Lessons from building consumer product area onboarding processes
Whenever I hear that someone will be onboarded into a new company, my mind immediately associates the whole thing with sailing and ships. It’s the start of a journey, and you have to make sure everything is ready to set sail. If we refer to jobs as different lands in this analogy, it’s in the sea where the new sailors get prepared for the new destination and learn more about the new job.
Most of my professional experiences began in stormy seas — not understanding exactly what treasure I would dig up in the new land, where the oranges were to avoid scurvy disease or how to fix the water leaks on the ship.
When I joined FARFETCH this year as a Practice Product Design Lead, I went through a very well organised 3 day general onboarding at FARFETCH, which gave me a head start regarding our culture and values, office rules, basic IT configuration and business presentations. There was, however, a second part of being onboarded at FARFETCH: the Design specific onboarding, in which I had the opportunity to learn more about our team’s ways of working, the area strategy and more detailed information I would be living with in my day-to-day work.
After going through the Design Onboarding, I had the opportunity to improve the very same process I went through and test it with new joiners. Although this was a very mature process already, I gave a few opinions about what could be different. After a few bumps, fixes, feedback, and many sketches, I have some interesting learnings on our area specific onboarding that I want to share with you, my fellow Captains. Grab your rum (or coffee), and let me tell you some tales of the depth:
You’re part of the crew now, mate!
Joining a new crew can be scary — you don’t quite know if people will be friendly (complex organisational charts can be frightening), what customs are acceptable or not, and even if the crew is ready to sail through storms! Onboarding someone to start sailing within the company is about building trust, giving the proper tools, context and connecting people to a purpose.
The earlier and better someone understands how they would anchor, see the horizon for new lands and be a trustworthy teammate on deck, the better it will be for everyone. A crew is only effective if the team can lean on each other in those tough moments!
Knowing how to sail in the sea should be clear for new and old sailors
We assume that onboarding is all about the new sailors, right?! But what happens if your current crew doesn’t know how to support these new teammates?
The onboarding process should work in favour of the people that are already in the team. What’s expected from a manager when onboarding someone? From a coordinator? How should we receive a senior or a specialist? How about an intern? Where do leaders require softwares, get equipment for the new sailor, prepare themselves to receive the new person or avoid getting so overwhelmed to the point they are unable to actually connect with a new human being?
Managers and leaders should be able to onboard people by themselves, using the process as self-service.
Will the whole ship be able to learn how to navigate properly?
A new sailor joins in. You teach them how to lift the anchor, set sail and tend to the ropes. Takes a while, but you do it. Then another sailor joins in, and you don’t quite have the time to do it this time — you ask your first mate to do it, but he doesn’t quite know much about setting sail. Oh wait, now a third sailor is joining, and you find yourself having a hard time finding someone to onboard them.
Nailing the onboarding process goes along with scalability — if that depends on a few specific people, resources or can only accommodate a number of people per time, you can end up having problems. As your ship grows, your onboarding should be able to accommodate more people per time. Otherwise, you’ll have a whole bunch of sailors waiting in line to even begin working.
This also means that a scalable onboarding process should be measured, tested and revised as it grows. If you have a high-scaled onboarding process with problems, those issues will cause a lot of misalignment and interference with the sailors’ ability to do their job properly.
Your crew should be able to navigate on their own
Yes, teaching the sailors to sail and how to deal with storms is important, but all that has an ultimate goal: understanding the destination and how to navigate through the map — ultimately, the journey is theirs to own.
Unlike a ship crew, an organisation needs to provide the right tools and context to give the new joiner enough autonomy to take all the necessary decisions to achieve the desired outcomes of the drawn strategy.
If people are still asking themselves what is the most important thing they can be doing right now and can’t connect their work with the upstream, you should probably revisit your onboarding process.
Time to drop the anchor
I’m still working on improving our team’s onboarding process, but we have reached a point where people are giving us positive feedback. They are beginning to gain more autonomy and a better understanding of the Captain’s Map — if they can understand that knowing the right moment to drop the anchor helps with the whole map navigation, we are actually doing something right.
Now the next tricky question I have is: when to stop improving the process? Guess that’s for another letter in the bottle.
How about you? Happy with your onboarding process? Comment below!