We’re kicking off Season 2 of our Employee Onboarding Podcast with resident new hire onboarding experience experts Ashley Chain & Erin Rice discussing thought leadership in employee onboarding.
In this episode, Process Street’s Erin Rice (People Operations Coordinator) and Ashley Chain (Director of People & Operations) discuss the key components of what makes an awesome onboarding experience, as well as details and insights of Process Street’s own internal onboarding process.
Listen now (or read on) for intel on topics like:
- How to align company and departmental onboarding.
- Creating processes to wow new hires.
- Empowering new hires with actionable training material.
- What are the intangible aspects of new hire onboarding?
- How do you create a truly magical onboarding experience?
Onboarding horror stories
It was a long time ago, back when I was starting out at a new school. I was a teacher at the time, and they literally needed someone to teach – yesterday.
So when I showed up on my first day, I went straight into the classroom, no intro, no training, not even an employee handbook. But I did it! And later, when I moved on to an administrative position, I was able to really enhance the onboarding experience, so no-one ever felt like a fish out of water – like I did that day.
At my first “big girl job”, I came into the office to find a big binder on my desk. I was told to read through it. That was my onboarding.
It was a thick binder – and I’m not a skimmer – so I read that whole thing, and it was so boring. I was so excited to go in for my first day, but after that, I really wasn’t excited about working there, at all, and it really set the tone for my time there.
Process Street’s onboarding philosophy
Right around the time you joined us, Erin, we made the decision to really ramp up our onboarding process, so we could strive to be thought leaders in this space. And as you know, we’ve put in a lot of time and effort into understanding employee onboarding, through our research and also talking to other thought leaders.
Set clear expectations
Being a fully remote company like Process Street, it’s important that our new hires know exactly what’s expected of them. I can’t imagine anything worse than starting on my first day and not knowing what I’m supposed to be doing or learning or who I’m supposed to be talking to.
We even go as far as laying it out, saying this Workflow is your top priority. So as new hires are getting trainings and meetings Scheduled, they always know those should come after their company onboarding Workflow.
Be welcoming, not overwhelming
I think that goes hand in hand with another important part of onboarding and that’s being welcoming without being overwhelming, right?
So in our research and feedback that we gathered, being overwhelmed was a common theme. And so there’s a lot of information that needs to be digested, during those first days and weeks, but having everything laid out with due dates or with clear expectations kind of takes away that overwhelming aspect and it brings it down to a more manageable level.
Right – so new hires can move at their own pace. If they want to accomplish more and move faster than they expected due dates, that’s totally fine. But they’re given the baseline, so there’s something to anchor to.
This also gives us a way to check in early on. Hiring managers are often so excited to have their new teammate and they wanna teach them everything! If a new hire misses a deadline with their company onboarding, we can check in and make sure that they aren’t being overwhelmed with information coming from other places, and that they’re truly able to prioritize their company onboarding before their department onboarding.
Separate company and departmental onboarding
Yeah, that’s a great point about hiring managers being so excited to have a new person and wanting to give them all the information, and making sure to have those clear expectations set.
Not just in terms of setting the pace for company onboarding, but also that this is the pace for company onboarding – even before you start your department onboarding.
We’ve gotten great feedback on making those separate, and making sure that priority is known.
Make it easy for new hires to access the resources they need
Another important part of onboarding is having all of the information there in an organized and thoughtful way, so new hires don’t have to go looking for information or answers to questions.
But like I said before, you’re not just handing the new hire a big binder of information to read through. We’ve over-thought and iterated on our process so much that at this point, we really don’t get any additional questions after someone’s gone through their Workflow. And that’s been our goal all along.
Keep a well-documented onboarding process
I couldn’t agree more – Process Street does the organizing and the presentation for us, and that allows us to expand on the onboarding process by adding a level of personalization – which is my favorite part.
Because Process Street is dynamic, we can tailor the individual tasks to the person based on their job function, personality interests, etc.
For example, if they live in Europe, we can invite them to the #team-europe Slack channel. If they’re an avid surfer, we can invite them to the #casual-surfers channel. That personalization also allows the hiring manager to thoughtfully select people outside of their regular team to meet with.
Maybe they’re a person that they already know they have something in common with. Maybe they have other positions that they might be collaborating with. But this allows them to start to get a sense of the team really early on through that personalization.
Favorite things about our onboarding process
So I mentioned my favorite part of the onboarding process. I know you must have one too, Ashley!
Of course, I do! I wouldn’t work here if I didn’t nerd out on a good process, you know?
How organized it is
My favorite part is I love how organized it is – not only for the new hire’s experience (which we just talked about) but also for us on the back-end. For those of us that are actually running that process, it allows us to sit back and have it be pretty automated.
Like a lot of tech companies, we recently went through a period this summer where we paused our hiring and onboarding, even though we had been focused on it for the six months (at least) before that, it was kind of pushed to the back of our minds.
And when we did start hiring again in August, I was actually amazed with how little I remembered about our onboarding process.
Before the summer, I felt like I could onboard someone in my sleep. We were doing it so often and it was always the same, and set out in such a way that I thought “this is always going to be like riding a bike.“
But then when hiring started up again… I couldn’t remember all the steps. I couldn’t remember who was supposed to do what, or at what time.
Thankfully, Erin took the time to get our process set up in Process Street, including all of the features that Process Street has like Task Assignments. Who’s supposed to do this task? Oh, it’s already assigned to them, and it sends them a notification. When are they supposed to do it? That due date is based on the candidates start date. So we never have to worry about doing things like that manually.
So the whole process was automated for us, and we have everything we could possibly need documented in Process Street.
More time to spend building connections with new hires
I love that – because we use Process Street, we can rely on it to remember all of those boring tasks and things that needs to be done. And that allows us to have more time to spend building connections with the new hire.
It gives us the time to play games and focused on who they are as an individual and what they bring to the team versus remembering the 101 tasks that need to be completed.
You know, let us be humans – not workers!
Yeah. That’s a really good point. I love that we get to meet with each new hire.
Whether it’s individually or in a group, we meet with them at the end of their first week, like you mentioned, to play games, get to know them.
We chat about the highs and lows of their first week and it’s more of a conversation, and we also specifically ask for feedback around our onboarding process during those meetings.
So not only the Workflow that they’ve been given, but also the pace at which we set it, the amount of information that they were given, and that kind of starts that open discussion.
How we gathered feedback to improve our onboarding process
And on that note, why don’t we move on to talk about getting feedback and implementing changes to our onboarding process?
Start gathering feedback early
Yeah, it’s important that they feel they are making contributions from day one by getting feedback early on in a new hires journey with us. They gain trust in us and our process. So when they see the changes that we’ve implemented because of that feedback, it helps to create a stronger company culture, which will in turn be impactful in the wrong long run.
They are going to have conflicts. They’re gonna have big ideas and they’re going to have everything in between. We want them to feel respected to share all of that on their journey.
Yeah, I agree. And it shows new hires from the very beginning that their ideas are not only welcomed but they’re encouraged, they’re helpful and we’re open to change and improving and accepting those ideas.
Send a survey once the new hire is fully ramped up
Yeah. And that’s through their entire time with us. We also send a 60 day survey that allows the new hire some time to reflect on the onboarding process.
Once they’ve actually ramped up to their position, sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know, and the survey allows them time and space to capture that feedback when they are ready.
Yeah, that’s a great point. We like to capture it right after the first week while it’s fresh in their mind.
But also giving them that space to see there was a gap here and maybe they even know like what would better fill that gap? And if they don’t that’s fine too. That’s our job to figure it out.
But kind of collecting feedback at two different points has proved really helpful. And getting our onboarding process to where we want it to be.
What we changed about our own onboarding process
Now, do you wanna mention some of the changes that we’ve actually implemented over this last year from that feedback that we’ve received?
Improving the connection between managers and new hires
So although we all know this, it can be really intimidating meeting your manager on their first day even though you likely made a connection with them through the hiring process.
I mean, that’s probably why they joined the team! But still, it can be a little uncomfortable. So we thought “how can we grow this connection and make it even better?”
We started asking professional questions specifically related to their work, their personalities, and their work styles. This way the new hire can share things like how their managers will know they’re stressed, or what forms of appreciation are best recieved.
But not only did we share that from the new hire to their manager, but we also shared that same information from the manager to the new hire.
So already they’re finding things that they have in common or maybe don’t have in common and they can laugh about it in that first (sometimes a little awkward) meeting.
Right, and it kind of creates an ice breaker for those meetings. It gives them something to talk about where they both know what’s going to be discussed. But it also gives really valuable information.
So it lets the new hire know like you said, their managers strengths and weaknesses, their management style, from their own words.
But it also lets the manager know from that first day that important information that you mentioned – like “what does it look like when you’re stressed?”, or “how do you best receive feedback or recognition?” And we’ve asked those questions directly so that there is nothing left up in the air.
It’s a way of communicating “this is me, this is how I receive information” and that is clearly set out for both of them. That’s been really helpful in building those connections from the very beginning.
Tailoring the first few days to a perfect fit for new hires
Yeah, definitely. Other feedback we received was that it can feel really overwhelming for some teammates to be given a lot of information on the first day.
Many of us with “Type A” styles like to spend a few minutes (or maybe a few hours) the day before preparing for the day. And so we started sending the onboarding Workflow the week before.
Because of this feedback, this allows the individual to decide how to best digest the information. Are they one of those people who likes to prepare a few days in advance, or is it more of a first day kind of thing?
We were very thoughtful about the note that we included with this Workflow to clarify that our intention wasn’t for them to start it right away, but it was available for them if they’re the kind of person that needed it.
Since then, every new hire has been a little different and it’s been helpful for us to learn another part of their workstyle ahead of time. Another nod to that personalization. My favorite part!
Yeah, I love that. I was really nervous about sending it beforehand because I didn’t want anyone to think that anything was expected of them before their first day, but you’re right, clearly laying it out, setting those expectations. It really made it a non issue.
Building interdepartmental connections from day 1
We also wanted to make sure from the feedback that we received that our new hires felt connected to their teammates from that first day. That’s why we started our cross functional buddy program.
That’s where a team mate from a different department meets with the new hire at least once a week during their first month (sometimes more).
So the new hire has someone to ask questions that they may not feel comfortable asking their manager or HR, those “stupid questions” that no one wants to ask.
They have a person saying, hey ask me those questions acknowledging out loud. Like I’m your person, come to me. There are no stupid questions.
We’ve gotten really good feedback from the new hires about that they have someone to go to and that always feels comfortable. But also from the buddies because it allows them to get to know someone better. And then they may not have known otherwise as quickly.
It’s harder in a remote company to get to know someone in a different department in their first few weeks from when they start. And so this allows for that connection right away.
Yeah, that’s right. And we took that even a step further by starting to ask “silly questions” and sharing them in a new Slack channel for other teammates to find things they have in common.
The questions are silly, like “what music do you still rock out to?” or “if you wrote a book, what it would be called?”.
So it gets the group interacting and laughing over things that other people might not really understand, like “a book called the best ways to waste your time” or “how our world would be better if dogs could talk“.
And you would not be surprised – we also ask our new hires for other questions to add to our silly ones, and they might be our best ones yet!
Yeah. And that’s a great point about team members finding things they have in common with each other.
Especially for a remote company, it’s not as easy to have those kinds of casual conversations, where you get to know your team, maybe as you’re walking around together, or having lunch together.
So we have to be really intentional about how we set those conversations up – and it’s worked out really well!
Like you said, we have a separate Slack channel for that. So you come there to learn that information to share your own commonalities. I love going to that channel and seeing people connecting and finding things they have in common. It’s been really fun!
For sure. And that not only makes them feel immediately a part of the team, but it also gives them the competence that they made the right decision, accepting the position with the company and that’s probably the most important part.
Right. I agree. We don’t want them to have that bad experience – like you had with your onboarding – of just being thrown in with no guidance, or like I had, where I was just told “here, read over all of this information“.
We want it to be fun. We want it to be magical. We want our onboarding to set the tone for new hires and make them even more excited after their first day, not feeling like, “oh no, what have I done!?”
The future of onboarding at Process Street
So, what do you see as the future of onboarding at Process Street?
That’s a great question. Recently we’ve gone and made a lot of changes here. I’m very happy with where our onboarding process is at now, but I would say the future, we’re going to continue to focus and trust the process that we have built here.
We’ve put a lot of thought and effort into it, but we are always open to feedback. The feedback that we get from the people actually going through the process has been so helpful.
We hire the best people here who give the best constructive feedback. And so, I’m staying open to that – continuing to iterate as needed.
We like to say that the magic isn’t in the product or in our current process. It’s an it’s evolution.
I love that. I’m so excited to have a front row seat!
I know, and I’m so excited to have a fellow nerd to work on it with!
Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with me about our mutual love of a good process and a magical candidate experience.
Thanks for having me Ashley, this was fun!
Check out season 1 of the Employee Onboarding Podcast!
This is a transcription of the first episode of Season 2 of our Employees Onboarding Podcast, bringing new insights and best practices from employees onboarding experts, and helping you to create an amazing onboarding experience.
Check out some choice selections from Season 1 below, and don’t forget to subscribe!