business advice | Jan 19, 2021 |
What’s the most efficient way to get new hires up to speed?

Dear Sean,

My team is overloaded with work, and we’ve posted several job listings to grow our team. The thing is, I’m going to need these new hires to really hit the ground running when they get here. How do I organize an efficient onboarding process so that they’re up to speed as quickly as possible?

Seeking Quick Learners

Dear Seeking,

No matter how diligent your hiring process and how hard you try to ensure a good fit, it is impossible to know if any new hire embodies your culture until they are in it. While you might rely on a resume, references and interviews to believe your new hire can “hit the ground running,” you also do not know how true that is.

On the other hand, you have your and your firm’s reputation at stake. If you throw a new hire to the proverbial wolves and she or he gets eaten, it is not just they who suffer. In fact, you and your firm will suffer more, since your new employee did not know what they did not know—but you did, and you let it happen.

So, what to do when training wheels are not an option? Pick four words that define your design business and go through exactly what each means. For instance, if you say you do bespoke work, what does that mean? Expensive, precise, detailed, uncompromising? How does that play out in practice?

The idea is to establish that all decisions have to be made in the context of your work culture. If any given decision—even one you may not have made yourself—is grounded in the culture you have defined, I am confident you can live with that result. It is when well-intentioned decisions that belie your culture are made that you will have a hard time sleeping at night. Whether a new hire is competent, or what you hope you hired, is a risk you will have to take. What you cannot risk is incompetency with your culture.

Consider the coffee table test: You are so busy that you have to have a somewhat junior new hire finish an install. There is a beautiful 300-pound coffee table sitting on a lacquered floor. She let the install team go before she noticed the mistake—it is 6 inches off. What should she do? She can move the table with her bum, leave it be, or call back the install team and have them move it. If this is her first week on the job, how is she to know what’s best? Certainly, no one has the time to address all potential pitfalls that could happen. If she calls back the team, it could be thousands of dollars and many hours of time. If she leaves it alone, the design suffers. If she moves it herself, she risks damaging the floor and the table, but could be done in 30 seconds. If you had really defined what bespoke means, she would have felt empowered to have the install team wait for her until she was confident the install was perfect.

I firmly believe in the beauty of improvisation. Ironically, improvisation requires incredible structure and foundation so that there is ultimate freedom in the creation. This structure and foundation are what I call metrics of success for your design business. New hires should know on day one what those metrics of success are through your discussion of your four principal words. From there, they should be able to defend their choices within this rubric and know that it’s more important than defending the ins and outs of what they did or did not do. “Why” matters beyond “how.” If these metrics are understood, then you can let go of the idea (and panic) of putting a new hire out front without training wheels.

Circumstance dictates opportunity. Set the stage properly with intrinsic “whys” and the rest tends to take care of itself.

Homepage image: © New Africa/Adobe Stock


Sean Low is the go-to business coach for interior designers. His clients have included Nate Berkus, Sawyer Berson, Vicente Wolf, Barry Dixon, Kevin Isbell and McGrath II. Low earned his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and as founder-president of The Business of Being Creative, he has long consulted for design businesses. In his Business Advice column for BOH, he answers designers’ most pressing questions. Have a dilemma? Send us an email—and don’t worry, we can keep your details anonymous.

Want to stay informed? Sign up for our newsletter, which recaps the week’s stories, and get in-depth industry news and analysis each quarter by subscribing to our print magazine. Join BOH Insider for discounts, workshops and access to special events such as the Future of Home conference.