How Can Small Companies Offer an Outstanding Onboarding Experience?

“When I hire someone, I start by making the new employee’s success an explicit personal goal.”  —Joel Peterson, chairman of JetBlue Airways

For me, an outstanding first day includes small meetings booked with team members and colleagues—my personal stakeholders—who explain how we’ll soon help each other, an already set up email inbox filled with welcome emails from people excited to have me on the team and an automated M&M dispenser in the HR office. It’s a boardroom booked for games at lunch. And the t-shirt sitting on my desk. Before I even had time to feel jitters about whether or not I would fit in, which forms to fill out, or how to perform my job responsibilities within the framework of the company’s goals, I knew I belonged.

Because I’ve done my fair share of onboarding at companies small, medium and large, I can tell when a company cares enough to make new people this way. They understand the value of creating long-term loyalty from day one.

The one secret all small businesses know about onboarding is that it is just as nerve-wracking for the company as it is for new hires. With the costs involved in acquiring and retaining new employees, companies need to make sure new employees feel welcomed, oriented, trained, networked and integrated. And even though onboarding sounds like something Somali pirates do to merchant vessels, even the smallest of companies must take the time to do it right. It will make all the difference; it can make your small business feel much bigger than it is.

With that in mind, here are a few tips that will help your SMB onboard like one of the big guys:

• Start their job before they start their job. There are so many things you can do before the new employees’ first day. First, you can fill the new hires’ calendar with appointments to build relationships, help them understand how their role fits into the company’s goals and learn about your products and culture from experts—their new coworkers. The company email account should have already been set up so that it’s ready to use upon arrival. When you send a welcome email after they accepted the position, follow up with electronic versions of the necessary preliminary paperwork that weighs most employees down on the first day. Make sure to have the new employees’ workstation set up with a computer, paper, pens, business cards, and maybe even a bobblehead or Birthday Cake Oreos (if that’s their thing). These items will make them feel like you’re celebrating their arrival.

• Have them meet with an insider. New employees should be “set up” with a buddy or mentor who knows the unwritten rules of dress code and behavior, the understood seating chart at the lunch tables, the most direct path to the restrooms that doesn’t require a map to return from and which water cooler is . . . cooler. Pretty much a built-in friend. This buddy should not be a manager. It’s a great idea for the buddy or mentor to get a chance to meet with new employees out of the office, like in a less formal setting between meetings or take them out to lunch. It’s not a bad idea to arrange the buddy to be someone in the same or similar department who understands where your new employees are coming from (as the buddy may have started in the very same place) and who can truly help them understand the culture and the ins and outs at the office.

• Establish a standing one-on-one time. From day one, create a routine that helps your new employees connect regularly with you and the rest of the team. This will allow them to receive early feedback and continue receiving the “organized, relevant and well-timed content” 52 percent of new employees said was most important to them in a recent onboarding survey we conducted. You have a chance to regularly review new hires’ progress in everything from adjustment to performance. If you establish this from the beginning and meet consistently, it can be something for your new employees to look forward to, rather than getting the impression that you are scheduling because a concern has come up.

These simple tips can be the difference between your new hire getting off to an okay start and an outstanding start that will pave the way for success.