A great way to see how much a company values culture is through the way it onboards new employees. I started working at Percolate in the Growth team about a month ago and was immediately taken aback by how comprehensive and thoughtful the onboarding process was here.

I’ve worked at startups, inside the federal government, and even developed onboarding practices as a startup founder, and this has been the most exceptional process I’ve seen by far. That’s particularly impressive when you consider that Percolate started 2013 with 27 people and now we’re close to 110 with about 30 job openings in NYC, SF, Austin, Chicago, & London.

In this post, I’ll talk about Percolate’s current onboarding process and why I think it works so well.

Organized from the Start

When you arrive at Percolate on your first day, our operations manager April takes you to your desk where you’ve got your machine (MacBook Air for Business, MacBook Pro for Product), monitor (Dell 24″ for Business, Apple Thunderbolt Display for Product), and whatever peripherals you might need.

percolate-desk-setup

Step one is setting up your Google Apps account, where you’ve got a few emails waiting for you. One of them tells you to sign in to Asana, where your task inbox is filled with a few dozen onboarding tasks. Things like:

— Add yourself to our internal calendar
— Write your introduction email (more on that in a minute)
— Create a Paychex account and verify your first paycheck
— Reflect on Week 1

These tasks were all fired off from a master template which includes tasks for your manager, your Percolator (more on that in a second as well), April herself, and other people from throughout the company. The tasks are also tagged for different teams. For example, new Engineers will get “Run Percolate locally” while Sales people will be assigned “Practice the Demo”.  All in all, there are about 175 possible tasks that could be assigned across the company.

It’s great to know that people actually sat down and thought about what new hires would need to get ramped up. Rather than seem overwhelming, the list of tasks actually gives a sense of order to the madness.

Well Documented

Hi there and welcome. If you’re reading this then you’ve been hired at Percolate. Congratulations and great work, you must be awesome. Prepare to be challenged, inspired, rewarded and transformed.

— Day One @ Percolate

One of the key tasks listed in Asana is to read Day One @ Percolate, an 18 page Google Doc. It covers a number of things, including:

— The story of how our founders James Gross and Noah Brier met and why they decided to start Percolate in 2011
— Creating strong passwords (complete with the relevant xkcd comic )
— Our culture, values and the idea of communal genius
— Guidelines for running meetings (#1 is “Do you really need a meeting?”)

Day One @ Percolate also links out to other documents, including our fairly robust internal wiki, a vocabulary of terms frequently used inside the company, a longer document on our mission and vision, and our very down-to-earth employee manual. It’s a living document – people will make comments, ask questions and Noah, our CEO, will actually follow up pretty quickly to update the doc.

Noah borrowed this practice of extensive documentation from his time at The Barbarian Group, where his manager had done something similar. It might be a lot of work to write (and read) so much content, but it’s incredibly helpful for providing context and setting expectations.

The Introduction Email

It often takes a while for new people in the office to “break the ice” and start forming genuine connections. One way Percolate accelerates that process is through the introduction email.

As explained in Day One @ Percolate, you need to send out an email in your first week introducing yourself to the company – including where you grew up, what you were doing professionally before Percolate, and at least a few random/personal tidbits. You also have to include an embarrassing photo of yourself and link to three questions you’ve asked in our internal Q&A site, Barista.

The email goes out to the entire company and pretty much everyone reads it.

I wrote about my experience with rejection therapy, my experiences as a gymnast and growing up in Newton, a suburb of Boston. More than 25 people replied back to me —  it turns out one Percolate was a high school gymnast and someone else had lived in my hometown. It was great to start building genuine connections throughout the company.

percolate-onboarding-team-meeting

Getting to Know Your Percolator

Onboarding isn’t just in forms and documents though. It’s in people. Every new hire is assigned a Percolator, someone who’s volunteered to be your buddy as you get settled in.

My Percolator was Brittany, a member of the Client Solutions Team. She stopped by a few times during the week to check on me and helped me with a bunch of random, new-hire questions (“Where can I find pens?”) via chat. On my first day, we went out for lunch at an Italian restaurant nearby with two other new hires (Rachel and McKenna) and their Percolators.

Besides taking the new hire to lunch, one of the other responsibilities of the Percolator is to take you around the office and introduce you to everyone at the company. With over 100 people, that’s a lot of names and faces to remember!

I was very impressed when Brittany could introduce everyone else by name.  And because people had read and responded to my introduction email, I could actually have meaningful conversations with a bunch of folks on the team and continue to reinforce my new relationships.

Training and Resources

“This onboarding process involved the most immersive training and dedicated time to getting me comfortable to take on business.  Usually you get two days and you’re being included on emails and expected to pick up where the last person took off. People take training seriously here — they don’t just ‘grab you when they have time’. You come in and immediately have 20 invites for training sessions.”

Rachel Lary (Started Mar ’14)

For most people, the first two weeks are about picking up what information you can when you can. At Percolate, it’s a more formal process.

Through the tags in Asana, different people will be assigned different training sessions — engineers get a run down of the Percolate tech stack, sales people compete in a “Demo Off” where they pitch Percolate in front the business team, and client solutions team members have to get Product Certified, a 3 step process which includes a 30 min presentation, an oral exam, and a 75 question multiple choice exam.

No matter who you are, you’ll get a core set of training sessions:

— a discussion with April about how benefits and perks work
— a presentation by Noah on vision, mission, and culture
— a walkthrough of the product by someone on the client solutions team

Continuous Improvement

Onboarding at Percolate isn’t perfect, but continuous improvement, a core value of the company, is built into the process.

Our IT manager Kyle, who started in February, told me how he wants to automate the machine deployment process so that licensed software, printer settings, Dropbox accounts, and other details are already loaded and configured. Day One @ Percolate continues to get edited as the company grows. And now that we have offices in Austin, San Francisco and London, with more on the way, we will have to adjust some of our processes to account for the distance.

Overall, I think we do a great job with onboarding but I know we can do even better.  I’ll end with a quote from Noah:

“If we were grading our onboarding system on a curve, then Percolate would get an A. But on an absolute scale, I think we could do so much better. I want our onboarding to be unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. It needs to be a differentiated experience, which helps from the recruiting angle, but it also affects the bottom line. If we can get you ramped up faster, then you can start closing deals and shipping product weeks or even months sooner.”

If you’d like to transform marketing through technology and experience the Percolate onboarding for yourself, apply for one of our many openings.

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