Writers, designers, and other creatives face unique challenges when they start at a new company.
Creative agencies rely on process and standardization. Strict systems are critical to delivering a consistent, high-quality product to clients.
During onboarding, new hires at creative agencies must learn to work within these artistic constraints. All this comes on top of the normal onboarding struggles— adjusting to new teammates, navigating social dynamics, etc.
Having hired hundreds of writers, the People team at Animalz has honed the art of onboarding creatives. As a high-growth content marketing agency, the business thrives when new hires can learn and build skills quickly.
In this post, GM Kristen Craft shares lessons the Animalz People Team has learned about onboarding creatives.
“If you are a high achiever, it can feel deeply uncomfortable when you don’t know how to do something or you just don’t know what’s expected of you.”
For creative, customer-facing roles at Animalz, you are doing a good job if you:
Unlike other knowledge worker roles, there's little room for ambiguity.
For #1, the new hire must understand the process.
The Animalz blog writing system requires several rounds of drafts, reviews, and edits. During onboarding, a new hire must learn the process and what it requires to get from one step to the next.
The Learning & Development team at Animalz, led by Cassandra Naji, is always asking, “What are the specific tasks that people need to know how to do in order to deliver an amazing article to our customers?”
Educating a new hire on the process starts with clear documentation. No detail is left implied. A new writer must be able to read exactly how to get from step A to B and B to C.
For example, if a blog post needs a deeper layer of research, the onboarding documentation must outline exactly how to engage the research team and how much time to allow for that step.
As the process changes over time, the L&D Team must ensure the documentation remains up to date.
For #2, a new hire must learn what “good work” looks like.
As an agency, Animalz has a unique style, tone, and reputation to protect. The new writer must understand the subtle art of writing in the Animalz style that clients expect.
During onboarding, the People team relies on example work to help new hires identify what is considered high-quality work. Veteran team members help out by sharing their own best practices and past deliverables.
“Within the first three months, there is a blend of synchronous and asynchronous training resources.”
While there is a wealth of knowledge to share and plenty of documentation to read and videos to watch, new hires learn most by just getting started.
From week one, the new hire has work to do. The first few months are typically lighter, but new hires produce their first written piece a few weeks into the job.
The Animalz People team relies on established team members to coach new hires with critical feedback along the way. Leaders on the research, editing, and strategy teams all chip in to help new writers get up to speed.
Intentional onboarding design, synchronous feedback, and asynchronous self-education complement each other in pursuit of educating the Animalz writer.
“Anyone who is applying to Animalz considers themselves a pretty solid writer. We don't hire people unless they're amazing writers. To be edited about your big picture thinking, logic, and flow — as well as the clarity of your individual sentences — can make people feel vulnerable.”
For a new writer, the first few rounds of edits with a new team can be mentally challenging.
In 2021, the team at Animalz audited their onboarding process by interviewing key stakeholders at the company. The biggest takeaway: employees needed even more psychological safety during onboarding.
Now Kristen and her team are thinking critically about the moments of vulnerability new hires encounter.
Gail Marie, who leads the Quality team, encourages editors to be thoughtful with word choice when providing feedback on the first few pieces a new hire produces. She prompts these editors to recall what it's like to have their work evaluated for the first time.
On the other side, new hires receive extra affirmation. Managers remind new hires of their talent regardless of the feedback they receive on their product.
The People Team reiterates the fact that “[Animalz] hire[s] 1 to 2% of people who apply. You are not an accident. This was a very intentional choice because you are great.”
All of these small nudges help to create an environment where new hires can feel safer submitting their work.
The Animalz team recognizes the impact that the onboarding period has in creating happy and productive employees in both the short and long term.
A recent survey showed a 90% satisfaction rate from new hires, which the team sees as evidence that their investments are paying off.
It’s hard to scale creative talent, but Animalz is doing just that. In four years, they’ve brought hundreds of writers to their team while continuing to deliver top-quality content for their clients.