What can you learn about onboarding new talent from Salesforce?

This article is about my experiences and learnings working for Salesforce and what the organisation taught me about onboarding new talent. In my current business, I find myself sharing how Salesforce successfully onboards 600 employees every single month, and brings every single talent up to speed in less than a month. The strategy behind this impressive onboarding process is worth reading.

Why is onboarding new employees important?

Any role has its own unique requirements that demand unique onboarding. A challenge that many organisations are facing is that the standards for onboarding differs from manager to manager. Certain managers are extremely good at onboarding new team members. Whereas, other managers might be caught up in their daily to-dos and not find the time to focus on onboarding. The result of a non standardised onboarding processes is that employees will begin with different baselines for achieving success in their jobs. The worst case scenario is that a non standardised onboarding will create an unfair advantage for some employees, giving them better access to promotions and monetary benefits. Another aspect to consider is that insufficient onboarding can be very costly for the organisation in terms of lost productivity.

The Salesforce Way

What I experienced at Salesforce as a new joinee was truly impressive. For many years, Salesforce has been the fastest growing tech company in the world and is rapidly expanding its employee base. Successful operations at this scale naturally require to be streamlined and efficient.

At my first day at Salesforce, I was given a personalized login to trailhead.salesforce.com, Salesforce’s training platform. Trailhead is used by millions of customers and partners to improve their Salesforce skills and is also ingeniously used as an internal training tool. Depending on your role at Salesforce, one receives access to specially designed trails containing about two weeks worth of interactive course work. The modules are in general very well designed and at the end of each completed unit, one is quizzed about what one just learned. The setup requires little to none interaction with your colleagues, ensuring that the team’s productivity is not affected by a new member.

The Salesforce Boot Camp

At the end of every month, every single employee despite their office location is flown to San Francisco for an intense week of training and socialising. The week is known as Boot Camp, and is a signature event for Salesforce. Boot Camp is the exam of your two weeks of self studying, but also the time where you get properly introduced to the Salesforce culture. Besides training, it is also an incredible opportunity to network with colleagues from Salesforce offices all over the world. I made some good friends doing my Boot Camp week that I am still in touch with today.

Alexander Hold at Salesforce

What fascinates me the most about the way Salesforce manages onboarding is how it takes just one month to teach 600 people a comprehensive and complex product portfolio and that every single employee after just one month is put on target and ready to do their job. Naturally, everyone will get better at their job over time, and Salesforce is investing a lot in continuous training to retain and improve its talent pool. Very few companies can claim to be as efficient at onboarding new talent, and especially not at this scale.

If you are running a business or are in charge of talent at your company, adopting the Salesforce way could be a very lucrative investment. There will always be a calculation of Return Of Investment (ROI), but for medium to enterprise companies with multiple teams with different team leads there is a potential great upside of standardizing and automating your onboarding process.

Valve: How to retain talent?

Last week I attended an intensive strategy course taught by Patrick Gibbons, Academic Director at Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business UCD, where we discussed a series of Harvard Business cases among one was how Valve Software successfully had manged to attract and retain top talented game developers. I found the case study very interesting and super relevant for any leader aspiring candidates on LinkedIn.

Background:
Valve is the software company behind the gaming platform Steam and popular titles like Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Left 4 Dead and Dota 2. Valve was founded in 1996 on the notion that making video games was hard and that most titles would fail, but a few blockbusters would be remarkably profitable. The question was if blockbusters was randomly distributed and hitting that lucrative profitable success was just a matter of chance, in which you just wanted to bet on as many horses as possible.

The perception at Valve was that people who had created a blockbuster before would do it again. With other words blockbusters wasn’t just random chance, it was all about attracting and retaining the right talent that would give a predictable success.

If you want to read the Harvard Business School case study, you can find it at hbs.edu

Valve Software Talent Management Process
Valve Software Talent Management Process

Who to hire?
Valve was looking for T-shape profiles that could contribute across functions in different teams, but had a unique and specialized skill that could be the core of a project. Attracting entrepreneurial profiles that had created a successful game previously was at the core of Valves recruitment strategy, because previous success ensured a higher predictability of future success.

Attracting successful entrepreneurs
How do you attract game developers that have already made a successful game and potentially earned good money doing so? The challenge was that Valve was looking for entrepreneurs that had showcased that they could be stars on their own, and now Valve wanted them to take a job working for somebody else. What Valve came up with was a unique organizational structure that allowed people to work on exactly their preferred project. There would be no hierarchy and no one telling you what to do. Everyone would be involved in strategic decision making, ensuring that everyone had a saying in which projects Valve would be working on. Naturally everyone would be paid well, so there wouldn’t be a direct monetary incentive in leaving.

Retaining talent
Retaining talent is important for any organization. The nature of Valves flat organisational structure would allow for good utilization of peer evaluation and behaviour based compensation. Everyone would be rating each other’s contribution and success of the final project would be affecting compensation.

What made Valve really unique was the fact that Valve would increase every single employee’s chance of delivering the next big blockbuster. As an employee at Valve you would be working across multiple projects at the same time. If you did a good job on someone’s project it was more likely that you could attract talented employees to work on your own project. Remember everyone had the freedom to work on whatever project they liked. Furthermore, by working on several project at the same time you would be spreading your risk. One project might fail as another one would be a success. This way you would still make good money. Similar to managing an investment portfolio and spreading risk across different securities.

The secret source
The secret to Valves successful talent management strategy is how they manged to embed its employees:

  • It was extremely hard for the employees to monitor the size of their contribution to a project. There was no way for an employee to claim 100% ownership of a blockbuster, because so many talented people would have been involved in the project.
  • Every employee was almost guaranteed to be part of a success, working across multiple projects by that hedging their exposure to failure.
  • Every project group was unique, so the risk of a whole team leaving would be minimal, as each individual would have stakes in different projects.

All over Valve was successful in creating an organization that would attract the very best talent and ensure that no employee would be thinking about leaving.