Think or Swim

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Written by Jaime Laufer,
• 5 min read

You’ve heard the old cliché “sink or swim.” It basically means that you have two options in life; fail or succeed. That sounds really promising, huh? There’s no in between? No learning curve?

Unfortunately, at a lot of organizations there isn’t an in between. The strong (or smart) will survive and the natural selection process will weed out the weak. That may work in the wild but I think we need to do better in the workplace.

I started to think about this idea of sink or swim in relation to onboarding new hires. Many managers think that because they’ve nailed the interview process, they don’t need to invest in onboarding or training. The assumption is that they’ve chosen the smartest, most qualified candidate who will join the team and just figure it out. Sink or swim.

But I think there’s a different way:

Think or Swim.

Instead of drowning or floating, I think it’s the responsibility of HR and hiring managers to provide some swimming lessons in the form of an onboarding process that goes beyond, “Here’s your desk and our handbook. I’ll check on you after lunch.”

This is especially important because as much as 20% of new hire turnover occurs within the first 45 days and a majority is due to irregular onboarding.

We need to design our onboarding to allow you some space to think, learn, and develop.

This can be anything from reading a book to researching a topic or doing a Google search to having a conversation with an expert. Give the new hire time to seek out a mentor. Dick Grote, performance management consultant and author, says that the notion of a new hire being able to hit the ground running, in 90 days or less, is a joke. So instead of being branded a failure for not knowing something, let’s allow them some time and tools to acclimate and level up.

It takes time and commitment to create an onboarding plan that allows our new hires to learn some of our processes, customs, and tools. The whole company needs to be involved and aligned with welcoming and teaching a newb. It takes a village.  And we are lucky enough to have a village of dedicated and patient teachers. They recognize the value in helping someone else grow.

This didn’t happen overnight though.

We had to sink to learn to swim.

Failure is one of the greatest ways to learn.  And treating “failures” as “learnings” is a key part to our culture here at DS.

“As a first-time entrepreneur when I started I had no idea what I was doing (some would say I still don’t and they wouldn’t be wrong). After years of making countless mistakes in how we onboarded, nurtured, supported, and grew our teams I made a list of mistakes and failures and used that to design the future of how we attract, retain, and build our workforce. It was at that point where I vowed to reimagine how we tackle this and formed our People Operations team.” – Pete Sena, CEO.

We took the harsh and candid feedback from those on-boarded the wrong way and learned from our failures. We created a high touch process that is tailored to work with our new hires’ strengths while it develops their knowledge and fills their skill gaps.

So how do we do it now and where are we headed next?

To better our  onboarding style and amplify our EX (employee experience), we implemented a few crucial steps that ultimately became game changers.

After receiving an offer from Digital Surgeons, we often invite our newest team member to lunch to get to know them better and meet more of the team. For some positions, we hold a whiteboarding session with a member of our leadership team and hiring manager where we co-create a strategy for success. This immediately makes our newest employee feel more at ease on their first day in the office.

Each new employee gets a 30, 60, 90 day plan that outlines goals and tactics for the next three months.

The first 30 days will be a crash course in how we run both operationally and culturally, from lunches with our department leads and CEO to planning cycles to simple tasks like how to track time. The plan is to use this time to get the new hire familiar with how Digital Surgeons works as a connected experience design company, how their specific team is utilized, and its impact and value to the agency, as well as tutorials and webinars to provide the tools needed to set them up for success. Each lesson or article is followed up with a task to exercise those skills learned.

As the plan moves to 60 days, there is much more collaboration. We hand over more  responsibilities, the focus shifts from training to more doing. There are bigger projects and longer term responsibilities. You are encouraged to ask questions, participate in as many meetings as possible and contributing to shaping and crafting our work product.

By 90 days, there are bigger tasks assigned, more accountability and less guidance. Our hope is that the new hire is comfortable with their role in the organization and can start taking the reins. They should feel empowered to make decisions, ask questions and contribute. It’s a proud and amazing feeling for me to walk by a conference room and see a new hire running a meeting and holding their own.

So let’s give our employees time to think, learn, and acclimate. The more emphasis that is put on learning and development, the more your team will want to learn and develop. Aristotle said it best: “The pleasures arising from thinking and learning will make us think and learn all the more.”

Think you might be a good fit at Digital Surgeons? Check out our job openings