Guide #023: How to create an associate program for your digital product team

The associate role should be viewed as a long term investment in the future of the company with the advantage of gaining enthusiastic professionals specifically trained in the methods of your business.

Mold your internal team culture to support associates

The organization should be made aware that the associate program is a long-term investment in the future of the company. The advantage being, rather than taking on a generalist at a mid to senior level (which is a higher cost to the company) you’re able to infuse the organization with enthusiastic, eager talent that ultimately become trained in the specific methods of your business, and the ways that your customers interact with your business. Additionally, the organization should approach the associate role with a high level open-mindeness, kindness and empathy. Experienced team members should use this opportunity to be the teacher they wish they had.

Look at CVs/resumes for transferable skills

Given that candidates for associate roles don’t have much, if any, direct experience, as the hiring manager, you’ll need to read over CVs/resumes more holistically. If you don't look for transferable skills, it will be very difficult to find the right person at the associate level. For example, if you are looking to hire an associate UX researcher, look for people who have behavioral psychology in their degrees. Someone who has a journalism background or who has written/researched a book might have transferable skills for being a UX researcher.

Establish guiding principles for your associate program

Team members working with the associate should be bought into the guiding principles so that everyone is on the same page. A few examples of guiding principles are transparency, two-way feedback, and support. Talk to the associate about these principles and be clear that you’re going to support them through their associate journey. Feedback around mistakes or failures should be reframed as adjustment opportunities so that a learning and development mindset is built into supporting the associate through their journey.

Create 30, 60 and 90-day milestones that give the associate the opportunity to apply their transferable skills

For the first 30 days of onboarding, the goal should be to help the associate meet people and understand how teams collaborate and work together. This includes spending time with key business partners like product managers and engineers who the associate might not have worked with before. Small projects can be given at this stage that have little to no risk. The 60 and 90-day goals should include exposure to business processes and taking on projects that gradually increase in scope and impact. Craft projects that give the associate the opportunity to apply their transferable skills. Open and honest communication is key to gauging the confidence and interests of the associate so that you can provide the appropriate level of support.

Establish a mentor relationship with leaders outside of your organization

Reach out to leaders at other companies to establish a formal mentorship program as part of the support system for the associate. Ideally look for mentors that have built practices that are more advanced than currently exist within your company. With an external mentor/mentee relationship your associate will benefit from more candid feedback without the worry of repercussions. The company also benefits from advice from external experts who can help develop the future leaders of your organization.

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