3 Ways a Small Business Can Onboard and Support Hires From Day One

  • A poor onboarding process can leave employees feeling undertrained and undervalued.
  • Two founders share how to set up an onboarding process for success and retention.
  • One CEO said that onboarding should be “employee-centric” and focus on building relationships.
  • This article is part of “Small Business Playbook,” a series exploring leadership challenges and the solutions that can drive growth.

The human-resources firm Red Clover‘s onboarding process lasts 90 days. 

“We focus on what happens day one, what happens week one, what happens in the first month, second month, and third month,” Jen L’Estrange, the company’s founder and managing director, told Insider. 

A hire’s arrival is celebrated with activities on the first day. During the first week, the New Jersey company provides an overview of how it operates, as well as “all the nuts and bolts of the job,” L’Estrange said. Then, each employee has regular check-ins with their manager for the rest of the three months.

The goal is to make sure new employees feel supported, which helps with retention, productivity, and overall job satisfaction, she said: “It gives me an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with them, which is important.” 

In a 2021 Paychex survey of US workers, only half of respondents said they were satisfied with their employer’s onboarding process, and employees of small companies were most likely to report being unsatisfied with onboarding. A poor onboarding process can leave employees feeling undertrained and undervalued, and some may quit as a result. 

Here are three ways to ensure your onboarding process is set up for employee success and retention. 

Show new hires why their roles matter

Fund&Grow, a Florida financial-services company, changed its onboarding process about two years ago after new employees left after their first day, Amanda Webster, the company’s chief operating officer, told Insider.

The company now devotes a full day to onboarding and prioritizes educating new employees about the company, “the big picture, the culture,” and how they fit into it all, she said.

“Onboarding is that first look the employee truly gets at your company, the culture, what they really signed up for,” Webster said. “It’s the last piece of the hiring process, and probably the most important because that’s what’s going to solidify them staying.” 

Since making onboarding more employee-centric, the company’s retention rate has increased 70%, and everyone it’s hired has shown up for their second day, Webster said. Fund&Grow now has 66 employees. 

Providing a positive onboarding experience that sets employees up for success can save small businesses time and money, as it’s costly to hire and train staff, L’Estrange said. 

The process should introduce hires to company stakeholders, encourage relationship building, highlight their roles’ importance, show how success is measured and defined, and give them the tools they need to do their jobs, she said. Otherwise, new hires may feel devalued or let down and lose trust and interest in the organization. 

Make it fun but organized 

An employee’s first day should be productive but fun. L’Estrange and Webster give their new hires an agenda and a schedule, with breaks and activities included. Both companies provide lunch for the whole team when someone new comes on board. 

“I think celebrations on day one are important,” L’Estrange said. 

Take the time to get to know the newcomer by asking about their goals, favorite activities, family, or pets, Webster said. And discuss any employee-engagement programs or activities the company offers — and how it will help new hires grow in their careers. 

Red Clover sends new hires a questionnaire asking about their favorite foods, the name they prefer to be called, and T-shirt size for company swag, L’Estrange said. 

Save job-specific training for the second or third day, Webster suggested, saying: “Don’t focus on what they’re actually doing for the company; focus on who the company is and what the company does for their employees.” 

Keep checking in 

To keep new employees feeling connected and valued, check in on them regularly, especially over the first few months, L’Estrange said. At Red Clover, managers hold regular check-ins with new staff.

At first, these meetings focus on how the employee is settling in, including what’s going well and what isn’t as they get a feel for how the company operates. Then, they center on goals and performance. After three months, they’ll have their first quarterly review process that every employee undergoes, she said. 

The company also provides a mentorship program, L’Estrange said. New hires are paired with existing employees, whom they can meet with regularly and ask questions. 

Ultimately, onboarding should set the tone for how a company supports employees and keeps them engaged, she added. Taking extra time and care with the process can help you retain your best people. 

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