Teamwork Makes the Dream Work Part 3: Community Team Onboarding

This is Part Three of a four part series:

Congratulations! You’ve just hired an amazing new member of your team! Now what?

Every company has their own unique onboarding process for new employees. If your company has a great onboarding process — awesome! However, community team roles have their own unique onboarding needs, so here are some tips for bringing on a new community team hire.

This Aint Your Typical Welcome Basket 🎁

When I was at Salesforce, I started something that can be applied to onboarding anyone in any role (not just exclusive to a community team). A “get to know the team” welcome basket. Each person on the team selects a small gift that represents them. For example, I picked a Slink (from Toy Story) wind up toy because I love weenie dogs and I love wind up toys. Erica Kuhl on our team picked Sour Patch candies. Each member of the team filled out an “About Me” page that was included in a Welcome Packet with “About Me” pages from the whole team. Each person shared a photo, their name, title, where they live, some interesting info about them, and an explanation of why they chose the gift they did. For my Slinky gift, I explained that I like to use wind up toys when I’m stressed and need to step away from work for a quick second. They make me laugh. Erica explained with her Sour Patch kids that sometimes days could be sour, but they always ended up sweet. It was always fun for our new hires to go through the basket of random stuff and learn interesting facts about everyone on the team. This also works really well for remote team members!

Hello, It’s Me 👋

When a new team member comes on board, one of the exciting first things you get to do is make an internal announcement introducing the new person on your team. When a new community team member comes on board, it’s extremely important to also make an announcement to your community about their arrival. Write up an announcement about the new member of your team and share it as soon as your new team member comes on board. Encourage your new team member to jump right on into the community to also introduce themselves and respond to the community members welcoming them.

Another thing many managers will do when someone new comes on board is share a “People to Meet” list with their new hire. It’s an absolute must for a new community team member to have members of your community on that list. Make sure to ask those specific people in your community first if it’s ok to add them to that list. Try to pick different people in the community with different perspectives and even across different types of engagement and programs. These conversations will be incredibly valuable for the new person on your team to start understanding the individuals in your community, what drives them to participate, and what they’d like to get out of the community in the future. This is also a great way for them to start kicking off relationship building in the community. Besides the few people you select for them to chat with right off the bat, also recommend they do some digging in the community to learn more about different individuals, especially your top contributors. Make sure it’s clear to your new hire that the focus on these chats needs to be on LISTENING. There will be plenty of time to share new ideas down the line. For now, they need to focus on absorbing as much information as they can from these community members and leaders.

Hey Buddy! 👩🏾‍🤝‍👩🏻

A lot of different companies have the buddy system for new hires. This means that the hiring manager gets to pick someone to be the new team member’s buddy. They grab a coffee together, are a resource for random questions they might have, etc. I highly recommend choosing a buddy that’s not on the community team. The new team member is going to have tons of chances to learn from and interact with everyone on the community team. This is a great opportunity for your team member to build a relationship with someone on another team. It’ll further strengthen your team’s relationship with that other team, and it’ll also give your new team member a chance to learn about another part of the business. We all know that internal awareness about community is extremely important, and building these relationships right off the bat can only help you raise more awareness about your team and programs.

Listen Up 👂🏼

Nothing drives me crazier than when someone starts a new role and immediately wants to start making changes. This is true for anyone at any level. I have been guilty of doing this myself. When it comes to Community, context is always important. Enthusiasm is always appreciated, and excitement to jump right in is always expected, but when you’re dealing with community, you have to be careful. Community trust is hard to earn and easy to lose. Building trust with the community takes a lot of time, and if you damage that trust, it takes a lot of work to gain that trust back. Make it clear to your new hire that you’re excited for them to get started, but they need to focus on training and understanding context before they dig in(more on that below). This doesn’t mean you can’t give them things to start working on when they come on board, but do not forgo proper training because you want them to get to work right away (or because they are anxious to dig in right away). This will only hurt you both (and possibly your community) in the long run.

Here Comes the Choo-Choo Train…ing Plan 🚂

Take the time to build out a full training plan for any new member of your team, and stick to it. Sometimes they will be training with you, as their manager, sometimes they will be training with other community team members (make sure to give these team members as much notice as possible), and sometimes they will be self-training. This needs to be well thought through. The training piece takes a lot of time if you do it right, but it sets your new hire up for success. Schedule time to not only train your new hire, but also to make yourself available for questions and discussions.

As for the training, don’t just give a general overview of the programs and how they work, but really dig into the history of the programs and how they got to where they are today. Provide information about past decisions and why they were made. Give examples of different things that have happened in the community — both positive and negative — and what resulted. Share information about some of your most enthusiastic and some of your most tricky community members (sometimes the same people!) and hot-button community issues and topics to be aware of. That well-rounded context will be extremely valuable as they move forward in their role.

I tend to work very closely with all of my new hires on everything they do. If I don’t have a ton of time, then I’ll make sure someone on our team can also join in to help them get up and running with training and reviewing their work. I am definitely NOT a micromanager in the long-term, but I am extremely hands-on in the beginning. The time at the beginning of a role is critical for your new team member to learn how things work and best practices, and if you, as their manager, are absent, you’re doing them and yourself a disservice.

Set goals and metrics around the training plan as well. Your new hire will be excited to get started in their role and if they’re not working on projects right off the bat, might not feel like they’re accomplishing anything. Training itself is a lot of work (for everyone involved!), and putting some metrics and goals around training will help them see what they are accomplishing in those first few weeks. Just because their deliverables aren’t as tangible doesn’t mean they aren’t contributing to the success of your team those first few weeks. Do everything you can to make that clear to them so they make training a priority. This is also important for you. If you know you’re going to be bringing on a new team member, make sure that their onboarding/training is reflected in your own goals. This takes a lot of time and effort if you do it right, and you’ll want to make sure that’s communicated to your manager and your leadership team to set the right expectations.

Also, and I can’t stress this enough, if this is your first time putting together this training plan, document everything. It’s time-consuming and exhausting at a time when you’re already spending a ton of time on training AND doing the rest of your job, but this will make things SO much easier when you bring more people on your team. Sure, you may have to customize each training plan, but having the bones of the plan together will be the best thing you can do for yourself in the long run. Pro tip: Have your new hire document their questions and your answers to those questions. You can use that document/info when you bring on new members of your team, too.

Tell Them What You Want, What You Really Really Want 💬

In a previous blog post, I talked about a communication issue I once had with a new hire. We really liked each other on a personal level, and she was doing a great job in her new role, but something was off. We just weren’t clicking. From that post:

“It’s so important to not jump to conclusions when something isn’t working perfectly. 99% of the time the people you’re working with mean well, and you’re all just trying to do your best. Take the time to dig into the issue, and you’ll figure it out. Give your people the benefit of the doubt. It’s just as much your responsibility to fix things as it is theirs, maybe even more.”

I took the time to try to understand what was going on, and it turns out it was a communication issue. This new hire was really similar to me in a lot of ways, and I hadn’t managed someone like that before. I learned the best methods to communicate with her, and she did the same with me. It ended up being one of the most successful manager-team member partnerships I’ve ever had.

Don’t be discouraged if things aren’t perfect right off the bat. You both have a lot to learn about each other and how you each work. Make sure to constantly be communicating about this. As their manager, it’s important they know how you like to work, the way you like to receive information, your hot button issues, etc. Setting expectations on both sides sets everyone up for success. You can make this part of training — especially things like your hot button issues and the way you like to receive information — but this conversation should be ongoing and full of context. Always give them the “why” behind decisions, requests, and the way things are done. Your new hire isn’t a mind reader just as much as you aren’t a mind reader. Be open and transparent about these things. You’ll probably learn a lot about yourself as part of this exercise, too.

Throw Them To The Sharks (JK… kinda) 🦈

Sure, you’ll want to ease your new hire into some aspects of the role — especially with some of the more visible community-focused projects they’ll be working on, but there’s also a point where they have to just jump in and start doing stuff without any hand-holding. You‘ll know when they’re ready, but they might not, so do as much as you can to empower them when the time comes. They need to know the parameters for the decisions they can make, what you need to review, and/or any approval processes in place. Make this as clear as possible so there isn’t any confusion and so they feel empowered to move forward. This isn’t a perfect science. There will be slip-ups and mistakes made. That’s ok. That’s part of the learning process. Use it as a teaching moment for both you and your new hire. If an issue arises, consider adding something to training materials for other new hires if it’s something you can prevent next time. Other than that, move on. Your new hire is likely beating themselves up for any mistake they make — you don’t need to add to it.

Celebrate Good Times (& Small Wins), Come On! 🎉

Oh man, who doesn’t love this song by Kool & the Gang? Am I right? This was THE JAM at every 90s bar and bat-mitzvah. The Macarena was also pretty high on that list. My batmitzvah DJ had his whole setup in a car and called himself the Motivator. What a guy! I’ll continue to sing this song to myself for days to come, but as much as I’m sure you love reliving the 90s bat-mitzvah scene, let’s get back to onboarding.

You are a community professional, so this should go without saying, but practice empathy with your new hire. Remember when you were in their shoes. They are drinking from the firehose, trying to pack in a TON of new information. Information about your company, their benefits, the tools you use internally, the tools you use externally, who everyone is and what they do, how the products work, your community, your community programs, and so much more. I can’t remember a new role where my brain didn’t hurt at the end of week one. That’s just part of getting a new job, but you as their manager can make that experience a pleasant one. Give them time their first week to research and set up their benefits. Give them space to sign up for and poke around all of the internal sites and explore your community. You might give them tips on things to explore, but also make sure they have time for some self-exploration. Recommend internal groups they can join — not just the work-related ones, but the helpful and fun ones, too! You could even crowdsource this from the rest of the team. Most importantly, celebrate their wins in the beginning even if they are small wins (which is likely in the beginning). That approbation will help them build the confidence they need to get started on the right foot. Also, who doesn’t love a reason to celebrate?! 🥂

TL;DR

  1. Most companies have onboarding plans for new hires, but it’s important to add some additional layers for Community Team members.
  2. Do something unique and memorable for your new hire to get to know your team.
  3. Make sure to announce your new team member not only internally, but externally to your community. If you have a “people to meet” list for your new hire, include members of the community (with their advance approval of course). Make sure your new hire knows to use those meetings for LISTENING.
  4. If you have a buddy program, pick someone that’s not on the community team. Helps increase internal awareness about the community.
  5. Community trust is hard to earn and easy to lose. Make sure your new hire has a solid understanding of the community and/or boundaries before digging in.
  6. Training is important. Develop a plan and include metrics and goals around training. Don’t just provide functional overviews, but also history and context.
  7. Make time to answer questions and participate in discussions with your new hire.
  8. Your new hire/relationship with your new hire might not be perfect at first. Take the time to understand why and fix the issue. Over-communicate. Be upfront and transparent about expectations.
  9. Be clear around parameters, approvals, and review processes. This will empower them to make decisions and move forward with confidence.
  10. Lead with empathy. Give them time and space to explore and learn on their own. Celebrate their first wins, even if they’re small.

The internet is a wonderful place. I found a picture and website of The Motivator DJ! If this guy and his shirt don’t scream “party,” to you, I don’t think you understand what the word means. #BatMitzvahLife

Community Strategist. Currently: Head of Community at Venafi. Previously Salesforce & Atlassian. Challenge me to a pun-off. Twitter: @hollyfirestone