Employee Onboarding Ideas for Startups and Small Businesses

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I’ve worked for a few startups and small businesses in the Silicon Valley over the years, and my first day is always filled with a little bit of excitement, and a little bit of nervousness. What will this new opportunity have in store for me? How soon will I be able to make an impact? Will I enjoy working here?

I’ve learned that these questions can usually be answered pretty quickly, and that the employee onboarding experience plays a significant role.

Most companies put little thought or effort into onboarding new employees. In one company, I was given an old laptop which wasn’t configured or ready to use, so I had to spend the first few days without a working device, chasing after IT to get it properly configured and in working order. In a few of those companies, no one even bothered to introduce me to my new colleagues. In fact, I was expected to hit the ground running right away, with no training materials to guide me.

These experiences made me feel unimportant, unprepared, and unsure of my future with the company. But, while I’ve had some not so good employee onboarding experiences, I’ve also had some terrific ones.

What a great employee onboarding experience looks like

The two companies that have impressed me with their employee onboarding programs the most are Lever and Melita Group. Lever’s welcome gif—where the “Leveroos” get together to make new hires a custom gif—gave me a big smile because it immediately made me felt like a valued member of the team. Here’s the welcome gif I received right after I had signed the offer letter.

Their structured 5-day onboarding program was well thought out, helping me ease into my new job and setting me up for success. In addition to the usual administrative paperwork, they introduced me to customer pain points, customer lifecycle, product design philosophy, product features/benefits, company culture, and among other things. They have one of the best onboarding programs I’ve ever experienced!

At Melita Group, I was introduced to everyone on my first day. We all gathered in a conference room, and even remote employees dialed in via video call. Our Head of HR, Karen, scheduled 1-1 meetings for me with key people in the company to learn about the different functions. I even met one-on-one with the CEO to chat about the company culture and values.

Why employee onboarding matters

My great onboarding experiences at Lever and Melita stand in stark contrast to the nonexistent programs at other organizations. And I believe they’re worth their weight in gold. At a time when people have many choices about where they want to work, strong employee onboarding can be the difference between retention and turnover.

69 percent of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding. In contrast, employees who had a negative new hire onboarding experience are twice as likely to look for new opportunities in the near future.

This can create a very expensive problem, as only 12 percent of employees strongly agree that their organization does a great job of onboarding new employees. Almost 30 percent of job seekers have left a job within the first 90 days of starting, and each lost employee costs an estimated 33 percent of their base pay.

Employee onboarding ideas to help your organization delight and retain new hires

If you want to do employee onboarding the right way, there are a lot of little things you can do that don’t require a lot of effort—but can make a big impact:

  • Extend a warm welcome: As soon as an offer letter is signed, send the candidate a warm welcome via phone, text, or email. Let them know how excited you are to have them join the team, and what the next steps look like. You may also copy your hiring manager, the new hire’s team, or the entire company on your welcome email so they can all send a welcome message as well.
  • Start onboarding early: Share information about your team, culture, values, and history before the new hire’s start date, so they can begin to feel like part of the team. You may even ask the new hire to complete a short questionnaire so the rest of the team can get to know them, as well. Include first day information, such as a start time, agenda, and any special instructions—including where to park, how to get into the building, or the dress code. You may even invite them to get their new hire paperwork out of the way. On the back end, prepare your new hire’s computer, logins, and desk, so everything is ready for their first day. It can be a nice touch to include some welcome gifts on their desk, such as company SWAG or a bottle of wine.
  • Greet them: Plan for your new hire to arrive an hour or two after your normal start time, so they can have a leisurely morning and you can prepare for their arrival. The hiring manager should greet them at the front door, offer some coffee, tea, or water, and show them their desk so they can put their things down. Make sure that their computer, phone, email, and whatever tools and supplies they need are all ready.
  • Make introductions: Virtual introductions can be made before the new hire’s start date, and should be followed up with in-person introductions on their first day. Take your new hire on an office tour, and allow them to meet the rest of their team so they can gain an understanding of what everyone does. You should also consider scheduling meetings for new hires to meet with the key members in Product, Engineering, Sales/Marketing, HR/Benefits. Your team should already be familiar with your new hire, so make sure you’ve already announced them internally, as well as what they’ll be doing at your company. You may also give your new hires a shout-out at your company all-hands meeting.
  • Assign a buddy: New hires may have many questions in their first weeks or months of employment, but may not necessarily feel they are important enough to bother their manager. For instance, what are the best coffee and lunch spots nearby, or what time does everyone typically get into the office. Assign them an informal work buddy, who can help answer these questions and better acclimate them to company culture.
  • Plan a first day lunch: Arrange a first day lunch so your new hire can spend time getting to know other members of their team, without feeling awkward about asking. This may include their immediate team, your leadership team, or a group their buddy puts together. Even if your office has catered lunches, plan for someone to show your new hire where to go and when, and to sit down with them.
  • Set expectations: The onboarding process should include time to review the new hire’s role, goals, and timelines, so they know what’s expected of them and can measure their own success. Regular check ins throughout the employee’s first 90 days and beyond ensure they remain aligned with their managers. This is also a great time to discuss career pathing and professional development, to ensure a long, mutually beneficial, tenure for your employees.
  • Gather feedback: New hire feedback is critical for improving your employee onboarding program and retention rates. Learn what employees have enjoyed about working at your organization, and what they think could use improvement. Then act on the feedback provided, so employees know you care about what they have to say.

Final thoughts

An employee onboarding program is critical to help you engage and retain the talent you’ve worked so hard to recruit. There are many small things you can do to make a positive impact in your new hire experience, and the key is to be thoughtful about it from the start.

Build out your program with insights from recent new hires, exit surveys, and your own expertise, and continue to improve it over time. As you scale, so too should your employee onboarding program—and the right technology can certainly help you maintain a consistent onboarding experience for all new hires.

With an effective onboarding program, you can decrease turnover, increase engagement, decrease time to proficiency, and reduce costs, among other things. With so much competition for talent, you can’t afford not to invest in this area!

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