We've all been there: You're super psyched for a new gig...only to arrive on the first day and find that you're in for a week of torment.

Human resources accosts you with endless forms and pointless videos on ergonomics, IT forgot to set up 16 essential things, and your supervisor, while well-meaning, manages to simultaneously overstuff your brain with details you'll never remember and fail to give you the information you need to actually get started with your job. By Friday you're enthusiasm is already on the wane.

Now that you're the boss, there has to be a better way. 

But what is the best alternative to the standard, less than inspiring onboarding process? Venture capitalist Bred Feld offered an interesting possibility on his blog recently. Taking the idea from an entrepreneur he met, Feld suggests having each new employee do two weeks of customer support, laying out the rough outlines of a three-week orientation process: 

The first week is a typical "first week at a new company," which includes a formal day of orientation on the first day. The next four days are structured around on-boarding the person and getting them involved in their role and their team, but not too deeply. This allows there to be a "break-in period" where the person is learning the systems and structure of the company.

Week two is a full-time immersion in the customer care organization. Total front-line stuff. The same first week any new customer care rep would get. Day one is whatever the normal orientation is followed by four days of "training wheels customer care."

Week three is a fly on the wall from a manager's view of customer care. Rather than front-line support, this is involved in all the meetings--up and down the customer support organization--to understand what people are dealing with. The last day includes a debrief meeting with the CEO.

In the first week Feld's plan keeps the usual onboarding essentials in place (though hopefully better run than the shambles facing new employees at many companies) but adds an immersion in front-line customer care in weeks two and three. What does this accomplish?

"If every employee does this regardless or rank or title," he explains, "in the first month of their tenure, they see the organization from the inside out. This creates a powerful common view that can generate an entirely different set of early actions for anyone in a new role. It also creates a powerful culture dynamic." So besides being a bonding experience and sort of baptism into the company culture, giving new hires have a customer's-eye-view of the business helps them clarify priorities and be more innovative when they do start in their "real" role.

"I think a version of this process could be created for virtually any size company in any market segment," concludes Feld.

Do you agree? 


Published on: Oct 3, 2012