Updated: November 2020
When it comes to hiring and onboarding new employees, many companies spend the bulk of the time and effort doing the former, and very little time and effort doing the latter. To some degree, this makes sense. The hiring process is often long, drawn-out, and involves many people, both externally (the job applicants) and internally (the hiring team). However, the time and effort you spend hiring a new employee are all wasted if you don’t put equal effort into their onboarding process. The ability to onboard a new employee effectively will not only set the employee up for future success in your company, but will prevent you from having to go through the long, drawn-out hiring process for a second time.
What is New Employee Onboarding?
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you just felt lost? It’s a terrible feeling. The nerves and anxiety begin to set in, and there’s often a great deal of uncertainty that makes you second-guess every decision that led you to feel so lost in the first place.
This is what we want to avoid when creating a new employee onboarding program.
If we were to define new employee onboarding in a very simplistic way, it’d be this: The process or program implemented by a company to make new employees feel welcome, confident, and comfortable in their new surroundings.
When we fail to onboard new employees properly, they feel the opposite of welcome, confident, and comfortable. In other words, they feel lost.
To avoid our employees feeling lost (and to stop them from second-guessing their decision to come and work at your company) let’s make sure we get the onboarding experience right.
Below, you’ll find 10 ways to improve your new employee onboarding in 2021.
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Onboarding Before The First Day (Pre-Boarding)
Many companies make the mistake of thinking that new employee onboarding starts on the employee’s first day of work. If you have this mindset, you’re already at a serious disadvantage. The best companies begin the onboarding process well before the new employee ever steps foot in your office. This period of time before the first day, often referred to as pre-boarding, is an important step that will lead to a successful day one.
So what should you do during the pre-boarding process? Here are a few recommendations.
1. Prepare for the new hire internally.
After hiring a new employee, the last thing you want to happen is to have them show up for their first day and not have anything prepared. If this happens, they’ll lose confidence in the company’s ability to manage their workforce and they’ll feel bothered that you didn’t put any effort into making their first day a success. This is a recipe for disaster. In order to avoid situations like this, consider assigning out the following (applicable) tasks internally so that every new hire starts their first day with everything they need:
- Make a desk assignment
- Order and place a computer, phone, or other technology at the desk
- Ensure that the proper software is installed on the computer
- Create a company email address
- Create a security access key for the building
- Place welcome gift (or company swag) on the desk
Additionally, if this is the first time your company has hired for a certain position and you’re not totally sure what your new employee will need, just ask! Allow them to tell you what tools and technology will help them succeed at their job, and then provide them with those things.
2. Send the new-hire paperwork.
Unfortunately, many companies either wait to have the new hire complete their paperwork on the first day of employment, or they just forget to send it out before day one. Either way, having your new employee spend the first few hours of their first day in your office signing papers and reading contracts is a waste of time. Technology has not only made this process digital, but it’s made it easy and fast. We absolutely recommend getting as much paperwork out of the way as possible during the pre-boarding phase. Here are some key documents to keep in mind:
- Tax Documents (like the W-4)
- Legal Documents (like the form I-9)
- Company Agreements (non-disclosures, non-competes, etc.)
- Company Handbook (contains company policies, code of conduct, etc.)
- Payroll Forms (includes direct deposit and banking information)
- Background Check (when applicable)
- Employment Contract
As you can see, there’s no shortage of paperwork to complete for a new employee. Give them time to sign and submit this information before their first day so that they have plenty of time to process each document and ask questions when necessary.
3. Communicate key information
Remember, one of the primary goals of the onboarding process is to help the employee feel welcome, confident, and comfortable. In other words, we want them to feel the opposite of lost. To do this, you’ll want to communicate consistently with the new hire before their first day of work.
This communication can have multiple purposes. You might take the time to share information about the company or prep them to fit into the company’s culture. You might share with them your expectations for their job responsibilities and duties. You may introduce them to various members of their future team so that they can get comfortable with their co-workers.
Whatever it is you feel might need to be communicated, don’t hesitate to do so. Here are a few common communications companies have with their new employees:
- A welcome message (from their team or the CEO)
- An introduction to the company (includes history, values, etc.)
- An overview of expectations and job responsibilities
- Information about compensation plans, promotions, and bonuses
- Important company jargon or common terminology/lingo
- An outline of what to expect on day one (or even during their entire first week)
- A get-to-know-you survey
All these things can be meaningful and impactful. Additionally, if you are an active communicator before the employee’s first day, they’ll feel more comfortable communicating back with you. This will lead to opportunities to answer their questions and put them at ease about anything that’s troubling or worrying them.
4. Prep the team
It’d be awkward if your new hire showed up on their first day of work and their co-workers and teammates didn’t know they were coming. The new hire would feel like they’d been slighted and their co-workers would spend more time wondering why they have a new guy (or gal) on the team than they would welcoming the new hire and making them feel comfortable and accepted.
This is undoubtedly a situation that we want to avoid, and it can be avoided very easily. Here are some ideas on prepping the team for the arrival of a new hire:
- Let the team or department know that you’re looking for someone new as soon as the job is posted. No need to wait until someone is hired.
- Explain the new hire’s role. It’s important that no one on the team feels threatened or worried that their work is being infringed upon.
- Schedule time to interact with the new hire during their first day or first week.
- Introduce the new hire before their first day (including sharing their name, photo, and job title with the team).
While this step is not complicated, we’re often surprised (and not in a good way) to hear how often this doesn’t happen. The new hire should never show up on their first day unannounced. Their department, manager, and teammates should all be aware of their coming and should do whatever they can to help them feel comfortable and accepted.
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Onboarding On The First Day
Alright, you’ve made it to day one. To this point, the new hire has already completed their paperwork, asked their questions, and received plenty of communication from the company. Now, they’ll come into the office with their desk set up, their tools and technology ready to be used, and their team waiting to welcome them. Nice work!
But now, the real onboarding process begins. It’s time to make sure that their first day is not only memorable, but leaves them saying, “I am so glad I chose to work for this company.”
Here are a few recommendations on how to make that happen.
1. Execute the first-day agenda
On an employee’s first day, they want to feel special. They want to feel like you’re prepared to welcome them, prepared to teach them, and prepared to help them succeed. A great way to do this is to prepare and execute a first-day agenda. If you’ve got a clear plan for how to navigate an employee through their first day, if you have a schedule to show them where they’ll be and what they’ll be doing and who they’ll be meeting, then that employee will feel special.
Here are a few things you might include on your first-day agenda:
- An office tour
- A meet-and-greet with company leadership
- First-day orientation meetings
- Welcome lunch with their teammates
- Product or service overview (help them get to know what the business sells)
- Culture and company values lesson
While the agenda will ultimately be dictated by you and will be unique to your company, we recommend creating one. Give a copy of the agenda to the new hire as soon as they come through the door so that they can have clear expectations for their first day. Seeing that you’ve prepared for their arrival will give the new hire confidence in their decision to join your organization.
2. Assign a mentor/friend
It can be extremely stressful to transition to a new job or company. One of the biggest challenges is the fact that you no longer have the friends and social interactions of your previous job. Starting in a new place without a friend can feel isolating and can contribute to the feeling of “being lost” that we’re obsessively trying to avoid when crafting the new hire onboarding process. So to help your new employees avoid this, we recommend assigning them a mentor and friend.
The person you assign should be on the new hire’s team (or at least within their department). This person will specifically be responsible for helping the new hire adjust to their surroundings, and will go out of their way to help train, mentor, and teach the new employee during their first few weeks. Ideally, this friend or mentor should help with the following:
- Answer questions related to the new employee’s job
- Answer questions related to company policies
- Teach the new employee the basics behind common processes (like how to request time off or how to clock-in and out)
- Explain the company organizational structure
- Explain the department’s goals and how those goals contribute to the company’s goals
- Check-in on the new employee to monitor their progress
The primary purpose of the mentor is to be available should the new hire have questions or need help. It’s important that your new hire feels comfortable going to someone with questions that might seem “stupid” or “insignificant.” As long as the new hire has someone to go to, they’ll learn much faster and become more confident and comfortable working in your company.
3. Get the employee excited
If you were to boil the entire new hire onboarding process down to just a few words, it’d be these: Get the employee excited to work for you! That’s really what you want. All of the points we cover in this guide hopefully lead to excitement.
Remember, while you might be convinced that your company is a great place to work, your new employees don’t know that yet. They will likely come in on their first day with some skepticism and maybe even some regret. They’ll be asking themselves whether they made the right choice leaving their previous company or whether or not they should have taken a different job offer.
So what can you do to get them excited? How can you help them dispel these negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones? Here are some suggestions:
- Show a video that explains your culture, norms, and traditions
- Talk about your employee benefits, perks, and the way your reward and recognize your high performers
- Share the vision and plans for the company. Help them see the growth potential and how they can contribute
- Play a game with co-workers to help cut the tension and ease their nerves
- Invite them to an upcoming holiday party or company event
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to get the new employee excited about the choice they made to be at your company. If you can’t do that, then the chances are the employee won’t last long.
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Onboarding After Their First Day
Just like the onboarding process didn’t start on the new employee’s first day, it doesn’t end there either. Many companies mistakenly stop their onboarding efforts, even though little to this point has been accomplished. Yes, it is vital to make the first day memorable and get the employee excited about working for the company. But after the novelty and excitement wear off, the employee will need continued motivation and support to make their job change a success.
We’ve made a list of a few ways you can ensure that your new hire is not only successful on day one, but will continue to be successful for months and years to come.
1. Create a ramp-up period
Even the very best employees are not going to come into your company and make an immediate impact. It will take time for new hires to understand what the company is trying to achieve and how their contributions can fit into those goals. It will also take time for the employee to learn your company’s systems, processes, and procedures. So rather than creating unrealistic expectations, work with the employee to create a ramp-up period.
This ramp-up period will outline the progress you’ll hope to see as the employee spends more time in the company. Below is an example ramp-up period for a salesperson:
- Month 1:
- Learn about the product you are going to sell
- Listen to sales calls and demos from team members
- Familiarize yourself with sales scripts and sales language
- Learn to demo and sell the product yourself
- Make your first sales
- Month 2:
- Make a few more sales (hit 50% of quota)
- Pass off your demo/sales scripts with your manager
- Continue to listen to sales calls and demos from team members
- Continue to learn about the product are selling
- Month 3:
- Make even more sales (hit 75% of quota)
- Take the lead in training the sales team on an aspect of the product
As you can see in the fictitious ramp-up period outlined above, you should not expect a salesperson (or anyone at any position) to come in and do 100% of what their colleagues are doing during their first month. Make sure every employee has the time and training they need to ramp-up to being a full contributor.
2. Hold regular training sessions
There’s no way you’ll be able to fit all your employee training in on day one. In fact, many employees report their first day feeling like a “firehose of information” that’s coming at them so quickly that they retain almost nothing. In order to properly train your employees and get them up to speed, they’ll need regular training sessions over the course of their first three months of employment.
These training sessions may cover any of the following:
- Training covering a specific skill
- Training for the general responsibilities of the job
- Training on the company mission, vision, values, and culture
- Training on company terminology, jargon, or language
- Training on tools used in the job (i.e. Asana for project management or GitHub for software development)
There’s a lot of knowledge and information that we often take for granted. A new employee will come into your organization as a blank slate and will need help catching up. Much of what they need to know cannot be learned in a day or even a week. Your training sessions will likely need to be held regularly for months until they are fully up-to-speed.
3. Set clear goals and communicate about performance
Our final tip is probably our most valuable. Employees want to know what’s expected of them and where they stand in the eyes of company leadership. If an employee does not have an idea of these two things, there will be dissonance.
The good news is that most employees want to live up to expectations. They want to work hard and hit their goals. The problem only exists when they don’t know what their goals are and therefore don’t know if they’re performing as expected.
The best way to remedy this situation is to be straightforward and clear about what is expected from the employee. You can start by communicating these expectations as you review their ramp-up period. Help them to understand exactly what you’re hoping for them to achieve, and then have someone (preferably their manager) check in on their progress consistently. Here’s what we recommend:
- Hold regular performance reviews
- Review goals and expectations
- Help the employee understand how their goals tie into the larger goals of the department and/or the company
- When the employee fails to meet expectations, communicate their failure and figure out why expectations were not met
- Reward the employee for great performance
When all of your employees (new hires or otherwise) have clear performance expectations, your business will run smoothly. People will know what they’re accountable for and who they’re accountable to. No one should ever be caught off-guard or be left in the dark about what was expected of them.
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The new employee onboarding process can appear intimidating at first because there is a lot to do. However, by consistently working your way through these 10 steps, you’ll improve your employee retention numbers and have more success getting new hires up and running.
Remember, new hire onboarding is not limited to the first day. In fact, it starts well before your employee ever walks through the door, and continues long after day one. Each step is important and should not be skipped.
As you re-think and revamp your new employee onboarding process for 2021, we hope you’ll consider these steps to make your program a success!