Lessons Learned From Leading New Web Professionals

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Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to lead various Web design and development teams, including a number of professionals fresh out of school. Along the way, I’ve made my share of mistakes and learned some valuable lessons.

Some new team members have jumped right in and begun contributing in a meaningful way almost immediately, and others have struggled to adjust to their new role because I failed as a leader and didn’t give them the tools they needed to succeed. One thing I’ve definitely learned is that the success of a new team member is determined not only by their own abilities and drive, but by the leadership on the team they are joining.

Recently, I was preparing to welcome a young new designer to our company. This position would be his first real experience working in our industry; so, prior to his start date, I decided to make a list of some of those lessons I’ve learned over the years as a way to remind myself of what I needed to do to make sure he had the resources needed to succeed here. As I wrote my list, I realized that many of these lessons were actually common sense — and yet, if my past experiences are any indication, these common-sense lessons are exactly the ones that are easy to neglect and that we often need to be reminded of.

Make Them Feel Welcome.

Joining a company can be an intimidating experience, especially if the company has a close-knit culture or the team has been together for some time — two factors that contribute to new employees feeling like outsiders. As a leader, you can make your new team member feel welcome by showing them, both in actions and in words, that they are absolutely now a member of the team.

If your website lists biographies and pictures of employees, make it a point to add the new team member’s information quickly. Even in organizations that have a “probationary period” to evaluate new hires, those employees should still be added to the website sooner than later. Having a presence on the website, alongside their colleagues, demonstrates to those new team members that they are a part of the group.

1
Adding a biography, as FreshTilledSoil does2, shows a new employee that they are part of the group.

You can also use social media to welcome new employees to the organization. Welcoming them on Twitter (or in whatever social media you use) shows the new member that you are excited to have them on board. Your Twitter followers will sometimes chime in as well, echoing your welcome and adding to the warmth and positivity.

Finally, you can make new employees feel welcome by involving them in events and activities with other members of the company. This doesn’t have to be elaborate — a simple lunch is a great way to get out of the office for a bit and to interact as more than coworkers. By including new hires in the lunch party, you give them a chance to socialize with others and to feel like more than the “new person.”

Make Time For Regular Meetings.

This lesson is certainly “common sense,” but also one that I, admittedly, find myself failing to follow most frequently.

It is easy to get caught up in projects and other responsibilities and overlook that new employees, especially those new to the industry, need a lot of guidance early on. I try to meet daily with new team members for at least their first few weeks at the company. These meetings do not need to be lengthy — in fact, most are 10 minutes or less — but they provide an outlet for the employee to ask questions without feeling like they are interrupting an activity. Because these meetings are scheduled in advance, the person knows that time has been allotted to their questions; this is important because, even if you have an open-door policy and encourage new team members to come to you with questions, they will be reluctant to “bother” you. You can alleviate this concern with regular meetings.

Without fail, whenever my schedule gets crazy and I start skipping these regular meetings, I notice that the stress level of my team rises accordingly. These meetings not only give new employees an outlet to ask questions, but give me an opportunity to let them know what is expected of them and how they are doing. This open dialogue is essential as the person adjusts to their role in the company.

Of all the lessons on this list, this one is undoubtedly the easiest to let slip — but also the one with the worst consequences if allowed to go too far.

Meetings are essentials for new employees who will need lots of guidance early on. Image courtesy of flickr/dennis crowley3
Meetings are essential for new employees, who will need a lot of guidance early on. (Image: Dennis Crowley4)

Assure Them That Failure Is An Option.

No one wants to fail at a task, least of all a new employee who is trying to make a good impression. But, as Seth Godin so perfectly stated5 in a recent interview with Kara Miller on NPR’s Innovation Hub:

“If failure is not an option, then neither is success.”

New employees need to know that making mistakes is OK. If failure is not an option, then you will become crippled from trying to get everything right the first time. Anyone who has worked on the Web knows that trial and error is essential to the job. New employees need to be assured that failure will not be held against them.

Of course, a balance must be struck here. While failure is acceptable, it must yield a better understanding of the problem and an eventual solution. Failure is a means to finding a solution. So, while new team members should know that failure is an option, they should also know to use each failure to propel themselves to an eventual success.

Mistakes are a part of the job - as long as you learn from those mistakes. Image courtesy of flickr/ktpupp6
Mistakes are a part of the job – as long as you learn from those mistakes. (Image: ktpupp7)

Encourage Them To Contribute.

I once had a manager who felt that if you attended a meeting, you had to contribute to the meeting. He would often call randomly on attendees who had yet to contribute to a meeting and ask, “What do you think of this?” as a way to involve them in the conversation.

While I understood his reasoning, his execution left a lot to be desired. Too often, individuals would be called upon and would struggle to come up with an answer to a question that they really weren’t prepared to speak about. It put people on edge as they waited their turn. Sometimes, attendees would even rush to contribute early in a meeting so that they wouldn’t be called out later. This rush to participate usually added a lot of extra words but very little value to the conversation.

Instead of putting new employees in the hot seat, I try to find other ways to make them comfortable with speaking in front of our group. One way, when conducting design reviews, is to ask a new designer to present their work to the team, alerting them well before the meeting so that they can prepare a short presentation. Furthermore, because everyone is commenting on each other’s designs and offering constructive feedback, new employees feel comfortable speaking up and offering their own comments. This is an excellent way to help them speak more frequently in front of other team members and clients and to engage in other types of meetings.

Keep Them Busy.

You’ve probably hired the new person because your company is busy and there is work to be done. That’s great, because keeping new team members busy is critical.

Long-time employees will undoubtedly have built relationships with certain clients over time. Many of those clients will prefer to communicate with these employees than with a manager or salesperson. This is perfectly fine, as long as your company has a system in place to properly estimate, carry out and invoice this work. These client relationships can keep employees busy with new work.

Additionally, some long-time employees work on internal projects, as time permits. When they hit a lull between projects or wait for feedback from clients, they fall back on these projects to keep busy.

New employees have neither of these sources of work. Instead, they look to you to assign them tasks and keep them busy — and they will likely complete those tasks as quickly as possible to make a good impression. This is great, but also a challenge for you as the team’s leader. If you do not have a bank of work to keep the new team member busy, they will drift and grow bored, unsure of what to do with their time. Aside from your short daily meetings with them, digging up meaningful work for them will require a time commitment from you.

Before bringing a designer on board, review what projects you would expect them to work on for their first 30 to 60 days — both client projects and internal initiatives. Identify accounts into which you can integrate them so that they can begin building their own relationships, and let them know what the process is if they run short on work and you are not around to assign something else. This could be assisting other team members, furthering their training and education, or experimenting with new technologies or techniques for evaluation.

Prepare To Educate.

Part of your job as a manager is to continue a new employee’s education and fill in gaps in their knowledge. While this certainly involves mentoring and directing them to relevant resources, one of my favorite ways is to take them to a Web conference.

Many students graduate from school not having had the chance to attend a professional conference. Industry events such as the Smashing Conference8 and An Event Apart9 offer new Web designers and developers a chance to meet and learn from their peers in an energizing environment. Taking a new team member to a good conference opens their eyes to just how awesome and welcoming this industry can be. It also shows them that the company has invested in their success and is willing to spend money to help them grow in their knowledge and their career.

Every time I have taken a new employee to a Web conference, the experience has been fantastic. Such events show the team member that they are a part of something much bigger than our company — they now belong to the Web community as a whole.

Inspire new employees by taking them to a quality conference. Image courtesy of flickr/Kris Krug10
Inspire new employees by taking them to a quality conference. (Image: Kris Krug11)

Great Employees Need Great Leaders.

Being a leader is an awesome responsibility, especially if you are leading people who are just entering our industry. Whether you follow the lessons covered here or have more profound ways of leading new team members, the challenge you face is that, to have a great team, you must be a great leader. You must take a consistent approach to welcoming new employees to your organization, helping them to build on their strengths and acquire new ones and supporting them in their career growth.

If you do your job right, then one day, the new hire you are leading will pick up the torch and lead the next generation of designers and developers.

For more thoughts on leadership techniques in a creative agency, see “On Creative Leadership12” and “Assuming Leadership in Your Design Agency13.”

Summary: Do’s And Don’ts

  • Do make new team members feel welcome and part of the team by including them in company activities — both in and outside the office.
  • Do schedule regular meetings to allow new team members to ask questions and get feedback on their performance.
  • Do not allow your busy schedule to constantly override those regularly scheduled meetings, leaving the new employee with no way to get the guidance they need early on.
  • Do assure new employee that failure is a part of the job — so long as it propels them to the solution.
  • Do not put new team members on the spot by calling on them unannounced in meetings.
  • Do encourage participation by giving employees time to prepare before presenting to the group.
  • Do keep new employees busy with meaningful work.
  • Do not assume that new employees will know how to fill their time if they run out of assigned work.
  • Do educate and inspire new team members by introducing them to the Web community a whole, including at conferences and other industry events.
  • Do recognize that the team members you lead today will become our industry’s leaders tomorrow.

(Front page credits: David Joyce14)

(al, il, ea)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.freshtilledsoil.com/about/
  2. 2 http://www.freshtilledsoil.com/about/
  3. 3 http://www.flickr.com/photos/dpstyles/4835354126/in/photostream/
  4. 4 http://www.flickr.com/photos/dpstyles/4835354126/in/photostream/
  5. 5 http://wgbhnews.org/post/seth-godin-indicts-education
  6. 6 http://www.flickr.com/photos/ktpupp/508647245/sizes/z/in/photostream/
  7. 7 http://www.flickr.com/photos/ktpupp/508647245/sizes/z/in/photostream/
  8. 8 http://smashingconf.com/
  9. 9 http://aneventapart.com/
  10. 10 http://www.flickr.com/photos/kk/4167212375/sizes/z/in/photostream/
  11. 11 http://www.flickr.com/photos/kk/4167212375/sizes/z/in/photostream/
  12. 12 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2013/08/28/on-creative-leadership/
  13. 13 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2011/11/16/assuming-leadership-design-agency/
  14. 14 http://www.flickr.com/photos/deapeajay/2597109669

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Jeremy was born with six toes on each foot. The extra toes were removed before he was a year old, robbing him of any super-powers and ending his crime-fighting career before it even began. Unable to battle the forces of evil, he instead works as the Director of Web Development for the Providence, Rhode Island based Envision Technology Advisors and teaches website design at the University of Rhode Island. His portfolio and blog, at Pumpkin-King.com, is where he writes about all things Web design.

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  1. 1

    Jeremy, thank you! The article is so interesting!

  2. 2

    Jonathan Goldford

    October 18, 2013 3:32 pm

    Great suggestions Jeremy! Thanks a lot for sharing.

  3. 3

    Thank you so much for putting this together Jeremy. Most of these seem like common sense but it is amazing how many times I see new employees having the worst days of their life because managers/leaders don’t want to be “bothered” with the new guy.

    This is what happens when you make people managers that don’t really want to manage.

    • 4

      Agreed – lots of leadership best practices are “common sense”, yet there still plenty of bad leaders or leaders who easily neglect these common sense lessons.

      Your comment about making “people managers that don’t really want to manage” reminds me of some of the topics I address in my previous article, “Assuming Leadership in Your Design Agency”, which is linked towards the end of this piece. Just because someone has been at an organization for a long time, that doesn’t immediately mean that they are ready to be a leader in that organization!

      While being reminded of these common sense lessons may help you become a better leader, you first have to want to take on that responsibility.

  4. 5

    I would add under “keep the busy” to make sure that every team member is aware of the new team member starting, and even thought the first 1-2 days may be meet and greats, to have them up with access to everything they need to preform their tasks.

    I just started a new contract with a top 50 company about 3 weeks ago and I dont know the project scope, haven’t meet the main team I will be working on, or even access to local admin rights on my computer to download/load the necessary programs/applications that I need for the job. Its not that I’m not asking, I check every day on the status of each of them first thing.

    • 6

      Great points. Making sure new team members have the access and technology they need is critical. After all, how will they stay busy if they can’t even get access to the files or applications they need to do their job!

      A solid employee onboarding process can help ensure that employees start their first day with the access they need.

  5. 7

    My team is in two state of one country and a regular meeting over project review and planning make them happy. They share their experience front of all team members. New team members warming welcome and regular short meeting have importance part to lead a team.
    Thanks for sharing these ideas :)

  6. 8

    Thanks Jeremy for all those guidance at one place. We do face the hurdles being new bee. As you mentioned some of us are lucky to get a Manager or Leader who can truly groom us and set the path. But sometimes everyone is not so lucky. They need to curve a niche by own, which shall make them the perfect leaders of tomorrow.

  7. 9

    Great lessons for all creative leaders. :)

    And while all leaders need to be active to manage the team members. It is also a necessity for the team members to be ready to be managed. And when the leader made a mistake, it is the job of the team members to inform him.

    An active feedback and critique from the team member is essential, and so for the leader to give the chance.

  8. 10

    How can any of this go without being said? Shouldn’t it be common sense? Or are my colleagues and I just absurdly lucky?

    Or maybe, who’s hiring such bad leaders to begin with? High employee-turnover should be a sign that it’s time to re-evaluate leadership.

    • 11

      Bad leaders aren’t always hired – sometimes an employee who has been at a company for some time is promoted because, based on their tenure, that seems like the next logical step. Just because someone has been around for awhile or is a wizard with HTML/CSS, etc., doesn’t mean that are ready to lead, however. Lessons and actions that are common sense for successful leaders may be helpful exercises for others who are not as naturally suited to that leadership role – and even those who have been successful leading for awhile can often be reminded of some basic, common sense lessons.

      If you and your colleagues have never had a bad leader – then I would say you are, indeed, absurdly lucky, because most of us have had a manger who could’ve benefited from being reminded of these basic, common sense practices.

  9. 12

    Thank you for this! It could not have come at a better time, as I just hired my first employee.

  10. 13

    Hi Jeremy!!!
    I really appreciate your points as these are the things that lay down thew foundation of a great business not only in the web sector but in every sector and leadership is the most important of all these. As the saying goes” A group of donkeys led by a lion can defeat a group of lions led by a donkey”
    Regards
    Ikshit Kakkar

  11. 14

    This came at the right time as I’m in the process of taking on a new junior web designer. This will definitely come handy. Thank you very much for sharing.

    • 15

      Great to hear it came at the right time for you (and your new junior designer). Please feel free to share any thoughts you have after a few weeks of working with this new employee to let us know how these tips may have helped or what other actions you found helpful with your new addition. Best of luck!

  12. 16

    Great article. I had the pleasure of being introduced to the company I work with, with a lunch and a couple of social media tweets. The only problem is that though I was welcomed, I wish there where a lot more interaction. The goal is obviously to feel valued and not just used.

    • 17

      Good point – introducing a new team member to the company with a welcoming lunch or a meet and greet, as well as communicating that new addition via social, etc., is a great start, but what happens next is just as important!

      A quality employee onboarding process is a good start, but if the interaction stops after the initial introductions, there is still lots of work to be done.

  13. 18

    This is a great article especially for the Team Leaders as well as for the Managers. A Manger should be able to keep his team motivated and enthusiastic all the time. If there is any new entry into the team it is the duty of the Manager or the Team Leader to understand the problems of the new people in the team and to find the solutions for them. The Manager should be able to understand the requirement of the team and the team should feel free to talk to him/her about their concerns regarding their work or the company as a whole. The points listed here are very much important and should be considered very seriously.

  14. 19

    This is an awesome read. Especially coming from the other side of the table. I’m a “fresh to the industry” junior UX/UI Designer. Actually finished school this May and got this position 3 months after graduation. I was EXTREMELY nervous on my first day here, but I was welcomed in a great way. My first day, VP of the department as well as the UX Lead took me to lunch. Conversations about work and outside work lifestyles were the main topics. Which was greatly appreciated after having somewhat of a stressful morning of introductions to all the bits and pieces of the current projects. Been here a little over a month now and I love it here. Good Leadership DOES go a LONG way!

    • 20

      Great to hear you enjoyed this piece – and great to hear of your positive experience with your new position! I am actually working on a follow-up piece to this article now – one that actually looks at that “other side of the table” with some tips for those “fresh to the industry”. Look for that in the near future.

  15. 21

    I’ve been trying to use similar techniques to try acclimate new developers to our team, by making sure i check on them periodically through out the day to ensure they have what they need to do there job and trying to field any questions or concerns they may have. Whether it is questions about the code base, their objections to why things are the way they are, and architecture as far as how things should fit together trying to train them in how the company works as well as best practices in various areas of development. How do you deal with developers that continually fall short of the features that are laid out in front of them, new or old? For example sitting with them explaining the feature, explaining architecture about how to accomplish the goal as well as making things extensible for future developers and still falling short of the end goals

    • 22

      That is a good question and definitely a challenge. In my experience, this often happens because the developer is not fully aware of what is expected of them or because what you are asking for is something they have never done before, and therefore unfamiliar to them or their workflow.

      For the first issue, I put what is expected of them in writing. It’s a pretty low-tech solution, but it works. If they are saying that they didn’t know what was expected of them, then having it written down in front of them seems to minimize that problem (and eliminate that excuse).

      For the second issue here, strong mentorship is needed – not only from you, but from other team members as well. A good leader is helpful, but the more experienced team members on the project also need to lend a hand to make sure that the coding best practices your company uses are followed. You can’t do it all yourself.

      Finally, there comes a point where you may need to rethink that team member’s position with the company. If failure to follow best practices or company procedures continues, despite your efforts and the efforts of others in the company to help, then they may need to be let go. This is, of course, a last resort, but it is a reality that not everyone is a fit for every company or position.

  16. 23

    I found much of this article really helpful in reinforcing things I knew in the back of my mind and bringing them into sharper focus, so thanks for collating it all into one easily referable column! One thing I missed, especially for me as a relative newcomer to leadership roles, was any mention of the importance of learning how to delegate, and the impression that delegation gives to new employees of an integrated workforce that they are now part of. Appointing (or asking for volunteers to) mentor new employees shares the responsibility out, and the authority to make those operational requests. And it’s often the case that the delegated-to person is in a better position to cover all the requirements for a new employee, as they will more than likely be doing the same (kind of) role and be intimately familiar with what its operational and logistical requirements are. And for a new employee, having someone whose job it is, at least for the first few days/weeks/months, to answer their questions takes the same pressure off that those scheduled meetings do when the questions need asking.

    • 24

      REALLY good point about delegation. I absolutely agree with your points and will add that delegation can be a challenge for many leaders. The process of “letting go” is something that many leaders or managers struggle with – sometimes because they feel like they need to be involved in every decision or task (they don’t) and sometimes because they don’t want anyone, including that new employee, to feel like they’ve pass the buck over to someone else. Leaders need to strike a balance between appointing other team members to share the responsibility of onboarding and educating new employees with the time that they will have to spend contributing to that process as well.

      Thanks for the excellent comment!

  17. 25

    Good summary at the end !! Interesting and helpful. Thanks for Sharing this !!

  18. 26

    Great article, I hope more managers and team leaders will read this. Using social media for welcoming new people is a really nice touch, it sets the best companies apart and really DO NOT put new team members on the spot by calling on them unannounced in meetings :)

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