Few tech companies give much thought to formal induction programmes for new employees. It does not seem to give much benefit at first glance, since it happens irregularly. I have experienced both well-structured and informal induction programmes, and I can wholeheartedly say I prefer the former.
What are the benefits of formal induction programmes? I think the most obvious advantage is its ability to quickly integrate the new hire into the company culture. A common misunderstanding is that people are merely hired for their skills. Why do we need to induct them since they already have those skills? I have previously mentioned that it’s hard to diagnose your own corporate culture, especially once you’ve been in an organisation for a long time. We tend to forget that, yes, there are other ways of doing everyday things like managing source code, conducting team meetings, and handling disagreements. The new team member will bring his or her own culture, and it is our responsibility to bring them up to speed as soon as possible.
This is even more important in the age of the 90-day trial period in New Zealand. Similar probationary systems exist in other countries. It is to both parties’ benefit that new employees can quickly integrate into the organisation. It does no one any favours if the new person flounders about for three months and the organisation cannot get a good assessment if that person is a good fit for the role. A related great book around this is The First 90 Days wherein the author stresses that new managers have only 90 days to prove their value to the new company. I share that view, and I think that formal induction programmes can help accelerate that.
I was reminded of this topic recently at an Agile Auckland Meetup unconference. A small group of us were interested in how to bring new team members into an Agile team. A couple of answers stuck with me. One manager said he does the bare minimum, rarely taking more than 2 hours, and then lets the new employee loose in the team. His position is that he wants people who are unafraid to speak up and ask for help. I believe he also said that people learn quickest from mistakes. I call that the “throwing them in the deep end” technique. I disagree with him that it is an effective approach, but I understand the logic behind it. I doubt there are many induction programmes that are based around that. I would love to hear more if your team throws new people in the deep end.
Another response was also interesting. The team turns the induction process into a User Story, with the Acceptance Criteria being that the new member commits some production-ready code by the end of the sprint. The User Story is owned by all team members, who then have a stake in helping the newbie learn the ropes. I like the fact that putting it in a story fits into the overall Agile methodology, but more importantly makes clear that induction programmes are a team effort. I still feel it is overly focused on the development process and might unintentionally exclude other crucial elements.
I will write more about my own experiences with induction programmes next week, including one approach that I think ticks all the right boxes. Please comment on other induction programmes you have come across in your line of work.