From day one: How 6 Chicago companies set new hires up for success

by Michael Hines
March 22, 2018

At many companies, the onboarding process is the ultimate expression of culture. In addition to being shown the ropes, new hires get to see firsthand how a company’s culture and values impact everything from product development to customer interactions. We spoke to six Chicago tech companies to learn more about how their unique onboarding processes set up new team members for success.

 

RXBAR Chicago protein bar company

RXBAR makes protein bars with ingredients that anyone can understand, like egg whites, almonds, cashews and dates. Simple, right? RXBAR requires all employees to spend their first two weeks, no matter their job title, working with the customer service team. According to VP of People and Organization Leslie Joseph, this helps new hires adapt to the company’s “servant” mindset.


What makes day one at RXBAR unique?

On day one, you can immediately feel the energy in our open-format office. Our CEO and co-founder, Peter Rahal, sits down with all new hires for two hours to share a general company overview. In addition to highlighting our history and humble beginnings, Peter hones in on our company culture. Our values define our culture and the way we work. Every employee gets a deep understanding of this unique approach on their first day.

The first two weeks at RXBAR are focused on understanding our culture and the way we do business.

How do you help new hires get up to speed during their first few weeks?

Instead of diving into functional work, the first two weeks at RXBAR are focused on understanding our culture and the way we do business. Every hire, regardless of level or department, spends their first two weeks in customer service. This experience enables new hires to interact with the incredible customers we service every day and adapt the servant mindset that drives everything we do.

 

What support systems are in place to set new hires up for success once the onboarding process is complete?

RXBAR is an extremely dynamic environment, and our business continues to grow at an exponential rate. Throughout this change, we prioritize constant learning and development. One of the ways we facilitate this is through the recent implementation of "dynamic job descriptions." Every individual's role is constantly evolving, so we are always re-calibrating. This allows us to openly discuss added responsibilities and new challenges on a quarterly basis, while continuing to promote personal and professional growth. In addition, we leverage DiSC management and leadership trainings to foster talent and leadership skills among RXBAR team members.

 

GoHealth Chicago tech company

GoHealth builds technology to connect consumers and health insurance companies. GoHealth is one of Chicago’s largest tech employers, which can make it hard for people to build relationships with those outside their team or department. HR Project Specialist Erica Humilier said this is one of the reasons new hires are paired with an onboarding ambassador (OBA) from a different department.

 

What makes day one at GoHealth unique?

Each new employee is matched with an OBA, an experienced employee who serves as a guide and mentor throughout onboarding and beyond. Some OBAs schedule off-site coffee while others choose happy hours or lunches. It all depends on personal preference, and we try to match people with similar personalities and interests.

But there’s a fun twist: The OBA and new hire are always from different professional departments. This provides new hires with an immediate opportunity to learn the basics of a different specialty. It can be difficult to meet and bond with employees outside of your team, and we’ve found this cross-department matching helps bring everyone closer together.     

The first few weeks are all about meeting as many people and having as many thoughtful conversations as possible.

How do you help new hires get up to speed during their first few weeks?

The first few weeks are all about meeting as many people and having as many thoughtful conversations as possible. This can include a one-on-one conversation with their department head, quick coffee chats with their peers or working sessions with their team members.

We conduct check-ins between each new hire and a human resources team member after 30 days to see how they’re adjusting and to give them an opportunity to provide valuable feedback.

Once a quarter, we host a lunch at a neighborhood restaurant for all new hires from the preceding quarter, plus myself and our SVP of Human Resources. This give new hires an opportunity to provide feedback on the onboarding process and their first few weeks. Our goal is to always make sure our team members feel heard and appreciated.

 

What support systems are in place to set new hires up for success once the onboarding process is complete?

The OBA program is meant to extend far beyond a new hire’s first few weeks. Many pairs of new hires and OBAs remain friends long after the onboarding process has ended. Our open-door policy encourages GoHealth employees to ask questions and voice their opinions, whether they’ve been at the company for five months or five years.

 

DRW Chicago trading firm

DRW is a diversified principal trading firm that uses technology to identify and capture trading and investment opportunities from around the world. Ashley Plamp, Head of University Talent Acquisition, gave a detailed look at the company’s intern onboarding program. Spoiler alert: It’s pretty awesome.

What makes day one at DRW unique?

Our hope is that day one doesn’t feel like a day one. The customized onboarding process starts as soon as we send the offer. Walking into our office on the morning of their first day, interns are already familiar with the office from the interview process, and typically sport a DRW backpack full of educational materials thanks to a welcome package sent in advance. Housing is also provided by DRW, and interns move into their apartments the weekend prior. Each intern pairs with a new hire buddy. This is someone from their team to help them adjust to the first days and successfully hit the ground running.

Our hope is that day one doesn’t feel like a day one.

How do you help new hires get up to speed during their first few weeks?

Every year, we hire interns across our offices in Chicago, London, Montreal and New York and they all come together in Chicago to kick off the first week and become immersed in our culture. They start by hearing from our partners about the evolution of DRW from the trading floor to a diversified global trading business, to our fintech-focused venture capital arm, and to our cryptoasset trading group. They finish the day with a team dinner at Somerset restaurant, a recent project from our real estate team.

The next day, interns hear directly from trading desk heads and lead technologists to help them see how every group fits into the bigger picture. Each intern then starts an education program tailored to their summer project, like an overview of the financial markets or maybe a crash course in a new coding language. There is a lot of information packed in those first weeks, but it’s balanced with social events that help our interns get to know one another and their colleagues at DRW quickly.

 

What support systems are in place to set new hires up for success once the onboarding process is complete?

As interns return to their respective offices, they’re immersed in meaningful projects that impact the business. A few projects from previous years include market data models, analysis of emerging asset classes, researching new market connectivity, and evaluation of model methods. This work varies from team to team, but it’s all focused on making real contributions as part of the team’s overall goals.

Moving from an academic environment to a professional one can be a tricky transition. To alleviate this, we pair all of our interns with mentors. This mentor is intentionally from a completely different team at DRW to provide a new perspective on any challenges or questions. Mentors also serve as an additional resource for career advice.

Throughout the summer, our interns have weekly social events to explore their new home, including indoor skydiving, a West Loop food tour, Cubs games and boat tours, to name a few. In addition to these special events, they also attend all summer events at DRW: wine and beer tastings, trivia nights and volunteer days. We want new hires to feel like they have a community of peers for learning and problem solving.

 

Adage Technologies Chicago web development firm

Adage Technologies is a web and mobile strategy, design and development firm that specializes in e-commerce. Talent Operations Manager Victoria Deresz said the company treats onboarding as a team effort, with the company’s president even playing a part in on the process.

 

What makes day one at Adage Technologies unique?

Our mentorship process is hands-on to help new hires get up to speed quickly. Mentors reach out before the first day to get to know new hires and to plan the first week’s activities. On the first day, new hires are introduced to the entire company in our all-staff meeting. To get to know them better, our leadership team takes the new hire and their mentor to lunch. The rest of the day is spent getting to know their team and learning about the projects they will be part of.

New hires begin contributing to project work within their first two weeks.

How do you help new hires get up to speed during their first few weeks?

We start with shadowing and training materials, but new hires begin contributing to project work within their first two weeks and grow into taking on larger and more complex tasks. Our process covers a variety of approaches and aims to tailor onboarding to each individual, because everyone comes in with a different skill set and a different way of learning.  Even though the mentor is the go-to resource, onboarding new hires is a team effort. Our president meets with all new hires to go over Adage’s core purpose, values and culture, and takes new hires out for coffee after their first month.

 

What support systems are in place to set new hires up for success once the onboarding process is complete?

Mentors work with new hires for their first three months. They’re the go-to resource for training and questions on anything from technology, internal processes and the best place to get pizza near the office. Once onboarding ends, new hires transition from mentoring to coaching, where they meet one-on-one with managers on a weekly basis. The manager is there to help with challenges and provide feedback and coaching on continued professional development. Within a new hire’s first year, he/she has a quarterly performance review that provides a big picture check-in, in addition to their regular coaching meetings.

 

NextCapital Chicago fintech company
PHOTO VIA THE MUSE

Individuals and institutions use NextCapital’s cloud-based financial advice software to make more informed investing decisions. Engineering team new hires are assigned a basic project in their first few weeks, which Lead Developer Tom Patterson said helps get them up to speed with the company’s tech and project management practices.

 

What makes day one at NextCapital unique?

New hires show up with an exciting email in their inbox and some NextCapital swag at their desk. The email is from their mentor and outlines their role and team along with how they fit into the NextCapital vision. Their mentor takes them to lunch and answers questions and explains anything else that may be confusing.

Mentors will pair program with new hires in order to show them the ropes.

How do you help new hires get up to speed during their first few weeks?

New hires are assigned to a basic project where they can get their feet wet with our technologies while getting up to speed with our project management and development processes. Mentors will pair program with new hires in order to show them the ropes. They have multiple check-ins with their mentor daily where they can ask questions and share their progress. There are also monthly onboarding classes and brown bag lunches that cover topics like partner and project updates, how to create a design document and other NextCapital trainings.

 

What support systems are in place to set new hires up for success once the onboarding process is complete?

The onboarding process’ gradual increase in content breadth and complexity helps ensure new hires are ready to hit the ground running when they are assigned production-level tasks. That said, there’s always a lead they can ask questions, even once onboarding is complete. There are also designated content experts who help with anything with particularly technical implications. After 30 days, new hires meet with our people team to see how their onboarding is going and to provide feedback, and at 90 days this same meeting happens with the employee's manager.

 

guaranteed rate chicago tech company

Guaranteed Rate has developed technology that streamlines the mortgage loan application process, with some consumers receiving approval in as little as 30 minutes. Vice President of Sales Matt Kilbourne said the company prides itself on open communications, which is why new hires are given to meet and ask questions from leaders right off the bat.

 

What makes day one at Guaranteed Rate unique?

The first day at our online division begins with a warm welcome from our lead recruiter, followed by an office tour. At their desk, new hires find their nameplate and some Guaranteed Rate swag to welcome them to the family. They’re immediately given the opportunity to pick their leaders’ brains by attending an executive-led meeting, followed by a one-on-one meeting with Craig Lombardi, president of the online division.

New hires are immediately given the opportunity to pick their leaders’ brains.

How do you help new hires get up to speed during their first few weeks?

New hires are instantly launched into the “Liftoff Program,” a specialized training program that streamlines the process of becoming a loan originator. The program involves a combination of classes and hands-on exercises. New hires are shadowing phone calls by day two and by day five they are on the phone making introductions to loan originators. Following the second phase of the training process, new hires conclude testing and become licensed loan originators.

 

What support systems are in place to set new hires up for success once the onboarding process is complete?

Employees are encouraged to own their individual learning and provided a very structured and scheduled training program. Different training methods are incorporated, including mirroring, workshops and situational role playing. To encourage new hires, a variety of challenges are hosted, including a “March Madness” bracket-style competition. New hires team up against one another, working on hypothetical situations, and one-by-one they move forward and the winner is rewarded with a prize. By the time new hires have successfully completed training, they are experienced in their role and have a handful of people they can turn to for help.

 

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