Most Companies Suck At Onboarding. Don’t Be One Of Them

Alex Paley
Dec 14, 2018 · 6 min read

So imagine this: You’ve been recruited by this company for months. You’ve been through their entire interview process, been wooed over dinner or drinks, and are super excited to join the team. It’s your first day. You get to their office and are shown to your desk. The HR person now comes up to you and sadly informs you that they forgot to order your equipment and it will be a few days before it arrives… so you go home.

This is not some fictional scenario. I’ve seen this happen to friends and former coworkers multiple times. It’s also happened to me. And I will never understand why.

As the founder or hiring manager, you’ve spent weeks, or even months, recruiting this candidate, only to drop the ball at the finish line. And now their first impression of your company is, “Wow, this place is really disorganized.” It’s amazing how many companies place so much emphasis on recruiting but forget to have good (or any) onboarding processes in place.

Consider the facts:

This means onboarding is no longer a process you can afford to ignore. It will not only directly impact the health of your culture, but it will also impact your ability to retain your best people.

From my experience at Dairy Free Games and from seeing or hearing about it being done right at other companies, here are some basic things you can do to run it successfully.

1: Find fun ways to integrate employees into your culture immediately.

The faster a new hire identifies with your culture and feels like part of the team, the faster they’ll be able to communicate effectively and contribute meaningfully.

That’s your responsibility, and it starts on day one.

At Dairy Free Games, Dennis and I gave new team members a little Funko Pop action figure that matched the personality and interests they shared in their interview process and asked them to keep it on their desk. It was a simple and fun way to show new hires that we listened and made an effort to get to know them. It also was a little icebreaker for other team members to stop by their desk and introduce themselves more personally.

Whatever you decide to do to this end, the important thing is that you do something and that you do it quickly.

2: If you’re the founder or hiring manager, greet a new hire yourself and introduce them personally to their coworkers.

I haven’t met anybody who hasn’t admitted to showing up to their first day at a new company a bit nervous (myself included). Starting at a new company is a fresh opportunity for a new hire to feel valued and included and to make a real impact — basically everything you promised them during the recruiting process.

The best way to ensure they hit the ground running? Be present on their first day, shake their hand, and introduce them personally to their new team. Take them and their new team out to drinks or to lunch and get them immediately comfortable in this new environment and communicating openly with their new team members.

These are things you need to do even if the new hire is junior. It really makes a difference for employees when the CEO appears excited about and invested in their success and presence. I remember my co-founder, Dennis, telling me that when he was at Microsoft, Steve Ballmer would come hype up all new classes of employees, from summer interns to senior level managers.

3: Have everything prepared for them, including a computer and immediate tasks.

I had a friend land an amazing role at a big game studio. He was coming in at a very senior position. He’d been recruited, and the studio had seemingly put a lot of effort and resources into bringing him on and creating his role.

He went into the office for his first day to supposedly go through onboarding and get to work. Unfortunately, they forgot to order his computer or give him any network credentials. So they sent him home and told him to come back next week. This is not some small studio I’m talking about. This is a $1B game studio with thousands of employees.

That’s just inexcusable.

For one thing, it amounts to wasted money for the studio; those five days he literally spent at home — while earning a high salary — could have been utilized creating value or getting up and running internally.

As a founder, your goal in onboarding new employees needs to be getting them productive from the very first hour they’re at work. That’s something companies like Facebook, for example, do really well — and it’s one reason why they’re so successful. No time (or money) is wasted.

Beyond that, though, not having tools, equipment, or processes set up for a new employee puts another bad taste in their mouth. It could lead them to start questioning their ability to really make an impact or could lead to an even worse case of “NewCo Imposter Syndrome” if they start feeling ineffective. So basically, it sets employees up either to fail or to quit.

Additionally, good luck getting a referral from a new hire who just went through a terrible onboarding experience. When you’re a really early startup, you can’t afford to miss these referral opportunities.

Ultimately, a new hire’s first day should be like walking into a 5-star hotel.

The process should be seamless and exciting. Everything should be prepared for them and should make them feel great. You, their hiring manager, and their team lead should all be there to greet them. Their equipment should be set up and working. Their passwords and profiles should be ready and waiting.

You should enter into the onboarding process thinking of your new hire as a rock star you’re hosting and want to impress — just like at a hotel. Five-star resorts are known for their service and attention to detail. Great companies should be, too.

Beyond Facebook, there are a few companies who do this really well.

Pixar, for instance, immediately gets to work encouraging employees to showcase their personality for their teams. Zappos, meanwhile, believes so wholeheartedly in the effectiveness of their onboarding program that at the end of it, they offer employees $2,000 to quit. Less than 1% of new hires take the offer.

Great onboarding, at the end of the day, amounts to immediately and seamlessly creating a human connection between you, as a founder or hiring manager, and the new hire.

Great companies go above and beyond to get employees working productively right away and to purposefully ingratiate them into their culture so they feel like they’re contributing to it.

If you’re tweaking your onboarding program right now or considering how it could be improved, here are some super easy things to make sure you have in place:

  • Have your new hire’s essential equipment ready Day One. This includes:

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Alex Paley

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Head of Studio @GluMobile, Co-Founder @DairyFreeGames, Investor, 120 WPM

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