Company culture and expectation setting

How to build a strong culture by setting good examples throughout employee onboarding.

This post is written by Daniel O'Shea, a founder with experience running product and engineering teams.

Onboarding was something I didn't take seriously in my early days as a founder and manager. I figured I could do the basic setup work, answer any big questions, and throw people into the fire. They'd figure it out. I couldn't justify investing in something more time-consuming.

As I spent time reflecting and learning about how to build a strong culture, my opinion changed dramatically.

A good onboarding process makes a good first impression. It sets an example for how you want your new team member to act as part of the team.

If being rigorous and organized is important to you, then your onboarding process better reflect that. If you want your team to be passionate and friendly, that better come across loud and clear in the first several weeks of interactions. The process should be crafted around the values that matter most to your team.

Good onboarding sets expectations. Expectation setting can have a huge impact on how people perform. It also influences how they feel about themselves and their team over time.

And to be clear, onboarding extends well past the first week. It lasts as long as a new hire is learning how to work within the team. It's at least a 30-day process. Probably more like 90 days.

Since it's so important, you should always be thinking about what you can do to improve. Not every tactic works for every team and set of values, so you should experiment with what feels right.

Here are some things I'd recommend trying first:

Have a senior leader share the mission and values

Schedule an hour-long 1:1 with at least one founder or senior leader. This interactive discussion should be all about culture, mission, and values. It's helpful to tell the story with a deck but you should encourage lots of questions.

The new hire should leave this meeting with a clear idea of what it looks like to align with the values and culture.

I usually spend a lot of time talking about 80/20 thinking with specific examples of how we applied it in the past. Other things I cover include psychological safety, not-invented-here syndrome, ownership, and customer empathy. All things that have a big impact on how people operate day-to-day.

Give a history lesson in decision making

Share historical artifacts that will help the new hire understand how the team thinks and works. They provide rich context about the current state of the company. They provide important examples to the new about how to evaluate options when they are making a decision.

Documents on important decisions are the most useful asset to share. They should capture the thought process behind the decisions.

Documents with important insight about your customer, product, or market are very useful. Big experiments that were run and a summary of the results also provide good context.

For engineers: notable postmortems, design docs, and pull requests are very helpful. The more discussion the better.

Onboarding success should have a clear owner

Assign an onboarding buddy. This person should be directly responsible for making sure the new hire has a good experience. The buddy should work closely with them for 30-90 days.

Make it clear to the buddy that this is a top priority. Onboarding success should be evaluated as part of performance reviews if you do them.

Choose a buddy that is senior and buys into the company culture.

Have the mission-to-metrics talk

Explain the company mission, how that mission is measured, and how the new hire is advancing that mission. They should also know what metrics are being used to track their impact on the mission.

They should walk out with a complete mission-to-metrics story they can recite on-demand.

Learn more about how to use mission-to-metrics to get alignment.

Interested in getting a full onboarding playbook?

At Laskie we build playbooks for common operational challenges like onboarding.

We are building out a full playbook with dozens of tactics, tools, and stories for successfully growing your team and culture.

If you are interested or have feedback hit me up: daniel@laskie.co