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The Best Onboarding Process for New Managers

Written by Michelle Nickolaisen | Apr 27, 2015 12:00:11 PM

We’ve talked about employee onboarding before, and it’s likely we’ll touch on it again. Effectively onboarding your new employees can increase retention and keep your whole team happier and more productive. In fact, a report by SHRM showed that employees who went through a structured onboarding process were 69% more likely to stay with the company for at least three years, in addition to other benefits. But most of the information out there is talking about onboarding in general, often with the assumption that you’re hiring entry-level employees. What’s the same, and what’s different, when it comes to hiring and onboarding new managers?

When it comes to hiring managers, you have two options: hiring from outside or promoting from within. If you’re still in the very early stages, or if you have mostly inexperienced employees in your customer service team, you’ll probably end up hiring from outside your company. There’s a few downsides to hiring from outside your company. Among them, there’s data that shows that it’s more expensive, and that outside hires tend to leave sooner. Outside hires also won’t have the same product knowledge as someone who came up through the ranks. That’s not a problem when promoting from within, but depending on how long the new manager was in their previous position, they might have a harder time asserting authority over their previous teammates.

Onboarding your new manager: What to do before they start

You’ve chosen your new manager and they’ve accepted the job offer. What do you need to do before their start date, to get things off on the right foot? Here are some tips:

  • If you have an employee or management handbook, send it over. Anything that will give the new manager an idea what it’s like “in the trenches” as far as the company culture and policies go will help them feel less awkward on their first day.
  • Other supplementary material is great, too. You might not have an official employee handbook yet—do you have any videos that  showcase how things are run? Are there interviews (whether via podcast or in a print publication) with the founder? The idea is to make the new environment less overwhelming, by familiarizing the new manager with faces and ideas from inside the company.
  • Consider getting the paperwork out of the way first. If you can, send over any paperwork that needs reviewing and signing; this can save time on the first day.
  • Give them a “day before” meeting or call. Once they’ve had a chance to review some of the materials you’ve sent over, set up a time to chat before their first day. You can give them a rundown of what they can expect, and they can ask any questions that the employee handbook (or paperwork, etc.) brought up. Again, the goal here is just to familiarize them and make this an easy transition.

What the first two weeks should look like

The first two weeks will probably not have much, if any, “work”-work. It’s tempting to start handing things off immediately, but doing so can overwhelm the new hire and make them less likely to stick around.

One of the first things you should address is making sure that they have a big-picture idea of where the product and the company as a whole is going. During the first two weeks, they should have at least one meeting with a member of the strategy team (or, if your company is still small, the CEO/founder) to learn this. To be an effective customer service manager, they need to know not just where the product is at right now and how the company was started, but where the founder sees the business going in the upcoming months and years. Helping them understand their team’s role in that bigger vision frees them up to make the right management decisions.

Remember how we mentioned before that outside hires can often take a while to get up to speed, compared to internal promotions? The factors there tend to be things like:

  • Having issues fitting in to the company culture
  • Having a hard time learning the product
  • Learning existing team dynamics

Given that, you want to try to address these as quickly as possible to make the transition easier for your new hire. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do to change someone’s personality to match your company culture—which is why it’s important to convey that during the interview and hiring process to screen out bad-fit applicants.

When it comes to product knowledge, it’s a good idea to set them up with a user account on your product and let them spend several hours learning it during the first few weeks. Structured lessons from experienced users are great, too. The new manager should also have several opportunities to sit in on customer service calls. This gives them a more well-rounded perspective on not where it’s at right now and what customers are actually having issues with, as well as how the team members are addressing those issues.

To get them up to speed on existing team dynamics, show them the different teams that exist in each department and give them real-life examples of how they’ve worked together. When it comes to the team that they’ll be managing, make sure they know the strengths of each team member as well as the strengths of the team as a whole. Knowing ahead of time that John excels at email support, whereas Allison is better at writing up knowledge base answers, will let the new manager delegate more effectively and get them off on the right foot.

Last but not least, you need to give them concrete benchmarks that they can refer back to. Tell them specifically what kinds of improvements or work you’d like to see in the first 30, 60, 90 days or first six months. Making expectations clear up front makes them more likely to be met or exceeded. You can do this by:

  • Giving clear, concrete expectations. Don’t say “We’d like to see you really taking the reins by the end of 60 days.” Instead, say something like, “Within the next three months, we’d like to see you create and start implementing a plan to improve our customer retention rates.”
  • Then, check in regularly throughout the process and remind them of the goal. Telling them the goal once during their first two weeks and then bringing it up suddenly two months later isn’t enough. The first 2-4 weeks of starting a job require the new hire taking in a lot of information, and some of it won’t be retained—that’s just a factor of being human. Set expectations in the first two weeks, then re-set them at the 30 day check-in meeting. As you check in with the new hire to see how things are going, ask them how they’re progressing and if there’s anything you can help with. Try to provide them with the support and resources they need to reach the goals, in addition to reminding them of the goals themselves.

Things to keep in mind moving forward:

The first two weeks will probably be overwhelming for the new hire, no matter what you do, but the above tips should make the transition as easy as possible. After those two weeks are up, there should be another “refocusing” meeting with their manager or the founder/CEO to discuss again the role the new manager is to play in the future of the product and business. It will probably cover a lot of similar ground as the first meeting, but it’s easy to forget details when you’re overwhelmed, so it’s worth repeating the important things.

Past that, there are several other things to keep in mind during the first 6-12 months of working with a new hire:

  • Keep education front and center. Not just product education, but management education, as well. Keep recommending resources (your favorite books, business podcasts, the First Round Review). Send them to conferences or seminars. And ideally, keep meeting with them (even if for only 10-15 minutes) on a weekly or biweekly basis for most of the first 6-12 months, so they can ask any questions and get advice.
  • Let them lead. Give them autonomy as early on as you feel comfortable, so they can start actually making decisions. Depending on what benchmarks you discussed with them during the early onboarding process, give them a test project at the 30 or 60 day mark to evaluate how they’re picking things up. This also lets you spot any potential problems or red flags early on and address them before they grow.
  • If at all possible, give them a mentor. If your company is big enough that you can pair them up with a more experienced manager, then do so. Not only does this address point number one about education, but it helps them feel like they have connections in the company. Socialization is an important part of onboarding and retention, so it should be worked into your onboarding processes wherever possible.
  • After most of the onboarding process is complete, around 3-6 months in, send a survey to the new hire to get feedback on the onboarding process. Getting feedback on the onboarding process from someone who actually went through it can give you valuable insight on what’s working and what should be changed the next time around.

It’s a lot to keep in mind, but by doing all of this, you’re making it much more likely that this new manager will be a part of your team for years to come, and help your business grow even more.