In the past, we’ve discussed how startups can create an effective onboarding program for new hires, but as demand grows and you scale beyond the initial founding team, you will need to implement a more formal training process to succeed with both senior and junior hires. As more and more people come aboard your rocket ship, the informal training process you follow on a case-by-case basis likely won’t cut it. A formal training process can be treated as a living, breathing one that is improved over time, but getting a formula in place early will ensure no new hire slips through the cracks.
Without knowing it, your small team has specific M.O.’s and performance expectations at the role & department level. New hires will have prior career experience (and habits) that will carry over into this new role, or they might be right out of school with no previous experience. If you want your expectations to extend to new team members, you need to emphasize it from the very beginning and consistently until it becomes part of their daily behavior and they understand what is expected of them within their role at the company.
When you hit your stride and you’re growing at a steady clip, you will be thankful that you put the time in when you could. While every company and hire is different, you should do your best to map out some sort of structure. Here’s a handbook and tentative timeframe to create an effective training program for new hires at startup companies.
Before the hire
Baseline knowledge & documentation
Determine who will head up this process for the company and within each department. It helps to have one person run point on organizing, getting input from stakeholders, and implementing everything related to training. Founders & CEOs will likely want and should be involved at least in the formation of the program. To make sure everyone is on the same page, start small and incremental by deciding what general, must-know aspects of your business you want to permeate each and every hire. Examples:
- Mission & values – your business should live & die by these value statements & expectations, so your new hires should be well acquainted with how the values & mission impact their role, responsibilities and day-to-day functions.
- Weekly meetings – startups typically have standing, often standup, meetings each week to discuss numbers and tactics to meet goals. Your new hire might have no clue how these typically run so give them a heads up and let them listen in for the first week or two.
- Company culture – while culture is often observed and learned, it’s great if you can put into words how your team works together.
- Nuances about the company – your new hire is not clued in to the quirks that make your company tick. You may not be able to warn them about everything, but it’s always appreciated if you can ease them into their new environment.
- Expectations on the industry, company, department & role levels – just because you laid out expectations in the interview doesn’t mean it immediately carries over into day 1. Have a plan to lay out what you want a new hire to know about various facets of the role and aspects of your industry.
- Housekeeping stuff – When & how do employees get paid, healthcare, benefits, etc.? Who do they go to regarding promotions? Even little things around the office, such as whether you expect every team member to replace supplies when you run out – insight into the inner-workings of your business can clarify any uncertainties from your new hire.
Create training teams
When new hires start, there should be a rough schedule they follow to ramp up on everything related to the business and their role. Determine what the ideal training schedule looks like and then backfill who handles each aspect of the onboarding. For instance, your CEO might want to kick off Day 1 by greeting the new hire and sitting down with them to welcome them to the business. After that greeting, training programs will begin & be run by team leads from various departments – sales, marketing, operations, product, etc.
Ideally, your departments will create a quick “employee handbook” of sorts that employees can have on file. You will want to balance the amount of time and effort you put into creating this depending on the stage and maturity of your business. If you are still finding product market fit and what works within each core aspect of your business, it might not make sense to document processes yet. Either way, it’s always good to have information & expectations in writing that you and your hire can refer back to – whether it’s a Word doc, presentation, etc. Additionally, an ultimate goal as you grow in size is for many people on your team to be able to deliver the same message and same training to new hires.
Day 1 / Week 1
- Welcome – As mentioned, it’s great for the CEO or founder to sit down with the new hire immediately upon arrival. Here, the CEO can reiterate a lot of what was discussed in the interview process with candidness around the new hire’s opportunity & expected challenges, department successes & failures, and so on. If you don’t have an HR contact, the CEO should also handle all discussions & paperwork around payroll, benefits, etc.
- Meet and greet – You likely have a lot of important people at your company that your new hire may not have met in the interview process. Schedule half hour meet & greets for the new hire to get to know those team members, regardless of if they will be working together or not.
- Overview – The department lead should then go over the role responsibilities and typical day-to-day functions. Make sure the new hire is taking notes and ask frequently whether they have any questions or require anything to be repeated.
- Reading material – You’re likely not expecting much output from your new hire in week 1. Load them up with reading material that you want them to know inside and out. Share old and updated sales decks, news releases, blogs, etc.
- Demo time – Depending on how tech heavy your business is, expect that your new hire will need a few demos to get acquainted, as well as time alone to play with the product and ask follow up questions.
- Shadowing – Again, with output expectations low, take this slow time with your new hire to lead by example. Have them sit in on meetings, calls, or simply let them watch over your shoulder as you work, explaining as you go the expectations you have for when they take over.
- Coursework – Continue to overwhelm them with content and resources that you want them to pour over during ramp up. Depending on the level of your new hire, you might want to go over the coursework with them, reiterating and explaining as you go.
- Practical exercises and quizzes – Have them conduct research for you or do administrative work to understand how your team works and what sort of resources help you to succeed. Test them on the information you’ve shared and work with them to learn.
- Role playing – A step up from shadowing, role playing is especially helpful for account and sales roles where your new hire will be speaking directly with customers and prospects. They are becoming the face of your company so take them out of their comfort zone, throw curveballs, and give them an idea of the best- and worst-case scenarios that they could encounter.
- Set them loose – Give them some space to apply what they’ve learned about how your business operates and your expectations of them in the role. Let them show you what they’ve got.
- Listen in – While you don’t want to hover or micromanage too much, it’s important in the beginning to sit in occasionally while they are working to get an idea of their mastery, speed, effectiveness, etc. This will help you in your ongoing training with them, and will also help build up your trust in them to ease any worries you might have about handing off responsibilities.
- Collect your thoughts – You’re coming up on 30 days with your new hire. Start to collect your thoughts on how they fit in at your company from a culture perspective as well as how they are performing in the first few weeks based on the expectations you set for the role. It’s advised – and typically appreciated by the new hire – to sit down at 30 days to have a check-in. Be transparent about your observations and let them share their reactions about the team, role & onboarding process.
Month 2 & beyond
The learning shouldn’t stop after month 1. Likely, your new hire won’t start performing to their full potential until month 3-6. Set incremental goals with the hire that are definitely a reach, but not unattainable, until they hit their stride. Continue to join them in meetings with clients, let them shadow your calls, have weekly check-ins to understand where they’re at, provide ongoing feedback, and share tips and tricks that will make their life easier.
While there are many debates out there about the effectiveness of annual reviews, your new hire should have some sort of regular check-in (30, 60, 90 days, 6 months, 1 year) that recaps your ongoing conversations, focusing on their performance and ways that they can improve. Most importantly, remind them of your open-door policy for any recommendations or questions they have along the way.
Ongoing training is so important and learning opportunities affect the happiness of your team. Companies that provide career development opportunities will find their employees more satisfied and committed to growing with your company.
You can achieve this a number of ways – anything from weekly practical learning activities, to monthly book clubs, to mentorship programs within your business, to allowances for employees to attend courses outside the office, to providing internal certification programs that demonstrate their mastery of the product or service, and more.
Finally, lead by example. Nothing sets the tone better than a leadership team that is entirely committed and practices what they preach.
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