In my current employment as Delivery Manager at a software company I oversee the design and development teams (aka 'Engineering') that are building a brand new property management software-as-a-service platform. In 2016 we were acquired through a private investment consortium and given an injection of funding in order to 'go faster'. This blog series is a summary of the lessons I learned from tripling an engineering team in six months.
If you haven't already please read:
- Part One: The Background Story which gives the overview of what happened in 2016 that led us to need to scale at such pace; and
- Part Two: Planning to Scale where I dove deep into the actual plan we drew up and how we verified its feasibility
- Part Three: Setting up for Success which focuses on all the preparation that needs to happen before you start actually making phonecalls, trawling linked-in, or kidnapping competitor staff.
- Part Four: Hiring (finally) where I went into our recruitment process covering the different approaches we took, who was involved, and how we tracked everything.
Now it's time for Part Five: After Hiring. This one is a special one, something close to my heart. This is an area most hiring managers seem to forget or ignore. They do all the hard work in getting through to offering a job to someone and then…they drop the ball.
This article is all about what needs to happen after you make that offer.
Why is this important? Haven't you done all the hard work by getting an applicant through the process and making and offer?
Yes and that is exactly what this is important. Because you spent so much time and effort getting to this point is the reason why you need to think ahead. It would be a shame to waste all that by letting yourself, and your applicant, down by dropping ball now.
And if you don't think about the next steps - how to continue the good relationship you have built with your (soon to be) new employee - then you run the risk of losing them.
This happened to me. Despite my best efforts, even following the rules I am about to lay out, I found times when people weren't happy. Ideally you want to catch, and resolve, any issues before they become problems but that's not always possible. Sometimes people will leave and it's through those experiences that these lessons have become solidified.
Before undertaking this massive scaling up process these concepts were mostly just idealistic. They were my values about how to look after employees, empower them, and keep them engaged. But after tripling an engineering team in six months and dealing with issues that arose from that first hand I now consider these to be standard rules by which to operate.
I'll split this into sections:
- Before they start
- First Day
- First Week
- First Month (and ongoing)
Before they start
Most notice periods appear to be four weeks so when making an offer to an applicant there is an expectation they do not actually join you for a month. That's fine and is generally factored in to the recruitment plan anyway.
But a month is a long time. The key rule here is do not go cold on them during their notice period.
Think of it like dating.
You've found this great man/woman, maybe had a phonecall first, and then had the first face-to-face date/interview. It went fantastic! You really connected so you have a few more 'dates', all in quick succession, and you are ready to make the big move. You ask them to move in with you and you're both extremely excited to be starting this new stage of your life together.
Would you then ignore that person until they moved in? And if you did, could you imagine the doubt and second-guessing that would be going through their head?
The same thinking applies here. This person who you've called, met, and interviewed many times over a 1-2 week period needs attention after the offer. It doesn't have to be much but a little TLC follow up keeps the relationship fresh and keeps both parties excited.
Here are a few tips and examples of what I like to do:
Give choices of hardware (where possible)
Some developers prefer Mac and some prefer Windows. And some very special people prefer Linux. Whatever the case we have two developer-spec machines available so we give new starters their choice. It's just a nice thing to ask "Hey what machine would you like?" and let them pick. Plus it helps them feel cared for and part of the team before they even joined.
Send a welcome pack
I'm not just talking about a letter of offer and contract to sign. The welcome pack should contain extra information that helps the person get a feel for what to expect and also helps them prepare for the their first day. Ours includes our culture/charter documents, information on food/drinks provided, and any social events coming up. Speaking of that…
Invite them to social events
I've had new employees come to showcases and even our staff christmas party BEFORE they started. They got to meet everyone in unofficial settings and start to feel part of the team. I cannot recommend this enough.
What to do when you arrive
This is so obvious it barely rates a mention but I will just in case.
Call or email a new employee a few days before they start to remind them of everything they need for day one. What time to arrive, who to ask for, what to bring. Plus it's a good final chance to check in with them before their first day.
The first day at a new job is crucial in extending on the great relationship you have already built. Neglecting this part is a huge mistake. Someone's first day at work leaves a lasting impression on them so you want to make it good. Plus you want to do everything you can to set them up for success.
Here are some examples of how I try to make someone's first day a good experience:
Be the welcome party
Courtesy, manners, and politeness go a long way. Meeting a new starter at the door, not keeping them waiting, and showing them to their desk is a simple thing to do. As a hiring manager I block out half an hour at the start of the day just so I can be available to welcome the new person.
Confession time. I actually failed to do this with my most recent hire. I was caught up talking to someone and missed the big welcome.
Have EVERYTHING ready
Everything the person needs should be ready on their first day. EVERYTHING!
- Computer + peripherals
- Login details
- Building access card
- User & software access
- They are addded to all internal groups
- Invitations to all team meetings
New starter guide
As a new starter there is always a lot of information to take it. Even more so in a software development company where you need to install IDEs, pull code repos, and figure out how to get involved.
Here is where a well documented New Starter Guide is brilliant. A single place that walks a new starter through everything they need to do, setup, install, check, configure, and so on. We try to do as much as possible before hand but it's still fantastic to have this list documented so everyone knows exactly what to do.
I cannot claim credit for this idea either. This was initially created by our first tech leads and since then it has been kept alive and well maintained by every new starter who uses it. Everyone loves it.
Generally new people need to do some sort of HR and office induction. If you have done a good job in the previous steps then most of this is just rehashing information but still a useful exercise. You might think you showed them around the office during the interview but they were probably very nervous AND it was four weeks ago so they might not remember.
When in doubt show them again.
People need, and like, to know who they are working with and who are the interested stakeholders. Introduce them. Enough said.
This may be optional depending on the role type and your organisation but I find pairing people up helps newbies get up to speed quickly. They tag along to meetings, learn lots through observation, and get a feel for what day-to-day actually looks like at your work.
End of day catchup
As hiring manager I always aim to catch up with a new starter toward the end of their first day. Just an unofficial "How was it?" is all it needs to be and often you find you pick a few little gems that a fresh perspective can bring.
Plus it's a nice thing to do. Be nice.
The first week is also a pretty big milestone for a new starter. Here are some of the important things I focus on:
An achievable task
Everybody likes to feel productive, especially at a new job. And I want new people to feel like they are contributing as early as possible.
It is important to have some work ready to go. Something small but tangible that they can get stuck in to and feel like the are contributing. Plus there is nothing better for learning the ins and outs of internal processes than actually trying to get something done.
As an example we aim to get new developers fully up and running, code running on their local machine, by lunchtime on day one and something checked in by day two. Even a small bug fix is good enough.
Every company has tonnes of internally held knowledge. Smart people, walking around the office with a bunch of useful information stored in their heads. If only we could see inside their heads somehow...
As an alternative I suggest holding frequent training and knowledge sharing sessions. These should be conducted by staff for staff and aim at sharing information across normal reporting lines or team groupings.
For example we ran:
- Jargon Buster - the key terms you are likely to hear over and over
- Accounting 101 - intro to accounting because it's a highly complex part of the system we're building
- Technology architecture - overview of architecture and the reasoning for chosen options
- Team charter - reminder of the team values and what being an employee means
- Company and product vision - people need to know the bigger picture. Where does their individual work fit in?
- Product roadmap - what are we building next and why?
Send welcome email
Send an email out to the entire company to welcome the new starter. Include name, a photo, what role they are in, and something personal - they collect rocks, ride bikes, or enjoy long walks on the beach.
This email has many benefits but the most obvious is its function as a company-wide icebreaker. Instead of quiet people thinking "Who is that new guy? Is he supposed to be here? I dunno so I wont say anything" they feel more open to say hi, introduce themselves, and form a connection.
The first month is the next important milestone for a new employee.
During this time there are plenty of things a good people manager should do but I want to focus specifically on one thing: the first 1-to-1 catchup.
This is you going mano-e-mano with your new employee to find out all the good and bad things that have happened since they joined.
The first official 1-to-1 catchup is extremely important. It is a chance to check in and ensure they are fitting in to the team, as well as giving them an opportunity to raise concerns or problems they have encountered.
The 1-to-1 catchup should happen regularly forevermore throughout their employment but the first one is very important because it allows you talk about some specifics that are only relevant to a new employee.
In the first 1-to-1 catchup I focus on three things:
- Is the job as expected? Is this what you were promised?
- Provide initial feedback on their performance
- How could we make the new employee process better?
There is a lot more that could go in to this last section because ultimately this all boils down to being a good people manager and leader. And doing so for the entire length of their employment.
But this article was specifically about the processof tripling a team in six months so I will leave it there.
The key is to ensure someone (you or their direct line manager) has followed up at least once within the first month with all new employees.
Congratulations! You've just successfully tripled an engineering team in six months...Or at least lived vicariously through my experiences doing so. Either way it is time to take a breath, pat yourself on the back, and crack open that special bottle of scotch/champagne to celebrate.
If you've enjoyed reading this series, or more important if you've gained something useful from it, then I would love to hear from you. Hell, if you think I am a complete wanker who knows nothing then I'd also appreciate that feedback. Please send me an email and/or give me a shout out on Twitter. OR sign up to my email list to stay up to date.