Onboard new teammates with a 90-day plan

My new boss had written up a 90-day plan for me the week before I started. This was perfect timing. I was already starting to put a bow on my current work and my focus was wandering. Now my brain could start working on ideas for the next gig. Plus, I had a much better idea of what I’d start working on and how to make an impact than I did coming out of my interviews. It was one of the better emails I’ve ever received.

It seems totally obvious that hiring managers should have a plan for new hires. Yet, in more than a decade of work and several jobs, I’d never had a 90-day plan for a new position. In the parlance of our times, a 90-day plan for new team members is one weird trick that is pretty dang easy to pull off.

For all my hires since then, I’ve written up a 90-day plan. I’m convinced that this is one of the best things a hiring manager can do to bring new people onto their team. And it’s relatively easy!

A 90-day plan for onboarding starts off with very specific tasks for the first day and week. Do the paperwork, meet the people, get your digital and/or physical workspace set up. Learn about the team’s process, the rhythm of building and delivering. Meet with a team buddy who will introduce you to folks on the team and explain all the quirks and features of how the team works.

The first 3-4 weeks of a 90-day plan, for hands-on engineers, is about working with a buddy to spin up the flywheel. The goal is to come up to speed on learning the systems and contributing to them. Get the system running on your laptop or development sandbox so you can make quick iterations and one-off experiments. Land your first code change, your first review, and your first change to production.

(My angle here is for folks building SaaS web applications, but it’s the same for any kind of developer: get a few early wins and build from there.)

The second 30 days are when new team members start to come into their own. This is when I want to help my new teammates plant the seeds to realize the potential I saw when they interviewed. Important projects start spinning up. Strategy comes into play. Now is when I re-emphasize to them the potential I saw and brainstorm how to put that special skill, innate talent, or superpower to work improving our team or outcomes.

The final 30 days should start showing evidence that my new teammate is creating good outcomes. The seed of what makes them special (and what compelled me to hire them) is planted and starting to take root. I should be able to talk to teammates and co-workers and hear about how this new person is making an impact on our work and the company’s trajectory.

After 90 days, my new teammate should feel like a productive part of the team. At every point in those first 90 days, they should see little hints that they belong with this group of individuals making a thing together. After 90 days, they should feel confident that they do in fact belong with these folks and made a great choice when they accepted our offer.

Writing a 90-day plan for new hires forces you to think through how to get them started. You won’t just throw them in the pool and say “good luck!” And, it tells your new hire that you’re a smart person who is invested in their success. Every leader should do this.

Adam Keys @therealadam