Hiring and Growth

Pro Tips for Creating the Best Onboarding Experience for New Employees

Krystal Barghelame Former Integrated Marketer, Gusto 
employee onboarding

“Here’s the coffee machine, there’s the printer, and that’s the ping-pong table. Oh, and we almost forgot about your desk. Welcome to the team!”

Employee onboarding is so much more than running through the obligatory office tour and filing I-9 after I-9. Sure, those basics are important, but the way an employee feels on their first day, week, and month at work impacts their near- and long-term potential at your company.

In fact, a 2018 study found that “organizations with a standard onboarding process experience 54 percent greater new hire productivity,” in addition to a 50 percent rise in their retention rate.

Pretty on point, if you ask us.

From collaborative strategies to getting folks pumped before day one, every company approaches onboarding differently. Here are some steps to help you build the best onboarding experience for your employees—from some of the best in the business:

Payroll with easy org charts built right in.

#1. Look for self-starters.

That’s right, successful onboarding can actually start during your hiring process.

If you want employees who get up to speed quickly, look for folks who are independent and self-reliant. In a small company, you probably need a jack- (or jill-) of-all trades—someone who can identify challenges and actively crack them.

For one five-person company, finding these entrepreneurial people meant targeting more seasoned hires. Alexis Rosenbaum, CEO and co-owner of Game Day Feels, explains:

“We only want to hire people who have had real-life job experience, whose schedules are manageable, and who are financially stable. As a small business still in the startup phase, our time and resources are limited.”

“We don’t have the time to train people on the basics like time management and we don’t have the availability to pay top dollar at full time,” she says. “When we got clear on exactly what we were looking for in an employee, it made a huge difference in our team, studio culture, and business growth.”

#2. Get people excited about the mission.

If you’ve got an awesome product, mission, or brand, help your team personally connect with it from the get-go.

Even if your product doesn’t seem so attractive at first glance, take the time to identify and communicate how you’re helping your customers. When new hires can feel that authenticity, it speeds up their connection to what you’re all about.

Patreon, for example, empowers creators to find funding online. Their HR manager, Lauren Ficklin, gets new hires psyched before they even reach day one.

“When new hires start, I welcome them by placing a small gift on their desks, made by different Patreon creators. The packages include a description about the creator and what they’re known for, so new folks can get to know the people we serve,” she explains.

“We also do an onboarding class the first and third Thursday of the month, where we cover our founding story, values, and the product. We want people to feel special and feel connected to what we do and why we do it,” Ficklin says.

Think about it — there are so many jitters when people start a new job. Immediately connecting folks with the mission can help amplify their excitement and quell any nerves.

#3. Try peer-led onboarding.

As a business owner, you’re probably used to doing pretty much everything on your own, including training new employees. But when you reach a certain size, consider assigning an onboarding buddy to take on that load.

Though this helps you, it’s actually best for your new employee. Immediately, they have access to someone who can answer key questions, show them around, and be a general contact point for anything they need. It’ll help them feel much more integrated and useful straight away.

Rafi Norberg, president of Nexus Marketing, shared this:

“I used to personally onboard each new employee, which didn’t work well. There was a disconnect because I’m their boss, yet I was helping train them for a role I don’t do myself. So we switched to a peer-led onboarding process, and it’s been hugely beneficial.”

“New hires are now paired with a dedicated buddy who takes them through a set curriculum. New folks bond with their co-workers more quickly when working with a peer rather than their boss,” Norberg says.

#4. Help employees define their roles.

Invest extra time in setting expectations. Even if those truths seem self-evident to you, over-communicating them only helps clarify everyone’s role.

According to one Gallup study, employees with direct managers who help them set and reach performance goals are more engaged than employees whose managers don’t.

At Mill Creek Brewing Company, CFO Michael Krewson goes one step further:

“From the beginning, we set up expectations and check-in meetings. We also ask our employees to help define their own roles. That way they feel they have control over their work.”

“It also helps to have a lot of in-the-moment feedback,” Krewson points out. “We regularly ask our team: What do you need from us? How can we help you out? When employees know we care it builds a sense of trust and ownership.”

Simple time tracking that syncs with payroll.

#5. Make the extra effort to make that first week a little easier.

Don’t just tell employees you care about them. Show them. Doing this early can set the right tone from the start.

Ben Apel, VP of marketing and co-founder of Final, explains it this way:

“I think taking a moment to understand what a new employee’s challenges are in performing their day-to-day tasks can make a new teammate feel like they’re wanted. Is the commute a pain? Let us know know how we can make that easier, so you’re not busy worrying about it your first week.”

“That’s a small example, but I think it goes a long way in showing buy-in from the company,” Apel says.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to build an onboarding process that suits your business. With this advice in mind, you’ll have the toolkit you need to build a team of owners before and after their thrilling first day.

Do you have onboarding best practices (or horror stories)? Share them with our team!

Updated: November 1, 2019

Krystal Barghelame
Krystal Barghelame Krystal was an integrated marketing specialist at Gusto. She was also a former writer on the Gusto content team and loves terrible pens. Er... puns.

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