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The one thing you should never give new employees: time to settle in

No time for paperwork around these parts.
By Max Nisen
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

When Aditya Agarwal joined file-storage startup Dropbox three years ago, it was still a company of less than one hundred people in one office in San Francisco. It’s now a global operation with more than 1,000 people in 9 offices. That’s taught Agarwal, the company’s head of engineering, a lesson or two about how to manage new hires. The early Facebook employee, who joined Dropbox as part of its first acquisition in 2012, sat down with Quartz to share some of its strategies in bringing on new employees.

The biggest takeaway is ”there is no such thing as a new Dropboxer,” says Agarwal, who has helped make Dropbox’s on boarding procedures look more like those of his previous employer. Facebook’s highly regarded Bootcamp onboarding program emphasizes making sure new hires push live code onto the site within a week of their start date.

Too often, Agarwal explains, new employees are saddled with paperwork and how-to guidelines, which implies that their real contributions won’t begin for several weeks.

“Your mental model ends up being that I’m the new guy, I’m not expected to be able to do much for the next couple of months,” Agarwal says. “You change your behavior to do it, it’s a self fulfilling prophecy.”

Agarwal wants Dropbox’s message to new hires to be just the opposite: Contribute like everyone else ASAP.

“We have a bunch of stuff that we aren’t building because we don’t have enough people,”Agarwal says. “All of that stuff is really important, so take your pick on what you think is fits your background, and go help build that. And by the way, we expect you to be building stuff to the quality standard that we deeply care about.”

The approach is driven partly out of necessity. The company is growing so fast that new hires are forced to jump right in.

“These things are so important when the company is doubling every year,” Agarwal says. “When you take a step back three or four months later, you’ve been around for more than like 30% of Dropbox. If those people that joined 3 months are still thinking of themselves as newbies, well then we’re in trouble.”

But the urgency pays off, says Agarwal. Throwing new hires into the fire allows them to internalize the company’s cultural values quickly. For example, Dropbox’s extra care and attention to the process of building software—which it terms ”sweating the small stuff”—is best taught by holding employees to that high standard right from the start.

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