Onboarding is the process by which a company inducts new employees. Startups often ignore its importance but a well-designed onboarding process can create a good first impression and help orient the employee into a new environment. A well-designed onboarding process makes new hires familiar with their employer’s goals, provides them with mentoring and facilitates productive work from day one of their job.

Who is involved in onboarding?

Onboarding should be a joint effort between HR and the employee’s managers.

In smaller companies, discussions with new hires about company objectives and corporate culture might even be lead by the CEO. Regardless of the size of the company they are joining, new employees should be introduced to their line manager, who should lead a conversation about the job description, responsibilities and expectations. Some companies introduce new hires to individuals who have deep insight into all parts of the organization. This might be an “old hand” early employee, an office manager or someone who has worn lots of hats in different areas of the business. Ultimate responsibility for the smooth working of the onboarding process lies with the HR team. It is also HR’s job to speak to existing employees to identify flaws in the current process and iron them out. Problems may be as trivial as accessing the company intranet or setting up an email account.

Before the first day

A smooth onboarding process begins as early as recruitment. Your company website should offer job applicants ample information about your firm’s culture and working environment. To communicate a consistent brand message, businesses that stress innovation as part of their day-to-day culture should recruit appropriately. Asking applicants to submit 25 long-winded forms would not be appropriate for a business that is trying to project an image of innovation and efficiency.

Once the new employee has been hired, many companies choose to send legal paperwork and an employee handbook ahead of time, so he or she is not overwhelmed with bureaucracy on the first day. HR should also coordinate with tech support to configure the new hire’s computer, phone and email account before the first day. Before the employee sets foot in the office, HR should ensure that basic logistics such as obtaining business cards, a security clearance badge, an email account, and computer access are accomplished efficiently and without delays. Don’t forget to send an email to the rest of the office to remind them to welcome the new team member!

Prior to arriving, the new employee must know:

  • What to bring to the office (ID, etc)
  • The dress code, if any
  • Where to park
  • Who to ask for in the lobby on the first day

Necessary bureaucracy

On the first day, the new employee should meet with a line manager to discuss the responsibilities and benefits associated with his or her new role. Important topics to discuss include payment, sick days, vacations, working from home and any other benefits. As well as going over the employee’s day-to-day responsibilities, the line manager should explain how fast the the employee is expected to master individual aspects of his or her job. This is also the moment to focus the employee on the KPIs and metrics according to which performance will be judged.

It is HR’s responsibility to organise all the administrative paperwork that the new hire needs to complete on the first day. Most likely, this includes employment agreements, tax information, payroll forms and signing up for the company Intranet.

The latter can be a great place for videos explaining the company’s values and goals. The Intranet might also feature employee testimonials and introductions to key members of the management team. This is a good way to save time with in-person introductions and maximise productivity.

Checklists are always a great tool to ensure that nothing falls through the crack. Develop an onboarding checklist.

The human side of onboarding

It’s HR’s role to introduce the new hire to all team members and generally make him or her feel welcome. Try hosting a complimentary lunch on the first day; bonding over food and drink is much more natural than office small talk. Ask the office manager to host the event to ensure that conversation is flowing smoothly. Another suggestion is to give the new employee a week’s worth of vouchers for lunch to encourage him or her to eat with a different colleague every day.

In early conversations with management, new hires should be introduced to office communication norms. The new employee should be told whether senior team members prefer emails, phone calls, instant messaging or face-to-face conversations. To leave him or her with the impression that employees are valued, consider asking the new hire about he or she wants to be managed. If you are a line manager, assure the new hire that you will continue to check in regularly over the first two weeks, and that you want to be a mentor — not a boss.

Moving forward

Onboarding doesn’t end after the new employee’s first week on the job. Assign a mentor to keep track of the new hire’s progress over the first few months. Every time this mentor checks in with the employee, he or she should ask whether the hire has the necessary tools to complete the job and see that the hire’s expectations about work are met.

Moving forward, HR should establish metrics related to onboarding, such as retention, productivity and job satisfaction. Continue to fine-tune the onboarding process over time by seeking input from employees who have gone through it.