Onboarding new employees can be daunting when you have to figure it out on your own. It took us a few attempts, but at Charlie, we've now built an onboarding process that works for startups and small businesses. We’re sharing it here with you.
Getting excited when a job offer is accepted is normal in a startup or small business, but in my experience, it can also be the reason why you end up overlooking the importance of a good onboarding plan.
It’s easy to think new starters will quickly catch the drift of their new role when they’ve made a strong impression during their interview, but their performance shouldn’t work against them.
In my role at CharlieHR, I learnt that the onboarding process has to be meticulously designed to provide the right tools and knowledge for new hires to successfully pass probation and thrive in their role.
Let’s have a look at what that looks like in practice.
What is an employee onboarding process?
Onboarding is giving a new hire the means and training to do their best work right from the start so that they can:
- Understand their role and the expectations around it
- Get involved in contributing to business goals
- Engage with the company’s values to feel part of the team
- Successfully pass probation
But that does not happen without your help, and it’s your responsibility as a leader or manager to put an effective onboarding process in place so they can achieve these goals.
At Charlie, we’ve gone from 20 to 40 team members in just over a year (and still growing!), so we’ve had the opportunity to refine our onboarding process to scale up our startup.
If you’re interested in what our current onboarding steps look like, make sure to download our checklist to try them out at your small business.
"I think Charlie's onboarding has been super thorough and really friendly. The company's mission comes through at every touchpoint, and I've had enough information to process but not too much that's been an overload." Finola Rance, Talent Partner at CharlieHR
Why setting up clear onboarding steps should be your top priority
With almost 30% of new hires leaving within the first 90 days, it’s clear the onboarding experience and the probation period are critical.
It's easy to blame poor performance if new hires don't make the cut, but in my book, most of these difficult situations can be avoided if supported by a solid onboarding plan.
An important part of my role at Charlie, for example, is to reflect on whether we provided the right resources and training for new hires.
That means reviewing the onboarding process regularly, holding ourselves accountable for any potential gap, and adjusting our ways to genuinely try and make work better for everyone in our team.
Onboarding Step 1: Pre-onboarding: before the new hire’s first day
As CharlieHR’s Culture Operations Associate, I’m in charge of making sure there’s no fret around a new employee’s first day, so logistics and paperwork are the last of their worries.
As simple as it sounds, getting a laptop over to them on time and setting them up on our different platforms and channels is key to their success.
That’s where I find our checklist feature comes in handy: I simply create an onboarding checklist – that I can save as a template – and tick all the boxes as I go along.
I can also assign tasks to co-workers and set a due date so they get automatic reminders in their inboxes to minimise any onboarding hiccups.
Once that’s done, I send new employees a one-click invite to sign up to our self-service HR software. They create their profile, fill in their details and upload all their documents directly into CharlieHR.
This keeps me from having to send chasers and leaves new starters impressed with how fast we got the ball rolling.
Onboarding Step 2: first day, make their first impression a long-lasting one
On their first day, it’s important to give new hires a warm welcome and hand them all the important information to start on the right foot.
Although in-person meetings allow for more laid-back conversations, the challenge of remote onboarding doesn’t mean it’s impossible to form new bonds.
At Charlie, for example, a reminder of the new starter’s first day shows up on our software’s homepage.
Team members never miss it and can make the first step to break the ice by inviting new hires for a virtual coffee or to have lunch in the office.
We also always assign new starters a buddy to help get their bearings at the company and answer any non-work-related questions they may have.
It is however not enough to get a new hire up to speed with our do’s and don’ts, and that’s why codifying our ways of working is essential.
I’ve seen plenty of ways to do this but getting a company handbook (or employee handbook) stored where everyone can see it has been the easiest so far.
New hires can flip through all of our HR policies at their own pace whilst knowing they can come back to it at any time.
Onboarding Step 3: First week, get them gradually up to speed
Day one usually flies by, and by the time it’s over, new hires need to be prepared for the week ahead.
At Charlie, I encourage and help managers to put together a plan that includes a timeline of the documents and knowledge they want to share.
I also remind them training is not one-size-fits-all, and they might have to adjust it as they go along.
The biggest priority is setting milestones to assess how well a new hire is doing to back up any future decisions regarding probation.
A key step is also to share a role document (an in-depth job description) with new hires so they can use it as a point of reference to successfully pass probation.
Finally, some meets and greets with the leadership team will be essential to avoid new hires feeling siloed in their role and help them understand the broader context of the business.
By the end of the first week, all hiring managers at Charlie also have a proper catch-up to see how new starters are dealing with their new working rhythm.
Onboarding Step 4: First month to end of probation — keep the boat steady
As new hires ease into their role, it’s only natural they’ll have doubts about their performance.
At Charlie, we believe in having a constant conversation around how well they’re doing and what they can improve for the sake of transparency.
We want to ensure feedback is not a one-way street and make new hires feel comfortable about sharing it with their direct manager.
We built our one-to-one feature* with these important conversations in mind to make it easier for line managers to catch up with their direct reports and empower them to bring up any potential issue.
By identifying blockers early on, it will be easier to find a solution and make sure new hires are going in the right direction.
Of course, it’s not just managers who should provide a safe space for new hires to express themselves, but the company as a whole.
That’s where a bespoke company handbook created with an HR expert to codify ways of working and company culture may be useful.
Onboarding Step 5: End of probation and time for decisions
When the end of probation comes (give it enough time – for example at CharlieHR we have a 3-month probation period), it’s time to make a decision.
If a new hire brilliantly covered all the steps set out for them, then it shouldn’t be difficult — but what if there are any doubts?
As a small business or startup, it can be easier to tune off concerns, but our advice would be to extend probation if you’re not 100% sure about their performance.
I get this is not a pleasant conversation to have, and that’s why regular catch-ups throughout the probation period are essential so the outcome is no surprise to anyone.
To make the most use of the extension, at Charlie we make sure to outline areas where new hires fell short of expectations and set clear goals to be confident in our decision when it comes to an end.
Unfortunately, some new hires won’t make it despite your best efforts, and if you’re not sure how to handle a termination, perhaps an HR expert could help you with this delicate situation.
Onboarding step 6: How to optimise employee retention in the first year
At Charlie, we’re happy to report 91.6% of new hires successfully passed probation in 2021, but we know there’s always room for improvement.
That’s why we always nudge new hires for feedback regarding the onboarding process as we want to make the necessary changes to optimise employee retention.
So once onboarding is done, the work is not over and the first year means you need to keep engaging with team members to develop their skills and take their career to the next level.
Perhaps you could put a career progression framework in place to introduce new employees to the level they’re at and the development opportunities they can get.
At Charlie, we’ve also created a performance reviews tool that could help you engage in meaningful and effective conversations so no one ever feels left aside.
So here’s all of what we learnt at Charlie by iterating our onboarding process to fit the needs of our growing business, and we hope it will be an inspiration for other small companies like us to create their own onboarding steps.
If you want to find out more about running a small business or a startup, you can also download our HR for startups guide to help.
*Our one-to-one feature is only available to HR advice customers.