New Hires and the First 40 Hours

Tips for leaders welcoming new talent and new hires starting day 1

So many of you are hiring - not just a few people a month, but tens or hundreds! What an exciting time and what an opportunity to build culture. With remote or hybrid work, some companies aren’t as stellar at onboarding as they once were. Others are decent at remote, but miss opportunities to really make the most of the onboarding process and window.

Research shows that people’s deepest opinions about their workplace are cemented in the first month, and heavily skewed to the first 40 hours. So that first week is a huge opportunity to level up the company and the engagement of the new hire by optimizing impact in that first week. The goal is to set them up for success and have them so excited that they recruit their awesome friends!

Tips for leaders welcoming new talent:

  1. Person, not a title: You are hiring a person, not a title. Use their names, and a bit of bio or personal info on them in EVERY introduction and interaction. One common mistake is people say “the new copywriter”, or “Julie’s replacement”, and it takes a while for people to learn the new hire’s name. Do everything you can to make it personal and celebrate who they are, not just what they are there to do. I’ve seen some companies go above and beyond to recruit and vet, and then put onboarding on autopilot with no personal touch. If they are remote, add their name to some swag, or at least a handwritten note with all the cool logo stuff.

  2. Compass, not a road map: All companies want ROI on their human capital, the way to optimize this is to have the greatest combination of hiring resourceful candidates AND being sure their early days set them up to find their way. Don’t bury them with road maps - give them a compass (culture, values, true north), and let them know where (or from whom) the roadmaps (specific processes, systems, etc.) can be found. Independence is a virtue, and the sooner a new hire feels agency and autonomy, the better.

  3. Compensation and Culture: Be clear on how their work ties to the company’s performance and how that comes together for their compensation. Incentive programs have little power if employees don’t understand what they can control, how their role affects the whole, and what that means for them financially. At every opportunity, reinforce culture pillars: “how” things are done, not just “what” needs to get done.

  4. Front-line experience: 360 immersion in the business should be a regular part of any company’s cultural hygiene, but it is particularly important for onboarding new hires. Schedule shift time, 1x1s, and field day’s in the first week to set a strong foundation.

  5. MMDD Log: “Made My Day Difficult” log. Give the new hire an easy way to note moments of friction, so you can see any patterns and quickly help them be more effective and efficient and enjoy their work more.

  6. Frequent check-ins: You’ll never have the perfect plan, onboarding, or system, but daily check-ins the first week, and weekly for the first month will catch most opportunities to make things great for the new hire and the team.

  7. Get the team’s input: A new hire, especially if the role is also new, is sometimes feeling great, while members of the team that a bit confused and off as the new person gets to work. This is especially true if the new hire in the new role is taking pieces of existing team members’ previous roles, in an effort to alleviate the existing team workload. Those tenured team members don’t always easily shift into their evolved roles. Don’t forget to check in with key team members to get their perspectives and ideas on setting the new hire and now larger team up for success. This isn’t about asking the team to rate or evaluate the new hire, but rather about checking in on how work is evolving to make sure all are leveling up.

Tips for you as the new hire (at any level):

  1. Take ownership of relationships: Ask for a list of people who are great first relationships to build and for 1x1 introductions to them. If you are given a list, don’t feel bad about cold emailing - this is your team!

  2. Get to know your team: Just as the team should get to know you - they are not titles, they are humans for you to support, learn from, and in some cases, lead. Here are a few topics to start:

    • Tell me about you - at work and outside of work

    • What are the biggest challenges in your role that would help me support you or understand your world?

    • What do you hope my role (and I in this role) can impact?

    • If this person is your leader or direct report, set expectations and schedule for regular check-ins

  3. Front-line: Ask for front-line experiences right away. You’ll never have this “new” window where you get space and grace to solely learn vs. perform again, so make the most of it. Go ride in the trucks, pack boxes, answer the phones, shadow sales calls, etc. Learn the business inside and out. Remember, if you’re not serving the customer directly, you’d better be serving someone who is!

  4. Feedback: Get good at soliciting it. Be open to receiving it. Put what’s valuable into practice, follow up as appropriate, and become known as highly coachable. The goal is not to be right, but to do what’s right. And remember, FAIL = First Attempt In Learning. You won’t be perfect at new things (no one is), and it’s better to make big mistakes in the early days to learn the ropes and build up some scar tissue!

  5. Find ways to help: You may be new, but everyone needs help from time to time. Offer it when you can, expecting nothing in return.

  6. Bring your magic and perspective: You were hired for a reason, and you are being paid to add value. When you have a seat at the table, don’t forget to use your voice. While you are building new relationships, you may find it easier to ask questions than to inject opinions, but don’t let imposter syndrome or the “internal saboteur” keep you from asking and adding what you should and doing your job!

  7. Assume positive intent: High growth companies are a bear to manage, and even the best aren’t perfect. If you have questions, ask. In the absence of alternative information, people come to their own conclusions (and rarely accurate ones). Fast-growing companies make all kinds of mistakes and as a new hire, you see the company with fresh eyes in a way those already there rarely can. If you have challenges, let someone know, offer a solution if that’s appropriate, and be a helper to the new folks joining in the next cohort to make it better.

Each new hire is an opportunity to complement culture and level up the organization’s performance. The question is, are you doing more than the minimum to make that opportunity a reality?

PS - Every founder or leader I talk to wishes they had hired professional people leadership/HR talent sooner. Don’t underestimate the impact of that area of the business, and be careful to not make ceremonial HR hires. Give them a seat at the table and a voice - if you are top leadership, you need it!

Feel free to ask questions in the chat - happy to go deeper on any of these topics!