensure their new employees are brought up to speed quickly, so they’re set up for success in the long term.

Enact The New Hire Mentor System

Provide every new engineer with a “mentor:" an experienced team member responsible for showing them the ropes and answering questions. This teammate helps introduce a new hire to everything from company-wide policies to job-specific tools, guiding them through the essentials of functioning within the organization and their team.

New hire mentors aren’t meant to be formal mentors. Rather, they act as support for new employees as they grow into their role and integrate to their teams. New hire mentors act as independent sources of information so new hires feel like they have a teammate to lean on with questions big and small.

And while the onboarding aspect of this system only needs to last about two months, these relationships typically evolve into a mentorship or strong working partnership.

Work and Lead According to Culture

Most organizations have realized the crucial role a healthy company culture plays in achieving positive outcomes, including better productivity, engagement and customer satisfaction. Leaders should emulate that culture and ensure they are modeling it with their teams. If a leader can’t lead with the company’s culture in mind, how can we expect all employees to carry out work in accordance with the company’s culture, as well?

For example, our culture reflects its mission to make work life simpler, more pleasant and more productive, and we encourage team members to be humble, smart, collaborative and hardworking. The leaders who coach and inspire others to bring these traits to their work set the tone for the entire employee experience and can have a big impact on how employees feel about their work. I personally care a lot about collaboration and coach the leaders I support on this attribute. I repeat many times that my favorite word is together, we build new experiences and products together, as one team.

Don’t Skip Over Mentorship

The research-based benefits of mentoring are clear, from better career outcomes to higher organizational retention and productivity. In the best cases, mentoring fundamentally improves an engineer’s career arc and contributions to employers.

I approach mentoring both organically and intentionally and every leader will develop their own style. However, I have observed that successful mentorships have at least two factors: curiosity and listening.

Everyone’s journey is different and the most impactful mentors I had had on my career had spent time knowing my own, and I have leaned into my curiosity to learn theirs. Mentors can rely on their curiosity to listen about the challenges that the mentee is experiencing, and how their experience can help.

A tip I’ve found helpful is to define a mentoring relationship based on the engineer’s goals. Leaders should ask them about their career and job objectives -- what do they want to get out of the relationship? Asking about a software engineer's success criteria not only achieves the team member’s buy-in but also provokes insights and understanding from both parties. It’s a great way to set up a winning relationship and ensure it remains fruitful over time.

Investing in People Invests in Organizational -- and Leadership -- Success

Prioritizing development can take a backseat to day-to-day work, especially when project goals get tight, and leaders’ responsibilities grow. But as much as I’ve always liked diving into code and product development, the opportunity to help team members grow is why I became a manager. Few things are more rewarding to me than seeing a new engineer realize their potential — or watching a collaborative, skilled team of them create and ship impactful products to customers.

About the Author(s)

Rod Garcia

VP of Software Engineering, Slack

Rod Garcia is a VP of Software Engineering at Slack, where he leads the engineering execution of the new Developer Experience and Workflows Automation/no-code tools for the Slack Platform. Rod has been part of the Slack engineering team since 2019. Prior to Slack, he was a senior product engineering manager at Squarespace, where he was responsible for the engineering execution of Squarespace's next-generation platform across seven product engineering teams in close partnership with the senior executive team. He also has experience working for Shutterstock and American Express.

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