Onboarding Practices: The First Month

[ organization  process  ]

As I’m wrapping up the fourth week at my new job, I figured this was a good time to reflect on how I approach onboarding to a new role, team, and company!

Company onboarding

The first week of onboarding is typically very broad and company-focused: benefits, how to find information, company culture, IT setup, etc. It’s an overload of information that doesn’t have a ton of meaning yet, and my main goal is setting up a structure for organization so that I can go back find those resources later as they start coming up in more context.

My foundational organization structure usually involves:

  • Getting my Trello to-do list up and running
  • Figuring out information architecture for bookmarking links and resources
  • Setting up my managering templates (initial 1:1s, recurring 1:1s, intro 1:1s, pulse surveys, etc.)
  • Color-coding my calendar to help me start understanding where I’m spending my time

Meeting the team

I like having the opportunity to meet my team as a whole group within my first week. I don’t schedule my initial 1:1s until the second or third week, so getting some “face-to-face” time with my team is important to me.

Icebreakers can be tough, but my manager used a list of questions that I’m definitely stealing for future use!

  • Name
  • Where you currently live
  • How long have you been at $company
  • Your favorite internal slack channel that is not related to work
  • Favorite non-work activity
  • If you were not an engineer you would be an…
  • Anything else you’d like to share

These questions let people share a little about themselves as people but avoids the pressure of getting too personal, while also helping me onboard to the team and company.

I also share out my manager README in the first week. This lets my team read through it ahead of our initial 1:1s so they can ask any questions or chat about it when we do have our first 1:1.

Manager handoffs

Ideally, my predecessor left various team and performance management docs behind that are accessible to me. Within the first few weeks, I like reading through the performance management docs and jotting down my takeaways.

This process enables me to think about my direct reports’ goals, growth, and performance and have conversations with them from my understanding instead of just parroting back what I’ve read. And once we have our initial 1:1s, I can get an idea of how their goals or performance may have changed over time when I compare the previous documents to the conversation we have in our first 1:1.

Initial 1:1s

My goal is to have initial 1:1s with everyone on my team within the second and third week. The list of questions here is largely borrowed from Lara Hogan’s excellent blog post, and they’re a really good foundation for getting to know people. I also send the questions to folks in advance so they can prime their brain and think about what they want to share with me.

  • Tell me about your background
  • How do you prefer to receive recognition — publicly or privately?
  • What makes 1:1s the most valuable for you?
  • What are your goals for this year?
  • Goals for the next three months?
  • What makes you grumpy?
  • How will I know when you’re grumpy?
  • How can I help you when you’re grumpy?
  • What do you need from me as your manager?
  • When was the last time you took vacation?
  • What’s your favorite way to treat yourself?
  • 1:1 schedule preference

I used to also ask In what medium (Slack, email, in person, etc.) do you prefer to receive feedback and When do you prefer to receive feedback — routinely in 1:1s, or as-it-happens, but so far everyone has answered the same way as each other, which is also the same way I prefer to give feedback; so now I just describe how I give feedback and ask if they have any questions.

And then I have follow-ups questions that I’ll ask within the first few recurring 1:1s:

  • Human learning and growth requires the right amount of four things: new challenges, low ego, space to reflect and brainstorm, and timely and clear feedback. How are these four going for you? Is there one you need more or less of?
  • What do you need from your teammates?
  • What do you need from your peers outside the team?
  • How do you feel about the current team dynamics within our direct team?
  • Within the larger team?
  • Walk me through the work you’re currently doing!

Intro 1:1s

I also have a plethora of “intro 1:1s” with people around the company in my first month - manager peers in my org, skip-levels in my org, peers and skip-levels in other teams and orgs. It’s a great way to get to know people, especially in a remote company, and a really good way to start broadening your understanding of how the company operates.

Some of the questions I ask informational - getting to know them and how their team or department operates:

  • Background at the company
  • High-level overview of their department or team
  • Ongoing initiatives
  • Recent successes
  • Biggest challenge and how they’re meeting it
  • How our teams or orgs interact

And some of the questions are more advice-driven around ramping up and learning as a new employee - it’s really helpful to hear the variety of perspectives and experiences:

  • What have you learned now, but wish you’d known when you joined?
  • In your opinion, what’s important for me to focus on during my first 90 days?
  • Do you have any advice for me for long-term success in my new role?

Ongoing initiatives

When you start a new role, you’re often settling into existing expectations that other people have around what operating in that role looks like. I’ll find out some answers to these questions during my intro 1:1s, but it’s also good to have an explicit conversation with my manager about it:

  • What projects or initiatives was my predecessor involved with?
  • What projects or initiatives were they leading?
  • What’s been handed off, and what is languishing because they were waiting for the new hire to come and take it over?

And from there, it’s about starting to navigate those expectations. What makes sense for me to be a part of, either as a participant or leader? It’s unlikely to be a 1:1 match between my predecessor and myself - I’m considering what my team needs, where there might be gaps within the org, what sounds interesting to me, what could fit my career goals.

Stages of competence

Any new job comes with a ton of learning, which means moving through the stages of competence. In particular, the first month usually means going from Stage 1 (unconscious incompetence) to Stage 2 (conscious incompetence).

You can also frame this as going from unknown unknowns to known unknowns; but either way, you’re essentially transitioning into a place where you are recognizing how little you currently know and how much you need to learn.

We all get to this place. It’s just a natural part of doing something new, but it can feel really awful. It’s hard not to put pressure on myself to already know all the things. It’s hard not to feel that imposter syndrome creeping in.

I try to be honest with myself and my manager when I hit this stage. Saying it out loud to myself helps me deal with it instead of hiding from it; and saying it out loud to my manager helps because they are more objective about it - they know I don’t know all the things yet, and they can remind me that they don’t expect me to.

What are some of your habits and go-to processes for onboarding at a new job? Share your tips and experiences!

Written on September 1, 2022