6 Ideas for Successful Onboarding

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When I became a supervisor at 26 years old, I was understandably nervous. I had been responsible for leading projects and teams, but I had never been responsible for directly supervising others. My dad gave me sage advice: “Treat your employees the way that you would like to be treated.” “The golden rule applies not only to life but also to business,” he explained. I thought a lot about this as I became a supervisor—I decided I would be honest with my employees, remember to follow-up with them, always find time for them (in one way or another), and ensure their working experience from start to finish was a pleasant one.

In reflecting on my own onboarding experiences—which I shared in my previous blog—and thinking about how I would like to be treated as a new employee, I’ve developed six ideas for how to successfully navigate the onboarding experience. 

1. Begin Onboarding before Day 1 because First Impressions Are Important

Begin with an email welcoming your new employee to the team and include details about the first day, such as where to park, what time to arrive, lunch plans, what to bring (e.g., license, passport for HR paperwork). If HR handles these details, as supervisor, be sure to reach out separately to welcome your newest team member. A phone call or voicemail is an especially nice touch.   

Before your new employee starts, you also should alert your team or the entire company (depending on the size of your organization). This can be done via email or verbally—explain your new employee’s role and why he or she was hired.

You (or someone in the IT department) should set up all technology for your new employee, including computer, email, phones, software applications, and servers. Invite your new employee to all necessary standing meetings (e.g., team meetings, company meetings). Place some sort of welcome item on your new employee’s desk (see #4 for ideas).

On your new employee’s first day, ensure the front desk knows to expect your new employee. If there is nobody at the front desk, make sure that you are present to welcome your employee. If you can’t be present because of meetings or travel, be sure to let your new employee know ahead of time that a colleague or counterpart will be there to welcome him or her.

2. Have, Communicate, and Execute a Plan

Have a plan for onboarding, and recruit team members to help (see #3). Verbally review what will be included in a new employee’s training along with a checklist. Communicate the plan both to your new employee and to the team who will be helping with onboarding.

Your plan should include the following:

  • Office tour (including anything special, like safety and security procedures, where to find supplies, how to make coffee) and an introduction to team members

  • Review of HR paperwork and company handbook

  • Training on email/calendars, answering phones, accessing files (e.g., on a server), and training on proprietary software programs

    • Training can be split into multiple sessions and can be led by other team members (see #3) depending on the complexity of your company and its systems.

    • It may seem silly to train someone on basic things like email/calendars or answering phones, but your company probably does (or at least should) have a consistent way of answering phones, scheduling conference rooms, closing emails with a standard signature. There are lots of little details that someone who has been at the company for years may not think of but that a new employee needs to know. 

  • Company and brand overview (see #4)

  • Overview of projects/clients

  • Supervisor/new employee meeting to discuss role and expectations

  • First day lunch (either with the whole team, one counterpart, or supervisor)

  • Shadowing time so new employee can observe colleagues and counterparts on best practices

  • Any role-specific training

3. Make Onboarding a Team Sport

Time—or the lack of it—is an obstacle to onboarding. But remember that being the supervisor doesn’t mean you need to handle all the onboarding yourself. In fact, including team members in the onboarding process (both those who are senior and junior to your new employee) is vital. Doing so makes everyone feel included and fast tracks bonding with the new employee (not to mention, it saves you time). Ask team members to participate ahead of time and walk them through the onboarding plan (see #2).

4. Share Your Company’s Brand & Provide Context

Your new employee should know quite a bit about your company from the interview process. However, during the first day (or first week), it’s important to provide information about your company, not just company background but also details on your company’s brand. I’m not just talking about your company logo or brand colors but also, more importantly, your company’s mission, vision, values, and position in the market. You also should share an organizational chart (even if it’s verbal) and explain the context for how your department and your new employee’s role fits into the bigger company picture.  

You’re proud to work for your company (at least you should be!), and you want your new employee to be proud, too. A nice way to spread the brand love is to give your new employee company swag (think: coffee mug, pen, notebook, or backpack). Your employee is your company’s newest brand ambassador. Don’t miss the opportunity excite your new employee about your brand (and to gain a walking advertisement along the way).

5. Set Expectations & Goals (& Don’t Forget to Follow Up Frequently)

A lack of upfront communication is an avoidable onboarding pitfall. Share company policies with your new employee within the first week (ideally, these policies are also written in a company handbook). Now is also the time to confirm expectations for the role (this should have been done during the interview process, too) and to discuss personal preferences. For example, as a supervisor, do you expect your new employee to respond to a client within a set time period? Do you expect him or her to respond to your emails after hours? Does it really bother you if he or she doesn’t arrive each day at a certain time? Are flexible working hours possible? If he or she is running late, how do you want that communicated to you and the team?  

In addition to setting expectations, ask your new employee about his or her goals within the role and keep track of these goals. Set up recurring one-on-one meetings with your new employee so that you can revisit goals and progress on a regular basis. There’s no set cadence for one-on-one meetings—some supervisors meet with their direct reports for one hour each week, some meet for a half hour every other week, and some meet once a month. I generally suggest meeting every other week.

For new employees, I also think a formal 3- and 6-month reviews are helpful. And be sure to acknowledge your new employee’s one-year anniversary (and subsequent anniversaries).

6. Provide Feedback Early & Often

Especially in your new employee’s first couple of weeks, be sure to provide feedback on how he or she is doing. Positive feedback is great, but now is also the time to break any habits and set the tone for your relationship. Frame any constructive feedback in a positive way. Once I had a supervisor tell me: “Next time, come to me first with questions like this, and we can figure it out together.” It was a reprimand, but one that was expressed as a learning moment.

Encourage team members to provide feedback to your new employee, or have them come to you with feedback. If your new employee is doing a great job, it’s also very nice to call this out in front of the team.  

Bonus Points

The above six ideas should help you with onboarding your next new employee. There’s one additional idea that isn’t necessary, but it’s incredibly valuable: take some time to get to know your new employee on a personal level. I’m certainly not suggesting that you should be friends with your employees, but showing that you care about them as more than just a “cog in a machine” and being able to see things from your employee’s perspective is key. If you want to learn more about compassionate management, check out Angela Fresne’s blog.

Taking time during the onboarding process to set up a relationship like this can take you from being a good manager to a great one. Calling your new employee before the first day, taking a new employee out to lunch in the first week and then every now and again, sharing a handwritten card on your employee’s work anniversary, sending flowers during a difficult family time—these are all small gestures that truly go a long way.

Summary

Even with the best onboarding, employees leave. Maybe your employee's partner accepts a great job opportunity out of state. Maybe he or she needs to put his or her career on hold to take care of a sick family member. Maybe he or she has worked for you for five years but has received another great opportunity. Your employees will eventually leave. However, your chances of retaining your staff are greatly improved if you have a good onboarding process and continue to follow up and pay attention to your employees.

Do you have any questions? Do you have tried and true onboarding ideas you’d like to share? Please contact me.

Additional Reading for Onboarding

Jamie Ousterout