How to Create a Good Onboarding Experience

Willy Braun
Apr 12, 2017 · 8 min read

You ring the bell full of energy, a big smile upon your face.
Someone opens the door.
“Hello. Who are you here to see?“
“Hey, I’m Julie, the new hire!”
“Oh. I didn’t know. Do you know who your manager should be?”
“Yes, of course. Sergei Zuckerberg.“
“I’ll call him. Please have a seat.”
After some long minutes: “Well Julie, I am sorry but Mister Zuckerberg doesn’t answer his phone. I’ll try to call him again in a few minutes and keep you posted.”

Hopefully most first days don’t happen that way.

Yet, many variations of crappy first days exist. The absent computer. The team members who weren’t informed. The busy manager. The lack of a clear first todos. You name it.

Recruiters & HR Manager stress the importance of first impressions during the interview process.. , but many forget to apply the lesson to themselves (or tell managers about it). This is not a sign of lousy managers. This is the result of a lack of clear process. Good process = good onboarding. Guaranteed.

Let’s start with some key principles and then consider what a good onboarding guide should look like, for the new hire and for the manager alike.

Key Principles for a Successful Onboarding

1. Have everything prepared

Have everything set up beforehand. There is a difference between having a computer ready and having a computer with all the software already installed ready. Prepare important forms & the onboarding guide (having an onboarding guide is a must!). Super bonus: Provide a gift bag for the new hire AND for their family.

2. Have everyone prepared

Make sure current team members know that a new hire is coming (and when!). Inform them of his/her name & background and role at the company. Have them welcome him/her in person. A good way to do this is for the manager to walk around the office and personally introduce the new team member. And the manager could prepare some tasks for each team member to assist the new hire with on the first day and during the first week.

3. Provide a buffer

If the manager’s Monday is always full with meetings schedule the start day for Tuesday. And independently of the day chosen, don’t make the new hire arrive at the office before 10:30 or 11:00. If something urgent needs to be taken care of, or the preparation wasn’t as flawless as you thought it would be, you will have time to fix it.

4. Make the first day a light version of a typical day

Don’t make it super busy and tough, but also don’t make the new hire read papers about the company all day long. Have the new hire start his/her real new job. Only a lighter version of it. There are too many things to learn and discover the first few days to make it super busy. Paul Guillemin, CEO and co-founder of Fretlink, advises: “a good practice is to give the newcomer a mission that should be easily tackled, with a clear output. It builds confidence and enables the rest of the team to instantly see his/her contribution and be glad of his/her hiring.”

5. Always have a Plan B

Make sure to have a clear onboarding process and be sure to have a replacement in place in case people in charge get sick, or end up in an emergency meeting, on D-day! Chose your backup from the team, someone who knows the ins and outs of the onboarding process and the new hire’s team.

6. Have several onboarding guides

You need to prepare an onboarding guide so the new hire can learn fast and have a reference guide after day one. There is lots of new information to process and it’s hard to remember everything. And to make sure everything’s on track, make a version for the manager too. He or she should know what’s in the guide and partake in creating it. Along with the guide it is super important to have a check list, for both the manager and the new hire, listing the expected todos for both.

Building Kick-Ass Onboarding Guides

Onboarding guides are company-specific, but here are some general guidelines to follow.

Your onboarding guide should contain the history of the organization, its values and all the practical pieces of information, especially regarding the daily job & other team members.

Here is a quick overview of our own onboarding guide at daphni:

Part 1 — Must Knows

  • Our Story & Mission
  • Our Strategic Positioning, Model & Reason Why,
  • Our Team: The names and faces of everyone (very important to include a photo) & a small bio (with concrete and fun facts); for each team member we include background, magic power, tips, icebreaker, when to ask for help,
  • Our Values and what they mean in the day-to-day life at daphni,
one slide of our deck “values“
  • Our stack of software
initially designed for our job page: https://medium.com/daphni-chronicles/work-daphni-b60b7e510fdf
  • A typical week for some of the roles (or departments) in the company (ask people across the company to briefly describe their mission, key outcomes and activities),
  • The life in our company (dress code, typical schedule, vacation, remote work, off-site seminars, internal communication, external communication, insurance & benefits, perks & food, friend visits, wifi codes, IT rules, etc.).
  • How to pitch our mission and tell others about your job

Part 2 — Description of the onboarding period

  • What happens on Day 1:
  • Have a Trello template ready to use for the employee’s checklist. This is a good example: https://trello.com/b/qr3AcASr/new-hire-onboarding
  • Meet your team & experience a light version of you day-to-day.
  • What happens in Week 1 & 2
  • Ask the manager to take the time to design the right Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and set the expectations that the new hire should attain.
  • Name two “buddies” in charge of the onboarding. One is the “role buddy“, often his/her direct manager, responsible for the good understanding of the job, the other is the “culture buddy” that will make sure he/she feels at ease during the onboarding, understand every visible and invisible rules and get as empowered as possible. The culture buddy is responsible of the continuous improvement of the onboarding journey.

So I am done now, right!?

No! Don’t forget that the onboarding will last more than a few weeks. Don’t think that your new hire gets everything after Week 2. Check in regularly to make sure the onboarding is going smoothly, for the new hire, the team, and the manager. Send a satisfaction survey two months after arrival, with lots of room to let the new hire share his/her impressions.

You should also review your guide regularly. You’re hiring, so that means you’re growing. Growth = Change. Your onboarding guide should, therefore, change as well. Maybe it’s a small update because your wifi password has been changed. Or maybe your procedure for submitting reimbursements changed. After the satisfaction survey, you might find out that something was not clear during onboarding. This is a great opportunity to empower your new team member to make a difference in the onboarding process and help the next newcomer.

How To Go From Good to Great

I see that human resource really matters to you (otherwise you wouldn’t read this article).
So you’re trying not to stay at the “just above average employer” level and become an HR and Onboarding champion?

Here are some additional tips that will make the difference:

  • Create a welcome box that will wait for the new hire at his/her desk
  • Include not only the legal contracts and your onboarding guide but also a handwritten note
  • Prepare business cards. Beforehand.
  • Put small gifts for the new hire, and also for his/her family.
  • Bring in some croissants for breakfast or take your new colleague out for lunch at a nice restaurant. Food matters.
  • Take a tour of the building / office and share some anecdotes about the company history or office before starting the workday.
  • Don’t leave the new hire read the onboarding guide for too long. Start with a discussion, let him/her have one hour to study the guide, then go back to ask for feedback and potential questions.
  • Create a buddy system. Select a buddy from within the team (“role buddy”) and also one from outside the team (“culture buddy”). A good way to introduce the new hire to the company is to introduce them to other departments.
  • Talk about the job to make sure the new hire understands their responsibilities. Here are the main questions to tackle:

a. What is the day-to-day experience of the job?
b. Who are the different stakeholders for the job? You can book a meeting with colleagues in the same position so he/she can receive insider tips.
c. What goals, deliverables and performance are expected? And when? (This should be linked to the OKRs you describe in the onboarding guide)
d. What are the key challenges ahead?
e. What are your responsibilities?
f. What are the common traits of people being successful and unsuccessful at this position, in general, or in the company?

Well, now it’s your turn.

Questions to Ask Yourself
Do I have onboarding guides ready, both for new hires and managers?
Are new employees delighted with their onboarding? Do you track their satisfaction and ask for their feedbacks?

Reading Further

This article is an extract from the book Human Resources For Startups, that you can find in your local Amazon (US, UK, GER, FR, ES, JP, IT!)

Let’s Keep In Touch

This article has also been published in my weekly newsletter OneStepFurther. You can subscribe here to receive the next edition.

Recommended Readings

Onboarding, George B. Bradt, 2009
Valve Onboarding guide (http://www.valvesoftware.com/company/Valve_Handbook_LowRes.pdf)

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Special thanks to Isabelle Thonicke, Anna Kowalska & Déborah RIPPOL for their insights! Additional round of of applause for Isabelle for the in-depth proofreading.

daphni chronicles

daphni chronicles shares lessons learned and analyses from daphnipolis, the great community around the venture fund daphni. It's like having private talks with high level thinkers & doers of the tech world.

Willy Braun

Written by

Co-founder of the VC fund daphni (@daphnipolis). Teacher (innovation & marketing). Author Internet Marketing 2013. I love books, ties and data.

daphni chronicles

daphni chronicles shares lessons learned and analyses from daphnipolis, the great community around the venture fund daphni. It's like having private talks with high level thinkers & doers of the tech world.

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