It’s our first day of work and we’re greeted by HR who goes through a quick orientation and office tour. They tell us that HR onboarding will take place over the coming weeks so we find ourselves sitting at our desk by mid day with our laptop and id, wondering what to do next. Should I do some elearning? Should I speak to my teammates? Should I be doing work? Where’s the toilets?!?! It shouldn’t be this stressful for any new joiner or at least this isn’t the experience we want to create.
Onboarding shouldn’t just be the responsibility of HR. Managers need to be a part of designing the onboarding experience for their new hires. There’s so much implicit tribal knowledge that exists within teams which often resist documentation that HR isn’t even aware of. These could be social in nature, a way of working, or behaviours that might be easier to explain in person rather than trying to document it.
onboarding goes beyond HR
onboarding is different in every org
In fact, every organisation treats onboarding differently and it's common to have different honeymoon periods depending on which organisation you join. For some, you might be expected to hit the ground running from day 1 while for others it may take 2 years to complete onboarding. With such a variance on how onboarding is viewed in different organisations, it can be nerve wracking for the new joiner to understand what’s expected of them if nothing is made clear.
And that’s why the team manager has a critical role to play in the onboarding experience. The first 4-week plan is meant to set the new joiner up for success by having implicit tribal knowledge shared as well as have clear expectations on what will count towards a successful first 4 weeks. If done right, you can reduce the risk of the new joiner who you’ve painstakingly recruited from leaving your organisation during their probationary period because they’re unsure if they are doing a good enough job or worried that they are doing too little.
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4 aspects to the first 4-week plan
HR & Housekeeping
- Simple and fundamental tasks in onboarding new joiners
Platforms & Technology
- Tools that the team uses on a day to day basis to get work done
People to meet
- Relationships that the new joiner should build
- Project to demonstrate success at the end of 4 weeks
Every organisation has its own set of onboarding processes from HR & IT teams, these activities could easily take up approximately 4 days of time in your new joiner’s schedule. From attending company mission and values briefings, to doing e-learning, or getting bank details sorted, these activities will take time. Having an estimation of time for these activities will allow you to factor in how much time your new joiner actually has available to complete the 4-week plan you’ve designed.
One of the most common practices would be for the manager to have a context setting meeting with the new joiner. It can be intimidating for the new joiner to be requesting a meeting with their manager especially if they’ve not met them before. Hence, it is essential for the manager to initiate a context setting meeting with your new joiner in the 1st week or even on the 1st day. What am I supposed to share in a context setting meeting you might ask. Based on our experience, we like to share something that we ourselves found surprising or information that isn’t publicly available. This can be about the business model, organisation structure, business units and so on. By sharing the context, you provide a deep understanding of the business and knowledge that only employees know. It is also recommended to highlight the expectations and OKRs of the team and role so that the new joiner has a clear understanding of what’s expected.
Another simple but really essential task is giving self-introductions. Every new joiner might have done some form of an email introduction or filled in a random set of questions that was meant to ‘get to know’ you. However, we got an even more interesting way of making introductions which is also less awkward and more fun to do. Read more about user manuals here.
Before you end the 1st day of the new joiner, make it an explicit task for them to go home at 4pm (or earlier). Often new joiners just sit around without having much to do till the end of the day. This is a great way to reinforce that you take your 4-week plan tasks seriously and that you’d want them to complete it as part of their onboarding.
Tasks to be added to the 4-week plan
- Week 1: Context setting meeting with manager
- Week 1: Share self-introduction or user manual
- Day 1: Go home at 4pm
HR & housekeeping
platforms & technology
Every organisation has their own set of tools that is used on a daily basis to get work done. As a new joiner, it is unlikely that they would know what tools your team uses nor would they have access to them. By giving access to these tools, you give the new joiner the opportunity to familiarise themself with the tools especially if they haven’t used them before. Even though some tools might be familiar, there’s always the chance it might be used differently due to implicit tribal knowledge that develops in teams. Hence, sharing the social team practices and ways of working with technology is an essential part of the 4-week plan.
3 steps to get new joiners familiar with your team’s tools:
- Identify the platforms & technology
- Give access
- Briefing on how platforms are used by peers
1. Identify the platforms & technology
List down the platforms and technology that your team uses on a daily basis. These can be communications, documentation, scheduling or booking, external resources like subscriptions, research platforms. Also have a think about what you value as a manager or the must-have tools you use to help run your team, for example if giving feedback is a key part of your team, you want to include a platform like reflektive into the list of platforms your team uses. In order not to cognitively overload new joiners with too many tools, it is best to focus on what they might need for their first 4 weeks. Other tools that aren’t used so often should be shared in their 2nd or 3rd month or when they might need it.
2. Give access
Grant new joiners access to these platforms and technology. This might include adding them to various slack or MS team channels, giving access to project documentation, or even creating new user accounts to log into external resources. Documenting the process of getting access will enable you to do this with even more ease the next time you onboard a new joiner.
3. Briefing on how platforms are used by peers
The best way for implicit tribal knowledge to be shared is to have existing team members share how they use the platforms and technology in their work. This also creates an opportunity for the new joiner to meet other people in the team. Ensure you have an owner for each platform you’ve listed, if not appoint someone to own the platform unless the platform can be self-explored.
Finally, you’d want to task the new joiner to schedule weekly 1:1 check-ins with you for their 1st month. This gives them ample opportunity to check in with you regularly and also learn to schedule and set up the meetings.
Tasks to be added to the 4-week plan
- Week 1: Schedule weekly 1:1 check-ins with manager
Building relationships with colleagues is an essential part of work as we either work in teams or interact with different stakeholders to get work done. To begin planning the list of people to meet, consider these 4 categories of people: stakeholders, manager, peers, and reports. Don’t forget that you would also have a list of people for them to meet based on the briefing of how to use the platforms. And relationships don’t just form over work meetings, make sure you also organise some social lunches or dinners, coffee chats or even virtual breaks to get to know the new joiner beyond a work context.
Begin by identifying the initial list of people for the new joiner to meet and share it with them in their 1st week. They should have the flexibility to add to the list as well, as they might have a certain process of doing their job and want to establish relationships that could help them. In fact, this initial list might also expand further as they interact with more people after each meeting and get recommended to speak to other people as well. Make it a point for them to schedule those initial meetings in the 2nd week so that they can also practice using the tools to communicate and schedule meetings with other people. And ideally, they should complete most of their initial meeting by the end of the 3rd week.
If you are a new joiner, in a similar role, have a list of designations of the people you’d need to meet based on your past experience in your role. However, if you are taking on a different role, you can still create a list of designations based on your interview conversations or job descriptions when applying for the role.
Tasks to be added to the 4-week plan
- Week 1: Complete / Share initial list of people to meet
- Week 1: Pure social lunch / coffee / dinner
- Week 2: Schedule initial meetings
- Week 3: Complete initial meetings
people to meet
Finally, the last aspect of the 4-week plan is the deliverable or project. We don’t want new joiners to be stuck wondering if they are doing enough or not, or in a situation whereby they proactively ask for things to do and get told to relax as they are new, only to be asked what they’ve done all month. We want them to have an awesome 1st month conversation and ultimately be set up for success.
To get any ambiguity out of the way, identify what is expected at the end of the 1st month. It is also equally important to consider the other tasks (meeting people, more e-learning) that the new joiner might still have. With that, we estimate around 7 days of work is what they might have available over weeks 3 & 4. There are 3 main kinds of projects that you can assign your new joiner: supporting delivery, small demonstrative projects, or analysis of the team.
In supporting delivery, you’d want to identify teams that have already begun work and require additional warm hands to support the delivery. Even with the most capable new joiners, it’s worth considering the tradeoffs of making them a project owner as there will be areas of the organisation or work that are still unfamiliar to them, hence more management support will be needed if your project goes beyond supporting delivery.
The other type of deliverable are small demonstrative projects. A great place to find ideas for these projects is in a team backlog. Having them work on something that has been deprioritised but important allows them to dive into some of the technical things required and also allows them to flex their skills. At the end of the day, it is a nice way to give visibility to the new joiner, having completed a backlog item that the team just hasn’t gotten around to do.
When it comes to managers or senior new joiners, an analysis of the team is a perfect project to get them started on. As they meet new stakeholders and reports, they can simultaneously review their current team, synthesize key observations, and finally propose recommendations on how to improve the team. This sets the ground for them to get started on setting some key priorities or changes that they want to implement with their team.
Once you’ve decided on the project to go with, it’s best to brief the project in the 1st week so there is sufficient time to work on it. Also, ensure that the new joiner schedules the end of month check-in and review by the 1st week so that nothing is left in the air.
Tasks to be added to the 4-week plan
- Week 1: Briefing on project
- Week 1: Schedule end of month check-in & review
- Week 3-4: Delivery of first project
- Week 4: End of month review
Once you’ve done this, you are now ready to share it with your new joiner. You can either put these task in a word document / google sheet or add them to a project management tool. We highly recommend using a project management tool as it is simply easier to assign people, due dates, and also keep track of when tasks are completed.
You can also refer to this timeline with all the tasks we’ve covered in our guide that your new joiner should complete as part of the first 4-week plan.
bringing your first 4-week plan to life
workshop & templates to support you
We've also created a few activity templates that help you get started with designing your first 4-week plan.
The first - platforms & technology, have a think about a must-have tool that your team uses and why it is so important to your team. This helps you identify the tools that might be slightly uncommon but important to share with your new joiner.
The second - people to meet, will require you to list the different designations of the people you'd want your new joiner to meet.
The last - deliverable, will get you started on thinking on a project or deliverable that can be briefed to your new joiner.
View the documents on Google Drive, and download/make your own copy.