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Eight signs your onboarding experience isn’t driving productivity

Let's talk about onboarding


One process within every organization is onboarding or new hire orientation. Unfortunately, many organizations see onboarding as merely granting access and doing administrative tasks before handing new employees to their managers and team. However, onboarding should be an end-to-end business process. Why? In the context of developer productivity and developer experience, proper onboarding contributes to engineering effectiveness, which is how you can organizationally deliver more customer value quickly and with less investment. Not to mention, a well-run onboarding process addresses social and cultural integration while facilitating collaboration among the different functions. 


A clinical way to think about this is: What's a new employee's value? Of course, with proper onboarding, they're effectively more productive, which means you get the total value of your investment in the new hire. But is your onboarding effective, or is it doing more harm than good? To avoid onboarding mishaps, we recommend putting the same effort into optimizing onboarding as you would hiring new employees. And it all starts with seeing the characteristics of ineffective onboarding. So, what are they? In this blog, Thoughtworks Scaleup Studio brings you eight signs your onboarding process needs attention.



Signs your onboarding experience needs work



1.) Slow access to the right tools and systems 


Slow access to essential resources like a work laptop, source control, test environments and software licenses can dampen the spirits of even the most enthusiastic candidates. To spot these delays, monitor manual steps in new employees' onboarding progress and check in with them regularly to get feedback on the process.


2.) Time to first production


A good metric is how long it takes a new employee to write their code, commit and deploy it to production. We've found situations where a new developer has been in the company for weeks (or months) and has yet to push to production. Keeping an eye on an employee's time to their first production tells you they’re fully equipped. 


3.) Orphaned newcomers


Most startup managers are laser-focused on new initiatives and have a ton of work. The downside for newcomers is that it leaves new employees to learn things independently, from systems to forming relationships and even how to get resources. As a result, employees quickly become orphaned, resulting in lower productivity or rapid attrition.


4.) Too much focus on individual work 


Adding new employees as a startup scales can trigger a different mode of operation. With the expansion into a larger group, we often observe that the tenured employees need to dedicate more time to onboarding new employees. In addition, with the expanded team size, employee objectives shouldn't only be focused on individual contributions but also incorporate how new employees perform.


5.) Lack of openness to change


When you hire new employees, odds are they come with different experiences than the existing team. Unfortunately, we often see companies not taking advantage of these new points of view. Instead, the team is unintentionally dogmatic and shoots down new ideas, leaving the new hire feeling unempowered and unappreciated.


6.) The simple stuff takes too long


The effectiveness of your development environment for everyday tasks will be exposed when onboarding new employees. Existing employees may have already felt the friction, but adding more magnifies the problem. Each new employee must learn how to solve common problems and discover workarounds if it isn't easy. To watch for this, monitor low level metrics e.g. PR review time, unit test time and CI build time.


7.) Quick turnover


The turnover rate of newcomers is a lagging indicator, and there can be many reasons for a high turnover rate. But it's worth investigating as it can be related to your onboarding process. We recommend monitoring your turnover rate and how it's trending, supplementing with surveys after six months and a year for new employees. Then, you can use the learnings to continually improve the onboarding process. 


8.) Buggy onboarding documentation


While new hires usually know (at a high level) their job, the new environment can get in the way of completing even mundane tasks. Well-structured onboarding documentation can boost productivity, build confidence and generally provide a pleasant working experience, in turn contributing to engineering effectiveness. New hires should also be encouraged to find bugs in the onboarding process, so it continuously improves.


For reference, here’s a table representing what we observe as optimal timelines for onboarding.


        Completed by        
Access to all HR and administrative systems
Day one
Access to workstation and personal development environment is setup     with necessary tools Day one
Company mission and business goals are explained and discussed Day two
Complete an assisted push to production for a trivial change Day three
Manager has set expectations with employee and given them an OKR Week one
Paired with colleague on a developing a real feature all the way to    production and performed defect resolution Week two
Understood key customer problems and internal operation processes Week two
Developer: Able to be an “Anchor” on a story

Week three through five

 (depending on complexity and employee’s experience) 


Developer: Able to lead support calls


Week five through seven

(depending on complexity and employee’s experience)


If you're experiencing any of the above, it's time to act on your onboarding procedures. Thoughtworks Scaleup Studio has extensive experience regarding ineffective onboarding and other scaling deficiencies in organizations such as developer productivity and developer experience. In our next blog, we'll cover the ways to improve onboarding effectiveness within your organization.