The Key to Equity is Employee Onboarding. Part I: Here’s Why
While I spent most of my career focused on building brands and growing revenue, my pet peeve and ongoing pet project was always employee onboarding and organizational knowledge. So to sum up almost four years at Smore Team, I decided to share insights about beginnings — and onboarding.
The basic startup hiring math is that if you find smart, auto-didactic individuals who appreciate a good challenge, they can start working productively on day one, and just “figure it out”. However, this doesn’t tell the full story. In fact, many startups rely on HR “shortcuts” — turning to their friend groups or alma mater to source candidates. While these could be useful signals for success, they are not the only way to succeed. A diverse candidate pool, which includes people who didn’t start out in tech, attended a lesser-known university, who haven’t had the help and connections to condition them to fit the mold — is sure to include many more smart, auto-didactic individuals with excellent problem-solving abilities.
Onboarding is about leveling the playing field — hiring based on potential, not virtue signals and convenience. If you provide 1–3 weeks of guidance, it can increase any new employee’s success rate And it’s often a game changer for someone who’s had fewer opportunities to learn the cultural cues, the lingo, and micro-politics of the tech grind, but is no less smart, driven or talented than their peers.
Every company has a hierarchy — even if it’s unofficial. In fact, particularly when the hierarchy is unofficial, the power structure requires help navigating. A common shortcut for this navigation, is just when a new hire is a friend of a friend, or has worked at a similar company, or comes from the same community or sub-culture as the founders — therefore catching on to the cues more quickly. A better, more equitable shortcut, is a mentor. Concepts like, flat-structured companies, “generalist” roles, all-hands on deck mentality and “everyone can suggest ideas” are important for the agility of a startup. However, it means that a resource-constrained organization that has little room for new projects, and will — prioritise work based on ambiguous criteria. How can a new employee tell if a new idea is distasteful, a direction that has been exhausted, or a creative solution to a significant problem?
Guidance through the work that has been done and the organizational knowledge any startup over a year-old has accumulated, will focus a newbie’s energies on current problems, rather than suggesting out-of-date solutions to sidelined issues, being discouraged by peers, and wasting more company time in the long run.
Like user acquisition — hiring is a tedious and expensive process, and therefore up-front investment in onboarding is worth the time of managers, team members and adjacent teams, for the dividends it pays in the productivity of a successful employee. The onboarding process should be designed as a shared responsibility of the manager and new employee. When well crafted, this process can serve both as an indicator of future success and a tool for identifying issues early on, saving many dollars and tears.
If you’ve read this far, I hope you are convinced that onboarding is worthwhile. Now I’ll break down how you can help new hires navigate their new surroundings and truly enable them to succeed and contribute. I’ll start with principles and drill down all the way to a list of meetings, reading materials and company/team overviews. You’ll find my own examples for you to adapt to the company, role and seniority you’re onboarding. Click here for part II.
What is Equity?
Equity and inclusion are interchangeable terms that are often coupled with diversity, meaning it’s not enough to have diverse representation, diverse people at your organization need to be included. Equity takes this a step further. Equity — like how many shares of the company you own, represents your intellectual share of the organization. Equity is the opposite of nepotism, and allows for good ideas to be heard, regardless of who suggests them.