Tips for Successfully Onboarding New Employees

By Alnis Dickson, Director of Operations

I get excited about onboarding new employees. When a new employee arrives, they have a unique energy – excited, nervous, hopeful…it’s like the first day of school all over again. 

Our goal at Laridae is to welcome them, help them feel comfortable in their new role, and help them focus their “new employee energy” on work they’ll find rewarding.

In this article, I share some of the strategies that we’ve found to be useful while onboarding new employees at Laridae. These approaches may be helpful for you, if you’re creating a best-practices checklist for onboarding new employees at your organization.

I’ve organized them in chronological order, from when you first start building a relationship with a potential employee, all the way to the end of their first performance review, where you co-create a long-term plan for their future growth within your organization.

  1. Onboarding during the hiring process
  2. Preparing for their arrival
  3. On their first day
  4. In their first week
  5. During the first three months

Onboarding during the hiring process

✓ Start building a relationship right away

This is a bit cheeky of me, but I think it’s useful to start thinking about the onboarding from the moment the hiring process begins.

  • The job posting: Don’t just tell people about the job’s responsibilities. Include some tangible information about what it’s like to work with you in order to build excitement and set expectations. Help potential employees picture what their day-to-day lives will be like if they join your team.

  • The job interviews: Make sure to give candidates an introduction to your organization, outline your goals, and explain how this new role will contribute to achieving these goals. Also, leave time for answering the applicant’s questions. The more they understand about the nature of the role, its expectations, and how it fits into your organizational structure, the more likely you’ll end up with a good match.

  • The job offer: When offering the job to your preferred candidate, make sure to outline what the next steps will look like, should they decide to take the job. If they’re feeling confident about the support they’re going to receive when they arrive, they’re more likely to accept the offer. 


Preparing for their arrival (“preboarding”)

Ok, they’ve accepted the job! Now what?

✓ Get the paperwork out of the way

Your new employee’s first few days should be as engaging as possible – a new employee arrives with a fire in their belly, and to stretch the analogy, it’s our job to stoke that fire and help it grow. Giving new employees a bunch of paperwork to fill out, and logistics to sort through, is like throwing water on that fire.  

With that in mind, try to get all the dull, logistical work out of the way in advance, so that when they arrive, they can hit the ground running.

For us at Laridae, that means requesting essential documents such as:

  • Signed contract
  • Tax forms
  • Direct deposit information for payroll

✓ Get their workbench ready

If you were hiring a carpenter, you’d want to make sure their workbench had all the tools ready for them. Likewise, if you’re hiring a knowledge worker or a service worker, you’ll want to make sure they have all the accounts and software set up for them when they arrive.

For us, this means things like setting up accounts for:

This way, account setups won’t be a bottleneck, and they can dive in as soon as they feel comfortable.

✓ Send them your “Employee Handbook”

You don’t want to overwhelm your new employee with extra work before they’ve officially started. But at the same time, they’re probably curious about their new role, and the new team that they’ll be working with.

If you have an employee handbook (ideally, you do!), send it over to them in advance. Your handbook should include information like:

  • Mission, vision, and values
  • Strategic plan
  • Compensation and benefits information
  • Vacation policy
  • Workplace violence and harassment policies
  • Communications policy
  • Performance review and development policies
  • Procedures for complaints and whistleblowing
  • Team member profiles

Sharing your handbook in advance will help to answer your new employee’s most pressing questions and whet their appetite to get started.

✓ Tell them what to expect in their first day or week

Pre-schedule the new employee’s onboarding sessions, then send them the information in advance to help ease some of the anxiety of the first day. Let them know:

  • When they’re meeting
  • Who they’re meeting with
  • What they’re meeting to discuss

On the first day

The first day has arrived! The new employee is nervous, but excited. It’s time to help them feel comfortable in their new role and to stoke their aspirations for their future with your organization.

✓ Start with the big picture                                                                    

A new employee wants to get their bearings. In the past, sailors would look to the stars. Today, we look to our organization’s goals. This is going to help the employee understand the “Why” of their work. Before wading through all the nitty gritty of the day-to-day work, it’s best to start with the big picture.

For example, take the employee through your organization’s strategic plan. What are your organization’s mission, vision, and values? What is your organization trying to achieve? And why? How are you measuring success? Today’s candidates are increasingly values-oriented; show them that you are too.

Then, walk your new hire through the organization’s structure, and how the organization’s goals are connected to the new employee’s role and day-to-day activities. This will help them understand how their work is grounded in the goals of the organization, and the impact it has on your clients and community.

This is also an excellent opportunity to connect the new employee with Leadership. In our case, as a small organization, this first big-picture meeting is something that our CEO Danielle Rocheleau would lead, but in your case it might be the relevant manager or director.

✓ Engage the team

Work is a fundamentally social activity. It’s important to build and nurture relationships with colleagues, which form the glue that holds your organization’s culture together. This starts on day one.

  • Make an announcement: On an employee’s first day, we’ll send a Slack message to the whole company, celebrating their arrival and giving everyone an opportunity to share some welcoming words.

  • Book 1:1 introductions: This is also our team’s cue to reach out to the new employee to book a 15-minute introductory meeting. This gives everyone an opportunity to break the ice and start building relationships.

  • Have a party! Well, maybe not a party per se. But an event that’s intentionally not focused on work can help build social connections. At Laridae, we get together (remotely) as a full team every Monday to share personal updates and anecdotes. For new employees, this is the first activity they do with the whole group, and we’ve found it helps the new employee feel welcome and more at ease.

This kind of intentional relationship-building is especially important on remote or hybrid teams, where there are fewer incidental opportunities for building social bonds.

In the first week

✓ Over-invest in support and communication

New employees are especially at risk of feeling vulnerable or isolated, and all the more so if your team is remote or hybrid. To address this, err on the side of over-investing in support and communication.

What could this mean in practice?

  • 15-minute check-ins and check-outs at the end of each day can go a long way toward anchoring the relationship between the new employee and their supervisor. In addition to helping nip any issues in the bud and ensuring that the new employee maintains progress through the onboarding process, checking in helps to build trust, which is essential to a successful employee-supervisor relationship.

  • Connect them with their peer group. At Laridae, in addition to our “vertical” team meetings, where junior and senior members of each service team meet on a biweekly basis, we also have “horizontal” team meetings. In these meetings, employees who hold similar roles across service teams – e.g. project managers – have the opportunity to share learnings, ask for help with roadblocks, and bond over their shared interests and concerns. New employees should join these groups as soon as possible, and stay connected during their onboarding period.

✓ Take your time with the tech

It can be tempting to try and get your new employee up and running with all of the software as soon as possible. Indeed, earlier in this article, I recommended getting all of their accounts set up before they even arrived! But my goal in doing so is to create a smooth onboarding process, not to rush the employee into the deep end.

  • Tailor your pace to match your employee: The speed at which a new employee can adopt new software and technology will depend on the complexity of your tools, as well as their level of existing familiarity. Stay sensitive to your new team member’s learning style and be ready to move slower or faster depending on their comfort level.

We recommend starting slow and spreading out the learning over at least the first week, rather than cramming it all into the first day.

  • Start with software that helps them learn and engage: At the beginning of the week, we prioritize software that will enable new employees to engage with the team (e.g. email, calendar, Slack or Teams). Then we move on to learning more about the company (e.g. a knowledge management system like Guru).

  • Leave complex, administrative software to the end: It’s not until later on in the first week, or even into the second week, that we’ll get into the more complex software they’ll use to manage projects and/or build relationships with clients.

✓ Provide opportunities to “shadow” work

Rather than tossing work to new employees and expecting them to handle it on their own, look for ways to gradually introduce them to the work. Even if they already have experience in a similar role, every workplace is a bit different, and it takes time to acclimatize.

One of the best ways to learn the ropes, and to build relationships with team members, is to begin by job shadowing. Invite new team members to pair up on projects, where they’ll have the opportunity to observe and reflect on how more experienced colleagues tackle the work. Over time, new employees can take on more independent work as they develop a first-hand familiarity with your organization’s processes.

✓ Set expectations for the first three months

Don’t wait too long before setting explicit expectations. During the first week, clarify what your expectations are for them during their first three months.

By the end of the first three months…

  • What deliverables should they have completed? What should they have accomplished?
  • What skills should they have developed? What should they be able to do by themselves vs with the assistance of another team member?
  • How would they be expected to continue to learn and grow over the course of the next 6 months? Over the next year?

Moreover, don’t rely on verbal communication alone. Create, or co-create, a written document that they can use as a guide. 

Why is this important?

  1. It will help reduce their stress: One of the main causes of stress in the workplace is a lack of clarity regarding roles and expectations. This can be particularly acute for new employees, who are trying to figure out how best to fit themselves into the existing team dynamics. If the employee knows what they need to accomplish, that will help them relax and focus.

  2. Helps you decide if this employee is a keeper: At Laridae, the first three months are a probationary period. If the new employee is a bad fit for the role, we want to know this before the three months are up. Therefore, it’s important to set expectations up front. As the three-month mark approaches, we don’t want to be left wondering if performance issues are the result of poor fit, or if the employee just wasn’t clear on what was expected of them.

During the first three months

✓ Invite feedback

One of the many ways a new employee is special is that they have a fresh set of eyes. Folks who have been at an organization for a while tend to get inured to gaps or tensions in the workplace over time. For a new employee, gaps and tensions can stand out. Moreover, they have more energy to tackle them.

Make sure to take advantage of this awareness and energy while it’s still fresh.

Invite feedback through multiple channels:

  • Team meetings
  • 1:1 check-ins
  • Surveys

Additionally, ask for specific feedback regarding your onboarding process. At Laridae, we send two surveys to new employees.

  • The first survey comes at the one-month mark, in the middle of the onboarding process. This helps us spot any issues with the ongoing onboarding process and course-correct as needed.

  • The second survey comes at the three-month mark, when the onboarding process is complete (and the performance review has been completed). This gives us fresh feedback on the whole onboarding process, and helps us fine-tune it before the next new employee arrives.

Finally, be sure to actively listen to what the new employee is telling you. If their feedback resonates with you, ask them how they think they could help improve things, and integrate them into the change process moving forward. Not only is this helpful to your organization, but your new employee will see that they’re a valued member of the team.

✓ Finish by conducting a performance review and co-creating a long-term plan

As the first three months come to an end, the new employee’s supervisor should conduct their first substantial performance review, which would thereafter be conducted on a yearly basis.

It’s outside the scope of this article to fully unpack the process and rationale of performance reviews, but in the context of onboarding a new employee, some key components include:

  • Input from both the employee and supervisor: Make sure that communication is flowing in both directions. Ask the employee to reflect on their own strengths and challenges, their successes, and mishaps.

  • Avoid surprises: Good feedback is frequent, specific, and actionable. Don’t wait until the performance review to provide feedback. If the onboarding has been going well, feedback will have already been shared, and the performance review is an opportunity to discuss this feedback in more depth, rather than share new ideas.

  • Check-in on expectations: Did the new hire understand what was expected of them in the first three months? Did they feel that these expectations were reasonable? Were they supported? Did they meet these expectations? What worked well and where could there be some improvement?

  • Set strengths-based goals: It’s a common mistake for supervisors to spend more energy on “fixing” weaknesses than on nurturing strengths. In the performance review, make space for the employee to share their career aspirations. After three months, they will have started to develop a clearer idea of how they can grow within your organization. Help them sketch a growth plan within your organization that leverages their strengths and interests.

  • Find out how you can best support them. It can be tricky to know how best to support an employee. In this case, as with others, the best approach is to ask directly: “What do you need from me? How can I be a better manager for you?” Learn about whether they want more or less direction, and then adapt your approach to match their learning style.

A performance review at the three-month mark is almost a rite of passage. If executed successfully, the new employee will feel like they have really “arrived” – that the initial stage of becoming acquainted with your organization, understanding their role and connecting with the team has been completed. They’re no longer a “new” employee. Instead, they’re a member of the team and a peer to their colleagues.

They now understand what the organization exists to accomplish, they recognize their role within the team, they have the direction, skills, and tools to flourish…and they’re ready to welcome and integrate the next new employee when they arrive.

Want to learn more about onboarding?

Our Management Training Program for non-profits can help you and your managers learn onboarding best practices, along with lots of other essential management skills.

Learn more on our webpage, or feel free to fill out the form below to get in touch. We can set up a short consultation session to learn more about your organization and see if we’re a good fit.