The Framework Microsoft Uses to Onboard 1,200 Engineers per Month

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Overview

Microsoft continues to grow and scale at a significant speed, and they are really close to hitting that 100,000 engineers mark. That means, on average, they onboard 900-1,200 new engineers each month. We’re still trying to wrap our heads around that!

Swati Doshi, a Principal Technical Product Manager, walks us through what Microsoft’s Learning & Insights Team is working on to up-level onboarding, ensuring new hires receive the best possible ‘Welcome to Microsoft’ experience without feeling overwhelmed.

 

Managing layers of onboarding is hard

Onboarding happens at many different levels; each department has its own programs, with some parts owned by HR. Even within the departments, individual teams have different ways of welcoming new hires. The challenge boils down to this: a lot of people are involved and efforts are widespread. In tackling this, Swati’s and her team developed an Onboarding Program Maturity Model, and piloted the program recently. The framework’s aim is to provide a common means of assessing all of the onboarding programs at Microsoft using defined standards, terminology, and guidelines.

 

 

Looking closer at program elements

While consciously ensuring there is room for customization, program owners are encouraged to look at each of the program elements to gauge what’s working well—and what’s not. How long is your program? Is there a defined structure or is it more ad hoc? Do you have a support system for you new-hires such as a buddy? What tasks could be automated and when would that make most sense? Are you providing appropriate guidance to new hires based on their experience level? Ultimately, the more program owners stress test their programs, the better decisions they can make about evolving them.

In pursuit of being world-class: metrics and measurements

Going beyond setting things up, program owners should also be answering what success looks like. Are trainings being assessed and programs being updated based on the responses ? Has speed-to-productivity increased? While it’s hard to be 100% sure from day 1 groups should be committed to getting this data and improving these numbers—even if they’re incremental gains.

Don’t forget the ‘when’ and ‘how’ around content

The right content will vary team to team. Each team will have a better handle on what domain expertise to share; however, Swati encourages program owners to focus on Delivery Timing and Delivery Vehicles. These are questions worth asking: does the new-hire need to know all of this now? Is this content best shared online or should it be in-person? Said differently, the intentionality behind what seemingly are simple decisions can make a world of difference.

Emerging patterns at Microsoft

The shift to remote has changed everything. People connect and feel connected in different ways. One key ‘aha’ moment Swati and her team surfaced was the need for facilitated sessions. Rather than async workbooks, there has been a clear need for live-learning opportunities where participants could share concrete examples and ask questions. To us, this comes as no surprise as tacit knowledge—the thing that makes your company unique—is best shared live.

Continuing to up-level their program

Swati and her team recently wrapped up Phase #1 of the pilot. Feedback has been extremely positive, especially recognizing the much needed scaffolding and guidance provided by the model. The Phase #1 focused on qualitative data gathering through focused facilitated sessions. Phase #2, will focus on quantitative data gathering by increasing the scale of the program. The aggregated data gathered from a high number of onboarding programs across Microsoft Engineering during Phase #2 will provide deeper insights into program strengths and areas of opportunity, enabling targeted work for developing a world-class onboarding solution at Microsoft.

Why onboarding and continuous learning matters

Successful onboarding at any level matters because that sets new-hires up for long term success at the organization. Not only is this time their first impression of the company and teams, but their time to feel integrated and make connections with others across the organization that can help them grow as a teammate and as an individual.

As Swati mentions, onboarding isn’t just about teaching materials to get them up to speed as quickly as possible, but it’s about offering opportunities for them to connect and engage with others more easily. Time is very valuable to both hiring managers and new-hires, but setting aside dedicated time for engagement and allowing them to connect with others is important in creating a strong company culture with high employee retention and happiness. Both at the personal level and organizational level, the positive impact is real.

Watch the full recording

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