Ninety Days is a great Rands in Repose piece about onboarding. In essence, you’re trying to build a mental map of the organization. This takes time. An interview doesn’t equal time on the job when it comes to finding your place at a new company.
The trouble begins when you think you understand how the organization works and how everyone fits into the organization. It’s a good feeling, like you’ve solved a difficult puzzle. But it’s also deceptive, because the map is constantly changing. In a startup or growth company, it can change a lot in a very small amount of time!
What are downsides of trusting an outdated map?
- It hurts inclusivity. You’ve identified the clique of people you work with and because you’re not updating your mental map, you aren’t considering that person who started on Monday.
- It blinds you to opportunities for value creation. Maybe you realized early on that the marketing team wasn’t willing to work with the product team. But that team’s gone now, and you haven’t reevaluated whether there’s a willingness to realign the website with what’s going on in product.
- It feeds boredom and disillusionment. We’ve all experienced the situation where we beat our heads against the same wall day in and day out. This wears us down and gradually we stop caring. Maybe if you updated your map, you’d realize there’s a path to your goals that wasn’t there before.
So how do we keep our maps from losing their plasticity? Think back to the things you did when you started at your company. You had 1:1s with pretty much anybody who was willing to talk with you. You had a breadth of knowledge and perspective from your previous gigs that added a ton of value when you joined. You had a bunch of goodwill, which afforded you the ability to ask dumb questions, try new things, and take risks.
All of these things helped you be successful and understand how the company functioned. And even now, there’s a bunch of things you can do to emulate what it was like from day 0.
- Have 1:1s with people who are new, or with whom you haven’t talked to for awhile.
- Attend conferences, talk to your users, and get out of the building for those new ideas and perspective that you don’t get sitting at your desk.
- Be the person that others want to collaborate with. It’s easier to take risks when others are willing to come along for the ride.
You might think this sounds like a lot of work, and you’d be right! But remember, we’re talking primarily about growth companies. The most important thing in a growth company is hiring the right people. Any time spent on hiring is well spent, and there are few things more time consuming than hiring!
Similarly, if you’re new to a company, the most important thing is onboarding, rapidly getting to a point where you can contribute. This also is time well spent, because you were hired to do a job and it’s hard to do a job effectively when you have no idea what’s going on.
Now think about someone who’s been at a growth company for four years. Let’s say the company has grown its employees by 50% each year. If there were 50 people when you started, there are 250 people there today. If your mental map was frozen at 50 people, you’re not accounting for 80% of the organization!
I argue that it’s almost impossible to be an effective collaborator if you’re not constantly updating your map of the organization. To avoid becoming the old guard, you have to be continually learning and investing in yourself. None of this is easy, but having a continual onboarding mindset can go a long way towards owning your career and being successful at a company for as long as you want to stay there.