November 1, 2018

On the first day of my first job in New York, I came into work with emails in my inbox linking to important documents and calendar invites for all the relevant meetings. It was clear that my manager put time into making sure I was set up with the necessary tools to get straight to work. Then she took me on an office tour, ending with a trip downstairs.

“This is where you should get off the subway,” she said, knowing that I had only lived in New York for five days.

As we worked next to each other for months, she often chimed in with non-work-related recommendations, and in those moments, I really felt like she wanted me to succeed both at work and in life.

When I think about onboarding, I think about this tweet from Megan Garvey.

Garvey became KPCC’s managing editor after about 20 years at the Los Angeles Times, so it was her first new job in a long time.

“The first day was really welcoming,” she said. “The staff had written on Post-it notes covering the glass wall of my office. I had seen on Twitter the day before that they were doing it. They said they were writing advice for my new job. I remember actually feeling a little bit of trepidation, thinking everyone was going to tell me how to do my job. But when I got there, they were great little pieces of advice like where to eat, what bathroom was better, important people to align yourself with. I actually still have them up on the back of my door. It’s all the kind of stuff that you’d learn over time, but they were trying to front load me with, which was really nice.”

Garvey had an onboarding period of four to six weeks before she was expected to jump into the daily duties of being managing editor. This was really helpful since she was new to radio.

“In that time period, I was able to learn how to record and edit a short piece and really just observe a lot of what was going on in the room without having the responsibility to tweak it, fix it, adjust it immediately,” she said. “That allowed me a lot of intellectual space to think about things and not have to make snap judgments. I had a couple of ideas that I don’t know if I would have had otherwise.”

One of those ideas was to edit KPCC’s general assignment rotation where beat reporters pitch in for the daily needs. When Garvey dove into her managing editor duties, she decided to edit those stories. This gave her access to work with journalists across the newsroom. They learned what she was looking for, and she learned more about editing for radio.

“It helped me get to know them and brush up on some of the skills I had just learned,” Garvey said. “It also gave me a better sense of what needed to change and what didn’t.”

Apply now for Poynter’s 2019 Leadership Academies for Women in Digital Media.

The management books recommend this approach as well. I read The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter last year, and it advocates that a leader’s job when he or she starts a new gig is to listen. It’s easy to make enemies if you implement new things without understanding the full context of the organization.

The way we onboard is crucial, both in the technical sense and the emotional.

“All of those things add up: You don’t have a desk. You don’t have a computer. Your phone doesn’t work. No one set up training. I think having that be organized just makes a big difference for someone walking in the door,” Garvey said. “It makes a big difference if people feel supported. The culture of this newsroom may be different from the other places you’ve worked.”

KPCC has an informal system of assigning someone a buddy during onboarding so new employees have a go-to person to ask questions. There are so many small things, like knowing what Slack channels to pay attention to, that don’t get addressed during the official orientation, and this is a way for peers to help each other out. New employees might be nervous to reach out if everyone seems really busy, and managers should keep an eye out for new staffers who haven’t asked a lot of questions.

Garvey likes to remind people that starting something new is hard.

“You don’t have the muscle memory. You don’t have the institutional knowledge yet,” she said.

Managers should also take note of their onboarding experience and look for ways the organization can improve. Is this how you’d want someone you recruited to be onboarded? When I joined VICE about two months ago, I knew a part of my job would be recruiting talent, and I sent feedback about my onboarding experience to our HR point person. One of my suggestions has already been implemented.

“Devising a plan that thinks more comprehensively is smart. Kristen Muller, who is my boss, has thought a lot about this,” Garvey said. “What’s a more successful way to start someone out?”

Garvey noted that the beginning is the best time for managers to make sure employees are starting out with the right work habits.

“It will make your life a lot easier if everyone is on the same page,” she said.

Links Worth Clicking

Do Your Homework

I’ve been thinking a lot about the hours I work and whether it is working for the lifestyle I want. Do you know how you work best? Are you someone who wants to leave early but then log back on after dinner? Or do you only want to do work in the office? Take some time to notice what works best for you and where your pain points are so you’re prepared to talk with your manager about scheduling adjustments that would improve both your work and your life.

Focus On The Work

Eater produces a lot of guides (that I follow religiously), and it recently published the Guide to Bogotá, a comprehensive culinary guide shining a light on the Colombian city as a hot culinary destination with a growing food scene. This guide piloted a few new formats that are important to both their food and travel sections.

Ellie Krupnick, Eater’s managing editor, is the project manager on all of their travel city guides, working with travel editor Lesley Suter. Krupnick is responsible for setting deadlines; facilitating check-ins; coordinating between art, social, editorial, and comms teams; and ensuring all the deliverables come together in time.

“Big, comprehensive city travel guides have become a staple of Eater’s travel content. But this guide is a particular accomplishment in part because we dove deep on a city that doesn’t often get the deep-dive treatment from other food and travel outlets,” Krupnick said. “In doing so, we could talk not only about hot new Colombian restaurants, but also the inspiring ways the city has responded to the devastation wreaked by the drug trade, including a community of former coca and opium farmers who now grow chocolate and coffee for downtown cafés.”

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.

More News

Back to News