From Sensei to Grasshopper: Training New Thunder Cats

By Monique Pouget

It’s an exciting time to be a part of the Thunder team. Demand for our services is at an all-time high, and putting the structure in place to support this growth has been a big part of my work here. We’ve spent many moons defining who we are as a company, so finding the best people to join our team is really important to us too.

We just hired two new superstars last month (Hi Ashley and Beth!), and they have been learning lots about clients, campaign management and our culture. Since welcoming feedback and being transparent is our jam, we spoke candidly about their first couple weeks at Thunder and ways we could improve the experience for future Thunder Cats.

While every company and candidate will have their own methods of explaining and absorbing information, I thought I’d share some universal lessons we learned along the way. Any additional words of advice are totally welcome in the comments below!

Choose Your Project Management Tools Wisely

Like most search nerds, we love us a good tool. You might have heard us gush about Google Docs, Trello and Basecamp before, and trust me, there’s plenty more where that came from.

Historically, everyone at Thunder has had the option to select from a few project management tools, which has its pros and cons. Some might choose to store their strategy documents and logins on Basecamp while another does the same on Trello. Having the option to choose is great from an A/E’s point of view, but someone new supporting a variety of campaigns will find this confusing.

project management
Image: Vancouver Film School

Instead, I’d recommend having one central place for information that all employees can access anytime. The medium you use to relay these details is up to you, but we’ve found it helpful to include a short overview of the client background and contact info, the campaign details, the people managing and supporting the campaign internally, frequently used logins and important documents like proposals, signed contracts and schedules. Earlier this year, we made Basecamp our home base, and results have been positive.

On a new employee’s first day, make sure to break down each project management tool and its purpose in your company, one by one, to avoid confusion. Show them where they can find quick answers to campaign questions and who to contact if they need help. If they have experience using the tool, ask them how they used it before and show them how you use it at your company.

Keep in mind that everyone on the team has to be on board for this to work effectively. Training new hires to find all the answers on Basecamp does little good if the A/Es haven’t kept the information updated.

Don’t Overdo the Docs

Remember when I said we have a soft spot for Google Docs? Understatement of 2013. We love the ability to access and collaborate on documents from any location, and a lot of our campaign strategies, checklists and background info is detailed in one to many different Google Docs.

Occasionally, this has the tendency to get out of hand, as it did on Beth’s first day. You see, we had shared over forty different Google Docs with her before she even set foot in the office! Since Beth’s role supports many different campaigns, each A/E had each given her access to several schedules, client briefs and spreadsheets. I don’t know about you, but inbox 50+ is not how I like to start my first day at a new job.

Image: Anthony Theobald

Given that many people support a campaign at Thunder, each account exec has created docs to support their process, but we need to get better at streamlining. Is it possible to have one standard checklist for all clients? Is having info in one single place easier than having it in many places? What makes the most sense for everyone supporting the campaign?

As we grow, we’ve started hiring specialists that focus less on client management and more on supporting other campaigns. This brings up a few things. First, the centralized info hub becomes imperative, since these specialists have better relationships with A/Es than clients. It also means there are new opportunities for streamlining, since one person might take on the responsibilities of many. For example, instead of four different people managing the scheduling, editing, formatting and publishing of blog posts, it might be one person, meaning less docs and steps are needed. And finally, it proves that more is not always better. If new hires have to sift through dozens of docs, they might just end up asking for help, which defeats the purpose of documenting it in the first place.

Visualize It

Approximately 65% of the population are visual learners, so it makes sense that each person office has their own way of visualizing their duties and campaigns. Having been here for a few years, I am super familiar with all of our clients, but new Thunder Cats will spend weeks if not months getting to know our roster.

After pulling together lots of Docs for new hires, I’m always curious to see how they manage their to-dos. While no method is exactly the same, I’ve seen lots of different visual aids, including whiteboard maps, printed checklists on bulletin boards, to-do lists written on notepads or even Trello lists. To me, it makes sense that writing it down gets shit done.

Image: Courtney Dirks

Everyone’s method for visualizing what’s happening will be unique, but it’s important to give them that freedom. Try to get a feel for their understanding of the clients or campaigns, and ask them if you can map it out with them if they’re having trouble. Give them tools to be creative, like whiteboards and notepads, and help bring them up to speed. Having a tangible reference has been useful for our team, but I’d love to hear how you visualize things at your agency.

Who You Gonna Call?

With someone new, questions are bound to come up, and hopefully you welcome them with open arms at your organization. We’ve found it’s really helpful to designate a person or group of people that will be the best person to “bug” when they need answers. This gives the trainee confidence, since they never feel like they’re on their own.

Image: Andrew Becraft

On the other end, it’s imperative for the “trainer” to make time for the “trainee.” Personally, I’ve found it helpful to check in often, and to give constructive feedback on their performance. This is something I’m working on, since micromanagement isn’t my cup of tea, and I want to find the balance between being too involved and being a resource when needed. Fortunately, I am surrounded by amazing people, so I’ve noticed there are lots of questions upfront, and then it’s mostly smooth sailing.

Remember, questions and clarifications will come up, so plan ahead and empower your team to find answers and make decisions. Encouraging questions and designating question answerers goes a long way.

Housekeeping Tips Matter Too

Starting at a new office means getting familiar with the environment, both figuratively and literally.

We have an employee handbook that gets revised often, but there are still things that need to be communicated to new hires. For example, is there a standard for email signatures and font choices? If you need to schedule a meeting with another team member, what’s the easiest way to see their availability? Is it possible to email everyone, or just a group of people quickly? What are best practices for emailing clients? These are things that have come up for us organically, and we’ve put documentation into place where needed.

Image: Michael Summers

Additionally, new Thunder Cats need to know about *actual* housekeeping things, like dumpster locations, water jug delivery, alarm passwords, lights and air conditioning. More exciting things include our weekly yoga class, morning coffee runs, where we like to lunch and our flexible work schedule.

These tiny details are easy to forget, but finding a way to communicate them to new hires makes it easier for everyone.

Be Open to Feedback

Finally, the most important thing I’ve learned in the new hire process is to be open to feedback. Bringing in new people often brings a fresh perspective on outdated or inefficient workflows. Once again, I’m lucky enough to work for an organization that values everyone’s opinions, so feedback is always welcome.

We started out small, so things have definitely grown organically over time. However, I am excited to hear other people’s ideas for doing things better, and I know it benefits the organization as a whole if we can get more efficient.

Image: gfpeck

Baking these ideas into your culture is important. At Thunder, we understand that we are only as strong as the people we surround ourselves with, so hiring and training is a big deal for us. Have you had any similar experiences with training new hires? Would love to hear more in the comments!

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  • I’m so happy you wrote this Monique! I am working on an employee training and development program here and I gotta say, it’s tough. Reading things like this gives me some great ideas, especially since I know you guys kick butt!

    • Thanks Casie, that’s wonderful to hear! As our team grows, it’s both challenging and exciting to put these standards into place, but I look forward to gaining more efficiencies along the way. Please share more insights as you develop the training and development program at KoMarketing!