New Employee Onboarding Mistakes and Wins

We take painstaking measures to recruit and hire the right people. That same time and energy goes into engaging them in their first few weeks here. We think very carefully about this because first impressions are everything. Over time, we’ve seen that someone’s first impression can make or break their time at HoneyBook. A bad impression is hard to recover from, a great onboarding experience will have an immeasurable impact on your employee’s success.

Interested in building or revamping your current onboarding process? Learn from our wins and mistakes. Most importantly, remember that no matter how big or small your company is, there’s no better time to make sure your new employees are set up to thrive.

1. The start date matters

The start date seems simple enough — have new employees start as soon as they can. But this isn’t always the right approach. We’ve learned the hard way that having a systematic approach to start dates is the only way to go. One of the ways we do this is to have set start dates twice a month. This is important for two reasons:

  1. By limiting start dates to twice monthly, we’re usually able to have a batch of employees start together. Being the “new guy or gal” is always awkward — but so much better when you have buddies to share these nervous, memorable moments with. Cohorting people creates an immediate sense of camaraderie and built-in friends.
  2. As the company matures, the more logistically complex onboarding becomes (think calendaring multiple founders, team sessions, etc). Although it’s an honor to teach an onboarding session at HoneyBook, our presenters do have day jobs to do, so they appreciate not having to repeat every week.

There are times when we have to make exceptions. “Extraordinary” scenarios do present themselves on quite an ordinary basis, so we have to keep some flexibility. But truth be told, something always goes wrong when we don’t keep to our schedule. Whatever you do: don’t have a new employee start when their manager is away on vacation.

2. Context is key

When you join HoneyBook, you are joining a family comprised of people who depend on one another to accomplish our mission together. Because of that, we think it’s essential for new employees to know what all parts of the business are responsible for, and where they come into the mix. In their first week, new employees meet with each co-founder and leader to get a high-level view of the company. In addition to an overview of each department, we also cover things like our core values and our culture of feedback. While hiring managers can be eager to get their new employees up and running with their day to day work, setting the context before they begin their work is essential. Context empowers each employee to understand the value of their role and to see how they are making a tangible impact in the company.

In #startuplife, things are constantly evolving. In order for new hires to get the best picture of the company and how they fit in, it’s important for your onboarding experience to evolve at the same pace as the company. We’ve learned we need to be proactive about keeping our onboarding materials up to date, and also making sure we’re telling a cohesive narrative as our company evolves.

3. Create a welcoming environment

I bet each of us can think back to our first day at a new job. There were a flurry of things running through your mind — whether people will like you, where the bathroom is, whether or not you should pull out your list of awesome one-liners. We know there’s a lot to think about when you start a new job, so we’ve optimized our process to make sure each new hire feels at home from the moment they walk in the door.

We start with introductions in our morning All Hands Meeting, followed up with a welcome in our weekly newsletter. New employees are also set up with two buddies. The HoneyBuddy is someone from another team that welcomes you on the first day, gives an office tour, and has coffee or lunch with you the first week. The Team Buddy is someone on the same team that goes over team specific systems and questions. Through our onboarding meetings, we also create opportunities for the co-founders and leaders of the company to get to know new employees. To this day, the CEO has a 1x1 with every new employee in their first two to three weeks.

Three days a week we cater lunch, which is a great way for new employees to mix and mingle with other people in the company. One of our recent learnings is that we should schedule lunches for the new employee the other two days of of the week to create a seamless experience.

4. Make it impactful

We put a focus on hiring entrepreneurial people who are builders at heart. Because of this, it’s even more important for people to immediately feel the impact of what they are building. We advise all of our managers to give their new team member a bite-sized project or feature that they can own and complete in their first month, and feel that quick win. In fact, every developer that joins gets to work autonomously on one feature that they deploy within their first four weeks before they join their permanent “commando” (this is what we call our agile teams).

The worst thing that can happen is that a new employee is too overwhelmed in projects in their first month to ever fully get to completion on one solid project or result. Or even worse that they are under-utilized and have spare time. Both scenarios result in poor cadence and loss of precious momentum.

5. Don’t forget to follow up

We put a great deal of thought and time into crafting an incredible onboarding experience for each new hire, so our efforts would be remiss if we didn’t ask for feedback on it. Asking for feedback helps us make meaningful changes for the next batch of new employees and reinforces our culture of feedback — we value specific, direct, and real-time feedback here. However, we learned that by not asking for specific feedback after the first month, we didn’t always get the most useful feedback. Asking thoughtful questions will get you thoughtful answers.

I’m always looking to mastermind with other People and HR professionals about what’s working at other companies. I would love to hear from you (whether in the comments or at if you have any helpful tips for me or if you want to ask further questions about our practices.