Onboarding New Employees

In small business land, we make all sorts of errors. The greatest among them is probably our onboarding “processes.” Most of us stink at executing systematically. Why is that?

In my 20 years of small business, the number one issue is the leader. Me, myself and I. Today, I consider myself an entrepreneur turned investor. I didn’t “grow up” in high finance. I grew up watching my father figure it out, every, single day. College taught me accounting and how to read. From there, I went straight into business ownership. I continued to read and figure it out the hard way. This entrepreneurial brand of leadership is true of most of the people who consider selling us their companies. They saw an opportunity in the marketplace and a unique way of solving it. They started. The systems grew up around their quirks. And, they usually held the team together through a series of multiplex relationships, shared with people who trusted them, and they trusted them. This works extremely well from launch to the point where the founder is rich. Good for them.

We launched Little Engine Ventures with this same trust at the core, fractal out the relationship ethos. Get great people on the team. Aim them at the big idea. Figure it out together. Encourage them to break out to the upside. Where this worked, it worked amazingly well. Where this approach fell down, it crashed badly.

We did not have timely damage control systems. It was too dependent on financials, and these, even with books closed within 10 days, were still way too late for the really big initiatives.

After several years we had a General Manager begin systematically onboarding people. He did this after some of my coaching. He transitioned the business from a culture of “follow the leader” pairs teaching the rookie how to survive, to a culture where his team could take a newbie from 0 to 100 mph in 90 days. The people in his system thrived. I saw this repeat again a few more times, each with some element of me coaching, 1:1. Unfortunately, I did it haphazardly, and only when invited. Recently, I have begun onboarding with more rigor. Each time, it is better than the last. And, not incrementally. It goes exponential because the teammates are coming up to speed faster and expecting to be at speed faster, and expecting each other to be at or near top performance from their teammates. Today, I am utterly convinced we need enforce this discipline across the board. And, I am making investments to assure we are more disciplined and accountable to our written outcomes to all positions, everywhere. This began some time ago and is nearing a tipping point. I’m excited.

Side note: I recently took a quiz to determine if I was a Visionary or an Integrator. Turns out, I’m both. Usually, this is a major problem that limits the ultimate size of the organization because the Integrator who is cursed with vision does not delegate very well. The DNA of the visionary typically inspires people to jump aboard the boat, and later tell them where they are headed. Or, if they were aimed in one direction, and change directions, the visionary manages to hold everyone together by banging the gong of core values and inspired trust. I get it. I roll hard with this method myself. However, my quiz results said that I am dominate integrator. This might surprise some people because I hide the systems-maniac under a veil of Midwestern niceties. Underneath the surface is a beast-mode level of persistence and rising expectations. If you know, you know.

Furthermore, I LOVE writing. I love systems. There is something beautiful about engineering a process that intelligent humans want to play. Good estimates equip talented people to exceed even their own ambitions. And, furthermore, I like enforcing the systems. In fact, I PREFER to hold people accountable. It is unloving to not be clear with what good looks like. To prove I’m not some detached maniac, I justify it by writing. I do this so people can hold me accountable, too. Did I do what I wrote I would do?

Onboarding new employees is critically important. To author onboarding procedures and document structured surveys and scorecards, I started with my own job. I began looping out from there to the nearest positions, systematically asking for feedback, edits or changes. These roles hook together in important ways to our strategic plans for the business at large, and at a fractal level. They are considerate of what is reasonable, but designed to be adjusted in time. They are narrower than a job description, used for recruiting, but not so tight that you must phone the coach to make a game time decision. As we roll on, we will also have means to adjust line items by person and keep them held together in an orderly manner. There is a ton of freedom in this design. But there are also systems to bring someone in, and bring them up to beast-mode very quickly.

My ultimate goal is to help others climb. It’s why we are named Little Engine Ventures. And onboarding our people well means we can help employee’s incomes climb faster than their alternatives in our backyard. There is no ceiling and we have systems to share what the best are achieving, and systems to raise the bar on what we tolerate. And it begins with solid onboarding. Onboarding will persist because we are militant at documentation centrally. This works because our people trust each other.

Let’s help each other climb.