How to Start a New Job: Begin Onboarding Before Day One

Kristen Craft | March 29, 2018

This is officially Week One for me at Tettra, but it feels like Week Ten; or, rather, I already have the knowledge and know-how of someone on Week Ten. This is largely because I worked with the team to onboard before my official start date. I’d come to the office a few times, I’d set up my laptop, and I’d read a lot. You might be wondering why someone would want to start a new job before actually starting a new job. Turns out, it’s pretty good for the employee, as well as for the company.

What’s in it for Me?

Tettra was by no means pressuring me to ramp up before I officially started. On the contrary, I was pushing for an earlier start date because I was JUST. SO. EXCITED. Given that I’m a millennial, (a group that seeks meaning in their work above all else,) I value culture, team, and mission greatly. Once I’d found a combo I loved, I couldn’t wait to roll up my sleeves and contribute to achieving the team’s goals. Given the existing daycare arrangements for my two kids, I was fortunate to have the time and freedom to delve in deep. Everyone’s family and financial situation is different; yet, I think that most people benefit from getting a head-start.

By ramping up early, I was able to really hit the ground running on Day One. In fact, thanks to a bet with Nelson Joyce, co-founder of Tettra, I’d even hit “publish” on a piece of content on my first day. At a small company like ours, getting up to speed quickly is critical. I didn’t need to waste valuable time getting my accounts and insurance set up. Additionally, I mitigated some of those pesky “new kid” feelings of being the slowest person in every meeting. Feeling like you don’t know anything (even when that’s to be expected,) is disheartening. Being able to tap into the team’s collective consciousness on day one is invaluable in terms of momentum and confidence.

What’s in it for the Company?

Onboarding is one of the most expensive parts of bringing on a new hire. According to the bestselling business book, The First 90 Days, the breakeven point for most execs is six months. This means that it takes six months for the new person to add as much value to the organization as he or she has consumed from it, (in the form of repetitive questions and ill-informed decisions). By helping people onboard in advance, a company can accelerate this breakeven point.

Early onboarding for employees also makes the team stronger. It frees up existing employees from answering the same questions each time a new hire comes on board. These questions and interruptions, (though important and sometimes necessary) force a lot of context switching among team members. After an interruption, not only does it take time for the person to re-focus on what they were doing beforehand, but it even lowers the person’s IQ temporarily!

How to Onboard Yourself Early

If you’re lucky, the company you’re joining has a knowledge management tool or company wiki. If this is the case, get in there and read everything you can. Spend time understanding the structure of the tool and what kind of information lives where. Document your journey and jot down questions as you go, so you can aggregate questions when you meet with with your manager and team.

My team was amazing in documenting and updating info in this “New Hire Setup – First Day Stuff” page. (Pro tip: you can even get a template for onboarding people if you want to build something similar for your team! If you’re a Tettra customer, you already have access to this template; if you’re not, we’d love to have you become one!)

If you’re having trouble finding the information you need, document that as well, and suggest adding it. So often, people with tenure in an organization lose track of what’s intuitive and what isn’t. You can add immediate value by helping the team improve the onboarding process for subsequent hires. Pay it forward, and leave the organization better than you found it. The next hire (and the team, generally,) will thank you.

Consume content beyond the wiki. Get to know the website, blog, customer case studies, and any research the company has published. I loved delving into Tettra’s Culture Codes interviews and decks, since it gave me a feel for the kinds of topics and issues we cover. If you can get your hands on any interviews with the founders or leadership team, even better. This helps you get up to speed on company history, lore, and culture.

How a Company Can Support Early Onboarding

Companies can do a lot to facilitate this process:

  1. Make it clear that you want to help, but don’t apply pressure if the person doesn’t have the time or ability to engage early.
  2. Find a good wiki tool, and invest the time to document your culture, norms, processes, and organizational knowledge. This investment will pay dividends for years to comes. Not only will it help new employees get up to speed, it’ll also help existing ones operate and collaborate more effectively.
  3. Create a culture deck that clearly articulates what the company cares about, why, and what this looks like on a day to day basis. Put this deck front and center within your company knowledge management tool.
  4. Use your wiki to document which tools people need and how they might use them. Give new hires the keys to the castle before they actually begin, rather than waiting until the first day to set up logins and passwords. This involves transparency and trust; your new hires will likely notice and appreciate this approach.
  5. Iterate on this process. Ask people what worked and what didn’t. Ask for suggestions to make the process smoother.

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Joining a company and helping it grow is a marathon, and no one should run a marathon without some training in advance. Think of early onboarding as distance training for new hires. Help them feel comfortable with the shorter runs before they tackle 26.2 miles on Week One. Plus, early onboarding allows people to do more fun and creative things on Day One like eating tacos and publishing new posts!

Nota bene

There’s a lot of disagreement on the internet about when to write out the word for a number (Ie Week One) vs when to use the numeral (ie Week 1). According to Grammarly, anything below 101 should be written out. And naturally, I added this into a “Style Guide” Tettra page, in order to help future hires navigate publishing on Week One.