Measuring the Pace of Onboarding

Few small business owners that I have met have a systematic onboarding process. I believe this is one of the reasons they stay small and complain about their inability to hire good people. Frankly, their standards are too high and their system is too weak. They people that could succeed are too rare.

Once you have an onboarding system in place, I recommend you measure the progress of your new hires as they move through that process. By day 1, are you in the proper place to be successful? How about at week 1? What about month 1? Now that you are 90 days in are you an A-Player? How about 6 month mark? Where do you need support?

A little over a year ago we developed onboarding surveys for the above check points. While they are far from fool-proof, they do give us a temperature check as to the person’s progress. And, as we get more repetitions through our process we can better plot the pace of any one individual versus the average, the best and the worst performers.

We have developed some rough-cut rules of thumb that cause us to change our behavior when someone falls behind or is beating the pace of onboarding. When falling behind, we notify them. (amazing, right?) And, when they are pacing faster than usual, we also notify them. When behind we say things like, “Let’s go over that again, I don’t think you got it yet.” We empathize and ask if they did the self-study time. Have they gone to coworkers to ask for help? We start asking coworkers about their pace. How are they doing? Are they going to make it? Can you help them along?

For the super fast-pacing folks we often ask them to capture some elements of how they did it so well so we can help future people succeed, like them. This extra work can sometimes slow them down but speed up others. We can also give them read-ahead material. This usually causes them to slow down (scares them about how much is yet to come.) Rarely, they deep dive on the extra reading and bring up questions beforehand. In these cases we can sometimes speed up the onboarding and help them climb faster.

Most small business owners do this intuitively. That’s great. Large businesses do this systematically –I think. I’ve never worked within a large organization. From what I hear they’re either like the water in which the fish swims and people are clueless about this sort of stuff, or they’re super inefficient but someone generate loads of cash. I’m guessing someone is wrong.

The really important thing I am focused on is calibrating how we help individuals climb at their maximum rate. If everyone is improving then it’s rewarding for customers, teammates and owners. We must weigh this against just hiring someone that is awesome at the job immediately. They might not climb very fast but they can nail it from day 1. With this approach our onboarding process is less valuable and we need to just pay up to get the best. But, isn’t there some place in the system that the owner has designed the system to produce the ability to pay the most for the given level of talent?

Our approach is to design systems that can best help the lowest levels first and increase our skills at helping the next level up as we go. And speed of onboarding is critical to bringing in people efficiently and producing target outcomes reliably. The pace of onboarding matters. Measure it.

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