The following is a post from VP of Support and Business Operations, Ken Apple, and People Operations Generalist, Emily Staebell, who run our new hire onboarding at SendGrid.

Below are a few lessons we compiled from facilitating the onboarding sessions in 2015 for 115 new SendGrid employees (we call these newbies “Gridders”). These Gridders have gone on to be some of the fastest and most influential new hires we’ve added over SendGrid’s six years of existence. Read, learn, and copy the tips that contributed to their success.

1. Ask questions

In The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan says: “There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.”

New Gridders walk into SendGrid’s doors with wide eyes and lots of questions. “Will I like this new job?” “How do I find things in the kitchen?” Beyond general inquiries, more questions come to the surface after exposure to new hire orientation and on-the-job-training. “Why do we do this?” “Wait, what does this mean?”

It is mission-critical for our new Gridders to understand that stupid questions are non-existent. To remedy the fear of appearing stupid, we encourage new team members to manage their own onboarding by pausing, slowing down the conversation, and asking a lot of questions. To expedite their growth and effectiveness, this first part is non-negotiable. When fear is put aside and a question is posed, growth will organically follow.

An especially effective tool during onboarding is employing “active listening”—responding to a question by digesting and rephrasing the content from the preceding answer. Repeating part of the answer and pressing for understanding is the real key for productive questions and expedited growth.

2. Don’t mistake inertia with resistance

In the first 100 days, all new Gridders receive training in how to do their job and how things get done at SendGrid. Those who are successfully onboarded represent inertia (versus resistance) and do better faster. They challenge how things are currently done and demonstrate that change in direction or input for improvement are welcome.

In Kate Heddleston’s blog post, Onboarding and the Cost of Team Debt, she explains that it’s challenging for new employees to absorb organizational processes because they are always unique and almost always inadequately documented. When new hires slow the team down so they can understand, “the team will fundamentally change and become a new version of itself.” We think of this as “new hire inertia.”

If this inertia is mistakenly viewed as resistance, new team members are less likely to share ideas for improvement and our existing way of doing things fails to improve and innovate. Assuming inertia is different from resistance creates a better experience for everyone.

3. Act like you belong

Lots of counsel is invested to ensure each new Gridder really believes they deserve the seat they are occupying. (It’s helpful to note we hire the cream of the crop. Our new Gridders beat out roughly 98% of applicants.) When this is internalized, their personal growth and contributions back to SendGrid are accelerated.

Every thought focused on the common new hire fear of “do I belong here?” is wasted and unproductive. The alternative, where the new Gridder decides to embrace the fact that they beat out hundreds of others to win the job produces the optimal new hire behavior. They more quickly learn their new job and more quickly contribute to improving our organization. They seem to understand that SendGrid is better with them and they possess the insight, knowledge, or experience that will allow us to finally come closer to realizing our organizational potential.

Productive questions, understanding organizational inertia, and knowing that they belong are three of the lessons learned from facilitating the onboarding for the 2015 class at SendGrid. Early results from the 2016 classes show that we will continue to learn and improve this year. If you’re interested in joining us, view our current openings on our Careers page.



Ken Apple
Ken is SendGrid's VP of Support and Business Operations. Prior to his tenure with SendGrid Ken combined formal education with professional experiences in Sales, Customer and Technical Support, Entrepreneurship, and Consulting. Ken’s diverse work experience includes large companies like IBM, successful startups like SpectraLink and SendGrid, and also his own boutique IT consulting firm. As a ten year Leukemia survivor Ken makes sure to enjoy every day, month and season and when not working he can be found napping in the sun, running around Boulder, or snowboarding the Colorado mountains.