Can Onboarding Take Less Time?

Leadership - Learning by Shadowing

I had a B2B SaaS client with an offering that required substantial Professional Services. In other words, each implementation required a lot of custom work.

When comparing this Company against its competitors, the number of hours of Professional Services (customization) required was more than double its peers. This is too much to be accounted for by variations in the efficiency of individual team members. I examined the work of those team members, to be sure, and they seemed just fine.

“I don’t have time to teach you, so just follow me.”

—The Least Efficient Onboarding Method

After studying the team and its timesheets, I found an extraordinary number of meetings attended by two people.

I asked a manager, “Why does it take two Account Executives to conduct a client meeting where the only purpose is a survey of basic questions?”, and I got a suspicious answer. “It’s a new team member shadowing, to learn the ropes.”

Probing further, I asked, “Looking at the calendar, it appears that nearly every meeting has two people in it.”

The manager explained, “Well, our team is overloaded so we had several recent hires. Our Professional Services cycle takes about six months, and we want them to see a full cycle to learn the ropes. That’s how long they shadow all the meetings — every new hire takes one complete project from start to finish.”

Bzzzzzt, wrong answer.

It’s fine if team members need six months to get up to speed. But that’s not “onboarding”. Onboarding is figuring out how to use the billing software, finding your way around the filesystem, and learning the nature of the Company’s offering. Setting up your email footer and picking some Slack emoji.

This manager was describing the time required for a new hire to be fully independent with the full efficiency of an experienced team member. That time period could indeed be six months, but the time spent “shadowing” should be much less.

Here are some suggestions I offered my client:

How to shorten the Time To Full Utility:

  • You need clear documentation of what the product is. That same document should function for the developers, the services team, the customer, and the quality assurance team. (Obviously the Devs and the QA team have additional confidential detail.)
  • The Professional Services process needs clearly documented steps. Aim for a level of clarity almost high enough for the customer to perform them without your PS team helping.
  • If “leading meetings” is an important part of the PS cycle (it usually is), then write a draft agenda of each meeting the PS team is expected to lead. Having this on-file for new hires will also help the experienced team to be more efficient. Even the clients might appreciate having access to such a folder.
  • Use different clients at the same time, to provide the experience of leading key meetings in each product phase — Discovery, Data Gathering, Tech Implementation, Testing, Deployment, Support.

I’ll explain the last one in greater detail:

A leader in the PS department should coordinate Account Executives in each phase to allow one or two meetings to be shadowed by each new hire.

In other words, during Week 2 of a new hire’s tenure, have them join meetings representing all the phases of Professional Service. At any given time there’s a client at the start of a project, and some other client at the end of a project.

A tremendous “shadowing” period infantilizes and disempowers the hire, while wasting scarce company resources.

There’s no need to wait 6 months for a new hire to experience all the phases of a service offering. They need to fledge faster than that! Document your processes, hire capable people, and then be patient with their questions. Let them take solo meetings with clients within weeks not months.


Posted on

January 11th, 2022