Successfully onboarding a new employee in your legal team
"You only get one chance to make a good first impression," and that goes for both the candidate and the company. Welcoming new employees is always a key moment for companies. After all, great hires make great companies. And great legal hires make great legal teams. So how can you successfully integrate a new person into your team? In this article, I share some of my best practices.
We're delighted to have collaborated on this piece with Pierre Landy, executive mentor to legal leaders and ex-GC at Yahoo, Ledger, and The Walt Disney Company. To learn more about Pierre, check out his Legal Spotlight here.
"You only get one chance to make a good first impression," and that goes for both the candidate and the company. Welcoming new employees is always a key moment for companies. After all, great hires make great companies. And great legal hires make great legal teams.
So how can you successfully integrate a new person into your team? In this article, I share some of my best practices.
During the recruitment process
First things first, you need to make sure you share the same values.
In reality, onboarding starts before the employee even arrives in the company. It all starts during the recruitment stage. I would certainly encourage you to hire a diverse team with diverse strengths. While people will have different strengths, backgrounds, experiences, etc., it is important that everyone in your team shares and respects the same fundamental values.
During the recruitment process, you need to identify and validate a candidate's values. While it’s best to look for a candidate who can add to the company’s culture (rather than simply fit the mold), you should look for signs that this person shares the values of the business.
One trick I recommend is to observe the candidate's wider interactions. For example, do they thank the receptionist? Do they acknowledge their potential colleagues when walking to the interview room? Do they thank anyone who brings them their coffee? If you’re able to interview in a cafe or restaurant setting then even better!
All of these little things tell us about the candidate’s state of mind. Sure, they may be a little anxious given its an interview situation, but they may also be the kind of person who doesn’t respect their colleagues (especially those more junior than them) to the standard we would expect. And this likely wouldn’t align with your values!
Lastly, throughout the whole process but especially during the recruitment phase, be honest and transparent with your prospective employee.
In some cases, we only recruit for a given period of time in the company. For example, if you have to recruit a lot of lawyers at once to execute an IPO, there is a good chance that at the end of the IPO, you will no longer need so many in-house lawyers.
Hopefully obviously, it’s both only fair and useful to specify this kind of thing from the beginning. You can do this within the framework of what I call a "clear contract" where you are transparent and honest with prospective hires.
For example, I hired a lot of people when I worked for Ledger. To all of them, I said, "you're joining the field of blockchain and crypto-assets. As it’s a new space, I don't know how long the adventure will last, but we're going to have a blast." With this transparency, whatever happened, everyone was forewarned and joined the team knowing what to expect. Remember that, at the time, Ledger was not the amazing unicorn it is today!
When you’ve selected the right person, it’s important to quickly integrate them into both the team and the company culture. During a new employee's first day or week, I’d recommend having a dedicated session to explore culture and values.
There are a number of ways to execute this. Personally, I’m a big fan of “induction days”.
As you might know by now, I’m pretty passionate about Disney! Yes, I worked as Senior Legal Counsel there, but did you know that I started my Disney career as a cast member in Disneyland Paris?!
The first thing you do when you arrive as a new employee at Disney, whether you’re the CEO or a ticketing assistant, is an induction day called “Disney Tradition”. Side note: I myself was one of the teachers of that “Disney Tradition” to new hires (that’s how important I believed it to be!).
So an induction day can be a lot of things. A presentation with the CEO. An in-depth session around the foundations of the company: its mission, vision, values and culture. You should also explore what the main departments are like, what’s important to the company and how you measure success.
The induction should include a visit to Disneyland. Oh wait, maybe that was just for Disney employees… In all seriousness though, do try to end the induction with something memorable or fun (for example, many companies offer a gift or goodies).
During the induction day and beyond, for the first month or so, it’s important to have your new employee meet positive and passionate people. Let’s face it, the nice but grumpy team member isn’t going to make the best impression and you want to set the new employee up for a positive, enthusiastic experience. By introducing them to positive people in the early days, you’re more likely to set them up for success in a way that helps to continue building a thriving company culture.
Set clear objectives
Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that the success of the legal team and of the collaboration between employees and management is only possible when the leader understands their vision for success.
What mountain do you want the team to climb? How will they do it? Who will climb it? What resources do they need? When will they reach the top? What will be the positives (and challenges) for each team member?
If employees don't have these objectives and vision set out, it will be very difficult for them to feel fully part of the team and the work they’re being asked to do.
Regular “health checks”
Another technique I recommend to support the successful integration of a new employee into your legal team is what I call “health checks”. Starting a new role, in a new company, sometimes in a new industry or even country (!) can be overwhelming. So check in with them to see how they are feeling and observe whether they are still in tune with the company’s culture. Ask them whether there have been any surprises or challenges and make adjustments as required.