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Set Them Up To Scale: Building Your First Onboarding Process

As an early stage startup, you’re likely resource strapped and may lack experience setting up an onboarding process. Be that as it may, it’s important to remember that your small team is your most valuable asset, so you need to invest time upfront establishing strong foundations as you scale rapidly in these formative years. 

This article will run through the basics of building your first scalable onboarding process – setting the stage through preboarding, making great first impressions, establishing fundamentals, and continuing development. With limited budget and staff, you need to focus on high-impact steps that wow new hires and set them up for success.

The Importance of Onboarding

Imagine an employee nervously entering your startup on their first day, eager to dive in. Now picture that same employee months later, frustrated and checking job boards every coffee break. What happened? Chances are, not much…onboarding, that is. 

The numbers agree – only 12% of U.S. employees believe their company nails this critical process. Without it, new hires get lost in overflowing email inboxes, confusing meetings full of company-specific jargon, and ambiguous expectations. Employee retention, productivity, and your carefully constructed culture depend on onboarding done right. Skip this step, and new hires will soon become empty desks. The cost? Astronomical. 

The good news is that effective onboarding doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. By following an onboarding plan template and putting some advance thought into the process, even resource-strapped startups can set up new hires for success.

Before Day 1: Preboarding

The professional relationship building begins well before the big first day, during a period experts call preboarding. Before your bright-eyed new hire first crosses the threshold lugging that shiny new laptop, you want them giddy with anticipation about their brilliant future at your company. 

Give them a peek behind the curtain before Day 1 and they’ll arrive hungry to dive in. Share some company lore, send over paperwork so they’re ready to hit the ground running, and get their tech needs prepped ahead of time to show you’ve got their back. When they finally set their work bag down at their new desk on the first day, they’ve already drunk some of the Kool-Aid and feel like part of the crew. With a foundation built on caring, not just contracts, you’re setting the stage for the long haul.

Day 1: Make a Great First Impression

It’s go time – time to pull out all the stops to wow your new recruit when they set foot in your office. We’re talking welcome kits stuffed with branded swag, handwritten notes from the team, trivia games to put names to faces. Make them feel like a celebrity walking the red carpet. Continue this trend with a team lunch, or at least some activity where they can start to put names to faces and get to know who they will be working with. 

This is also the time where you need to reinforce your company culture with stories, values talks, and a bit of camaraderie. If Day 1 feels more like a spa retreat than a job, you know you’ve succeeded in welcoming your new superstar.

First Week Fundamentals

The balloons and banner may come down after Day 1, but your newbie’s first week is where the real work begins. Consider it “onboarding bootcamp” – it’s time to embed your new recruit into the company’s DNA. 

  1. Company History and Vision Overview – Provide a more comprehensive overview of the backstory and an inspirational look toward the future. Context enriches their role by answering “why are we doing this?”
  2. In-Depth Role Expectations – Clearly outline responsibilities, priorities, and what excellence in their role looks like. Define guidelines while encouraging innovative thinking. Have them shadow team members to visualize success in action. Outline your workflow system, shared drives, tools, and resources. Too much info at once is overwhelming, so pace the knowledge transfer. Check frequently for understanding.
  3. Ongoing Support and Feedback – Check in daily, provide ample resources, and don’t shy from constructive feedback focused on learning. Guide their progress while emphasizing mistakes are opportunities, not black marks. Designate formal mentors and informal office buddies for camaraderie. Encourage questions and escalation if they feel blocked.

Keep communicating openly, answering questions, and conveying your belief in their talents. These building blocks cement loyalty and retention.

30/60/90 Day Plan

The first months should deliberately build competency through staged goal setting and increased responsibilities.

  1. In Month 1, collaboratively set 30-day training-level goals focused on core job functions, tools, and relationships. Schedule regular check-ins to provide course corrections in a supportive way.
  2. In Month 2, level up difficulty with the goal of phasing out intensive oversight. Expand responsibilities now that basic proficiency is achieved, but in increments that stretch abilities while ensuring adequate support systems are still in place.
  3. By Month 3, your new hire should operate autonomously in most areas, requiring less hands-on guidance. Re-evaluate bigger picture goals and strategy, noting skills mastered and gaps still needing development. Customize training as needed.

Also schedule executive check-ins monthly. Have leaders outside the direct team reinforce company vision and culture from their lens. Assess overall integration satisfaction and roadblocks.

Final Word

So in the end, what does good onboarding really require? It needs you to put in some serious upfront thinking and effort from the preboarding stage all the way through those critical first 90 days. Why all the fuss? Because great onboarding is how you forge those all-important connections between new hires and your company’s vision, while also making sure people have all the tools and support they need to excel at their jobs. 

No doubt about it, doing onboarding right demands a lot of resources and time. But it pays you back tenfold down the road through higher retention, better productivity, and preserving the unique culture you’ve worked so hard to build.

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