Welcome to Your New Job! Now Please Don’t Touch Anything.

Ok, picture this. You’ve just spent the last three months trying desperately to hire someone to fill an especially difficult position. You’ve interviewed more candidates than you care to admit, had to spend more recruiting dollars than you had the budget for, and you’ve been getting an earful from the hiring manager on how this vacancy is killing their team. Now you’ve finally found someone who’s perfect for the job and they accept the offer to join your company. You’re psyched to be done recruiting for this role and the manager is relieved to finally have someone on staff. In fact, the manager is so excited he’s already got 5 or 6 projects that this person can take on during their first week. Boom. Problem solved, move on to the next one.

Except it would be a HUGE mistake if you asked your new hire to any meaningful work during their first few weeks. Yes, you heard me right but let me say it again another way.

Do NOT under any circumstances let your new hire touch anything meaningful during their first few weeks on the job. At best they’ll make an incremental contribution. At worst (and more likely) they’ll make a recommendation/contribution that hurts them in the long-run. But time and time again a new hire enters an organization and is put to work immediately. It’s not hard to understand why. I just laid the whole situation out from the manager’s perspective. They just want someone to get in there and start getting work done. And if you’re a new hire, no matter how senior you are you want to make a contribution right away to prove to the company (and yourself) that this was the right decision.

I’m sure many of you are rolling your eyes right now and thinking “here is another example of HR gone wild.” But think back to when you started in your current organization – in those first few weeks do you honestly feel like you knew enough about the organization and the people to make a really informed decision? I would argue the answer is no. At the time you might have felt like you did but I suspect you know a lot more now than you did then.

Why? Two simple reasons.

Context. It’s impossible in your first few weeks to really understand the business, why it exists, it’s history and why it does things the way it does. Sure, you can read all about it but you need time to experience these things first hand. The second reason is all about relationships. When you join a new organization your internal network is almost non-existent. As we all know, if we are to make well-informed decisions we need to have the right relationships in place to get things done. You simply don’t have these relationships in place early on.

But there is another way. I know firsthand because we do it at Merrimack. We make it impossible to do any real work during your first few weeks on the job.

We’ve got a 3 part program in place – Inspire, Connect, Contribute. In that order. When you join Merrimack, you spend your first week or so learning about who we are and why we do the work we do. It’s our belief that you need this foundation if you are to make contributions consistent with our mission. It’s not that what you were doing before was wrong it was right for that particular business. It just might not be right for ours. The most intense part of our on-boarding is the relationship building component. The day a new hire arrives we’ve selected and already scheduled one on one meetings with the people we believe having relationships with are most critical to their success. We start with those you’ll work most closely with but also include people we know have deep connections within the organization since they’ll be able to hook you up with even more people. For most new hires this is anywhere from 10-20 people. Finally, we do want you to contribute. Just not in your “real” job. For most of our new hires we design a short “immersion” project that gives then an opportunity to learn about who we are and how we work. And whenever possible we tailor this to the specific person we’ve hired. We’ve found it to be a nice way to ease someone into the company. Yup, it’s a lot and it takes time but we think it works. How do we know? In the last 2 years we’ve had no one leave or be asked to leave within their first 12 months.

I have to give a shout out to Erika Nicol — this is her brainchild!

FOT Background Check

Andy Porter
Andy Porter is Chief People Officer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, MA which means he works with some wicked smaaht people. Some days, he indeed does wear short shorts around the office(call it a morale booster) but it really just makes people uncomfortable. Other days, he spits some mad game on cheese. No really – he’s somewhat of a cheese aficionado. But more importantly? At Broad he gets to his small part to help change the world of healthcare.


  1. Cara Carroll says:

    This makes a lot of sense! I think at small companies it is very difficult when people already have a lot on their plates. It wouldn’t be impossible, but it needs the right leadership to implement it and make sure it stayed in place. I myself was “thrown to the wolves” with no training for most of the roles I fill today and made many mistakes. I learned from them of course but was never told until after they were made that they mistakes, kinda made me feel like an idiot. We recently hired a few people to fill a role I was currently (partly) filling and there was no training, documentation, or background of any kind in place. I made it my duty to put together some helpful links, tools, tips, documents, etc that I knew they would need. I also went through some things with them one-on-one. I didn’t want them to feel that sense of being overwhelmed I did, although I think they did anyhow because I couldn’t teach them everything. The plan you speak of sounds very reasonable, helpful, and key to the long-term success of your employees and firm. I wonder have any other companies adopted this on-boarding system?

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