First impressions matter, and when it comes to the employee journey, few points are more critical than the first 30 days.
I’ve been on both sides of the employee onboarding equation throughout my professional career. Early on—before my move into HR—I joined a global agency where onboarding was structured like a well-oiled machine.
New hires went through an intensive 30-day training program where we learned everything we needed about the company, role, and culture to be off and running. I’ve also worked at a few companies that handed me a laptop on my first day and said, “go.” Anyone who has ever worked at an early-stage startup can probably empathize.
Creating great employee onboarding experiences takes a village
Since my transition into HR about seven years ago, I’ve led onboarding program builds more times than I can count. What I’ve learned through these experiences is that creating a great onboarding program is hard. It takes time, immense cross-functional collaboration, and no matter how hard we try, the job is never done. As your company evolves, so must your onboarding program.
As we like to say at HiBob, “It takes a village.” That means HR, IT, executive leadership, and employees all play a part. But at the end of the day, the direct manager bears the brunt of onboarding responsibilities and has by far the most significant impact on the employee experience. So, it’s essential that they take ownership of the onboarding process.
Here are a few essential tips for managers to create a fruitful onboarding experience for new team members:
Tip #1: Be honest
It’s important to be honest about the realities of the job. People need to know the good and the bad—before they sign their offer. There is nothing worse than being sold on an opportunity that doesn’t match reality. If your new hire steps into a position that doesn’t match the job you sold them in the interview process, you’re likely to see early attrition.
But beyond the core job responsibilities, be honest about the role’s challenges. What are the unique aspects of your company’s culture that might not be right for everyone? The more transparent you are about these things up front, the less likely you will end up with disengaged employees.
Tip #2: Keep up the communication
Stay in communication with your new hires before their start date. This might seem obvious, but managers often miss this step. Time and time again, new hires will tell me they haven’t heard from their new manager since their interview. This lack of communication can create needless uncertainty, putting your new team member on edge before they even start the job.
I’d combat this in my recruiting days by sending congratulatory notes to hiring managers after the offer letter was signed. In my message, I’d send them the new hire’s email and phone number with a gentle reminder to keep the communication lines open.
Tip #3: Create an onboarding plan
Nothing sets a new hire up for success more than a well-crafted onboarding plan. At HiBob, we use pre-built onboarding Task Lists in Bob, customized by site and department, to ensure that our new hires get a consistent onboarding experience. From there, managers should supplement with individualized plans.
At minimum, the onboarding plan should include an overview of the stakeholders new hires should meet, the tasks or projects they will own, and the KPIs their performance will be measured on. I like to structure my onboarding plans in a 30-60-90 day format, but there are many different schools of thought on this, so pick the approach that works best for you.
Tip #4: Invite your new hires to a team outing before they start
If you have the opportunity to take your new team members out before their start date, the experience will pay off in spades. Think: office happy hour, virtual coffee, or team lunch. Whatever you decide to do, knowing the team at a new job can help reduce anxiety on a new hire’s first day. It’s also a great way to help the team connect on a personal level.
Tip #5: Set aside time in a new hire’s first week to talk about work styles
The first week of a new hire’s journey is meant to be dedicated to better understanding how your new team member operates and how you’ll work best together. This conversation can expose insights like what times of the day they’re most productive, how they cope with stress, and how they like to receive feedback. Understanding these preferences up front guarantees to set your relationship off on the right foot and will help you build a strong manager-employee relationship.
Tip #6: Connect your new team member with a buddy
Lots of companies today have buddy programs, but not all buddies are created equal. When selecting a buddy for your new hire, it’s best to pick someone who will really invest in the process. They don’t need to be experts on the company and all its processes, but they should know where to go for answers. And more importantly, they should be approachable and responsive, so the new hire feels supported during their first few weeks on the job.
Tip #7: Carve out time for a career discussion
Though it might seem premature, talking to your new hire about their career goals during their first few weeks will give them peace of mind that you’re invested in their long-term future. And with the job market like it is, understanding and supporting people’s’ career aspirations is essential for retaining talented people. The career conversation can inspire ideas for special projects and collaborative opportunities to keep your new hire motivated and engaged.
Tip #8: Host a welcome lunch
I distinctly remember how I felt when I ate lunch alone on my first day of a new job. It was incredibly lonely, and it put a real damper on my first-day experience. The thing is, it was entirely avoidable. As a manager, it’s your job to make sure your new hire doesn’t eat alone on their first day. If you’re not available during the lunch hour, you can always grab a team member (or a few!) to take your place.
If your team works remotely, send them a gift card to order their lunch from home and have them eat together over Zoom. This time is not for talking shop. The welcome lunch is a chance to get to know one another and start building that team bond.
Tip #9: Establish meeting norms
Now that you’ve discussed the onboarding plan, work styles, and career goals, it’s crucial to keep the communication going. After week one, be sure to establish your cadence for regular one-on-ones—ideally once a week for at least 30 minutes. This should be protected time for you and your reports to stay aligned on key priorities, talk through challenges, and provide feedback to one another.
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Tip #10: Schedule dedicated check-ins
Set dedicated 30, 60, and 90-day check-in meetings to review new hires’ progress and gather their feedback on the experience so far. At HiBob, we use Bob for automatic milestone meetings at days 30, 60, and 90, and the one-year anniversary. We use the pre-built 1-on-1 templates to hold managers accountable. If there are early performance concerns, this is the time to talk about them.
The bottom line: Make the most of your first impression
You only get one chance to make a first impression. Don’t spoil it. Be prepared, be present, and be sure to play an active role in the onboarding experience of your new team members. Get the whole team involved. Together, you’ll help your new hires feel welcomed, motivated, and steeled for the job ahead.
From Annie Rosencrans
Annie Rosencrans is HiBob's Director of People and Culture in the US. She's managed People Operations for several New York-based startups, leading HR transformation and change management through periods of hyper-growth. In her free time, she can be found wandering the streets of NYC exploring the food scene.