The “Buffer Bootcamp” is a rite of passage that’s long been a staple of our culture at Buffer, the 45-day period that all new teammates have embarked upon as they joined the team. Traditionally, the “bootcamper” has acted as a freelancer/contractor for their first six weeks, working on a probationary basis–no healthcare benefits, equity, or team retreats just yet. They generally receive lots of hands-on coaching and feedback as they learn the ropes of Buffer.
It’s been a time for both sides to mutually “audition” one another and decide whether it feels like a great fit. We feel so strongly about this that we offer a full payout for the entire 45 days in the event things don’t work out. (So if someone is two weeks in and not enjoying it, they can get an extra month of pay and move on.) But after more than four years of tradition, we decided to change our bootcamp program completely.
From “Audition” To Support
We started the bootcamp concept at Buffer because we wanted to be honest with ourselves and new teammates about a simple fact of life: Not all new relationships work out. Here’s the language that we used up until recently in emails to new teammates:
We find it helpful to make sure that, after the interviews are over and you’re getting your hands dirty, it still feels like a great fit. (We fully expect that it will.) At the end of the 45 days, if either you or Buffer don’t feel sure, then we’ll part ways with no hard feelings. We feel it is super important that all new hires are aligned and feel comfortable.
Historically, about 30% of bootcampers haven’t gone on to become teammates at Buffer. This isn’t always easy, but we’ve learned that it’s a necessary and healthy part of building a great team and company.
We know now that that’s probably not the best environment for folks to do their best work. “The most challenging part for me is the pressure I put on myself in the beginning of bootcamp,” our customer advocate Mick wrote in an AMA during his first 45 days. “I could see that the rest of the (customer advocacy) team were answering a huge number of emails each day. I felt that I needed to get off to a flying start and it resulted in a lot of long, 12-plus hours days.”
After hearing from teammates on this, it feels most productive and empathetic to turn this 45-day period from an endless audition into a supportive on-ramping. Here are five reasons we’re making this change, and a bit about what the first six weeks at Buffer will look like going forward.
Reason 1: We Want Teammates To Feel Secure Right Away
When is the last time you felt insecure at work? Did you act differently as a result? Chances are, you spoke up less, blended in more, took fewer risks.
Psychological safety is a term coined by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, who defines it as: “A shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”
A psychologically safe climate makes it easier for people to share ideas, listen to diverse views, engage in healthy debate, and speak up with their tentative thoughts.
Although we ask folks to bring their authentic selves to work at Buffer, our bootcamp process didn’t exactly set the stage for psychological safety.
A 45-day probationary period is a big risk, especially for those who left other jobs to join Buffer. If teammates felt insecure and “on guard” for their first six weeks, we likely missed out on their candid thoughts and big, risky ideas.
Reason 2: We Want More Real Conversations And Less Artificial Harmony
When you don’t feel entirely safe to be yourself at work, you’re not very likely to go out on a limb and share your unfiltered thoughts.
Couple this potential post-bootcamp pitfall with our values of positivity and gratitude, and it’s no wonder that as a team we’ve struggled with voicing struggles or critiques, lest they be seen as negative or damage the gratitude that our teammates felt for their hard work.
In Patrick M. Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “artificial harmony” refers to a team that doesn’t have very much healthy conflict, which he defines as “passionate, unfiltered debate around issues of importance to the team.” This lack of conflict generally isn’t a sign of a fully aligned group. On the contrary, it usually means that essential conflict isn’t happening.
Eliminating artificial harmony is something we’ve been working on a lot at Buffer, and I think reframing our “bootcamp” period will make a big difference.
The first few weeks at a new job are the moments when you’re seeing things with the freshest perspective, and we hope to enable new teammates to share candidly what they’re feeling and experiencing to help us evolve both our products and our culture.
Reason 3: We Want To Embrace “Values Fit” Over “Culture Fit”
One of the main reasons the bootcamp concept no longer makes as much sense for Buffer is that it was designed to ensure “a perfect fit” between the new teammate and Buffer’s culture. Now we know there’s no such thing.
Buffer’s values are incredible and life changing, but they’re also aspirational. None of us are “perfect” fits with them–we fail, we say the wrong thing, we let our ego get in the way. We’re human.
Culture is meant to evolve, and every new teammate we add has the potential to broaden and enhance our culture–if we allow them to. Instead of looking for the perfect culture fit, we’ve started instead to focus on values fit and cultural contribution. In other words, not how they can conform to our culture, but how we can expand our culture by learning from them.
Reason 4: We Want A More Diverse Team
Let’s be real for a second–especially in the U.S., not everyone can go from a secure role with medical insurance into a contractor gig, even for a short while. Even a few days without insurance can be a deal breaker.
In the past, we’ve believed that a willingness to take the risk to apply at Buffer knowing about our bootcamp could be a valuable signal of a teammate’s culture fit. But this is a privileged position that ignores the reality of many people’s situations. Our bootcamp process potentially disadvantaged many people, including folks with families and anyone with a disability or pre-existing medical condition.
Creating a more diverse team is very important to us for many reasons: To better represent our customer base, to build a stronger team with better ideas, and to make sure the future of work we’re building is accessible to all types of people.
We hope that making this change, and publicizing it widely, can help more types of people visualize themselves at Buffer and feel more confident to apply to join our team. Psychological safety also paves the way for authentic self-expression, meaning that our diverse team can be who they really are at work instead of who they think the organization wants them to be.
Reason 5: It Was Never Really A Fitting Name
It’s always been a bit awkward to describe the Buffer bootcamp. We typically needed to add in a caveat like, “It’s far from a bootcamp in the traditional sense–there are no push-ups, buzz cuts, or army fatigues here, promise.”
We have tons of respect for military service, but Buffer is about as far from a military environment as possible. While the name “bootcamp” conjured up time trials and feats of strength, we’re really more about smiley face emojis, learning and development, and speaking gently with one another.
What The First 45 Days At Buffer Looks Like Now
Moving forward, we’ll no longer use the terminology of “bootcamp,” but the first six weeks a new teammate spends at Buffer will still remain incredibly crucial.
We’ll still provide the same amount of coaching, feedback, and open communication. We’ll still set up new teammates with buddies to help them learn the most about Buffer’s culture and values. We’ll still offer a full payout for the entire 45 days in the event a bootcamper doesn’t choose to continue with us (or vice versa).
But from now on, a new teammate will be a full teammate from Day 1. They’ll immediately be eligible for healthcare benefits (In the U.S. there’s still a waiting period, but now it begins on Day 1 instead of Day 46), they’ll join us on retreats if the trip happens during their first few weeks, and they won’t have a “graduation” period at the end of the 45 days.
There’s still a chance things won’t work out, whether it’s at two weeks in or six months down the road. When this happens, we’ll continue to show as much gratitude and respect as possible to the departing teammate, and set them up with a generous departure package.