How to Make Onboarding Better

If you want new talent to actually enjoy their onboarding experience, then think back to what your own first day of school was like.
By: | July 3, 2018 • 6 min read

Take a trip down memory lane with me for a moment to the first day of third grade. Ah, the excitement of starting a new school year with a brand-new Transformers lunch box and coordinating Trapper Keeper in tow. Mom snaps the customary “first day of school” photo on her flip-flash Kodak camera and you skip off to the bus stop, full of excitement and anticipation for the day ahead.

I’ve often heard the first day of school compared to the first day of a new job, but I think the two are more different than they are alike. Sure, a new hire might feel a tinge of excitement and anticipation in advance of their first day with a new company, but more often one feels an overwhelming sense of uncertainty about new processes.

Onboarding is important to get right. Sixty-nine percent of employees are more likely to stay with a company for at least three years if they experienced great onboarding.

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Is there anything that HR and talent-acquisition leaders can take from the school experience and apply to the new-hire experience in order to create excitement (rather than angst) around the onboarding process? The answer is yes!

The Week Before: Orientation Materials

Long before the first day of school, incoming students receive preparatory details like school supply lists, notification of who their teachers are, and in some cases, even assignments and materials to read in advance. Larger institutions might send campus maps and directories to incoming students.

When it comes to employee onboarding, don’t wait until a new hire’s first day to introduce him or her to your company. Share details such as directions to the office, where to park, and a checklist of administrative tasks (like setting up payroll and benefits) that the new hire can complete before day one. Arm each new employee with informative tools such as an org chart, making sure it reflects the new employee’s name and position in the organization and whom to contact for certain needs or questions. A detailed org chart should give new employees interesting and relevant details about their new coworkers, such as where they went to school, what their job responsibilities are, and what interests them outside of work. So instead of walking into a room full of strangers, new employees will already feel a connection with their coworkers on the first day.

The First Day: An Assigned Seat

New students usually have an assigned seat and are provided with all needed supplies on their first day. Likewise, it’s critical to ensure that your new hire has a designated space in the office. It sounds simple, but it’s not uncommon for a new team member to show up and find him- or herself without a place to sit. Make sure the right processes are in place so this doesn’t happen.

It’s also important  to provide new employees with the equipment they need to do their job well from the start. This usually means a designated desk and chair, a working laptop, and a telephone, at minimum; an employee handbook and background information on the company are also useful. And it’s always nice to welcome new team members with a bag of company marketing collateral or “swag,” like a T-shirt, laptop sticker, or branded earphones.

On the first day of school, no one wonders where to eat lunch. Students typically walk to the cafeteria together. But for new hires, the lunch routine is not so obvious. Do most employees eat out or bring their own? Do they eat together in a break room or café, or does everyone tend to eat at their own desk? Encourage your new hire’s team to take him or her to lunch on the first day, and communicate this to both the new employee and the team beforehand so there is no confusion.

The Days Ahead: Class Is in Session

Many universities have instituted the smart practice of pairing incoming freshmen with peer mentors during their first semester. These “buddies” are not teachers or leaders, but rather fellow students who have been at the university for a year or two and know the ropes.

This type of “buddy system” can be adopted in the workplace. Assign a new hire a peer—not a manager—who has been at your company for a while and knows how things are done. This buddy can help the new employee find out information that isn’t documented and meet people quickly. This system is also beneficial to the buddy, as it gives him or her a sense of ownership and responsibility. It’s a win-win!

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Another way to help new employees get to know each other is to gamify (i.e., make a game of) the getting-to-know-you process. If your org chart is interactive, use it to create a flash card–type game that makes it easy to put faces to names. You can also incorporate elements like job skills, fun facts, number of years with the company, and even Myers-Briggs personality types.

To recap, here are some things you can do to improve the onboarding process for new hires (and yourself!):

The week before the new hire’s start date:

  • Send logistical details such as directions to the office and where to park (include a map if applicable).
  • Send the new hire a checklist of administrative tasks to complete before the first day.
  • Share a live org chart that includes the new hire as well as details about other employees’ job responsibilities, backgrounds, and interests.

On day one:

  • Make sure the new hire has a place to sit and all basic equipment and materials needed for the job.
  • Provide a “welcome package” to help the new hire feel like part of the team.
  • Coordinate the new employee’s first-day lunch plans in advance.

Day one and beyond:

  • Assign a buddy to the new hire.
  • Gamify the getting-to-know-you process.

Consider adopting these steps and implementing them in your new hire onboarding. Streamlining the process and making it easy for new employees not only makes their jobs more enjoyable, but also makes your job easier and more strategic.

Bill Boebel is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO of Pingboard. He previously was chief technology officer at Rackspace Email and co-founded Webmail, the largest business-grade email hosting company at the time. Bill also co-founded Capital Factory, which helps entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas, build great companies.