Getting Up to Speed

© 2005 Johanna Rothman.

Your new hire has just come on board. Now it's time to integrate him into your business as quickly as possible.

You've just hired a new person. You're fully staffed, so now you can pay attention to the work, not more hiring. But how do you bring this person up to speed as quickly as possible?

There are two pieces to the answer: Prepare for the new hire's first day in advance, and assign a buddy.

Prepare for the first day

When I discuss preparing for the first day with hiring managers, many of them say, “HR will do that,” or “Facilities will do that.” And less-seasoned managers will say, “Oh, no, I forgot about that.” The problem with relying on other groups is that your employee's first-day productivity is not as important to them as it is to you.

In my experience, many companies don't integrate new people quickly or effectively enough, starting on the first day. Too few hiring managers either can arrange for or take the time to arrange for office space, office furniture, a phone, computer, and email account–all to be ready and working when the new hire walks in.

Some hiring managers don't make a list of everything they need to do. Each organization is different, but some of the common to-do's for a new hire are:

  • Acquire a place to sit, a computer, a login, and a phone
  • Add the new hire's name to the phone list and to the list of people allowed into the facility
  • Prepare all the HR forms so the new hire is integrated into the organization
  • Prepare a list of project or work documentation so the new hire knows what to do on the first day

The list can be surprisingly long. For example, if your organization celebrates everyone's birthdays, you'll need to add the new hire's birthday to the list. It's not easy to accomplish everything on the list, especially if a person is starting less than two weeks from the time you extend an offer. Even if some managers have a list, they are dependent on other people, such as the facilities or IT staff to do their parts.

If you're faced with support staff who feel less urgency about your new hire than you do, offer to work with those people on ways to make the setup for the new hire less painful for everyone involved. This effort is well worth your time, especially if you're hiring more than a handful of people over a few weeks.

Once you know the new hire will have the minimum office accoutrements, you can think about how to integrate the person into your group. I recommend assigning a buddy to the new hire.

Assign a buddy

So you might be thinking, “Assign a buddy? Is she nuts? I'm hiring someone to get more work done, not assign two people to one task.” I'm not nuts–at least, not about this. Every time you add a new person to a team of people, it takes some time to integrate that person into the team. Minimal integration time may not be long (a couple of weeks to a couple of months) assuming the person understands how to perform the work and the internals of the work the team performs. For knowledge workers, I assume full integration of a new hire into the group will take at least six months.

When you hire someone from the outside, you're almost guaranteed that not only does that person have to integrate him or herself into the existing group of people, but that person does not know the process by which your team works, nor does that person know the insides of the product or service your team is developing or provides.

That means that the Java developer who was so productive in her most recent organization has to take time the first few days to understand which configuration management system you use, how you're using it, where the compilers are, where the smoke tests are and how to add tests to it. There's plenty more. That's just the minimal example of what new people need to learn.

A buddy helps the new person learn and integrate all this new information, without interrupting anyone else. And you don't need to assign a buddy forever–just for the minimum integration time. I generally plan on one month for a buddy to help the new hire become part of the group. I expect the first two weeks to be intense and then the number of buddy-hours needed by the new hire tails off.

Being ready for the new person in advance and assigning a buddy require some planning. If you think about hiring as a project, you realize that extending the offer is a mid-project milestone, not the last milestone. Integrating the new hire into your organization is the last milestone–at least, for hiring the person.

It is possible to hire quickly, but it's not easy. Treat your time (and your group's time) as if you were planning a project, and you'll be able to hire much faster, and with better results.

Like this article? See the other articles. Or, look at my workshops, so you can see how to use advice like this where you work.

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