Every hiring manager knows that the process of finding a new team member can be both exhausting and rewarding. After sifting through scores (if not hundreds!) of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, contacting prospects to lure them away from their current jobs, and conducting dozens of interviews, it can be a huge thrill and relief to offer someone a job and have them accept.
Despite devoting so much time, energy, and emotions to the recruiting process, however, many managers unwittingly undo all that hard work by failing to establish a proper onboarding process for their new hires.
The onboarding process entails much more than just making sure your new hire has the right equipment and office space, although that’s certainly part of it. When done right, your onboarding process will affirm your new hire’s decision to join your team and set them up for success in their new role.
Onboarding Starts Before Your New Hire Joins
The onboarding process starts well before the new hire’s first day.
1. Get the seating and equipment logistics done
Decide where the new hire will sit. Set up their desk, computer, and cabinets. Ensure that their work area has sufficient lighting, network ports, and power outlets. Decide if their role requires a phone extension and voicemail. External-facing roles will need business cards. A few basic office supplies, such as pens and a pad, will keep the desk from looking bare. If your team has employee swag, leave these on the desk as well.
2. Get the paperwork signed
Send the new hire all the paperwork that they’ll need to sign before their first day. You want them to have sufficient time to read through everything and answer any questions they may have about the job before they start. Be sure to include employment contracts, confidentiality agreements, and any similar documents that you need for administrative and HR purposes.
3. Prepare the new hire’s 90-day plan
The 90-day plan outlines your new hire’s schedule for their first 90 days with your team. The plan also explains your expectations of the new hire’s role and serves as their primary reference during this period. The ideal 90-day plan will give your new hire a clear roadmap for assimilating into your team.
4. Give the team a heads-up
Send your current team members a quick email to let them know when your new team member will start, and encourage them to make an effort to welcome your new hire when they arrive. Inform office security or reception ahead of time so your new hire doesn’t have a hard time getting in on their first day.
5. Assign a Buddy
Pick a member of your current team to be the new hire’s ‘buddy’ during their first 30 days. Choose someone who genuinely enjoys interacting with people and who embodies the culture that you want your team to have. The individual you choose will be the new hire’s de facto role model, so be sure to pick a buddy who has the right attitude for this assignment.
Onboarding Makes the New Hire Feel Welcome on their First Day
A great first day confirms for your new hire that they’ve made the right decision to join your team.
6. Get the new hire settled in
The buddy should meet the new hire on their first day, get them settled in, and be their go-to person for those “silly or lame” questions that the new hire would otherwise be too embarrassed to ask. The buddy should confirm that the new hire can find their assigned desk, log in and get on the network, and access your company’s main systems.
7. Conduct a quick tour of the office
Give your new hire a quick tour of the office to highlight the usual spots of interest: printer, copier, pantry, coffee machine, lunch room, snack bins, restrooms, and any other amenities. Introduce the new hire to people you happen to bump into along the way.
8. Hold your first one-on-one meeting
Use this first meeting to go over the 90-day plan together, with emphasis on the agenda of the new hire’s first week. Reiterate how thrilled you are that they’ve decided to join your team. Explain how their role contributes to the company’s purpose and mission. You want your new hire to leave this meeting feeling motivated, inspired, and excited to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.
9. Send an intro email to the team
Send the new hire a welcome email and cc: your team members. Introduce your new hire by sharing a bit of their background. Explain what they’ll be working on and why you’re excited they’ve joined. Share the new hire’s 90-day plan with the rest of the team so they’ll know how best to help during this period of adjustment.
10. Organize lunch with the team
An informal lunch is a great way to break the ice with the rest of the team. You may need to limit the number of team members who will join to keep the group a manageable size and give everyone present a chance to chat with your new hire.
11. Provide an overview of your security practices
Your new hire will need to understand your security standards on day one. Such practices can include the use of an employee badge, a Virtual Private Network (VPN), password standards, additional security around customer payment data or similar sensitive information, as well as physical office security. Whatever your standard practices are, you’ll want your new hire to get up to speed ASAP.
12. Confirm that your new hire can access your internal systems
Every team will have a set of mailing lists, messaging and video-conferencing systems, chat rooms, and internal social networks. Make sure the new hire can access these and becomes familiar with them. The new hire should also have access to your team’s intranet or wiki so teammates can easily link them to a useful reference in your knowledge base. You should likewise grant access to internal systems, such as your help desk, your engineering ticketing system, or your sales and marketing portal.
Don’t try to cram too much into the first day. You want your new hire to leave work feeling invigorated, not overwhelmed.
Onboarding Eases the New Hire into Critical Team Processes on the First Week
Your objective during the first week is to introduce the new hire to your team’s major work processes in a lightweight, low-risk, and low-stress environment.
13. Add the new hire to all team meetings and set up one-on-one meeting schedules with their manager and direct reports
The assigned buddy should invite the new hire to all existing team meetings and schedule a recurring one-on-one meeting for the new hire with you.
If your new hire has a supervisory role, they’ll also need to have one-on-one meetings scheduled with their direct reports.
14. Schedule time for training and shadowing
Give your new hire access to training videos or enroll them in the relevant in-house classes that are relevant to their role. In the absence of training materials or classes, you may assign the new hire to shadow team members who are in similar and related roles. The schedule should have enough detail that the new hire knows who to speak with, where to go, and what to do.
15. Schedule a mid-week manager check-in
Towards the middle of the week, meet your new hire to check on their progress and identify any blockers that are slowing down their assimilation into the company. If you’ve planned their onboarding schedule and activities well, this meeting will be very positive and won’t take more than ten minutes.
16. Assign small but useful starter tasks
Assign carefully selected tasks to the new hire on their first week. These low-risk, low-complexity tasks are designed to help them learn about the company’s work processes. For example, ask the new hire to take notes for a team meeting. This assignment gives your new hire a chance to learn where your meeting templates and previous notes are stored. They’ll also become familiar with your team’s notes distribution process and your preferred method for tracking and reporting on the status of action items.
Similarly, you can assign a new developer to fix a bug or build a feature that has already been thoroughly specced. Such an assignment will ensure that the new hire has set up their development environment, will introduce them to your startup’s coding standards, and will give them their first taste of your version control, code review, testing/QA, software build, and deployment workflows.
By the end of their first week, your new hire will have a good understanding of life as a member of your team. They’ll have more clarity about their role and how they’ll interact with other team members. They’ll have made new friends and learned more of your company’s culture. And they’ll be in a better position to contribute substantially in the coming weeks.
Onboarding Ensures the New Hire’s Assimilation in the First 90 Days
In the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Foundation’s paper entitled “Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success,” author Talya N. Bauer describes a successful onboarding process as one where the new hire undergoes assimilation through four stages.
Specifically, a new hire must (a) become confident about doing their job well; (b) have a clear understanding of your expectations of their role; (c) become socially integrated into the team; and (d) gain an understanding of the company’s culture and how to navigate through it.
Thus, your onboarding process during the remainder of the first 90 days should focus on getting your new hire through these four stages.
17. Continue with just-in-time training /shadowing
Training and shadowing should continue until the new hire is confident and equipped to perform their role per the company’s standards. Research by Herman Ebbinghaus shows that most people forget 79% of what they’ve learned within a month if there are no follow-up activities or exercises that give them a reason to review what they’ve learned. Thus, training is best delivered ‘just-in-time,’ i.e., right before the new hire needs to apply the new skills and know-how.
18. Pair the new hire with one or two mentors
Unlike the ‘buddy,’ who is a social anchor, a mentor is someone who has successfully fulfilled the role that the new hire will have. The mentor serves as a critical sounding board for navigating the company’s culture by advising the new hire on how best to manage their assignments and communicate with stakeholders. No one wants to look clueless; a great mentor will make sure your new hire is in the know. You’ll also need to make it clear to the mentor that the new hire’s success is one of their key results or deliverables during this period.
19. Schedule meet-and-greets with important stakeholders, partners, and clients
Ease the way for new hires who have external-facing roles by accompanying them to their first meetings with stakeholders, partners, and clients. No one wants to be cold-called, so an introduction by you will help get these relationships off to a warm and fuzzy start.
20. Assign the new hire their first major project/task
Be clear on the objectives of the project, the scope of work, the allotted timeframe, the expected deliverables, and the criteria by which the success of the project will be measured. If it’s not clear to you what outcomes you expect from this assignment, you can’t expect your new hire to know any better.
21. Solicit feedback from your new hire
Find out what’s working well and what changes they would make to improve the onboarding experience. Ask for feedback on the company’s work processes; a fresh pair of eyes will often see improvement opportunities that old timers have learned to stop questioning.
22. Conduct a monthly informal performance review
Your new hire needs to receive feedback early and often, more so during the first 90 days. Schedule an informal performance review every 30 days, even if you don’t officially call it a review. Doing so will force you to pause and take stock of how well your new hire is doing, and prompt you to identify what more you can do to set them up for success.
Closing Thoughts: Onboarding’s Effect on Retention and Performance
Not all companies have the luxury of having an individual or team devoted full-time to onboarding activities. In such a scenario, it falls on you, the manager, to assign someone (perhaps even yourself!) as the owner of the onboarding process for your new team members.
If you believe you’re too busy to be concerned about onboarding tasks, just think of how much time and energy it took to find and recruit your new hire. Then consider how much time, money, and effort you would have wasted if your new hire were to quit within the first year because of a poor onboarding process.
In research published by The Aberdeen Group, 86 percent of survey participants agree that new hires will decide to stay or leave a company within their first six months, and companies who have best-in-class onboarding programs retain 91 percent of their first-year employees, as opposed to only 30% retention of first-year employees by companies who lag in onboarding practices.
Even more telling, companies with best-in-class onboarding practices reported that 62 percent of employees hired in the last 12 months met performance milestones on time, as opposed to only 17 percent of employees hired in the last 12 months by companies who lag in onboarding practices.
If your team is to have any chance of scaling and growing steadily, you’ll need to recruit and retain top performers and set them up for success even before they start.
- Employee Onboarding at Startups is Broken — Here’s How to Fix It
- PWC: Best Practices for Retaining New Employees (pdf)
- Onboarding from Scratch: Grasping Onboarding Benefits and Best Practices
- Onboarding 2013: A New Look at New Hires (pdf)
- Talent Management: The Special Challenges of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (pdf)