The first few days, or weeks, at a new job can be frustrating for anyone. But when one of Rajesh Anandan's new hires asked, "Wouldn't it be great if humans had a quick-start guide? I can't figure out how to work with some of the people on my team," Anandan knew he was onto something.
Anandan is the co-founder and CEO of Ultra Testing, a New York City-based startup that performs quality assurance testing for companies such as Slack, Google, and NBCUniversal. Anandan says about 75 percent of his 50 employees are somewhere along the autism spectrum. A big part of his company's mission -- aside from finding software bugs -- lies in proving that neurodiversity can be an advantage.
Many of Anandan's employees work remotely and, before coming to Ultra, hadn't had an opportunity to be appropriately employed. Anything Anandan could do to make onboarding smoother would be worthwhile, he figured. Plus, Ultra has team members who are rotating projects and client engagements fairly often. "There's always a getting-to-know-you period, which is incredibly inefficient," says Anandan. "You'd rather just get on with the work."
If a quick-start guide helps people use software productively right from the get-go, what would a quick-start guide to people look like? Well, after a series of interviews, discussions, and focus groups, it turns out that the Ultra quick-start guide has 28 data points, created in answer to a set of common questions. (It's also called the BioDex, since no one particularly liked "quick-start guide" or, worse, "user manual.") It's self-authored, so it requires a bit of self-awareness. And it's available publicly to everyone within the company.
Anandan has worked as a consultant at Bain and within big organizations that use personality tests such as Myers-Briggs. Those tests are very useful, he says, but they're very conceptual and don't produce quick results. The BioDex, he says, "is very simple. It's simple to execute, and it's immediately useful. And free."
Here are a few of the questions employees are asked:
What's your average response time on Slack?
Anandan says response time is especially important for a remote team. If your average response time is two hours, and a team member expects an instant response, there's going to be friction. For some of his employees, that waiting and uncertainty can create anxiety. But if you know someone takes a few hours to respond on Slack, then the anxiety goes away.
Rank your communications channels in order of preference.
If you tell me that you'd prefer to be contacted via SMS for urgent matters, then as your colleague, I want to know that, says Anandan. If you don't like SMS, then I don't want to intrude on your space.
How do you prefer to receive critical feedback?
Some people want criticism in the moment, so they can make changes right away and don't have to worry that there is some "unknown" problem headed at them, says Anandan. Others prefer the end of the day, and some of his employees would prefer to have an end-of-week report.
Also, employees are asked if they'd rather get critical feedback in person or in writing. Anandan says he knows that the best practice is supposed to be to receive the feedback in person. But he says some of his employees prefer written feedback first, so they have a chance to digest it before having an in-person or telephone conversation. A related question: Is there a way to frame negative feedback that makes it easier for you to hear and absorb it?
What habits have you adopted to stay productive at work?
If I'm wearing headphones, says Anandan, I may want you to know that I'm not grumpy and you haven't offended me. It may just be that music or other sound helps me stay focused.
Now, before any employee begins a new project, they're expected to look at their colleagues' BioDex. New employees can look at what other employees have written before they write their own BioDex. Says Anandan: "They see the benefit of the BioDex, and it puts everyone at ease."