Thoughts, Insights & Words of Wisdom

First Impressions Matter: A Practical Guide to Onboarding

To retain new employees, spend time onboarding them

Onboarding, induction, pot-ay-to, pot-ah-to.  Call it what you will, the fact is first impressions matter and a new job is a milestone for everyone.

There are some basics that, alarmingly, lots of companies don’t do. In fact, many managers don’t typically give much thought to onboarding a new team member, aside from giving them a quick tour and assigning them a first task. It’s seen as little more than a box-ticking exercise.  Very few of them actually have a plan to make new team members feel welcome and appreciated by making sure they are included in the company’s culture as soon as possible.

And if you’re not made to feel welcome, that stays with you and takes the positive shine off that new role you’ve fought hard to land, and moreover, it doesn’t shine the business in a particularly positive light either.

Welcome aboard!

Hello I am New Nametag

How an employee initially perceives a company … has a huge impact on how long they will stay.Michelle Hoover

On the other hand, starting off on the right foot with a well-crafted, engaging experience will leave them feeling positive and excited about their future with your organisation.  It can even form the foundation for longer-term success and make them more likely to stay with your company for the long-term – particularly younger Millennial and Generation Z workers, who are keen to embrace learning and development opportunities.

HBR recently published a great article about the way Microsoft has been working to improve its onboarding process and another just last December about retaining new hires.  In January, Forbes published an interview with Christian Harpelund, Consulting Director at Onboarding Group asking if onboarding was the new secret for success.

So, if you’re one of the many businesses taking on new employees – school leavers, graduates or someone making a career move – then you might want to read on as we summarise the top tips you can introduce to ensure your new team members are made to feel welcome from the very start.

Before they start

Once they’ve accepted the job, there’s likely to be period of time before they start with you; finishing a course, graduationg, or serving their notice period.  But don’t let that stop you communicating with them regularly during this time;  keep them informed of any company developments or information about their new role so they can be fully prepared.  Don’t overload them with information, just make them feel like they are contributing to the team’s success and so they don’t feel forgotten.

You could prepare things like company background information, health and safety policies and GDPR regulations, ready to hand over.

In the week before they start, send them details about start times, dress code, or who to ask for in the event that you’re not there. That way, come day one they will already feel part of the team and have a clear understanding of what to expect as they walk through the door.

When you begin to see onboarding as a continuous, long-term process that starts long before new employees even set foot in the building, you’re setting yourself and them up for success.

First day

It may sound obvious, but make sure their manager is there to greet them.  Give them a tour of the office, or at least where the kitchen and loo are!  If they’re new to the town, then a quick list of decent coffee shops or cafes is always helpful.

I’m a great believer in ‘rituals’, by that I mean create time in which the rest of the team can get to introduce themselves, maybe a morning coffee break or a team lunch is also a great icebreaker.  Again, fairly obvious, but make sure they’ve got the basics such as a building access pass or key, and that their laptop/mobile etc. are setup for them.


Microsoft’s research (mentioned earlier) showed that onboarding buddies play an important role in ensuring a successful onboarding experience.  Make sure there is a peer available to show them the office systems and run through the unwritten rules.

Acting as their ‘buddy’ during the first week, they can introduce them to other colleagues and key people they’re likely to come into contact with, explaining roles and responsibilities along the way.  If the buddy is also relatively new to the team, they can also offer some tips or answer concerns in a more informal way.

Make a plan

One of the most overwhelming aspects of a new job is getting your head around new roles and responsibilities.  As a manager, it’s your responsibility to bring people into the team in a structured way, this includes informal and formal meetings and training sessions.  In this digital era, there are so many ways to deliver innovative experiences. But, as with all learning, you have to consider what works for your company and your learners.  What lasting impression of your organisation do you want your onboarding to give new starters?

Take some time to review your current onboarding process and identify the areas that need improving.  If you’ve not got an onboarding process, now’s your moment.  There’s a great checklist here to help you get started.

New team members will settle in and learn their role much more quickly this way and it will help to maintain the high energy levels that naturally comes with starting a new job.

Personalise it

As I mentioned earlier, of all the different areas of workplace learning,  onboarding is one of the least personalised. It’s often centred around compliance and company policy, and each new team member is given the same standardised documents to churn through, often in the form of lengthy, uninspiring PDFs.

But there’s no reason why onboarding should be like this; everyone comes from different backgrounds, bringing their own unique knowledge and skills with them.  So, before you issue the same old content to them, think about how you can get to know your new team member from get-go.  A short questionnaire – 10 minutes with… – is a great way of getting to know them, or a few well chosen multiple choice questions to assess their readiness for the role by asking questions that highlight their current knowledge and skills.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.Maya Angelou

Onboarding matters; it sets the tone for new employees and directly impacts your company’s ability to grow. Great onboarding can boost employee performance, reduce role readiness and even improve retention.  It is the first step towards engagement, equipping the new team member with the knowledge and understanding they need to make a quick start in their new role.  Doing these small things tells them a lot about you as their manager as well as the wider organisation and will encourage them to carry that behaviour forward into their role, as part of the team’s culture.

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If you want to find out more about our productivity work sessions, leadership development programmes or learning journeys you can email me directly or visit The Extraordinary Training Company website.  

Author: Jane Rennie

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