Build the perfect onboarding program with these 5 tips for startups

Build the perfect onboarding program with these 5 tips for startups

Employee onboarding has been shown to improve the retention rate of new hires, create added engagement, and make the overall experience less overwhelming and more productive for employees. While all of these objectives are positive, the most important reason for a structured onboarding program is to give every employee a fair chance at long term success within your organization.

But what if your organization is in the early-to-mid stages of startup and there isn’t a huge budget or a ton resources to properly onboard employees? Don’t worry. Even if you’re a startup that’s just getting, well, started, there are a number of onboarding tips that can help you set your employees up for success without breaking the bank.

5 ways to create a positive onboarding experience at your startup

First, it’s important to understand the unique nature of startups and how onboarding typically takes place. When companies are small, it can be easy to think onboarding is a step that can be introduced later when an HR department is created. Often, early onboarding is a less formal process and can include a brief introduction to other team members and maybe the corporate culture. Then new hires are sent off to their desks to sink or swim. But even when teams are small or budgets are tight, here are 5 ways to take your onboarding game up to the next level.

#1 – Have all systems set up in advance

Let’s hope everyone is already doing this but every employer should prepare for day one before day one. Ideally, you should be checking in with your new hire before they even show up on their first day to let them know what to expect – hours on day one, dress code, lunch options, etc. Then make sure all the technology, resources, and tools they’ll need are ready to access. This can include setting up a work station, providing electronic tools such as laptops or cell phones, or creating and sharing new login credentials for shared tools. No one wants to feel unsettled or off balance on their first day and taking the time to prepare for a new hire is a simple way to start off on the right foot.  

#2 – Create a central location for documentation and training

It’s a good idea to create one secure location for all employee documentation, onboarding, and training materials to live within. This way new employees know where to refer back to something they learned in their orientation. A Sharepoint site is a good place to start, or a low cost project management system like Trello can expand over time. New hires can access shared files at their own pace, while still benefiting from a consistent learning experience. Using checklists can also come in handy to help orient new employees to what they should learn and in what order.

Read more: What does onboarding say about your company? 

#3 – Take the time to connect people

One big mistake startups can make is assuming because a team is small, introductions are simple. No matter what size your team is, being the new kid on the block can be nerve raking. Don’t bet on a new hire having the initiative to go out and introduce themselves to everyone. Instead, show the new employee around when they arrive and handle the introductions for them. Pre-schedule 15 minute meetings with key team members so that they have a chance to share what they do with someone new which can help provide context about the current the team environment and projects. Even better, if you have someone older in a similar role at a startup, set up a buddy system and let the new hire shadow them for a day to get a better sense of the job and their new colleagues.

#4 – Create a three month plan

Some companies think onboarding is just the first 24 hours of a new hire. While that time is crucial, onboarding can have a longer reach as well. At some point during an employee’s first week, it can be helpful to go over the projects and expectations that will be coming their way soon. That way employees start out with a sense of direction and goals to work toward, instead of twiddling their thumbs and trying to figure out a path forward for themselves. A word of warning, though, don’t overload your new hire on day one. Many employees report remembering little from their first day by the time they reach the end of their probation. Day one is often a time of heightened stress and emotion which can impact memory. Create a training schedule that is mindful of information retention and pace how much info is given at once.

#5 – Establish touch points and targets right from the start

When you drop your new hire back at their desk on day one and wish them good luck, the story shouldn’t end there. Startups can be quick-paced and busy so it’s easy to forget about new workers. Take the time to establish touch points and targets for employees to meet and then follow up to ensure they are on track and working effectively. Some common onboarding milestones include check-ins at the end of day one, at the end of week one, at the end of month one, and at the end of their probation. Touch points not only help employers keep an eye on new hires and see how they are able to accomplish tasks but it also provides an opportunity to work on relationship building with a new employee.              

Pro-Tip: Don’t onboard alone! See what 500 other professionals have to say about the topic in the 2018 McQuaig Global Talent Survey

What does a good onboarding program bring to a startup?

Startups are often trying to race against the competition, technology advancement, or market trends. One of the strengths of a workforce aiming toward a variable future is consistency. You want employees who know their jobs and are happy to stay and do them for a long time to come. Onboarding properly can help with that aim. If all new employees are trained the same way, the process becomes normalized in your corporate culture and older employees know the drill when someone new comes in. Your new people are also set up with the same information right from the start which makes it easier to identify gaps in training that can be addressed as the employee works through their probation. Plus having a structured approach to an employee’s first day or week helps new people find their feet more quickly which, in turn, helps them become productive faster.

Onboarding can also have long term consequences. Employees who are set up correctly from day one often feel more connected to teammates and the overall company culture. This can help increase job satisfaction, employee engagement, and long term retention.  And keeping your staff can help ensure you keep your clients too. The more clients get to work with the same highly knowledgeable and happy employees, the more confidence they have in the company. Erin Schreiner who contributes to Houston Chronicle advises, “employees who work face-to-face with these customers are the ones who determine their levels of satisfaction, keeping them content with the company and preventing them from looking elsewhere for someone to meet their needs.” Thus keeping the same people in client facing roles can help build the reputation of a startup and drive sales. 


At the end of the day, the key take away for onboarding at startups is to set your people up for success as best you can. Don’t undervalue the human connections developed during a new hire’s first few days or the importance for providing a positive experience that will make them feel like they’ve made the right decision by joining the team. You want to cultivate a workforce of happy and productive employees and if you onboard them right, you might be laying the ground work for the future right from day one. 


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