Dropping monthly, Bright + Early Guides are in depth how to guides explaining the ins and outs of building better workplaces, taken directly from Bright + Early’s in-house playbook. Sign up to the Bright + Early Building Bright Newsletter to get new Guides straight to your inbox.

Congratulations, you did it! You landed an amazing hire. What next? Even the best recruiting process doesn't end once a candidate accepts their offer. Good (or bad) onboarding can make or break whether they succeed, or even choose to stay with the company.

Did you know:

  • A negative onboarding experience results in new hires being 2x more likely to look for new opportunities.
  • 22% of new hires are looking for a new job in their first 45 days and 33% of new hires are looking in their first 6 months.
  • 1 in 10 have left a company because of a poor onboarding experience
  • Depending on seniority, replacing a hire can cost 30-400% of an employee's annual salary

On the flip side, great onboarding can:

  • Increase employee engagement and belonging
  • Get people up to speed and delivering value faster
  • Turn them into immediate advocates to join your company
Organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%.

So how do you do it? At Bright + Early, we've built onboarding processes for dozens of startups and scaling companies. In our work, we've developed some best practices and key touch points that all great onboarding programs need to have.

Here's our secret sauce:

Secret HR Sauce

Get Clear

Before designing any program for humans to use, get clear on your goals. Most folks designing onboarding are trying to solve two core problems:

  • New employees lack context. Context on the product, their role, their team, and on the company's culture and working norms.
  • New joiners need to feel a sense of belonging to encourage engagement.

Make It An Event

Onboarding is more than just day one. The best processes take place over a number of weeks or even months. Take a page from event planners and service designers and focus on the key moments and touchpoints your attendees will experience throughout that time frame. A few examples:

Signing the offer:

  • This is a big moment! Once your new hire accepts the job, send them a warm letter from their manager (or whole team) outlining why you're excited to work with them. Some small companies do an email welcome chain with the whole department or company copied. Each person can reply and send their own welcome.

Before they start:

  • In the days before their start date, send a detailed outline of the onboarding program and schedule. You can also include a copy of your employee handbook, benefits and perks, and any favourite reads.
  • Reach out to see if they have any specific technical requirements, accommodations, dietary restrictions, or other needs. Also be sure to confirm the name they go by (which may be different than their legal name) and pronouns.
  • Avoid the stress of things arriving late (especially with the current supply chain) and make sure you ship computers, equipment or any swag well in advance.
  • Consider sending them digital assets to announce their new job. You could create a visual they could post on social media or LinkedIn to share the great news far and wide.

The first day:

  • On the big day, make sure you have a designated "event manager". This is someone who is responsible for checking in and making sure the process is running smoothly.
  • Make sure someone is there to meet them and walk them through what to expect from the program. Virtually, this could be a quick meeting at the very start of the day.

Their first "Insert Important Thing":

  • Include the new hire in team rituals and cultural norms – does your team name all of their projects after food or Pokémon? Do you expect messages to be acknowledged within an hour during business hours? Does everyone watch The Bachelor on Monday nights? Make an effort to include the new hire so they feel welcome.

The end:

  • The completion of your onboarding program is a great time for a ritual or celebration to formally bring new hires into the fold. You could host a graduation ceremony, present them with a trophy or certificate, or just give a big shout out at all-hands or on Slack.

Keep It Real

Our #1 trick for designing onboarding that sticks? Make it real! The best way to build context is to go through real-life scenarios and pain points that your company's customers and users might experience. This is a fantastic way to understand the business as a whole, as well as meet people across the company. For example:

  • For Mejuri, a Bright + Early client with a tangible product (jewelry), onboarding was designed to follow the life cycle of one real weekly jewelry "drop". New hires followed the lifecycle of a real jewelry piece's design, prototyping, marketing strategy, retail locations, shipping and logistics warehouse, and even customer service and returns, spending time with each department as they went.
  • FreshBooks, a leader in the small business accounting space, has new hires (no matter what their department or seniority level) complete 3 whole weeks as a customer support agent before they're allowed to start their "regular" work.
  • If you're a service-based company, try using a faux client and having new hires "work with" them. At @BrightplusEarly we have new folks spend 2 weeks building an HR strategy and custom company handbook for MerryGoRound, a "disruptor in the ice cream space". Have fun with it!

Make It Fun

Graduations from the FreshBooks onboarding program in its early days used to involve quirky and elaborate events related to the graduate's interests. One was Super Mario themed, and graduates ran through a faux game level crafted from cardboard. Another had new grads racing through an inflatable obstacle course to cross the finish line. These were attended by the whole company as a beloved tradition.

Think about what makes your company unique and special. What is the most on-brand party or experience that you can think of for your company? Your onboarding should feel like that.

Make It Social

  • Consider cohorts! It may be strategic to onboard new hires in groups, or cohorts. This means that there will be limited start times per month, say, every other Monday. Starting people in groups gives a sense of community, and is easier for you to administrate.
  • Assign each new hire a buddy. This person isn't necessarily their manager or direct coworker, but someone responsible for inviting them to coffee and lunch, answering any random questions about the company ("what does that acronym mean?" "Who's that guy?"). Basically, an onboarding buddy is your new hire's first friend. You can ask for volunteers, or pick out the more outgoing culture carriers on your team for buddy duty. Having a "buddy" at a new job has been linked to increased job satisfaction by as much as 36% over 90 days!

Have Some Class

Throughout the onboarding week or month, have your cohorts attend some key learning sessions. These help them get to know different departments and their goals, working norms, and leaders. A few suggestions:

  • Company 101: Have the CEO lead a session with each cohort about the mission, history, and vision.
  • How Things Work: Though these will be in your employee handbook, have your People team (or the equivalent person) walk new hires through how to navigate company policies and working norms, such as booking time off, using benefits and perks, and how things like performance reviews work.
  • Finance and ESOP: An overview with your CFO (or equivalent) on the basics of any bonus/profit sharing/stock option programs and compensation strategy.

Make It Easy

  • No one wants to print and sign, or struggle with Adobe. You can program most forms you need into most HR software (benefits, government forms, etc) if they aren't already there. Check out Humi, HiBob and Bamboo if you don't yet have HR software.
  • Make sure things are easy to find. Use a central wiki like Notion, or even organized folders, so that all policies, handbooks and checklists are easily found.

Use a 30/60/90 Plan

You can help your new hire get up to speed with a 30/60/90 day plan. Here's generally what to cover in each stage:

30 Days – Learning

During this period the new hire is focused on learning and shouldn’t be pressured to provide input until they have had time to soak up information. Example goals during this period include:

  • Get to know the company culture
  • Learn company-specific platforms, intranet systems, and complete company-specific training classes
  • Learn about the company’s products and clients
  • Hold weekly one on ones with manager
  • Meet the members of the team
  • Start working on projects

60 Days – Contribution

During this period the new hire should be able to contribute in team meetings and offer their fresh perspective on challenges. Example goals could include:

  • Collaborate with other teams while starting to “contribute to the conversation” more often
  • Identify issues or pain and develop plans to address and fix the issues
  • Set up a regular meeting schedule with teams and manager going forward
  • Get feedback from manager on progress

90 Days – Independence

By this time the new hire should be hitting their stride. They are ready to take on more responsibility and work on bigger projects. Their goals might include:

  • Start working independently on projects
  • Become more accountable for their work
  • Be proactive and become more involved in the company
  • Touch base with manager for feedback about goals/metrics/KPIs going forward

Craft Your Checklists

To organize your process, you'll want two checklists. One internal, and one external.

  • Your internal checklist ensures all relevant tools and accounts are set up, all equipment is ordered, and all meetings and learning sessions are prescheduled before the new hire's first day. This will be unique to your company and include all the software, tools and equipment you personally use.
  • The second is for your new hire. This checklist serves as a guide to the onboarding program and should include a welcome, schedule, description of each part of the onboarding process, and the new hire's first tasks and goals. Checking these off can feel amazing!

To make it easier, we've open-sourced our own Notion template that we use to onboard new Bright + Early team members.

Iterate, Iterate, Iterate!

Your process is your product! Take a page from your product and design team and iterate to improve your onboarding. You can collect user feedback through interviews and post-onboarding surveys, and make small tweaks to perfect it. Some sample questions could include:

  • Overall, how valuable was the onboarding at our company?
  • Prior to your first day of work, did you feel you had received all the necessary information (such as the schedule of your onboarding)?
  • How clear did you find the information presented during the onboarding?
  • Should onboarding have been longer, shorter, or was it just about right?
  • What could we change or add to improve our onboarding process?
  • What do you like the most about our onboarding process?

Eventually, you'll land on a signature onboarding program that makes everyone feel welcomed, informed and ready to do great work.

Happy Onboarding!