Better Hiring, Attraction, and Retention: 6 Key Takeaways from the New York Times, Part 2

In my previous post, I shared the first three of my top six takeaways from Tessa Ann Taylor’s hiring strategy at The New York Times:

  1. Widen the Scope of Your Hiring
  2. It’s Worth the Effort to Hire that One Great Person
  3. Culture Is What Truly Makes You Stand Out as an Employer

Here are the last three takeaways for employers looking to get an edge in today’s talent wars.

4) Create an Intense and Supportive Onboarding Process

As Ms. Taylor puts it, “the biggest test of team culture is how the team onboards a new member.” Onboarding presents an opportunity for employers to show new hires that the culture they promised in the brochures is the culture that really exists in their organization, every day. The worst thing you can do as an employer is deposit new hires into a sink-or-swim situation on their first day, in their first week, or their first month. It’s crucial that new employees feel they work within a culture that supports them.

There are several ways to do this, and Ms. Taylor employs a variety of them at The Times:
“Before our intern started, I created a backlog of small tasks to help get her acquainted with our projects and code. These tasks were a combination of quick wins with a focus on understanding the full picture around a particular piece of the app, and stretch assignments designed to push her understanding of our systems and inspire questions. During her first week, another team member was designated as her go-to person for questions and trouble-shooting…Additionally, she had knowledge-sharing 1:1s with members of the team.”

This type of onboarding process achieves a lot without being overly complicated:

  • Acquaints the employee with ongoing projects and required tasks
  • Provides the employee with context for their role, both as an individual and as a member of the team
  • Establishes goals, processes, and working relationships at the outset
  • Provides the employee with multiple ways to ask questions and learn new information relevant to their work
  • Integrates the employee as a member of the team

And most importantly, this kind of focus and attention on setting a new employee up for success communicates to them that they are valuable and that their work is valuable.


5) Don’t Wait to Create an Upward Spiral of Performance

Onboarding doesn’t necessarily have to happen in the first few days of employment – it can last as long as is appropriate for the role or organization. By extending onboarding efforts to stretch over longer periods of time, employers can steadily build up their new employees, maximizing learning opportunities by offering them when it makes the most sense:
“…The general onboarding 1:1s for full-time hires are staggered throughout their first few months and delivered when they are relevant to a current project or task, as opposed to being delivered all up front. This slow ramp up with an emphasis on learning set up new hires for success by allowing them to understand the ‘why’ of various tasks…”

This steady, long-term approach to learning and skill building can help establish an upward spiral of performance that lasts well beyond onboarding:
“It sets the expectation that asking questions and constant learning are a daily part of the job.”

If you need any more convincing, consider the way the Marine Corps “onboards” its new recruits: boot camp. For thirteen weeks, new Marines are onboarded in one of the most intense training programs out there. You can bet that time is used as optimally as possible – the Marines probably wouldn’t take thirteen weeks to accomplish anything that could be done in less time. Take a lesson from one of the most elite fighting forces in the world and replicate that intensity and support in your own onboarding program!


6) Clearly Communicate Standards and Expectations at Every Step

Spelling out standards and expectations is required of any manager who wants to get great results from their direct reports when it comes to the work. But spelling out the standards and expectations of your company culture is equally as important, especially when it comes to integrating new employees into that culture. That way there can be no ambiguity about how new employees are expected to behave, present themselves, or interact with others in the workplace. Without having to worry about proper procedures, new employees can focus on the work, and get it done in a way that doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s work.

It is also yet another way for employers to communicate to new hires that culture does indeed matter, and that it’s everyone’s responsibility. Imagine the kind of message Ms. Taylor’s efforts would send to you as a new employee at The Times:
“…It is important to create and/or codify good processes and practices that ensure everyone on the team feels included, heard, and recognized…We document team norms around things like pull requests and remote culture to ensure that everyone’s voices are heard and respected…We set quarterly goals around improving team culture.”

Processes, documentation, and quarterly goals? That kind of explicit attention and focus on culture requires that everyone be held accountable for their role in supporting that culture. If your new hires aren’t on board, then you’ll ultimately be glad that you scared them away.

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