You're a new manager about to hire a small team. You had zero onboarding to your role, and you want to do a better job for your own employees. What's a lightweight onboarding process that will not take up hours of your time?
Oh, the onboarding process! Most of us screw it up, whether we’re working in small companiesーwhere the entire onboarding process may fall on our shouldersーor in a large multinational, where there’s so much process in place that the more human parts of onboarding can get lost in the shuffle.
A big reason why onboarding is seldom done right is because good onboarding takes timeーand in particular, a good chunk of time and care from the new employee’s manager. Instead, as managers we tend to cut corners, and suffer the consequences later (and usually blame the employee rather than ourselves).
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. You can turn your onboarding process into something that’s easy to “templatize,” reducing the amount of time you need to put in for future employees.
and get them set up for success. To do those things, I recommend thinking about your process in terms of three categories: who the employee needs to know, what they need to know, and the things you expect them to accomplish in the first few weeks. The below text talks you through these categories, and the template itself will help you generate a welcome letter, a to-do list for yourself, and a to-do list for your new employee.
Start using this employee onboarding doc now:
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Who the employee needs to know
Make a list of the people your new employee needs to meet, including other teammates, leaders or peers in other departments, or anyone you feel could give your employee useful context in their first weeks on the job.
If your employee is new to the company, make sure you are easing them into those introductions, not throwing them in on Day 1 with some scary VP with whom you’re currently at war. Let them meet their peers, get their bearings, and ask their most basic questions with people who might be more forgiving. (I know people love to say there are no bad questions, but c’mon, of course there are, and you shouldn’t be putting your employees in a position where they are asking them of someone who is three levels higher up in the reporting chain.)
If you want extra credit, set up the meetings for your employee in advance, rather than make them do it themselves. In addition to being a nice gesture, it ensures that your employee has something to do those first few days on the job, when they are still learning the ropes. Lunches with team members are also a great way to ease someone into a role and provide a more relaxed environment for them to ask questions.
Finally, make sure people know that your employee has arrived. When I first started at Google I waited three hours in the lobby, then was led back to my department, where no one knew who I was. My boss sat me at her desk and went off to a meeting. That actually worked—when people came looking for her, they found me instead, and we got acquainted.
That’s one way to do it, but a better way is probably to write an email introducing the new employee. It’d be really nice of you to write something personal—e.g., more than just their name and role, maybe something about a hobby or interest—but even a brief note is still better than nothing and helps people understand what the new employee will be doing.
What the employee needs to know
Think of this question in two ways. First, what are the standard administrative and IT things that they absolutely need to know to get their job done? Second, what’s the meat of their role and the right foundational documents and information sources that will help ground them in your company or a particular project, before diving into the details?
For admin and IT (I’m already yawning as I write this), if you’re at a big company, there is probably already a guide or process and you just need to tell your employee to go follow their rules. Hooray—less work for you!
If you’re a smaller company, and it’s total chaos, take a moment to write down the basics. It is super tedious to do, but at least you can copy your document with future employees, a la:
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Our CTO has not changed our email in thirty years, and we are on Outlook. Sorry.
We use Slack to communicate, and keep in mind that the CEO reads all of our messages, even in private channels!
We have an Intranet that appears to have been built in 1995 and looks a lot like MySpace. Not super useful except that it does list the company vacation dates.
Now, let’s tackle the substance of the role. If you can build out a repository of useful information, your employee will come back to it over and over again—which is a good thing, because they are only going to register about 20% of what you tell them that first week. Plus, as I wrote earlier, you can recycle most of this material for future staff as well.
Here are the things to consider:
Generalist employee resources—e.g., Did your founders write a mission statement or blogpost that reflects your
? If it’s good (they aren’t always!), then it’s worth sharing as an introduction to your company culture.
Resources specific to the employee’s job—e.g., Brand guidelines if you are hiring a marketer, top FAQ if a PR person, a business or product plan for someone assigned to a specific project, or a code repository if it’s an engineer.
Departmental information sources—e.g., org charts, specific mailing lists you recommend signing up to.
Meetings to attend
What both you and the employee need to do in the first month
It’s hard to start a new job—and particularly a new job in a new company—and feel like you’re swimming.
Try to meet with your new employee each day for a week or two, to help them acclimate and cover different topics. Don’t try to cover everything in one go—that’s easier, but it’s a waste of everyone’s time. They will be too overwhelmed to digest it all. Don’t worry—you are not going to do this forever. You can shift your daily 1:1s to regular 1:1 cadence once you feel they have gotten the hang of things.
In addition, you should create a to-do list for your employee that sets expectations as well as provides some reassurance that they are on track. The Coda template provides suggestions for useful to-do items. You should also include any projects that you feel they can immediately begin contributing to. By the end of the first month, aim to have established key objectives (OKRs, KPIs, or whatever you want to call them).
Getting started with this template
I know this all sounds like a lot of work, but if you use a template, you can work through your to-do items very quickly. Plus, you can use it over and over again. It will make you look like a super conscientious manager, and more importantly, it will give your employee a smooth introduction to the company. Here are a few instructions for getting started:
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Ensure you’ve integrated your Gmail account with this doc (click Explore in the top right, then Packs, then Gmail).