Q: Curious if you spend most of the time during onboarding teaching new team members the technical "how to's” or talking about culture and expectations, or discovering places where they can add value.
1. The technical "how to's"
Yes - even if you don't have a really clear picture right away of the role, the more knowledge and training the better. Knowledge truly is power and if you want to grow, you need to share as much info as possible. The more your leadership and everyone else on your team understands about your structure and everything involved in the business, the better equipped they will be to bring ideas to the table that you don't have time to think of. Every team member that joins us shadows every role, regardless of what department they are part of. Account managers go through a lot of the same Google and Amazon training that specialists do, even though they aren't doing the implementation. We need everyone to have a comprehensive understanding so they can collaborate strategically, and they can't do that if they don't understand the roles and responsibilities of the rest of the team they’ve joined.
Admittedly, our onboarding used to be more like a push into the deep end, but it’s evolved into more of a zero entry, with a sudden drop off after learning how to swim. Our 6-8 week training system (based in the Google Classroom and Teamwork platforms) consists of:
- In-person sessions - this is the time-consuming part - try to minimize this as you develop your system by using the rest of this list
- Videos - find them online or make your own
- Online resources - certifications, training platforms, readings, blogs, podcasts
- Job shadowing - every role, anywhere from 2-4 hours each
- Call recordings - we record EVERY client call so have lots of good stuff for new team members to listen and learn from
- Observation docs & vlogs - we have new team members take notes that we review from every call they listen to or person they shadow so we can catch any misunderstandings. This also helps track their level of engagement, curiosity, and culture fit - we terminated someone within their first 30 days because it became clear they weren't a good fit for the role/team just by their notes and engagement in training. We also have a frequency of video blogs (vlogs) that they record, initially daily, then weekly, to give another avenue of feedback and confirmation that they are learning and engaged.
- Tag-teaming - instead of passive shadowing, after 4-6 weeks we move into hands-on, step-by-step tag-teaming of a new account with someone in their same role.
- Reverse shadowing - 6-8 weeks after joining the team, assigned a new account, with a more veteran partner shadowing to confirm processes and standards are understood and implemented. Repeat x3.
Curiosity makes it possible for anyone to work in digital marketing.
My development with OMG is a long story, but it all really boils down to the fact that the more I learned about what we do, even though I never actually DID any of it, the better equipped I was to make realistic budgets, develop realistic long-term hiring and growth plans, implement the vision of the owners, and develop the day-to-day operations and systems of the business. Brandi Johnston, our Director of Account Management and Head of Reporting, had never worked in SEO before joining our team 8 years ago and is now one of the most knowledgeable SEO professionals in the country, and is also incredibly knowledgeable about Amazon and Google because she is the type of person that wants to learn so she can best support her team. Chris Tyler, our Director of Amazon, had never done anything in digital marketing before joining our team 5 years ago and now is the visionary behind a department that grew 78% last year. Until recently, it seemed people found themselves involved in digital marketing more by accident than by intention. Early stages of agency or brand development is a great time to capitalize on that. As you grow you will find that you will require more prior knowledge/experience when hiring because your clients will require that level of expertise in their client team, but I miss when we could simply find the right personality and teach them everything they need to know (we still do this to build an internal bench, but can't anymore for the lead roles).
2. Talking about culture and expectations
Yes - we really immerse new team members in our culture during week one general OMG training, with a recap with me during week two. Then they're a part of it. In our organization, our culture is used as a decision-making tool and as our guideposts for everything we do, so it's really like living in a constant refresher once you get started. We immerse ourselves in reminders of our culture values, using our weekly team meetings, individual conversations, and group syncs as opportunities to recommit to the values and standards that are so valuable to our team.
Our entire training process is designed to establish expectations and standards. Throughout we’re discussing not just how we do things, but why. Actually, we’re better at the why. Because the platforms we work on change so quickly and frequently, it’s important to hire people who are tech-savvy enough to be able to figure out where to go to get the job done, and curious enough to ask if they can’t figure it out. But digging into the strategy and purpose behind the how, that’s the foundation of our training.
3. Discovering places where they can add value
Nope, not during onboarding.
During onboarding we want new team members to feel like we have a concrete plan as much as possible, even if we know that it could very likely change. It gives them a sense of security and confidence in what they're working towards so they can really focus as they go through training. It also takes time to see them at work to give us an idea of their full skill sets and interests.
This is my absolute favorite part of what I do. So many of OMG’s team members started in completely different positions, and a lot of them are now in roles that didn't even exist in our organization before they were created just for them. If someone is gravitating towards something, give them all the training resources and room to explore it as possible because if you can develop experts in areas that directly apply to your business, it's a win/win. They're living their best life doing what they love every day, and you're capitalizing on what they're best at. If you haven't read Nine Lies About Work by Marcus Buckingham, I highly recommend it. I strongly agree with him that a person will be the most satisfied and successful by living within their strengths rather than trying to work on their weaknesses, and the more you can discover those strengths and support the weaknesses, the more value you'll receive from each individual, making the whole department, team, and company better.
What’s the point?
Ultimately, the goal of our training process is to develop confidence in both our new team members and our established team who will now be trusting them with client work and communications, as well as reduce risk on the client side. The target is someone who not only fully understands the standards and expectations, but owns and values them the same way we do. We know we’ve succeeded when our team shares their experience working with new hires, by sharing kudos and client wins or providing feedback for training improvement.