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Onboarding Starts Before Day One: Rules for Healthy Hiring When Growing Fast

Kristen Craft on May 22, 2018 · 7 minute read

Onboarding isn’t just a process you put new hires through to get them up to speed with your company systems and paperwork. Employee onboarding is a crucial experience that greatly impacts the success trajectory of new hires at your company. If not carefully designed, this early experience can leave new team members feeling anything but well-adapted and empowered for success.

As Amplitude enters a high-growth phase (at the peak, onboarding three new hires per week), the People and Operations team (POPs for short) is focused on redesigning the onboarding experience from the inside out.

Borrowing design thinking ideas from Maureen Carroll of Lime Design Associates, the POPs team is shifting from thinking about onboarding as a “process” meant to serve the company to thinking about an “onboarding experience” tailored to new hires.  To pivot their thinking from process to experience, says Stacy Au-yang, a member of the Recruiting team at Amplitude, the team focuses all discussions on one central question:

How should a person feel during onboarding at Amplitude?

Breaking down the onboarding experience into three main areas—interviewing, week one, and week two—the Amplitude POPs team has identified the core feelings they want candidates and new hires to experience at each stage:

  • During interviews, candidates should feel welcomed and comfortable.
  • During week one, new hires should feel amped and excited.
  • During week two, new hires should feel empowered and competent.

With that list as their guide, adds Dana Layfield, Operations Manager at Amplitude, the team is making changes that help them match the onboarding experience to these feelings.

In what follows, we take a deep dive into how Stacy, Dana, and the Amplitude POPs team are redesigning the onboarding experience to set up new hires for success and support the company’s rapid growth. For each area, we review what they’re doing and why it has been effective, in order to help you gather ideas for ways to restructure and improve your own onboarding experience.

During Interviews, Candidates Should Feel Welcomed and Comfortable

Onboarding doesn’t start on day one; it starts right when a potential employee connects with your team for an interview. That first impression greatly affects the opinions that candidates form about the company. As Dana puts it:

We consider onboarding to be everything from recruiting all the way through to getting settled in and ramped up in the company.

The Amplitude team puts great emphasis on making candidates feel welcomed and comfortable from the moment they step foot into the office. For that reason, each interview starts or ends with a lunch with employees from across the company who aren’t part of the candidate’s interview committee. Candidates, Stacy says, appreciate the less formal interaction with their potential colleagues.

The lunch is a good way for candidates to have a casual conversation with a couple of employees and pick their brains about Amplitude; this always makes them feel comfortable.

The opportunity to ask questions openly, discuss expectations, and exchange impressions of the company without the pressure of the hiring decision hanging over them gives candidates confidence in the company. The lunch is both an exciting and empowering event for candidates, setting them up for the experiences they’ll encounter when they join the team officially.

HELPING CANDIDATES FEEL COMFORTABLE FROM DAY ONE

If you’re a co-located team like Amplitude, adding a casual lunch or coffee to the start or end of your interview process will help improve candidates’ experience with your team. First and last impressions always linger longer in the mind, and the opportunity for open conversations with people who aren’t evaluating their skills and performance can greatly influence the impression potential hires form about your team and culture.

During Week One, New Hires Should Feel Amped and Excited

When the Amplitude POPs team came together to brainstorm ideas for week one of onboarding, Stacy says, they quickly reached unanimity on the core feelings.

We were all in agreement that new hires should not ever feel overwhelmed…they should feel excited and amped to be here.

Recognizing these feelings helped the Amplitude POPs team view orientation from the new hire’s perspective rather than from the company’s. This shift in perspective is important, Dana explains, because it leads to asking different questions and finding different answers.

If you don’t want to feel overwhelmed, what do you need? You need time to socialize. And you need high-level trainings, not super-detailed ones.

The entire the first week,” Stacy adds, “is all about getting to know people in the company.” Dana recalls how easy it was to meet people at Amplitude: “When I first started, people threw a bunch of coffee meetings on my calendar—even people I didn’t work with from different teams. To help with that, we announce on Slack when somebody new starts and everybody comments and organizes new hire lunches.”

 

High-level trainings are another important part of week one, Stacy says, to give new hires an overview of “different functions in the company and how we work together.” To reduce the risk of new employees feeling overwhelmed, the POPs team makes sure every incoming team member shares this experience with a group of onboarding buddies.

We decided to start onboarding all of our new employees in groups so that no one’s ever alone in onboarding.

With the support of their fellow new hires, incoming team members get comfortable and acclimated to the company much faster. Redesigning the onboarding experience around feelings of excitement helps set a positive tone, not only for week two but also for the new hires’ long-term experience at Amplitude.

HELPING NEW HIRES FEEL AMPED AND EXCITED

Starting a new job should be an exciting event! What do new hires need in order to feel amped and excited during their first week at your company? Brainstorm ideas around that question with your team or have recent hires participate through a survey.

Once you identify those needs, work backward to design an onboarding experience that gives people an opportunity to achieve them. Make your first week of onboarding all about excitement and positive experiences.

During Week Two, New Hires Should Feel Empowered and Competent

With a good high-level understanding of the company from week one and a strong social foundation, new hires are ready to move on to the week-two experience. For this phase, Dana explains, the experience focuses on feelings of competence.

Week two is about feeling competent. Trainings get a little more in-depth to get people feeling comfortable with the product.

To achieve this, Stacy adds, every function within Amplitude gives a presentation to new employees about their department. “That way, everyone knows exactly what each team does, what everyone’s functions are, and how we can all collaborate to become successful.”

What’s even more important than the content of these trainings is who gives them. As Stacy explains:

Spenser Skates, our CEO, talks about the importance of analytics and why we exist. And then the VP of Products, Justin Bauer, talks about our product roadmap.

These are followed by presentations from the head of each function. What’s vital to understand, Dana adds, is that these onboarding sessions are just as valuable to Amplitude’s leadership team; leadership team members always make time to participate.

The presentations are really important to our CEO, and getting him time with new hires is one of the things that we’ve done to hold onto our culture. We’re a tight-knit group with a collaborative culture, and we don’t want to lose sight of that as we grow.

Spending time in trainings with the CEO, the VP, and the department heads lets new hires know how important they are to the overall health and success of the team. Feeling empowered and competent to make a difference with their work, new hires are then ready to hit the ground running with their own teams.

EMPOWERING NEW TEAM MEMBERS FOR SUCCESS

Leadership buy-in and support are key ingredients to success. When new hires see busy members of the leadership team taking time to welcome them and train them on company functions, they’ll feel appreciated and even more inspired to contribute themselves.

Helping new people get time with company leaders in week two will not only boost their feelings of competence and of empowerment, it also demonstrates the investment that the company wants to make in them.

Designing an Employee-Centric Onboarding Experience

Your employees are your greatest assets. Designing an onboarding experience that puts new employees at the center of the action is one of the best things you can do for the future growth of your company. This is a key tenet of design thinking: put humans at the center of the process to foster and sense of empathy among all.

By asking how new hires should feel from the first day they step into their office to the time they’re fully onboarded, the Amplitude POPs team is committed to building a positive onboarding experience that provides new hires with everything they need to feel welcome, excited, and empowered to succeed.