How to onboard a new team member?

Do you have a process for onboarding new hires?… A structured approach to onboarding can make the difference between a successful and a non-successful hire! Think of it as the first 7 years of a child – what happens during these early days affects everything that follows.

Here’s the approach I (try to) use in my practice:

Before the first working day

Have a clear list of the roles of the person

You should have prepared this one before posting the job ad. In case you haven’t, no reason to postpone it any more. I fully understand that very often we work in “a dynamic environment” and “we must be flexible”… and “roles often change over time”. Enough excuses. You need to have a clear understanding of what this person needs to do in your organization. If you are aware of it, writing the list will take 10 minutes or so…. If you are not, you better “waist” 30 minutes thinking about it than 3 months, having an unproductive, demotivated employee. Once you have the list, go ahead and change it over time as circumstances require.

Prepare a learning plan

To put it simply, this plan states what this person needs to know about the organization and the job specifics by the end of week 1, 2, 3, etc. I usually do a more detailed plan for the first 4 weeks and a monthly plan for the second and third months (for more established positions). For most new positions a weekly plan for the first 4 weeks is the best you can do.

Set goals for the new person

The probation period is when you need to confirm if this person is a good match for your organization. And goals will define what “a good match” means for the position.

During the first week

A buddy from day one

A buddy will help the new person become part of the team much faster – organizing a welcome lunch; helping the newbie catch up on all the gossips (yes, I know that there are no gossips in strong teams 🙂 ) ; giving the informal support which everyone needs when adjusting to unfamiliar situations. Buddy systems are generally suitable for organizations larger than 25 people. Do this only if you have a pool of buddies which cover two important criteria:

  1. The person is eager to do the job
  2. The person lives the values of the organization (they will greatly influence the attitude of the new hire)

The entry interview

The entry interview is a one-on-one meeting of the new hire with her direct manager. It takes up to 2 hours and is a mixture of “get to know”, “company presentation”, “setting expectations” and “career goals”. Here’s the agenda that I usually use:

  1. A warm welcome + why we hired this person (what is the potential we saw and what are her strong sides). In most cases, during the interview process we have also identified skills (soft or hard) on which the new hire should work in order to be a better fit for the position. I also mention these at that early stage.
  2. Explaining the forming, storming, norming, performing concept: If you are aware of the different phases you are about to go through, it makes the ride easier. A lot of people are still not familiar with this concept. So I draw the graph (even though my drawing skills are not something I take pride in 🙂 ). Then I briefly explain the concept: “First you will feel the excitement of the novelty. Then you will slowly discover our weaknesses (as individuals and as an organization). At a certain moment you may feel that it can’t get any worse. This means that it will get a little worse before getting better. At some point you will adjust to the team and the team will adjust to you. Every phase may take a week or 6 months (the more you get to know the people, the faster the process). And it is important that we keep track where you are along the way and try to manage the process.”
  3. Mission and values: This is where I explain what we are fighting for! It’s not just reading the values or reciting them by heart (btw, I don’t know them by heart). I take time to explain the meaning of each value. Why it is important for the organization + I give some examples.
  4. The interview: In this part we go through a list of questions which will help us get to know each other a bit better and set the right expectations. A part of them we have already covered during the interview phase, only that the effect of the socially desirable answers is much weaker once we have signed the contract.
  • The new hire present herself in 3 to 5 minutes (they can cover whatever topics they like, not only work-related)
  • You present yourself in 3 to 5 minutes
  • What are their career goals?
  • What does she want to gain from the position we have hired her at?
  • Which are the areas in which she needs help/ education/ mentorship?
  • Expectations towards me
  • Expectations towards her
  • Any ideas/ recommendations/ preferences concerning the work-related process
  • Work structure: how we plan and organize our work; what kind of meeting she will be involved in; KPIs we will look at; etc.

5. Explain the learning plan and the goals for the person – most probably you are already out of time and need to schedule another 30 minutes for this. Make sure you cover those as well.


Feedback meetings

If you only do one thing from the whole list let it be this one. One-on-one meetings with the direct manager will take 30 minutes (up to 60 in the beginning and  when major issues arise).

In the beginning I stick to one meeting every two weeks. At some point you will see that the major topics are covered and there’s not so much to discuss every two weeks. At this point I change the regularity to one meeting per month.

I often make the following mistake – once the person is set in the company, they seem to feel good and perform, I tend to forget about the importance of feedback sessions and organize them rarely – every 2 to 6 months. I just think that as long as everything is going on fine, there’s no need for another meeting. WRONG. Circumstances change and you can’t always detect the change in the person. This has caused me the loss of some really important team members. Some experts advise for these meeting to be held every two weeks in the long run. It’s up to you. I stick to once per month for “established” team members.

Keeping track

Keep track of the execution of the learning plan and the goals. This usually happens during your regular work/status meetings.

*A personal confession: With a thousand other things on my agenda I usually miss a point or two with every new hire.

Share your tips and tricks in the onboarding process. What have you tried? What works for you? What doesn’t?

About me: Apart from acting as a CEO of DEV.BG (the biggest IT community in Bulgaria) I help CEOs of small companies build their business. If you face a case I can help you with, drop me a message on LinkedIN.

Excuse my English 🙂 English is not my mother tongue and as you have seen it may be improved. Though, I believe that my level of command of the language covers the basic criteria in order for me to convey my ideas.

image: pexels


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