How the Shorty Awards Welcome New Hires and Foster Communication from Day One
The Shorty Awards were the first award show to honor social media and the many content creators, mediums, companies, and voices it encompasses. Like the medium they celebrate, the Shorty Awards team moves fast and adapts quickly. Because they are a lean team with an intense production schedule new hires need to jump in and start contributing quickly. As such, Producer Nik Aliye and her team members have worked to make their hiring, onboarding, and communication process as welcoming, thorough and effective as possible. I caught up with Nik about her approach about how she works with team members who are not just new to the Shorty Awards, but may be new to the working world in general.
Emily Miethner: Let’s begin by talking about the hiring side. What qualities and skills are you looking for when people apply for roles at the Shorty Awards?
Nik Aliye: We are on a production schedule, so our needs for staffing and support shift throughout the year. In the past there were so many different sides of the Shorty Awards that team members would work independently to get their tasks done. In 2016, we did a full reorganization and asked ourselves how we could build a team strategically so we could feel balanced and work cohesively.
For the past six months we’ve really concentrated on working as a team. In January of 2017 we were looking to hire an Associate Producer who was both a cultural fit and self-directed. We are a very small team and we need people to take on a lot of responsibilities and take off running with them. We hire people who are self-managed and quick to understand our company, goals, and needs. We met our new Associate Producers, Christina and Ian, through FindSpark and we love them! We initially hired them for short-term roles through the show in April and recently offered them both permanent positions.
I asked our new employees, “Tell us what you like to do once you’ve gotten to try a lot of different types of work. What did you do because you have to get things done and what do you really want to dig into and enjoy?” to help them continue to grow here.
Emily: How do you welcome new team members and create an onboarding process that is unique to the Shorty Awards?
Nik: When they arrive on their first day we make sure that they have a fresh computer, all their school supplies, and a bagel and coffee on their desk. We also have a welcome lunch to meet everyone. We’re a really small team, but we’re part of Sawhorse Media, a bigger media company. At lunch we spend an hour to go through what everyone does and to let our new team members get a feel for the culture. We want to make sure people feel welcome from the get go.
New hires have a weekly one-on-one with their manager over lunch or an evening drink. We ask them questions like: what’s on your mind, how are you feeling, what was tough about this week, what did you love? The goal is to keep an an open channel of communication and dedicate that part of the week entirely about talking about their experience, feelings, and needs. We’ve heard this from one of our newer teammates, Ian, that he really appreciates this.
A few weeks in, once our new hires have started to get their feet wet, we have welcome drinks with the whole company.
Emily: Because you are producing an awards show, how do you balance onboarding and team communication with a busy production schedule?
Nik: Ian joined during our nomination period, which is one of the most stressful weeks of the year for us. As an Associate Producer he had to get involved really quickly. He had to learn our specific technologies like mail merging and how our site works on the backend. As someone who send out email on behalf of the Shorty Awards he also had to learn about our nominees very quickly.
One way we make sure our new hires get up to speed quickly is that we cover background information like how we started, who we are, and our goals happens during the interview process.
We also hold weekly all hands meetings where everyone gives a two-minute update on what they are working on. Then we go around and discuss as a group: Here’s what we need to figure out together, where are you struggling, and what do you need help with?
I like to keep meeting time to a minimum. I look at them as the most efficient way to get information to each other about topics that we all need to weigh in on, such as our dates for next year, and we ensure everyone comes prepared. We use a Cisco Spark Meeting Notes. It pulls in members Google calendars and we can add agenda and action items and send out notes following the media. The agenda is collaborative and anyone can add to it, but we ensure that we come in every week with a really clear agenda.
Emily: How has the team been working together so far and how do you build trust as a team?
Nik: The four of us have been working together really well together. We all sit together in one little pod and we can all easily turn our chairs and be in a circle together.
We also ensure we invite new hires to different after-hours events. I believe that if you don’t like the people that you are working with no one will be happy. As a result, we spend a lot of time getting to know each other on a personal level so everyone feels they can be open and honest with each other.
I’ve worked at companies where upper management was untouchable and you felt you didn’t want to say they wrong thing. As a manager I work to be very available and let new hires know that anything they need is not an inconvenience.
We also do a lot of things to show we appreciate our newer staff members. When the Shorty Awards show wrapped this year we got them small gifts. I want it to be clear that just because you aren’t on the top tier of the team doesn’t mean you’re not appreciated.
I think that showing appreciation is so motivating and this includes a constant stream of well-deserved compliments.
Some offices forget that everybody’s a person. At a previous job people were constantly tearing each other down and trying not being the one that got yelled at that day. I’m an advocate for saying if I fuck up, I take responsibility. If someone on our team makes a mistake it’s never a moment of “ugh,” it’s a moment of coming together to say, “Okay, let’s fix it.”
Emily: What advice do you have for people who starting a new job, especially if they are at the beginning of their career?
Nik: In general, communicate. Ask for more projects. Is there something that I can take off your plate? Ian checks in with me at the every day before he leaves and asks, “Do you need anything else?” It’s the best. He also beats me to the office most days. That is unnecessary, but it is comforting!
Set up open communication from day one. I take the attitude of, “As your supervisor, if you are not getting what you need, I’m not doing my job.”
Don’t be afraid to ask questions because everyone there wants you to succeed if you are in the right place. That energy will carry through the rest of your time at the company.
As you learn about your new company and role alongside the notes you are taking, write down additional questions you have for your manager. Ask them all at once in a meeting so then you don’t feel like a burden or imposition on their time. You’ll also find these questions, and their answers, are interrelated to one another.
For managers, it’s really important when you are onboarding new talent, especially those who are newer to the workforce, that you make sure they know that it’s okay to ask questions because a lot of them have not had that experience yet and you want to create that open culture early.
In photo: Christina Waterman, Nik Aliye, Rob Schlissel. Photgraphy by Tavish Timothy.