How to build an effective employee onboarding system

March 20, 2017

I get to see teams of all shapes and sizes in my work helping organizations find their key staff. One of the common threads I’ve noticed in the most successful teams I’ve met is effective onboarding.

When you’re an entrepreneur, slowing down for a few minutes to think about effective onboarding can be tough, but trust me, it’s worth it. When Vanderbloemen was a start-up with a couple employees, I onboarded new team members by having them follow me around for a while, learning through osmosis. But that’s not sustainable as your company grows. Now, we have a robust onboarding system that our Office Manager oversees to make sure our culture and processes are being ingrained in every employee from day one.

As we’ve grown from osmosis onboarding to intentional onboarding, here are the key factors we’ve learned along the way that will implement an effective onboarding process for your new team members.

Prepare for Their Arrival

Once you’ve made the decision to hire an employee, start talking with them about their start date and what their first few days will look like. Then, a few days before their first day of work, prepare everything at the office for their arrival. It’s terrible when a new employee shows up for the first day of work and nothing has been done to prepare for them. Unpreparedness will probably make them feel unwelcome.

In order to avoid that, here’s a quick checklist of things to remember as you prepare their first day:

  • Ensure that their desk is set up, clean, and ready for them to use
  • Have your IT folks create their login for email and other software they’ll be using
  • Make sure their computer is wiped of the previous owner’s materials and loaded with the software they’ll need
  • Label the office keys/access card and put them on a key ring/clip to give to your new employee
  • Create a schedule for your new hire’s first few days
  • Set some times for them to meet with other staff members and teams they’ll be working with
  • Give your new employee a copy of your Employee Handbook

If your Employee Handbook is out of date, update it, or if you don’t have one, write one. The Employee Handbook should include all of the information about your company, such as your company’s history, vision, values, and practices. It should also include Human Resource information like dental and health insurance, retirement plans, and paid time off. Including a section on work expectations and behavior is also really helpful in setting expectations between you and the employee.

Once the new employee has gotten comfortable in their role, it might be smart to ask them about things they weren’t told during their onboarding process or things they struggled to learn. Take note of anything you can improve on for future onboard training with new hires.

Introduce Them To Your Company’s Vision And Culture

I believe effective onboarding is a vital step to building a contagious culture. Make your company’s vision clear on every team member’s first day. How can a staff member be expected to uphold the vision of an organization if they don’t know it well? All of your employees should know what the company’s vision is and how the company as a whole is working to accomplish it. It should even be something they talk with other staff members about because it’s always at the forefront of their mind.

At Vanderbloemen, we’ve dedicated an entire portion of our weekly meetings to highlighting all the ways the company is living out its mission and values. It’s a great, easy way to constantly remind your employees of your values and bring focus back to what matters in your company and culture.

Another thing to do when onboarding a new hire is to immerse them in your company’s staff culture and how it has changed over time. The original intent behind a company’s beginning is critical to what it will continue to be. Although you should be hiring with your company’s culture in mind, you must continue to instill culture in them even after the hire date in order for them to be a great fit long-term.

Vanderbloemen Search Group started seven years ago on a card table with one file box. We still keep both items and show them to new employees to remind everyone how we started. We also take every new employee to the restaurant across the street from our old office, so they can see where we came from and how it shaped who we are today. Your company’s history and heritage are important – don’t let it be forgotten.

If you are the person who onboards new staff members, you are the first frame of reference of your company’s culture each hire will have. This means you get the terrifying yet wonderful duty of representing your organization as being a safe, trustworthy place for people to ask questions and figure things out. You set the tone for how they’ll look at the company overall, so it’s imperative for you to leave your personal baggage (if any) at the door. If you don’t, you’ll set this person up for bias or frustration from day one, which is an injustice for everyone involved.

Provide Consistent And Clear Communication

Make sure to explain everything clearly, even the small details. Even if you’re in a position to train new people, you’ve probably forgotten what it was like to have no reference for anything that goes on in your company. Be aware of people’s ability to jump into new things quickly and keep in mind that even if someone acts like they know what’s going on, they might not.

Give your new hire clear expectations and parameters. It’s terrible when you think you’re doing your job well and then find out about a whole list of things you were supposed to be doing but didn’t know about. Every job description includes “other duties as assigned” – just make sure to actually assign these duties. This might seem obvious, but taking precautions to do this well in the beginning will save you from having difficult conversations down the road.

Set goals and assign projects for your new staff member. By having something to do on the first day, they’ll feel like they’re immediately contributing to the company. This will help keep them focused and will encourage them as they learn. Once you see how the new hire works, you can start giving them larger, more long-term projects to handle.

Another thing you can do to make sure your new employee is prepared for their job is to have them read through a company book list that contributes to their career or personal development. As I mentioned in my previous article on culture, we have our team read The New Gold Standard and The Nordstrom Way to help reiterate our company values from day one. Giving your employees materials that will help in long-term success shows them that you care about them and their growth.

Effective onboarding is the key to building and maintaining momentum on your team and for your company. Give someone on your team the responsibility of owning onboarding and watch your employees have a higher job satisfaction and longer tenure.

By William Vanderbloemen

Source: Forbes