Expecting great habits from good people

Keith Fahlgren
Aug 7, 2015 · 4 min read
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When you clearly communicate what you truly want and expect you can help others evolve in remarkable ways.

At its heart, onboarding [a new employee] has just two goals: teaching them what you expect and teaching them how to get things done [here]. It turns out that “teaching them what you expect” is one of the most powerful tools you have as a leader, as it can influence not only the newcomer but the team that already exists.

Over the last few years, Liza and I have learned a lot about how to build teams and cultivate company culture. We’ve experimented with systems for distributed work, tools to empower asynchronous communication, and a range of modern software engineering practices. While technical people love to find technical solutions to problems, many of our biggest successes have come through tiny habits and deliberate nudges. One example: the way we’ve taught each new employee that we expect them to be great.

I’m not a great programmer; I’m just a good programmer with great habits. — Kent Beck

With feedback and improvement from others, we’ve made a list of all things the newcomer should do. This sounds like a trivial change, but when introduced at the crucial, initial moment and repeated with every new person, it has caused lasting and significant improvement. When a person joins an organization, they’re ready to invest their best selves in the new role and they’re eager to be exposed to a new reality. We harness that excitement by carefully setting a very high bar (respectful, aspirational, proactive, empathetic, etc). Their passion and [totally normal] naiveté ends up changing their first few weeks but more critically ends up improving the practices of the whole team. The newcomer is just a bit closer to what we all aspire to be and that gap helps pull the rest of the team forward toward the ideal organization.

Each company and team will have different norms and expectations, but in the spirit of transparency, here’s ours (as they stand today):

Everyone should…

How we practice together

How you practice your craft

How we build stronger teams and a healthy organization

Managers should…

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At Safari, we believe that great work is done by people who are paying attention to new thinking, who are versed in the classics of their discipline, and who share what they learn with those around them. We believe that great workplaces invest in giving their people the opportunity to learn, to improve their skills to do their best work, and to promote a culture of sharing. If you want to build a culture of continuous learning at your organization, drop us a line and we’ll help you get there. If you’re curious about what it’s like to work inside an organization like Safari, find me on Twitter or email.

Towards a remarkable career

Learning every day to cultivate a career and company to be…

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