It’s a new employee’s first day on the job, and contrary to startup convention, proper onboarding does not just mean providing him or her with a brand new iPad and an abundance of swag to represent the company.
New employee onboarding is the single most important thing you can do to ensure the long-term success of not only that employee, but your company overall.
Companies that implement strong onboarding processes have significantly better employee retention, employee satisfaction, and overall productivity levels. If you are the type of person that looks for hard numbers to justify programs, check out this infographic to see just how much improper onboarding can cost an organization.
Successful onboarding doesn’t stop at the end of a new hire’s first day, however. As you continue to scale your business, you’ll need to implement a more formal training process to succeed with your hires. As more and more people come onboard, the informal training process you are likely currently doing won’t cut it.
A formal onboarding process can be treated as a living, breathing thing that is improved over time, but getting a formula in place early will ensure no new hire slips through the cracks.
Levers that maximize new hire success
The Society for Human Resource Management—one of the largest HR membership organizations—has put together an excellent guideline series on maximizing success during new employee onboarding.
While the guide is focused on Fortune 500 companies and their processes, their outline of the four “levers” that maximize onboarding success can be applied to any size company. Think of these levers as the desired outcomes that any employee should feel at the end of their onboarding time.
1. Confidence in job performance
The more that you can make your new employee feel confident about his or her job and role at the company, the more he or she will be motivated and eventually more successful.
2. Role clarity
This is arguably the most difficult step for a small business since so many of us wear multiple hats, but it is so incredibly important. Surprisingly, measures of role clarity are among the most consistent predictors of job satisfaction. This means making sure that your new employee is 100 percent aware of role expectations.
3. Social integration
New employees need to feel socially at ease and accepted by peers. High-quality relationships lead to less turnover and a stronger commitment to the organization—no surprise there.
4. Knowledge of culture
When hiring for a position, most organizations place an extreme amount of importance on how likely the interviewee is to fit into their company culture, but too frequently it stops there. Understanding a company’s goals, values, and unique approach are essential to ensure the new employee’s long-term success.
Creating an effective onboarding program
The question then becomes, “How do you ensure that you are achieving these desired outcomes with every new hire?”
To that end, here’s a helpful guide we’ve put together on creating an effective onboarding and training program.
Before the hire
Determine baseline knowledge and create documentation
Determine who will head up this process for the company and within each department. It helps to have one person run point on organizing, getting input from stakeholders, and implementing everything related to training. Founders and CEOs will likely want to be (and should be) involved at least in the formation of the program.
To make sure everyone is on the same page, start small by deciding what general, must-know aspects of your business you want to have emphasized for each and every hire.
Create training team(s)
When new hires start, there should be a rough schedule for them to follow to get up to speed on everything related to the business and their role. Determine what the ideal training schedule looks like and then backfill who handles each aspect of the onboarding.
For instance, your CEO might want to kick off day one by greeting the new hire and sitting down with them to welcome them to the business. After that greeting, training programs will begin and be run by team leads from various departments—sales, marketing, operations, product, and so on.
Ideally, your departments will create a quick “employee handbook” of sorts that employees can have on file. You will want to balance the amount of time and effort you put into creating this depending on the stage and maturity of your business. If you are still finding product market fit and what works within each core aspect of your business, it might not make sense to document processes yet.
Either way, it’s always good to have information and expectations in writing that you and your hire can refer back to, whether it’s a Word document, presentation, or similar. Keep in mind that the ultimate goal as you grow in size is for many people on your team to be able to deliver the same message and same training to new hires.
Day one to week one
As mentioned, it’s great for the CEO or founder to sit down with the new hire immediately upon arrival.
Here, the CEO can reiterate a lot of what was discussed in the interview process, with candidness around the new hire’s opportunity and expected challenges, department successes and failures, and so on.
If you don’t have an HR contact, the CEO should also handle all discussions and paperwork around payroll, benefits, and so on. This also means making sure the new employee is all set up and ready to go on their first day. Make sure they received their email, forms, training documents, and other necessary materials before they ever step foot into the office.
Ensure that all employees are aware of the new employee’s start date and that the manager is there to greet the employee from the beginning. Also, don’t forget to show them where the facilities are.
Meet and greet
You likely have a lot of important people at your company that your new hire may not have met in the interview process. Schedule half hour meet and greets for the new hire to get to know those team members, regardless of if they will be working together or not.
Again, make sure that all employees are aware of your new employee’s start date and are welcoming and introduce themselves.
The department lead should then go over the role responsibilities and typical day-to-day functions. Make sure the new hire is taking notes and ask frequently whether they have any questions or require anything to be repeated.
You’re likely not expecting much output from your new hire in week one. Load them up with reading material that you want them to know inside and out. Share old and updated sales decks, news releases, blogs, and so on.
Depending on how tech-heavy your business is, expect that your new hire will need a few demos to get acquainted, as well as time alone to play with the product and ask follow-up questions.
Again, with output expectations low, take this slow time with your new hire to lead by example. Have them sit in on meetings, calls, or simply let them watch over your shoulder as you work, explaining as you go the expectations you have for when they take over.
Continue to share content and resources that you want them to pour over during ramp up. Depending on the level of your new hire, you might want to go over the coursework with them, reiterating and explaining as you go.
Practical exercises and quizzes
Have them conduct research for you or do administrative work to understand how your team works and what sort of resources help you to succeed. Test them on the information you’ve shared and work with them to learn.
A step up from shadowing, role playing is especially helpful for account and sales roles where your new hire will be speaking directly with customers and prospects.
They are becoming the face of your company, so take them out of their comfort zone, throw curveballs, and give them an idea of the best—and worst—case scenarios that they could encounter.
Set them loose
Give them some space to apply what they’ve learned about how your business operates and your expectations of them in the role. Let them show you what they’ve got.
While you don’t want to hover or micromanage too much, it’s important in the beginning to sit in occasionally while they are working to get an idea of their mastery, speed, and effectiveness. This will help you in your ongoing training with them, and will also help build your trust in them to ease any worries you might have about handing off responsibilities.
Collect your thoughts
You’re coming up on 30 days with your new hire. Start to collect your thoughts on how they fit in at your company, from a culture perspective as well as how they are performing in the first few weeks based on the expectations you set for the role.
Month two and beyond
The learning shouldn’t stop after month one. Likely, your new hire won’t start performing to their full potential until month three to six.
Set incremental goals with the hire that are definitely a reach—but not unattainable—until they hit their stride. Continue to join them in meetings with clients, let them shadow your calls, have weekly check-ins to understand where they’re at, provide ongoing feedback, and share tips and tricks that will make their life easier.
While there are many debates out there about the effectiveness of annual reviews, your new hire should have some sort of regular check-in (30, 60, 90 days, six months, one year) that recaps your ongoing conversations, focusing on their performance and ways that they can improve.
Most importantly, remind them of your open-door policy for any recommendations or questions they have along the way.
Ongoing training is so important and learning opportunities affect the happiness of your team. Companies that provide career development opportunities will find their employees more satisfied and committed to growing with the company.
You can achieve this in a number of ways, including events like weekly practical learning activities, monthly book clubs, mentorship programs within your business, allowances for employees to attend courses outside the office, providing internal certification programs that demonstrate their mastery of the product or service, and more.
Finally, lead by example. Nothing sets the tone better than a leadership team that is entirely committed and practices what they preach.