Saturday, September 30, 2017

The value curve for new hires in skills positions

What is the relative value of a new hire in their first year?   The value is impacted based on many factors, the hire's motivation, their prior experience, the hiring company's onboarding process, the culture fit and other factors.  Good processes can dramatically impact the contributions made by new hires.  

This posting is really not about about the interview and hiring process's impact on the quality and eventual capabilities new hires.  This posting is about the general rate at which new team members contribute as measured against their eventual capabilities. My main area of experience with this is with technical teams, software developers, testers and technical analysts.  I suspect it is also true for other skill positions and integrated team.

Understanding the Learning and Networking Curve


The graph shows my gut feel for the rate at which team members contribute within their first year relative to their capabilities. It doesn't rate the new team member against others.

I like to use this picture when I talk with a motivated new hire who is a couple months onto our new team.

The graph moves up and down based on motivation, and company processes. Flat spots represent perceived stalling in improvement even though improvement is continual.

  1. New team member are always a drag on the team for at least several months.  They don't know anything about the company, culture, business problem, technology or processes.  They have no cross-team support network. 
  2. The 2nd quarter is where a new team member starts to contribute at some level.  People can start leveraging previous experience at this point.  They may make suggestions that don't make sense because they don't know the global context of the problem they are discussing. I call this the "copy/paste" phase for software developers.   This is often the point at which the new hire is nervous about their position or unhappy with the way they are contributing. 
  3. The 3rd quarter is the first time new team members feel like they are making a real contribution. This period can also be frustrating because it often doesn't feel like they are ramping fast enough.  Management may expect 100% capabilities at this point.  Newer teammates often ask questions of the 3rd quarter veteran because of their relative experience.
  4. The 4th quarter is the point where other team members start to rely on a person.  They have enough experience here to run their own efforts in conjunction with others.  I don't feel a person is fully enabled until the end of the first year.

Continually Communicate with New Team Members

Don't be that team that assumes hiring extra people converts into immediate productivity teams. Plot their personal graph in your head. Set expectations at regular intervals and review with people to make sure you and they are on the right track.  Make onboarding last beyond the first months.

Final Thoughts

I had an advisor in graduate school.  I talked to him immediately after getting several job offers.  He looked at me and said something like the following. My pride said he was wrong but experience says that he was pretty accurate.
"You think that diploma means you know something.  That diploma means you have the ability to know something in the future.  Those companies are offering you this good money based on the future contribution that the diploma implies you are capable of."

Posted 2017 09

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