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New Employee Onboarding: 5 Key Lessons for Startups

By Emily Smith on Thu, Feb 23, 2017

As we start to think about the next steps in expanding our team here at Cobloom, we're evaluating our entire hiring process: what went well last time (when I joined the team), and where is there room for improvement? Today I'm sharing the lessons we've learned from onboarding new employees.

Onboarding at Cobloom

With our two most recent hires, we took two completely different approaches to employee onboarding.

One team member had his first 3 months mapped out, in-depth. Obviously this involved a lot of work - especially when it quickly became outdated: things got changed around and needed to be adjusted to fit how he was progressing and settling into the role.

As a result, when I joined the team there was a very different - and much more high-level - approach to onboarding. This meant that my first experience of the Cobloom was daunting: I had no idea what to expect, or what was expected of me. Was I prioritising my workload the right way? Was I working too slowly? Too quickly?

These vastly differing approaches have enabled us to compare, and identify the strengths and key learnings in each.

5 Key Lessons in Successful Employee Onboarding

1) Get the balance right

You've brought a new employee on board to help you manage your startup's mounting workload; a good onboarding process will help them get up-to-speed and fully contributing to your team as quickly as possible.

While you don’t need to map out your employee’s days in minute detail, it's important to give them an idea of what their first day/week/month will look like.

This makes it easy for them to visualise their days in the first instance, and will save them a lot of time thinking 'should I be doing X?' or 'when will I learn about Y?'

2) Set Expectations

Obviously, all employees will be different: what one team member picks up in a matter of days may take a couple of weeks - or longer - for someone else to master.

However, it's important to set expectations in terms of what you expect from your new employee in their first few weeks. How long do you expect it to take them to complete training course A, or when do you expect them to be able to share an outline they've been working on for project B?

By communicating your own expectations, this helps them to gauge how much time and effort they should be spending on tasks - especially useful if it's a task they've never done before.

3) Give Feedback

When I joined Cobloom we didn't run 1-on-1s, so there was no formal process in place for sharing feedback. I had no idea whether or not I was doing a good job or just an average one; I deduced that I wasn't doing a bad job, because I'm sure that would've been brought up at some point.

So the key lesson here is: don't leave your new employee in the dark about the quality of their work.

If they're doing a great job - tell them. They'll appreciate it, and it'll help them settle in more easily because they'll feel like a valued part of the team. If there's stuff they need to work on, then take the time to help them out early - it'll save a whole load of time and effort later on.

4) Communicate with the Employee

It should be pretty clear by now that communication is the key to successful onboarding. This should go both ways: you should share with your new employee your expectations and feedback; but they should have the opportunity to share with you if they feel your expectations are unrealistic or your feedback is off-the-mark.

The most important thing is that you don't just sit them down at their desk and leave them to it. Keep checking in, and make it easy for them to ask questions as and when they need.

5) Ramp Up

The goal of new employee onboarding is to provide the employee with all the information, tools and learning necessary, to transition from knowing nothing on their first day, to being a fully-contributing member of your team.

Therefore, it's important that you gradually ramp-up their onboarding, and shift their focus from learning to doing.

This was the biggest difficulty I encountered at the start of my Cobloom career: I had no idea when the learning should stop and when I should start contributing to projects for our clients.

Closing Thoughts

Being a new employee is a difficult, daunting time. A good onboarding process can help to calm the nerves and provide some clarity in amongst the confusion of a new job, and new people.

The most important things to remember are:

  • Communicate - talk to your new employee, and listen to their comments. Catch-up regularly, so you can address any problems or questions early-on, before they escalate.
  • Be flexible - what works for one employee won't work for everyone: people learn and work at difference paces. Don't go into too much detail with your onboarding plan: you'll only have to change it later, and flexibility and adaptability are key.

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