Simona Dimitrova is the Head of Education at Pennylane, a full-stack financial management platform connecting all financial data for business owners and their CPAs. She has 10+ years of work experience in project management, digital learning, and customer experience. Her current role involves leading a team of seven talents and helping clients and partners use Pennylane to be more productive and achieve their business goals.

This author found Simona through her Notion templates. As a side hustle, Simona creates Notion templates to help teams build training programs, have effective 1:1s, document their processes, onboard new team members, and so on. With a background in digital learning, it should come as no surprise that Simona cares deeply about employee onboarding and how we can develop ourselves. This interview, in the spirit of our shared love for Notion, happened entirely over Notion.

Simona, tell us about what inspired you to create and put up employee-focused Notion templates.

I started building Notion templates at work to structure our projects and content management, and later, as a manager for 1:1s, performance reviews, etc. At some point, I started searching for a specific template for skills development and noticed that there is a huge gap in the market to support managers.

Often, management training and tooling are expensive, and small companies overlook this investment. With that in mind, I put some of my existing templates (the onboarding template is a great example) on Notion (and Gumroad) and built some more to answer the daily tasks of managers.

Tell us about your own onboarding process. How do you tailor employee onboarding for your Education team?

I am a manager with experience in the field who is passionate about people development and building a high-performing team. Onboarding is a fundamental element of this.

The current version of the onboarding process is a mix of: the learning theory that I acquired in the first years of my career, the flexibility of startups that I experienced in the last five years, and several iterations after 6-7 onboarding exercises with team members.

What’s most important for our Education team is the autonomy in the technical skills and the deep understanding of the users. I built the onboarding phase, thinking about the skills that need to be tested to validate the future success of the employee in the team and the company. For example, I would ask them to propose their own roadmap for the future 3-6 months, to build an extensive network in the company, and to pitch what our product does in the first month.

Let’s dive into it. What makes for a good employee onboarding process?

This is an image that shows a sample 30-60-90 day plan that Simona came up with a new program manager that she hired for her team. It covers projects, networking and goal setting for oneself.
This image describes how to set goals that challenge a new hire, going through employee onboarding, but don't end up overwhelming them or making them bored. Simona Dimitrova came up with this graph and it can be found on her website, managerhacks as well.

Love what you said about collaborative learning. In your experience, how does one make sure the content they create is consumed and comprehended? What are must-dos? What are things that should be absolutely avoided?

This image describes Blooms' taxonomy. It's a learning theory used to help people understand complex concepts. Simona uses Blooms' taxonomy as a base while building learning material for both employee onboarding and customer education.

Let’s look at the other side of this. Context tends to take up permanent residency in people’s heads for a number of reasons, including laziness. What would you recommend teams do to make sure everything gets documented and is accessible?

Notion. 😀 Joking! Any tool could help in that aspect as long as there is a good system behind it. Make sure the knowledge base is built in a similar manner across departments, that there are rules and guidelines to keep it up to date, and that everyone sees the interest in doing it.

For example, in my team, we “forbid” any private page. I literally frown when I see a private page, and little by little, the habit was built to write everything in our shared Project docs. When the project is done – the summary is added to the “Knowledge” area of the team. Don’t shy away from regularly reminding the team to update existing documentation. Make it easy to search and retrieve.

During employee onboarding, a lot of information is given upfront about the company, policies, culture, and the tools in use. How do you onboard and train employees to use horizontal tools and access information sources? Do you have any advice on this front?

I adjust their knowledge of tools and their habits on the go. For example, my team had different setups for Slack – some of us stacked conversations, muted channels, and didn’t allow any notifications. Others were interrupted by every notification coming out of Slack.

To recognize that we all have different approaches and each approach can work, we had a discussion during one of our team meetings to talk about best practices. Finally, everyone switched off notifications and focus was restored.

How would you recommend companies think about offboarding, onboarding’s companion?

Honestly, don’t let them leave before they have left detailed documentation about what they have worked on, where each important file is, and what advice they would give their future employees.

What books/resources would you recommend to someone who’s working on building an employee onboarding program for their team/company?

Drive by Daniel Pink – it’s not about employee onboarding but understanding what makes us move, and what motivates us, and it can show you the ingredients to put in your onboarding mix.

Last question, if you weren’t in this line of work, what career would you want to pursue?

Lovely question – I am actually quite happy where I am. If I had to imagine something else – that would be around engineering, maybe in manufacturing. I love building, creating, and innovating. It could be fun to see the physical products of one’s work, which is not the case in a digital job.