In our opinion, it is important that new team members experience a smooth onboarding. I’ve already mentioned in “4.2 Three Different Kinds of Internships” that we have around 50 interns during the summer. In order to survive that period we had to develop great organizational structures and practices to make it smooth for the new team members and for ourselves.
Let me point out a couple of important aspects of our mindset:
- We are all looking forward to getting new team members on board. We know that we will learn from each other.
- We carefully select our onboarding coaches. They are eager to coach new team members and they are well capable.
- We are disciplined and we strive for perfection.
- We are mindful and open-minded for improvements.
- We are proactive. We’d rather shape the future than lament about the past.
Let me now expand a little on each of those aspects.
A positive mindset
We approach onboarding with a positive mindset. First, we are very selective during the application process. So we can be confident from the beginning that they will be great interns. Second, our coaches treat the new team members as high potentials. Third, the interns give their best. Together that acts like a self-fulfilling prophecy: by the end of the summer, we typically have no intern who we’d have to rate as weak, we may have 1 average, a few good, but mostly very good and excellent ones, i.e. we have a hit rate of above 95%.
Capable and eager coaches
Coaching new team members is the first step on our leadership ladder. Not everybody has a natural talent and not everybody actually wants to become a leader. Still for many people it’s desirable, or at least they want test the waters, to know what it feels like to lead other people. So we do the following: First, identify potential coaches. Second, test for their willingness and capability. Third, educate them on our approach to coaching. Fourth, collect and share feedback on how well they did.
Discipline and perfection
We know that a lot of people have to collaborate efficiently in order to onboard so many new team members. That’s only possible with high quality if everybody involved knows exactly what to do. Therefore we have defined a couple of roles (like Recruiter, Back Office, Office Admin, People Operations, Coach, etc.). We have collected tasks for each role and organized those tasks into task chains (1. “From Candidate to Future Employee”, 2. “From Future Employee to Employee”, 3. “Onboarding”). The first task chain is started by one of our recruiters once a candidate has qualified through our selective application process (that may be months before his/her first working day). The second chain is started by one of our back office people 1-2 weeks before the first working day. The last is started by the personal onboarding coach a few weeks before the first working day. Depending on the job role of the intern, there can also be specific task chains (e.g. for developers to set up their work station and get access to all developer resources). Together those task chains result in well above 100 individual tasks (like “set up the work contract”, “prepare a physical mailbox” or “prepare and procure business cards”).
Open for improvement
Whenever something goes slightly wrong we try to understand whether it was just bad luck or whether there’s more to it. We’ve consciously built the “four-eyes principle” into our task chains to make sure that crucial tasks get done properly and in time. We have also institutionalized surveys at some points (like when the application process is over, halftime through the onboarding and at the end of the onboarding) in order to collect feedback from all sides (candidate, new team member, coach). Together that’s a dense safety net so that not a lot can go wrong. And if there’s a hint for improvement, we take a deep dive. Here’s one example: last summer one of our youngest interns had a couple of questions about his salary (like “when will I get how much money” since his contract was for 4 weeks and spanned two months). Triggered through a couple of late night Whatsapp messages, we’ve written up “How Work Works”, a short document that answers many of those questions that might come up to your mind when you are about to sign your first work contract.
We communicate a lot upfront: First, we have a “Handbook for New Employees” and the blog “The Catalysts Way”. Second, coaches get in contact with new team members weeks before the first working day. Third, we don’t just collect feedback from the new team members at the end of the onboarding phase but we invite them to a survey after two weeks already. Together that allows for new employees to get a sneak preview, to prepare themselves early on. It also helps to manage the expectations: the handbook and the blog describe what work at Catalysts should be like. If that’s not the case, a new team member has every right to ask for it. Our approach also reduces the likelihood for disappointments. Example: We need to teach new team members to ask questions otherwise they might struggle on their own for too long. So one question of the survey is: “I asked for technical feedback often enough. I didn’t keep waiting for feedback, but asked actively (‘pull’ rather than ‘push’).” New team members get to see the survey and all the questions upfront. So they also learn that they are meant to be proactive. However, some fall back to the more comfortable position. After two weeks, every intern has to face reality and rate their own behaviour. Sometimes, interns raise many more questions in the second half of the onboarding phase 😉
All that’s not rocket science. But on the other hand, it’s also more than common sense.
Our onboarding coaches spend a lot of time together with our new team members, expectedly 40 hours of pair working during the first 2 weeks. They sit next to each other and get to know each other really well.
The overall goal for the coach is “to manage the learning curve” of the new team member.
At the beginning, it’s important to provide small, achievable tasks and clear goals to the new team member with a lot of feedback – otherwise he/she might be overwhelmed and feel anxiety. Over time, the coach can assign larger and more difficult tasks to the new team member (to avoid boredom).
All in all, our onboarding approach works really fine. We regularly earn great reviews on kununu.com.
And we know for sure that we’ve set up all our internal processes for continued growth. We can easily scale since we are used to excessive organizational growth during the summer.