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Updated Mar 22, 2023

11 Ways to Successfully Onboard Your New Hires

Dennis O’Keefe, Community Member

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Finding the best employees for your small business is only part of the process of building a great team. After you’ve hired a new worker, create an excellent onboarding experience by introducing them to their position and work environment. After all, your new employee can only learn how to be your dream employee from you.

Even if you and your current employees are busy, find time for interesting and useful onboarding techniques. Rushing through the process or winging it can set you and your new recruit up for failure. 

Here’s how to create a successful onboarding experience at your company.

What is onboarding?

Onboarding is how new hires or contractors learn the necessary skills, knowledge and behaviors to become productive and engaged members of your small business team. The process includes filling out essential paperwork, participating in hands-on training, socializing with co-workers and learning the company culture. Onboarding is different from an orientation and should extend past the employee’s first week. It can last anywhere from a month to a year.

In many businesses, onboarding is often confused with orientation – during which the employee might watch some videos, fill out paperwork and then be told to get to work. Onboarding, however, is a chance for your new hire to connect emotionally with your company’s vision and culture. It should give them all the tools and resources they need to become a productive member of your team as quickly as possible. At the same time, it should give them a great impression of your company, so they want to stick around long term.

These are the three primary goals of an onboarding process.

  1. Acclimate your employee to your company’s processes, culture, norms and goals.
  2. Engage the employee by fostering supportive relationships between the new worker, their co-workers and management.
  3. Retain the employee to increase productivity and morale throughout your company.

Because onboarding provides your new worker’s first impression of their role within your company, make it count by following these 11 best practices.

TipBottom line

The best employee for the job may already be someone on your team. When you promote from within, trust is already established. Current team members also already understand the company and can see opportunities for its growth.

Onboarding best practices

1. Understand why onboarding is important.

An employee’s onboarding experience can influence how likely they are to stay with your company. Conversely, if an employee has a bad onboarding experience, they might decide that the organization is poorly managed and that they made a mistake accepting the job in the first place.

2. Your onboarding efforts should start before the employee’s first day.

The onboarding process should begin before your new hire ever steps into the office to start working. To ensure you’re covering everything, create a checklist that includes what needs to be done before the employee starts work, during their first week and beyond.

As soon as they’ve accepted the job, send them any required paperwork so they don’t have to spend their first day filling it out. This might include payroll forms like Form W-4 and Form I-9 and employee information forms. Send them your employee handbook so you can address any of their concerns in advance. You can easily automate this process with a digital onboarding system such as Workful. Digital onboarding can increase accuracy and help you create a more personal experience because it’ll allow you to spend more time with your new hire, instead of waiting for them to fill out forms.

A few days before they start work, send them a friendly note sharing how excited you are to have them join your team. Let them know at what time they need to arrive on their first day, where to park, who to ask for and what the dress code is. To further alleviate any first-day jitters, send them an agenda for their first week so they know what to expect.

3. Announce your new hire to your current staff.

It can be unnerving to walk into a new job if no one knows who you are or what your role is. To prevent this from happening, send an email to your current staff introducing their new co-worker a day or two in advance. Share what the person’s role will be, so everyone knows how they’ll fit into the existing dynamics. You might also include a headshot and a brief bio so your team can enthusiastically and genuinely welcome your new hire on their first day.

4. Ask your team for input.

Your current staff is a fantastic resource for helping you build a thorough and exciting onboarding process, so use them. Ask them about their own experiences – what they liked and didn’t like when they joined the team. Then, ask them if there’s any training they wish they’d had during their first several months of work. This can help ensure you’re building a program that teaches your new hire everything they need to be productive.

5. Set up their workstation before they arrive.

Make sure your new hire has someplace to land on their first day by getting their workstation set up. If you’ve been using their desk or locker as an extra storage space, make sure all the clutter is gone. Consider leaving something to make them feel welcome, like notes from their new co-workers, notepads with the company logo or a coffee mug. Make sure any equipment they’ll be using is set up and working, including their phone and email. Preparing their workstation in advance demonstrates that you already see them as part of the team.

6. Set expectations early.

On the employee’s first day, discuss what you need from them and what they’ll receive from the company to help them achieve their goals.

Provide them with a detailed job description and a comprehensive list of their responsibilities. This might be the same information you posted in the job ad, but it will give you the chance to talk about each key task to avoid misunderstandings. Then, discuss how their job fits into the bigger picture and helps the business meet its goals.

Finally, talk about how the company will support them as a new employee and what resources it will provide to ensure they can excel at their job.

Did You Know?Did you know

Small businesses often struggle with HR compliance issues, like establishing a clear guide for workplace harassment or correctly classifying new employees.

7. Schedule a one-on-one meeting with their direct supervisor.

If the new employee will be reporting to someone other than you, make sure they have a scheduled one-on-one meeting with the person who will be their supervisor. Not only will this help build a great relationship between the employee and their boss, but it will also give them a chance to start talking about goals. The employee’s supervisor can share where they expect the new hire to be at the end of their first month, their first three months and their first six months. They can also start setting goals for the upcoming year.

This will also give the employee a chance to discuss their career plans. It might seem odd to discuss career development at the beginning of the employee’s tenure, but doing so can increase their likelihood to stay with you. Let your new employee know you’re committed to them by giving them a chance to talk about where they want to be in the next couple of years. This will provide you with an opportunity to determine how they can advance in your company and what skills you need to help them learn to meet their goals.

8. Share your company history, vision and values.

To ensure your new hire becomes fully engaged at work, it’s crucial they understand your company culture from the beginning. Start by sharing a little bit about your business’s history and vision, so the employee understands where you came from and where you’re headed.

Then, talk about your mission statement and values. Try to find out what they care about personally so you can relate it to what’s important to your company. For example, if one of your core values is generosity and your new hire regularly volunteers with a local nonprofit, discuss ways your business could become more involved with that organization. If you can help the employee connect with your purpose initially, they’ll be more likely to stay with you.

9. Assign an office buddy.

Pair your new hire with a mentor within your company. Pick someone who is a good role model and will be happy to take on this new responsibility. Throughout the onboarding process, they can help your new hire become more acclimated to their work environment. On the new hire’s first day, their buddy can be the one to give them a tour of the office and introduce them to the rest of the team. They can also explain any unspoken norms around your office – such as the first person to the office always makes the coffee, or that everyone meets up for happy hour on Thursdays.

10. Treat the team to lunch.

To help your new hire begin to socialize and build relationships with their co-workers, make sure they’re not eating alone on their first day. Consider catering lunch or going out as a department or company. This will give your new hire a chance to get to know their new peers outside of work. If that’s too much, have their mentor take them out or – at the very least – dine with them in the breakroom.

You could also ask a different member of your team to eat lunch with your new hire each day of their first week. This will help them get to know their co-workers one-on-one, which can be less stressful than meeting everyone at once.

11. Check in regularly.

Although a lot of the onboarding process will take place during the new hire’s first week, the process will be ongoing for quite some time after that.

At the end of your employee’s first month, sit down with them to make sure they’re comfortable, happy and engaged. Acknowledge their early contributions, so they know that they’re already helping the company succeed. Ask them if their training has prepared them to become autonomous in their role, or if they would like any additional employee training. Talk to them about any projects they’ve taken on and find out how you can help them excel.

Check in again between their third and sixth months with the company. By then, your employee will have a solid understanding of your culture and their role in the company. This is a crucial time to touch base, so you can be sure they are satisfied and not seeking an early exit strategy. If they’re ready to take on new challenges, steer them in the right direction so they can continue adding value to your company. If they have any concerns, make sure they know that you will carefully consider their comments.

Ultimately, you want to do everything in your power to ensure that your new hire transitions well in their position and becomes a long-term employee. If you keep your finger on the pulse, you’ll signal to them that you support and value them as a member of your team.

Onboarding mistakes to avoid

Relying on job shadowing

Although it can be helpful for new hires to learn from current employees, this tactic may lack a few crucial aspects of training and may not be a good fit for everyone. Experienced employees may have their own way of working or interacting with the company, which might be confusing or inappropriate for a new team member. Oftentimes, your employees are too busy doing their own work to properly train a new hire through job shadowing, and their productivity might suffer because of it. Job shadowing can also expose your new and enthusiastic team members to disinterested or disgruntled employees. 

Offering little to no training

Good onboarding takes time. If you rush through the process of getting to know your new hire, you’ll likely pay the price later on. Team members who receive inadequate training are less likely to produce work that meets your standards, and may become frustrated and find another job elsewhere. Take the time to provide your new employee with low-stakes practice opportunities that prepare them for the more advanced work they’ll be doing later on. If your employee feels knowledgeable, they will be more confident in their work and less stressed about completing tasks. Over time, you can develop resources that include common questions or issues new hires experience and incorporate them into your training strategy. 

FYIDid you know

There are also best practices for establishing and filling a new role, which include when to begin the onboarding process.

Waiting until their first day to start onboarding

Although an employee’s first day may seem like an obvious time to begin, it is actually late to start the onboarding process. Starting on the first day means that instead of jumping into work and getting a feel for the role, your newest employee wastes a day dealing with paperwork. This part of the process is tedious and boring for everyone involved, quickly dispelling any first-day excitement your new hire may have. Paperwork or forms can be handled virtually beforehand, and you can send your new hire any relevant information or expectations via email so they can show up ready to learn. 

Failing to engage the new employee

Some team managers view the training process as a lecture: They will present what there is to be learned, and the new hire will sit back and take it in. Individuals with this mindset undervalue how important employee interest and engagement are. Instead, make your new hire part of the onboarding process. Ask them how they learn best, and adjust your materials based on their response. You can also pair them with a buddy so they can learn about the company culture. Making onboarding interesting and useful shows the new hire you care about their experience as an employee. After all, team members who don’t feel appreciated are likely to find a new place to work. 

Additional reporting by Sean Peek.

Dennis O’Keefe, Community Member
Dennis O’Keefe is the Product Director for Workful, a new cloud-based human resources and payroll employee management suite made for small businesses. Dennis has a rich history in the payroll, banking and small business management space, with a specific passion for helping small business owners streamline financial and record keeping processes so they can get back to what they’d rather be doing, growing their business.
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