Onboarding: Assigning a Mentor

This post is the third post in a series of Onboarding tips, to accompany the Onboarding Check-ins product that we’ve recently launched.

Assign a more experienced person of a similar role as a mentor for a new hire. The responsibilities of a mentor of a new hire are pretty straight forward: proactively ensure the person settles into the company, both professionally and socially. I usually don’t consider mentorship of a new hire to include formal career mentorship, leaving that primarily to the manager. A new hire mentor is more the catch-all for anything the new hire needs to ask and another social hook into the organization. Make sure they get on the right mailing lists, join the right meetings, get the dev environment set-up quickly, know their way around the wiki, get invited to lunch, etc. And perhaps most importantly, be the go-to person for all the institutional knowledge that doesn’t make it into the wiki or code repo of a company.

While these sorts of relationships will usually emerge naturally, I do think it’s valuable to explicitly assign someone, especially at larger companies. It avoids the risk that anyone falls through the cracks. Good mentorship takes time, so it will affect the throughput of other work; that needs to be accounted for and recognized in planning, especially in the first few weeks.

Organizational Benefits

Mentorship is a development opportunity for the mentor themselves, as it requires performing some manager-like duties: guiding a person, being their conduit to the organization at-large, and establishing a strong relationship with someone new. A good manager ensures that each person has the knowledge, tools, and clarity about their role to execute effectively. This parallels what a mentor should do over the first days, weeks, and months for a new hire.

Using formal mentors other than a new hire’s manager will make your managers more scalable. This will keeps your company flatter, as each manager can handle more formal reports. It will will help the organization feel more collegial, as the formal relationships won’t be purely hierarchical.

Without a mentor, the manager is a single-point of failure. A disengaged or overloaded manager might not help a new hire enough, and without a second person clearly responsible, this might go undiscovered for weeks or months. Defining the mentor as directly responsible for onboarding, with the manager monitoring the process, creates unambiguous responsibilities, with redundancy.

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