Posted in HR | by: Krystal Barghelame

Employee Onboarding Tips From Business Owners and HR Pros

“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 their first day, week, and month at work impacts their near- and long-term potential at your company. In fact, a recent 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.

Onboarding is great and all, but I need this new hire at full throttle now!

We get it. Taking the time to onboard someone can be hard to justify when you were hoping to get them started yesterday. Because time traveling is still in its early stages, we decided to get some advice from the experts. We talked to small business owners and HR gurus to see how they ramp employees up quickly while making their first few weeks a great experience.

Here’s some of the advice (and mistakes) they shared:

1. It begins with hiring: Look for self-starters

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-oriented people meant targeting more seasoned hires. Alexis Rosenbaum explains:

“We only want to hire people who have had real-life job experience, who’s schedules are manageable, and 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. 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.”

 Alexis Rosenbaum, CEO and Co-Owner of Game Day Feels

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, makes 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. 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.”

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


hiring your first employee

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. As Rafi Norberg, President of Nexus Marketing, shared:

“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 take them through a set curriculum. This way new folks bond with their coworkers more quickly when working with a peer rather than their boss.”

4. Be clear: Help employees define their roles

Invest extra time in setting expectations. Even if those truths seem self-evident to you, over-communicating them only reinforces clarity around everyone’s role. According to one Gallup study, employees are more engaged if their direct manager helps them set and reach performance goals over those managers that 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 product. It also helps to have a lot of in-the-moment feedback. 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.”

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 right from the start.

“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.”

— Ben Apel, VP Marketing and Co-Founder, Final

From collaborative strategies to getting folks pumped before day one, every company approaches onboarding differently. 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!

About Krystal Barghelame

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