Manager’s Notebook: Lightning-Quick Productivity from New Employees

Day 1 productivity for new employees seems like a pipe dream for many managers. Without solid preparation by the Information Development team, new employees can take months to become productive. This article discusses ways to use tools, processes, and existing team members to train new employees for high productivity on writing and product teams within two to four weeks.

The First Day

Starting a new job can be nerve-wracking, for both the employee and for the team. Your top priority should be to make the new employee feel welcome and comfortable. Help them with all of the first-day items like HR paperwork, layout of the building, location of office supplies, distribution and configuration of equipment, and access to systems and tools. Many companies have formal onboarding processes in place, so make sure you know what’s required, and fill in any gaps you observe.

Involve your whole team in onboarding the newbie by creating a buddy system to ensure they have a go-to person for any questions they might have. I recommend that you assign a lead or senior writer on the product for which the new employee will write as their buddy. You can also organize a team lunch to let the new employee and team get to know each other in an informal setting.

The sooner your new employee can actively contribute, the better. If you haven’t already done so, document the standard computer setup for team members. Then make sure you provide an editable version of document to the new team member on their first day. This approach gives the new employee an opportunity to do the following:

  • Set up their computer with their own preferences (within company guidelines).
  • View a document written to the team style guide.
  • Edit the document as needed, contributing to team processes on the first day of work.

Team Website

Our Information Development team created a team SharePoint site to serve as a central repository for our writing team and product team information. The site contains information such as:

  • All documented team processes and policies
  • Company guidelines, best practices, trainings, and policies
  • Product team information
  • Team meeting agendas and minutes
  • Who’s who on the team

This resource has been invaluable in getting new employees up and running quickly. New employees can poke around on the site and read whatever they like between training sessions to get a feel for the way we work and who we are.

Team Involvement

In addition to self-guided training, consider disseminating various training topics among your current team members. Generally, most training sessions are 30-minute to 1-hour sessions with the new employee on various topics. We involve as many of our team members as possible to train new employees. The hiring manager usually asks team members who are especially proficient in a particular area (a tool or a process) to train the new employee in that area. This assisted training helps new employees become familiar with team members and allows existing team members to update and revise training documents each time they use them.

Training Topics

New team members must learn a lot, pretty quickly, so it’s important that you train as you go, rather than doing all of your training in the first week. If you train someone on a process their second day that they won’t use for six months, it’s not likely they will remember it, and you’ll have to retrain them. I suggest you put together a training schedule with the topics, trainers, and specific sub-topics to guide you through the new team member’s first several months on the job. Consider tools, processes, products, and teams as training areas.

Aside from the authoring tool(s) your team uses, include tools such as virtual machines, labs, version control systems, work tracking systems, and bug tracking systems. The new employee needs to have a well-rounded view into all the tools he or she will be using to do their jobs.

Processes to train your new team member on include your team’s authoring processes, the style guide and writing approach, how the employee interacts with their project teams (agile, waterfall, DevOps, etc.), and company go-to-market information they might need to know. Don’t forget employee-focused processes as well, like taking time off, submitting expense reimbursement requests, and arranging travel, if applicable.

Set up some time for the new employee to meet with subject matter experts on the products for which they’ll be writing. Yes, the team member can and should read the documentation, but having an actual demo and some hands-on time with the product will accelerate their comprehension.

Finally, ensure that the new team member meets their fellow team members as quickly as possible. Not only should they become familiar with their fellow Information Development team members, but they should also meet their project team members and appropriate contacts. Have them start attending scrum or sync-up meetings within the first week of their employment. They might not know what’s going on at first, but that’s the best way for them to learn – to hear their team talking about the product work, to interact with their fellow team members, and to begin contributing more quickly.

Tailored Training

Throughout the course of the training schedule, remember to train appropriately for each team member’s level of experience. A more junior writer might need a longer, more in-depth training session on your authoring tool than would a new employee who has used that tool for 20 years. Consider additional topics for newbies to the field, such as “what is technical writing” or how your development process works. 

Throughout the employee’s first few weeks, remember how overwhelming it can be to learn so many new things at once. Make yourself available as much as possible, and check in with the new team member frequently to see how things are going. Starting a new position is stressful for anyone, but as a manager, you can smooth the transition. The more energy and time you invest at the start, the more likely you’ll have a confident, competent team member who will raise the productivity bar for your team and your company.

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