Note: This blog was updated in September 2019 with the latest information about our people-ops processes.
We’re growing up here at Atlan! Our numbers have grown, and we’re always preparing for new additions.
As we grow, we’ve been pushing hard to make sure that we create an inclusive environment of growth and belonging for everyone who joins us. We’ve realized that this isn’t just about introducing new members of our team to our culture, but more about making them a part of it, right from day one.
As we set out on a mission to help data teams do their lives’ best work, it’s important for all of us working at Atlan to do our lives’ best work. And to be able to do that, we want to make sure we uplift, support and encourage people throughout their stay with us. This starts from their onboarding, starting right after someone signs their offer letter to join us.
We recently relooked at our onboarding process to make sure that we are not generalizing it, but instead are personalizing it to the new members of our team.
First, we looked to those who already figured it out. We read books like New Rules and Delivering Happiness, listened to podcasts like Front End Happy Hour, Radical Candor, People Stack, and continuously consumed articles on First Round to get our favorite people-ops tips and inspirations.
Then we turned our inspiration into action. We started by customizing small things and figuring out places where we could make improvements to truly make the process delightful for our team.
Getting the basics right
Creating an effective onboarding process is tough, and it starts even before a new member walks through the door.
The first thing we wanted to do was get the basics right. We did not want people to spend their first day at Atlan figuring out their Slack login details or setting up their password managers. And we wanted to make sure that everyone in the company is prepared to welcome the newbie!
Once a contract is signed, we immediately create what we call a “Bringing On” checklist. The checklist seems simple, but it’s really great for ensuring that everyone does their part to make someone’s first day as smooth as possible. It’s amazing what can be forgotten if it’s not written down!
We also created a calendar and master document with the year’s joining dates, and a Slack channel just for coordinating onboarding, so no one is caught off guard.
Balancing communication and information
Another thing we wanted to solve was our communication—both before and after someone joins our team. When Sreyas Sriram joined our team as an Associate Product Manager, he shared feedback with us. He said he felt disconnected in the month between signing the offer letter and joining the team, since he only could see updates about our work on public channels. He wanted to get an insider’s view before actually joining us!
The other big gap we found was that our communication felt boring. If someone can’t stay awake long enough to finish our documents, they won’t get the important information that’s in them. In addition to this, the terms used by our team on a daily basis can be jargon for somebody new joining us.
So we decided to make the onboarding fun and actionable! We rolled out personalized onboarding plans on Trello, filled with photos, puns and much easier ways to get updated with the work our team has been up to.
We also started sharing quick updates, reads from the teams, and other fun things with new joinees after they sign the offer letter and before their official joining. This helps them stay in the loop, connect with our work, and not feel the FOMO!
Making it special with small things
In trying to get the big things right, we sometimes end up missing out on small things! While we believe that growth and learning at Atlan never stop, we know that they both start with a good start on someone’s first day. So we wanted to make sure that new people on our team feel special and excited about joining Atlan.
Small things like a potted plant with a welcome note or a personalized card from the team have played a big role in creating a delightful experience for someone’s first day.
When someone signs an offer letter, we also send them an onboarding kit with goodies and a letter from our co-founders. This gives them a glimpse of small things inside Atlan.
The new member also introduces themselves to the rest of the team to kick off conversations on Slack.
Identifying what will help someone be successful
In our initial onboarding processes, we directed new hires to existing resources on our blog, website, or internal documents. However, new hires continued to come to us with the same questions and we struggled to figure out the best way to communicate the same answers.
We realized that sending people to our existing resources wasn’t enough, so we made a ton of changes. Between creating new material about our work and our customers just for onboarding, and piloting different methods of in-person teaching, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve made some serious improvements over the last year.
As with many companies, day one on the job involves a lot of reading, and we admit we’re no exception. After all, there’s a lot to learn! Learning about our product, our customers, our values, and our internal policies are just a few of the items new folks tackle in their first few days.
The new onboarding process is balanced with equal parts fun and work. Our entire team gets to meet the new members in our monthly informal event, Atlan Cafe—an evening dedicated to learning about new people on the team. We also arrange sessions directly with the co-founders for all the new joinees to learn about our journey directly from our co-founders. The buddies assigned to them on the first day at Atlan help them with not only initial support but also with their future growth paths.
We encourage new members to write their personal guides and start thinking about their ikigai (“reason for being”) at Atlan. The document includes specific goals and ideal outcomes for their first month and helps them work towards what they aspire to be from day one. And this helps the team to make sure we provide them with the resources, mentorship and support that they need.
Some new members balance out all the reading with a “Hack Week” project—a project designed especially for them, based on their new role and the awesome experience they’ve brought with them. This allows them to dive into our work and contribute to our goals right away. The Hack Week project also gives each person a jumping-off point to build upon after their first week.
Asking for feedback
We want to make sure we’re always improving our onboarding, and there’s no better way to know how to do that than through the ideas of the people who have completed it most recently. We’ve continued to iterate on our new onboarding process all year, and some of our favorite improvements came from regular one-on-one feedback from the new members!
In fact, Atlan Cafe was started when Rohan from our team felt that it was getting difficult to know new joinees personally as the team grew. Being straightforward is at the top of our values, and soliciting feedback about our internal processes is no exception! We’ve started doing check-ins with our newest members to make sure they’re on the right path and have what they need to succeed with us.
We’ve also implemented a quarterly feedback system with tools like Keka that can help our team track their progress and share regular feedback with their peers.
In our first few years, the feedback was quite informal—everyone would end up chatting regularly with their teammates and our co-founders, so it was easy to keep up a steady stream of feedback. But as we grew from 10 people to 60+ people, this informal system became difficult to manage.
Now we have quarterly reviews, in which every person at Atlan completes a self-assessment and receives feedback from their peers, concluding with an in-person conversation with their team lead. These conversations are meant to spark reflection and help team members reassess their personal goals.
And finally, every quarter we do a “pulse survey”, when all our team members provide feedback about what it really feels like to work at Atlan and what we can do as a company to make it even better.
In early 2019, we asked our team how they felt about our office space, our leadership and team structure, as well as the availability of professional growth opportunities and casual bonding with other team members. We also requested feedback about some of our flagship internal “events” like Showdown and Atlan Cafe. It’s still early, but we’ve already implemented a few changes based on the responses from our team!
We know there is much more we can do to help guide personal and professional development, so we’ve made it a top priority for our team to continue building new internal support mechanisms. We want to make sure that everyone continues to feel just as inspired at their 1 or 3-year mark as they did on day one at Atlan. Stay tuned for more updates on our experiments!