By: Nina Mermelstein
We have all been there before – it’s the first day of a new job and you are feeling all that built up excitement alongside the usual first day jitters. Sure, you have a strong understanding of the job and the company from the interview process, but now that some time has passed since your last interview, you may have some new questions– How quickly will I adapt to a new hybrid or fully-remote work environment and build meaningful connections with my coworkers? What will my first day/week/month look like? What can I do to get up to speed so that I can quickly make a meaningful impact on the business?
From an HR/hiring manager perspective, mitigating these early concerns for a new hire can be difficult. However, there is a key tool that a company has at its disposal during these early stages–a stellar onboarding program!
For a startup company where the focus is on rapid growth through selling, scaling, and fundraising, the onboarding process can be easily overlooked. According to Gallup, only 12% of employees in the U.S. say their company does a good job of onboarding and roughly 1 in 5 employees report that their most recent onboarding was poor or nonexistent. On the other hand, a world-class onboarding experience can be a game changer for your new hire. Gallup also found that 70% of people who had exceptional onboarding experiences say that they have “the best possible job” and were 2.6x more likely to be extremely satisfied with their workplace. The benefits of a well-developed onboarding program trickle all the way down to employee engagement and retention.
Onboarding is important for all employees at any stage of their career whether it is a c-suite executive or someone joining straight out of school. Those first few days on the job are critical. Whether you are establishing the business’s first onboarding program or enhancing the existing onboarding process, here are 5 tips to elevate your company’s onboarding process:
#1–Prep your existing team: Enlisting the help of other non-HR representatives from your existing team to facilitate onboarding will enable the new hire to create connections with various employees across the organization. Instead of having an HR representative run through the company financials and key metrics, bring in a finance team member who lives in the metrics and can share their unique perspectives on the subject matter. While enlisting the help of existing employees across various departments is a great onboarding tactic, it is key that every team member involved is thoroughly prepped ahead of the new hire’s start date. The existing team members should receive a bio for the new hire in addition to a clear goal for what should be accomplished in each onboarding meeting. For example, in our company, each onboarding calendar invitation includes a quick summary of what the new hire should expect to learn during the session and any key goals for the meetings. While this level of detail should absolutely be included in meetings on important topics such as internal platforms and databases, it is also helpful to include goals for a get-to-know-you coffee meeting (i.e. the goal for a coffee meeting may be for the existing employee to share what special projects they are working on and the professional development opportunities they have taken advantage of at the company). Outlining these details will help put everyone at ease and set expectations throughout the onboarding process.
#2– Individualize the training program: Everyone has a different learning style. One person may learn best when they are presented with in-depth visual training videos while another person may learn more through shadowing existing hires. The hiring manager can create a touchpoint with the new hire ahead of their start date to better understand that person’s learning style and specific training needs. Some helpful open-ended questions to ask a soon-to-be employee are:
- How do you tend to learn best?
- What modes of learning don’t work as well for you?
- What do you think is your biggest skill or knowledge gap as you enter this new role?
- What is one thing you wish was different about your last onboarding experience?
Startups are uniquely positioned to be agile in their approach to onboarding and can leverage information about a new team member’s learning style to adjust their training content accordingly. We recently onboarded a new hire who shared that they are an auditory learner and a hands-on “jump right in” learner, but that reading content and watching videos are less helpful for retaining information. Based on their insight, we were able to craft an onboarding program that involved self-paced auditory learning through podcasts in addition to a significant amount of client scenario role-playing and hands-on project work.
#3–Define the company lingo: Many businesses and teams have their own distinct language that employees use on a day-to-day basis that would seem foreign to a new hire. When you are an outsider who is joining a new team, understanding that common language can be the key to building relationships and fully grasping the team culture. One mechanism that a company can use to speed up that learning curve and help a new employee feel like an insider is by providing them with a company lingo reference guide. This guide is essentially a dictionary for the common terms one is likely to hear around the office. For example, a company may choose to describe the typical meetings that are held (e.g, touchbase, 1:1, scrum, all hands). At our firm, the “AQP Company Lingo Guide” is the top onboarding file opened by new employees in their first month.
#4–Share your team’s work styles: Another key opportunity for a hiring manager to expedite the learning process is to share the tacit knowledge that typically goes unspoken in a firm about how each team member operates, what their strengths are, and a general sense of how they typically work. This information is especially important in fully-remote or hybrid work environments where spelling out exactly how a person best communicates and receives information is imperative. Instead of having your new hire comb through the team bio page to learn the work history and maybe one or two fun facts about the people they will be working most closely with, take the company bios one step further. Some companies have done this by adapting Ray Dalio’s “Baseball Card System” to create summaries for each employee. The summaries can include a short bio, their favorite tasks, and their strengths and weaknesses (see example of Stryve’s baseball card system here) that are then shared with the full company. These elevated bios can be based on self-reported information, reviews of strengths by peers, or a combination of the two.
At Aequitas Partners, we have created a version of the internal bio by asking all our employees to share information about their interests and a short blurb on “how I work” (see the mock example below). We share these bios with our new hires and ask any new team member to draft up their bio in the first week to share with the rest of the team as well. This tactic helps to facilitate psychological safety across the organization by emphasizing that we want people to bring their individuality and authentic selves to work every day.
|Background Info||From Philly and was living in the city for the last 5 years before moving to the suburbs. Misses the city but loves the space.|
|What I enjoy||Likes red wine, great coffee, movies, the beach, travel – especially to Europe and the Caribbean. I’m always in search of the next concert and will take just about any opportunity to see some live music!|
|How I Work||I’m not a morning person, but I try; best not to bombard me before I’ve sat down at my desk in the morning. I’m highly collaborative and inquisitive, which means I enjoy those same qualities in my colleagues. No question is too big and small and I will never be “too busy” to unpack a challenge over a call. I overuse slack, and because there are so many things going on, a thumbs up on a message to acknowledge that you saw it makes me feel at ease. I love operational challenges. If you’re coming across an inefficiency, let’s talk about it – how we can systematize, automate, make technology work for us.|
#5– Request feedback, refine, repeat: The final (and arguably most important) tip for elevating your onboarding process is focusing on continuous improvement through collecting feedback and refining the program. The hiring manager should plan to have multiple checkpoints with a new hire during their first couple of weeks to collect real-time feedback on the onboarding experience as well as areas that the person identifies where they might need additional training. Our firm schedules 15-30 minute check-in meetings for the hiring manager and the new employee at the end of day 3, day 5, and again at the midpoint and end of their second week. The qualitative feedback provided in these check-ins will inform how the company can adapt the onboarding program moving forward. The new hire should also be given an onboarding survey at the end of their second week with rating scales and open ended questions. The HR team should also aim to conduct a 30-minute check-in meeting with the recent hire at the end of their first month to identify further learning opportunities for that individual and how they can continuously improve the new hire onboarding process.
You have an incredible opportunity to elevate and optimize your company’s onboarding process by leveraging the five tips outlined in this article. If you have questions or want to further strategize how to elevate your specific company’s onboarding process with the Aequitas Partners team, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.