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Rule #1 for onboarding new employees: Have them start the first day at 11 a.m., not 9 a.m.

Rule #2: Don’t outsource the welcome. The manager should greet the new hire.

Rule #3: Keep the first day light.

Rule #4: Clue them in to the vernacular – the special language, perhaps even secret language, by which the team speaks.

Those rules come from Carly Guthrie and are aimed at tech startups but I suspect the need they address – haphazard and perhaps even counterproductive onboarding routines – applies to your organization. As the human resources professional put it when interviewed by First Round Review: “Everyone is so focused on getting the best people in the door, it eats up all this bandwidth and sucks the life out of them, but as soon as they win the battle and get someone to sign, they drop the ball.”

I disagree with the third rule, on keeping the day light. She argues very few people get a good night’s sleep before starting a new job, so be respectful of that. I sense that far more people find the first day empty and that translates to nervousness about the company (and perhaps a poor sleep the next night). Nobody seems to have a proper plan for what they should do. At the end of the day they met a few people, fought to get access to the intranet, and filled out some forms. I think they prefer to be challenged. On my best first day I came in at 5:45 a.m. and as the new city editor started editing stories. Yes!

My boss wasn’t in yet, actually, which wasn’t a big deal. But the 11 a.m. suggestion makes sense for most situations; it allows the boss to get in, have some coffee, deal with immediate issues, and then have some time, perhaps even semi-leisurely time, for the new hire. Better than a new employee starting at 9 a.m. but only getting going at 11 a.m. when a distracted boss can focus on the newcomer.

Her point on vernacular is valid, but perhaps it’s not a big first day requirement. More important would seem to be an onboarding buddy, which may seem obvious but rarely is arranged. Trying to improve its onboarding efforts, Microsoft tested an onboarding buddy system for 660 new employees and found it helped in three key ways.

First, onboarding buddies provide context – the vernacular and more. “Onboarding buddies can give the type of context you won’t find in the employee handbook. For instance, knowledgeable onboarding buddies can help new hires determine who relevant stakeholders are, how to navigate the matrix of different organizations, and think strategically when problem solving. They can also shed light on cultural norms and any unspoken rules that exist, which could lead to a much smoother transition into the organization,” Dawn Klighoffer, Candice Young, and Dave Haspas of Microsoft wrote in Harvard Business Review.

Onboarding buddies boost productivity through their advice and assistance. Microsoft found the more the onboarding buddy met with the new hire, the greater the new hire’s perception of their own speed to productivity. Fifty-six per cent of new hires who met with their onboarding buddy at least once in their first 90 days indicated that their buddy helped them to quickly become productive in their role. That escalated to 73 per cent for those who met two to three times with their buddy, 86 per cent for four to eight times, and 97 per cent for those who met more than eight times in their first 90 days.

Finally, onboarding buddies improve new employee satisfaction with the welcoming effort. After their first week on the job, new hires with buddies were 23 per cent more satisfied with their overall onboarding experience compared to folks without buddies. At 90 days the difference in satisfaction had climbed to 36 per cent.

But don’t leave it all to the buddy. Microsoft found that one-on-ones with the boss are critical, something I’ll look at in more detail next week. And consultant Claire Lew recommends carefully constructing a plan for first month projects, ensuring there is at least one in which responsibility and outcomes are clearly outlined. “You want to have something to help the person get acquainted with the company, but also have the feeling of accomplishment at the same time,” she advises on the SignalvNoise blog.

First impressions count. Onboarding practices should be – and can be – better with a little more thought and effort.


  • Jeff Bezos is often asked what’s going to change in the next 10 years. But for him the important question is what isn’t going to change – base your decisions on that. For example, in retail he doesn’t expect the desire for low prices and fast delivery to change.
  • An organization’s diversity journey should not be meandering but have some specific goals says Tania Domett, director of Cogo research. The first step is to decide what the ultimate destination is: What would good diversity look like in your organization?
  • Steve Jobs believed “a small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players … A+ players like to work together, and they don’t like it if you tolerate B-grade work.

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