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Company Culture

We’re Retiring The ‘Buffer Bootcamp’ Period For New Teammates – Here’s Why

The “Buffer Bootcamp” is a rite of passage that’s long been a staple of our culture at Buffer.

This is the 45-day period that all new teammates at Buffer have embarked upon as they joined the team.

Traditionally, the “bootcamper” has acted as a freelancer/contractor for their first 6 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 pay-out 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.)

So after 4+ years of tradition, why change bootcamp now?

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 doesn’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 percent 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.

And if we’re being really honest? There will probably always be some situations where it makes sense to part ways – even far beyond the first 45 days.

We’re inevitably going to fire people at times, and have teammates “fire” us when they decide on a different path.

So why add extra stress to the already intense process of getting to know a new job and new team by creating a prolonged “audition” process?

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+ 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 5 reasons we’re making this change and a bit about what the first 6 weeks at Buffer will look like going forward.

5 reasons we’re retiring the bootcamp concept

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.

It’s so important that in a study by Google’s Project Aristotle, the safer team members felt with each other, the better they did in almost every area of work. Google has deemed it the key building block of a successful team.

Source: re:Work

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 6 weeks, we likely missed out on their candid thoughts and big, risky ideas.

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 5 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.”

Source: Abinoda

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.

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.

And we’re also humbled to remember the many changes we’ve made to our values over time – and all the changes yet to come.

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.

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 preexisting 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.

Source: McKinsey

We hope that making this change, and publicizing it widely, can help more types of people to visualize themselves at Buffer and feel more confident to apply to join our team.

Psychological safety (way back from Point 1) 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. From Reinventing Employee Onboarding:

When newcomers are “processed” to accept an organization’s identity, they are expected to downplay their own identities, at least while they are at work.
But subordinating one’s identity and unique perspectives may not be optimal in the long run for either the organization or the individual employee because suppressing one’s identity is upsetting and psychologically depleting.

This gives us a bit a blueprint for the ideal onboarding experience: Share our own values without “processing” them onto newcomers. Allow new teammates to bring their own identities and perspectives to work, and allow that to evolve our culture. Exciting!

5. It was never really a fitting name ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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 pushups, 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.

This change should help us live up to another of our values, “Communicate with clarity.”

What the first 45 days at Buffer looks like now

Moving forward, we’ll no longer use the terminology of “bootcamp,” but the first 6 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 pay-out for the entire 45 days in the event a teammate doesn’t choose to continue with us.

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 2 weeks in or 6 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.

We hope this will create a different environment for new teammates in their first few weeks – one that feels like an encouraging welcome instead of a 45-day period of auditioning.

Over to you!

This is a big change in Buffer’s terminology and philosophy, and I’d love to hear how it feels to you. Share any thoughts or feedback in the comments; let’s discuss!

P.S. A giant thank you to incredible Buffer engineer Emily Plummer for being the catalyst for this change!

Cover photo by Jez Timms

  • Michael Jenkins

    I really like the new approach. I was always a bit confused by the term Bootcamp as it didn’t really sound much like a Buffer term. I did understand the purpose though. I feel this new direction will make others more comfortable with the process of starting a new career with Buffer. As always I enjoy seeing how much time and effort is being put back into the Buffer family so that everyone wins.

    • Thanks Michael! Fun fact: We did a poll about a year ago to try and rename Bootcamp because it was such a misnomer but we couldn’t find a name we loved! I wanna say “Buffer Launchpad” was the closest to being a winner? In the end I’m glad we waited until we could make this more holistic change to the whole concept.

  • Paul Tucker

    Such a great read, Courtney! I love the clear differentiation between culture and values – and the humility in seeing that having a “trial period” makes some people people act, well, like they’re on trial. I’d love to read/see more on what the intro period looks like in the days and months ahead as it’s more fully tested and utilized! :)

    PS: I noticed that Mr. Shrugs on point #5 is missing his right forearm. He was a bit insecure and too shy to say anything about it, so I thought I’d mention it on his behalf. ;)

    • 😱 How embarrassing! I have restored him; thanks so much for the heads up, Paul! Great point on the followup; I’m definitely keen to monitor this and share more. Especially excited to see how it might enhance our candidate pool!

  • alex

    This was a great read. To be honest, the bootcamp was one of the things that concerned me most about Buffer. Probationary periods are already incredibly stressful and one of the biggest worries i hear from friends switching jobs is, “what if I don’t make it?” So the shift to grant more safety and support to new team members is awesome.

    • Totally hear you, Alex, and agree! Another interesting effect of the probationary period for me was that after I “passed,” I had the incorrect idea that I was sort of finished getting feedback and coaching, and got pretty surprised to learn I wasn’t perfect after all! 😜 Hope this change will set better expectations across the board!

  • Ryan Easttum

    It takes a lot to continue to evolve and especially to self-reflect. I’ve long admired Buffer – and everything they/you do – but you don’t get great, nor do you stay great, by standing idle or sitting with a pebble in your shoe. It’s clear you’re turning that pebble into a pearl, iterating again to continue leading the way into how a great company runs, leads, and grow. I applaud you all – and it’s clear you have a great degree of psychological safety to be able to voice this and take action on it :)

    • Hey Ryan, thanks so much for these incredibly kind words! Indeed I do think we have a lot of psychological safety on the team, and I’m so grateful for all the teammates who have honestly and bravely shared their feelings on this concept so we could gain full context on how to iterate on it. I hope we can keep living up to your high standards of us!

      • Ryan Easttum

        You all never cease to amaze and inspire me. Genuinely. It’s (relatively) easy to start a company, offer a service, sell a product, etc – but you and the whole Buffer Team are doing something amazing. You’re curating a culture that’s human. That’s different from the norms of work and business as we know, and are serving as a model to many other businesses, companies, and start-ups as to what they can be and do to be a place where you don’t just work, but a place that’s good – for you, for them, for investors, for customers, for family, and for the world. Keep on, Keepin’ on!

        • Wow, I’m just blown away by your kindness and encouragement, Ryan. It means more than you know!

  • Jodi Delman

    Glad to see this happening!

    • Some of this might sound familiar, huh? 😉

      • Jodi Delman

        So very indeed. :)

  • Just when I thought I couldn’t love Buffer any more than I already do… Great to see this positive change! :)

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Christopher! We’re feeling pretty excited to make this switch!

  • Glenda Turner

    You have changed my mind about hiring people on a temporary basis for a certain timeframe, Courtney. I was a big believer in seeing how they fit – if they liked us and we liked them. Now I see how it may not really be a good measure of fit and may encourage inauthentic behaviors. Thank you for sharing your experience and powerful learning. I’m also super glad you will no longer be using the word “bootcamp.” :>)

    • Oh wow, Glenda, what an incredible piece of feedback to receive! I feel inclined to add in a caveat here that this was only our experience of the probationary period concept and there may be much more inclusive ways of accomplishing the same goals. Your mileage may vary! And yes, I too am very keen to strike that phrase from my day-to-day!

  • cindykendall

    This is a fabulous evolution! Very much in tune with what I learned through my involvement with nonprofits and as a school administrator. Kudos for this growth as a company. And thanks for continuing to share the journey.

    • Hi Cindy! Thanks so much for this; it’s awesome to get some validation through what you’ve experienced in these diverse fields!

  • eccoyle

    All the praise hands, Buffer! This and your post about artificial harmony so well articulated many of the thoughts that I have had about Buffer over the years. I have always loved your commitment to positivity but thought… ok but not everything is great, is it negative to point that out? And bootcamps have always felt like a sort of unofficial barrier to keep out certain types of people. It’s a big, intimidating thing where you have to take a big risk and be very vulnerable – things that may be more difficult for some people than others in ways that have nothing to do with whether or not they are a good fit for the job long term. I love your commitment to continually analyzing your own processes and biases!

    Curious if you have had any recent conversations about the requirement of being a user of Buffer. I understand why that would be advantageous but I’ve also always felt that it keeps out people who don’t have the time to be on social media and Buffer due to current life circumstances. I can talk myself in circles on this topic so I’ll just stop myself there and see if y’all have any thoughts :)

    • Thanks so much for all these great thoughts and encouragement!

      What amazing timing on the product use question, I was just updating some posts about this last week! Yup, in the past we have asked folks to use the product for at least 2-3 months consistently before we would consider them for a role. This feels a bit limiting, and discounts the fresh perspective a newcomer to a product can bring.

      Today we are a bit more flexible with this requirement, though we would definitely expect that a candidate has spent a good amount of time exploring the product and would be prepared to talk about the positives and challenges of their experience with Buffer’s tools.

      Curious how that feels to you? This is still evolving; definitely open to thoughts and feedback!

  • schwabsauce

    Congrats and best of luck. I’ve been in contract-to-hire situations many times and I feel it can set the wrong expectations and incentives. However, I know biting the bullet and filing all the paperwork can make you pretty exposed legally. If only there were a sensible compromise with some kind of gradual conferring of responsibility to the employer.

    • It’s great to hear that this feels like a positive change given your past experiences! Thanks so much for sharing that!

  • rachellemme

    “Traditionally, the “bootcamper” has acted as a freelancer/contractor for their first 6 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.”

    You meant “definitely” and not “generally,” right? It’s not a trolling comment meant to incite the rage of those who think I’ve read too much into the sentence. I just feel that they should have definitely received the hands-on coaching and feedback from Day One, and not just generally.

    Otherwise, an absolutely awesome concept and thank you for understanding the difference of seeing somebody as a Contractor that needs to prove themselves and a new Team Member that has already done that to start with – if they got through the interview process, they must have brought something good to the table! :)

    • Hey there, you’re absolutely right; I think we can do without that word! It would be MOST unusual for someone not to receive hands-on coaching and feedback. I think the amount is slightly relatively depending on experience and area, so they might not all receive lots. Really loved the last bit of your smart comment: “If they got through the interview process, they must have brought something good to the table! :)” Definitely!

  • geekwriter

    This whole “too good to be true” feeling is fading fast after reading each of your blog posts! This change is huge, especially for people who tend to be anxious and super hard on themselves. These “bootcamp” or “probationary” periods definitely make you feel like one wrong move, one question too many and you’re gone. Thanks for being the standard all companies should aspire to!

    • Oh gosh, such kind and encouraging words! We are far from perfect but always striving to improve! 😀

  • LeeAndra Blicher Fouts

    I always thought ‘Bootcamp’ was a harsh divisive word for a company that works so hard to be understanding & inclusive. Glad to see this change. Always appreciate seeing the inner workings at Buffer. :)

    • Thanks for sharing that! Totally agree it hasn’t ever been a perfect fit; feels great to try a new approach!

  • remytennant

    This was a classic case of inexperienced management trying too hard to innovate and messing things up. Happens too often in the startup world. Kudos for having the courage to admit it was a mistake, and change.

  • Debbie Higham Wood

    I love that Buffer saw an opportunity for growth and change and were instantly transparent about it! That demonstrates to me that the 10 company values are truly at the core of the operation of the company.

    • Hi Debbie! Really appreciate the kind encouragement of your words. Reflecting on our values is often a great catalyst for change!

  • T.Nichols

    This is great news. It’s also neat that Buffer is now focused on a values fit over a culture fit. It is a long time coming, but with these changes and when hiring opens again, Buffer will be in a better position to become more diverse.

    • Thank you so much for sharing such encouraging words! That’s absolutely our hope as well. :)

  • Ellen

    This is a great post! Thank you for sharing your thought process and how you came to this conclusion. We have an even more brutal “trial” period to our new recruits, which we’ve done for years for many of the reasons you identified early on in your post. Your article gives a lot of informed thought into this practice and has given me a lot to think about and discuss as my work place continues to expand and invest into our team.

    • Hi Ellen, this is so neat to hear! I’d love to learn more about any of the discussions that might go on in your workplace around this topic; there are certainly a lot of perspectives to consider!

  • Ya Tcha

    Inspirational, aspirational and authentic would summarize my thoughts about your post! You and your teammates are definitely trailblazers; your approach and your commitment to your company’s core values are game changers. Congrats to you guys

    • Thank you so much for reading and for the super kind words, @ya_tcha:disqus! 🤗

  • vucalur

    Just one clarification request:

    So, you wanted new hires to feel more secure and eliminate the pressure caused by possibility of a bootcamper being rejected after first 45 days.
    Totally understood.

    But in the end you write:
    “… in the event a bootcamper doesn’t choose to continue with us (OR VICE VERSA).”
    So… you can still decide not to move on with a new hire?

    1. Could you please explain?
    Perhaps it’s merely saying that Buffer will be less fussy from this time on and there will be no scrutiny officially scheduled for the 45th day, if ever.
    2. How does this decision influence the recruitment process? Is it more comprehensive than before?
    Some of your interviewing practices relied heavily on the Bootcamp, see: https://overflow.buffer.com/2014/12/02/technical-interviews/.

    (Disclaimer: I don’t know how this 30% rejection rate breaks down into ‘Bootcamper rejected by Buffer’ vs. ‘Buffer rejected by Bootcamper’. This was the top question to the “Inside Buffer Bootcamp” post, but you chose not share this info and I respect that.)

    • Hey there, thanks so much for pointing this out; that’s definitely a typo on my part that I have now fixed. (Should not have referred to teammates as bootcampers and should not have added the vice versa). You are right in saying this change means there is no official evaluation scheduled for the 45th day. To answer question 2, it has not changed our recruitment process in any specific way but our recruitment process is always evolving. We had already begun to rely more heavily on work-related exercises in addition to written applications, and that process seems to be going well combined with this change. Again, thanks so much for pointing this error out so I could make a change!

  • Jhon Davis

    The best part is that Buffer gives respect to departing team mates . It is very hard to experience in current era.
    Greattttt. Keep it up.

  • Emily Keogh

    I really love that you admitted the mistake and were honest and you did what was best for the new buffers! Having job security is so important and being treated as a permanent employee gives you reassurance. Things may happen and you may end up letting an employee go but at least they felt confident and not as much pressure so they were able to deliver on their job duties. :)

    • Thank you so much for reaching and sharing your kind encouragement here, @emily_keogh:disqus! I agree that it feels much better to start a new job feeling reassured from the start. :)

  • BrittanyAiken

    I have been in love with Buffer and your values for a couple years, but reading this really made my heart happy. After watching the job postings for over a year, one that fit my personality and skill set finally came up and I put in my application yesterday. It would be an honor to be a part of such a wonderful group of people and incredible company. Fingers crossed!!!

    • Fingers crossed for you, @BrittanyAiken:disqus! Thanks for reading! :)

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