On Planning My Own Onboarding & Training at Atomic

I’ve recently made an exciting change and joined Atomic Object in a leadership position. I am now participating in a very unique onboarding experience. What makes it so different is that I am driving the pace and direction of my onboarding. I wanted to share what I’ve learned through this experience in hopes that it may improve onboarding programs in other organizations.

Traditional Onboarding

In my previous life, I worked at another software consultancy. There, I was responsible for all aspects of sales and operations. Over those six years, I learned the skills and competencies required to run the business. This was no small feat, as there wasn’t a manual or instruction set that laid out everything I needed to know. It was a mix of trial and error, some reading, and some help I got from those who have walked this same path before me.

Now I find myself making a change for the sixth time in my career. My previous experiences with onboarding have been of the “traditional” variety. Day One starts with an HR meeting to fill out some paperwork and get introduced to the new team. There are some quick meetings about the work you will be doing, a team lunch, and an introduction to your desk. You’re given your new computer, and then you’re left alone for the rest of the day.

On Day Two, you start swimming with the other fish. You learn as you go, trying not to make any fatal mistakes. You may have some meetings with your boss over the next month to check in, but your formal onboarding is over. Your success is dependent on how well you learn all the known and unpublished rules of the office.

In The Powerful Way Onboarding Can Encourage Authenticity, the authors say most organizations approach hiring by looking for a team member to perform specific tasks. When that employee shows up on Day One, the company tells him or her what tasks to complete and how to act. This allows the company to predict and control what output is created. However, this approach fails because it does not meet “the chief feature of being human”—to be valued for our authentic selves.

A New Approach

Atomic took a different approach with my hiring and onboarding. I did have the traditional Day One experience—I filled out the required paperwork, learned where I was sitting, and met new people. But the rest has differed in a very interesting way. For the next few months, I will spend half my time learning sales with Shawn Crowley and the other half learning the rest of the business with Mike Marsiglia.

Learning Sales

On the sales side, I can contribute value right away while learning Atomic Sales. Shawn and I will function as a sales pair. One person will drive the engagement while the other plays an observer role. The observer will provide strategic thinking and document the interaction.

This is like pair programing, in which one developer types code at the keyboard while the other observes each line of code. Over time, Shawn and I will trade these sales roles frequently. This will lead to closing more of the right deals through a better client engagement.

Through this experience, I will learn the special sales tactics unique to Atomic. This includes helping potential clients set a proper project budget and learning how to be effective with Fixed-Budget, Scope-Controlled projects.

Atomic’s Business

On the business side, Mike and I have worked together to define a set of stories for the project (called Capital M). These stories have allowed me to learn the rest of the business. We used Atomic’s standard approach for managing development projects. The stories live under specific Epics that cover everything essential. This includes history, service offerings, process, financials, HR, and partners.

We used planning poker to assign points to each story. The stories are managed in Pivotal Tracker, and sprints are two weeks long. I produce a burndown chart along with a project scorecard which we review at each sprint meeting. We’ve also identified a budget and a time frame for this project.

Throughout this process, Mike acts as the customer, providing typical customer feedback. This allows me to learn the Atomic agile process by working through it, via the concept of “eating your own dog food.”


I’ve now been with Atomic Object for eight weeks, directing my own onboarding through a process unlike anything I’ve seen or heard of before. I spend time with the team in both the Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor offices. This allows us to form authentic relationships, and when new hires introduce their authentic selves to their organization, both they and their organization perform better.

If you’re responsible for your organization’s onboarding program, here is an innovative approach to consider for helping your new hires succeed.

In future blog posts, I plan to share the results of my experience. As I’ve been working through it, there have been some adjustments that had to be made. For example, sales is a bursty activity, which suggests you should leave room on your calendar to accommodate the unexpected, instead of trying to pack a week with too many business learning meetings. Regardless, I’m learning an incredible amount and can’t stop saying great things about Atomic Object.