How to Design a Unified Employee Onboarding Process for Your Scaleup

My work with tech CEOs and their executive teams aims to help them become better leaders and implement a system that creates consistency in their scaling organizations. One of the most important components of helping a company mature are standardized and documented core processes. And with an average of 100–300% growth rate (headcount or revenue), a solid recruiting and new employee onboarding process stand at the top of their priority list. During annual strategic company off-sites, the request for a unified employee onboarding process comes up regularly. Some companies master it early on, before hitting the 50 people mark, building a strong foundation to scale, while others only standardize at 200 or even 300 employees, making it much harder for the entire company to adopt the new way of onboarding their people.

I suggest addressing this topic early on in your scaling journey. A great onboarding process makes your new hires feel at home and helps them to contribute to the company’s mission right off the bat instead of having to get up to speed the first six months on the job.

People often feel lost when starting a new job. A lack of direction and communication leads to poor performance and frustration on both sides. When onboarding a new employee, share the company’s strategic plan with them to communicate the long term vision, purpose, core values as well as annual and quarterly OKRs (objectives and key results). Ideally have all core processes standardized and documented and the organizational structure and responsibilities for each department and individual accessible in a shared file. Creating transparency on how the company operates and what everyone’s role is makes it easy for people to understand how they fit in and what their contribution will be.

Using the Scorecard and Quarterly OKRs to define what success looks like in the first 30, 60, and 90 days, new employees will know exactly what’s expected from them. For the first months, meet them on a daily basis and keep communicating the core of the company (purpose, values, long term vision) and objectives while providing constant feedback. Assign a 90-day onboarding buddy who helps them navigate through the onboarding phase, so they won’t have to come running to you for every little question. Invest in training especially within the first quarter. You can really shape someone during this time and save yourself a tremendous amount of energy down the line trying to adjust their working style, behavior, and performance. Then, if the expectations aren’t met, there are no surprises if you take action and move on.

Companies love to throw goodbye parties for people leaving. Why not welcome new employees and celebrate their arrivals? Invest in a fantastic “30-day welcoming package”, organize a party with their team, send a good wine to their house, sponsor a spa weekend with their spouse, etc. Why not make their first month unforgettable and get them excited about their new job, an investment with actual ROI, instead of celebrating people who are on their way out of your company?

Best practices for smooth on-boarding

  1. An onboarding buddy provides the informal “this is how we do things here”. Assign someone on their team to help them understand the unwritten rules and dynamics, someone to turn to when there is a lack of clarity or insecurities.
  2. An offer letter. Let your new hire know that you’re looking forward to welcoming them in the team and use this last opportunity to clearly outline responsibilities and expectations to prevent surprises before it’s too late.
  3. Timing. Especially when hiring a significant amount of new people, arrange for everyone to start on the same day every two weeks at most. This makes it easier for your team not having to repeat everything for each individual, and new hires going through the process in small groups prevents them from feeling overwhelmed and alone.
  4. Start early. I suggest setting up a first version of an on-boarding process between 25–50 employees. This creates a foundation that you can adjust as the team becomes bigger and processes more complex. If you leave this task until later, it becomes significantly harder to adopt something for the whole company.
  5. Local onboarding. Especially for remote-first organizations, on-boarding new people can be a real challenge. If possible, bring new hires into the office for the first month, even if that means they have to stay in a corporate apartment. The first month is crucial to shape them and help them integrate in the culture. Once internalized, they can shift to remote working but should still visit one of the offices on a regular basis.
  6. Company retreats are a great way of bringing people together to encourage informal discussions with people from different teams and build relaxed and functional relationships between teams.

Below, you can find a detailed on-boarding process that you can modify and use for your company. Involve HR and assign a project team to tailor it to your specific size ad needs or reach out at katy@katytrost.com if you want help implementing.

Stage 1 — Hiring

Before onboarding new hires, you first need to find and recruit the right candidates. Here, a full article I wrote to hire with a 90% success rate.

Scorecard

Create a detailed Job Scorecard including the mission, critical numbers, responsibilities and outcomes, and competencies for the role.

Sourcing

Besides recruiters and agencies, consider focusing on referrals from your employees’ network. They are proven to be 4x better than complete strangers — on average, they stay 2x longer and cost ½ the sourcing cost. Make your best employees recruiters by introducing a strong reward program to bring in people they trust and believe in.

Selecting

A standardized interviewing process ensures hiring managers make the right choices when screening candidates. I suggest the Topgrading methodology as a foundation to design your interview questions. They avoid people getting hired based on likeability or gut feeling. The four important interviews are the Screening interview, the Topgrading interview, the Focus interview, and the Reference interview.

Selling

When offering the job to your top candidate, consider the 5 F’s of selling: Fit, Family, Freedom, Fortune, and Fun!

Stage 2 — Two weeks before the first day

Administrative:

  • Prepare paperwork including policies and forms for new employees to fill out and sign (employment agreement, NDA agreement, employee invention agreement, employee handbook, tax forms, legal forms, banking form for payroll, retirement plan forms, health plan forms, etc.)
  • Set up online accounts, including company email, company HRIS software, password management software (LastPass, etc.), productivity software (Asana, Jira, etc.)
  • Prepare tech (laptop, mobile, headset, etc.)
  • Confirm new office phone number
  • Order business cards and desk nameplate
  • Arrange for employee ID card/building access
  • Schedule intro meetings with key colleagues
  • Encourage team members to reach out to the new hire to congratulate and welcome them prior to their start date
  • Schedule a HR onboarding meeting for your new hire’s first day
  • Ask your new employee to fill out an onboarding form, including information about allergies, food preferences and T-shirt size, etc.
  • Make a welcome lunch plan for your new hire’s first day
  • Arrange for parking access
  • Plan their first assignment.
  • Arrange any relevant internal (or external) training required for the job
  • Send your new hire a welcome email telling them what to expect. Include maps, meeting details, etc. Make sure they know when to arrive on their first day and ask if they have any more questions.
  • Encourage hiring managers to take ownership of the candidate’s experience and focus on getting their newest employee excited.
  • Share role-relevant information and documentation such as An itinerary for the first weeks, their company email address and phone number, access details for company’s communication tools or work management hubs, such as Slack or monday.com, a checklist of assignments and goals for the first week
  • Reach out to invite and address any of the new hire’s questions or concerns.

One day before the first day

  • Prep their desk and set up their equipment and welcome kit (paperwork and HR documents, notebook, t-shirt, mug, Kindle, pens, stickers, office map, org chart, first weeks schedule, values and mission statement, handwritten note from CEO, etc.)
  • Forward regular team meeting invites
  • Send message to their department to remind everyone of their start date
  • Send out new hire announcement to their team

On the first day

Administrative:

  • Manager or assigned buddy ready to welcome them in the office or virtually
  • 30 min welcome meeting with manager and team
  • Office tour and making them aware of their schedule for their first few days
  • Schedule time for paperwork
  • Allow time for them to set up equipment, new passwords, log into accounts, connect with Slack etc.
  • (Virtual) lunch with the team or key team members
  • Formal HR onboarding meeting (benefit enrollment, holidays and policies, etc.)
  • 30 min meeting at the end of the work day with their manager for debrief and questions

Meeting Package to pre-schedule by managers

Daily for the first two weeks

15–30 min 1–1s with managers in the morning

15–30 min 1–1s with buddy (this can be Mon/Wed/Fri)

During the first month

30 min 1–1s with entire team

30 min 1–1s with min 10 key people in other teams and departments

30 min 1–1s with company leaders or top performers (employee of the month)

30–60 min weekly 1–1s with manager Regular informal events / after work drinks with other teams

30–60 min 30-day review with manager:

  • Review 30–60–90 plan (see below)
  • Review individual objectives (what did they achieve / didn’t achieve)
  • Give feedback (both ways — how can we work even better together?)
  • Review competencies, character traits, skills & personal development plan (see below) to improve
  • Pulse-check overall feeling and for specific support, resources, and equipment they need to work efficiently

After two months

30–60 min 60-day review with manager (see agenda above)

After three months

30–60 min 90-day review with manager and VP/C-level (see agenda above). Add the following:

  • Discuss career progression and opportunities for the next 18–24 months

First week

Welcome session (60–90 min in the afternoon of the first day)

All of the below should be accessible in a centralized place to be reviewed anytime.

  • Welcome from the CEO
  • Core strategy (mission, long-term vision, product, customer)
  • Values as a management tool workshop
  • How we operate as a team — a high-performing sports team

(We operate in a competitive environment, but we are not competing against each other. We challenge & support each other to perform at the highest level. We know each other on a personal level, so know when someone needs support. We celebrate the highs and we learn from the mistakes as a group.)

  • Strategic plan (3–5 years)
  • Annual company goals and OKRs
  • Quarterly company goals and OKRs
  • Quarterly department objectives (no key results; do that later in department specific on-boarding)
  • Org chart overview; highlighting key people across the organization and share mission of teams
  • Company KPIs & Scoreboard
  • Meeting rhythms across the organization (quarterly, monthly, weekly, daily, etc.)
  • Cross-functional teams and projects
  • Q&A

Company deep dive session (60–90 min towards the end of the first week)

  • Product session. Take people through the product, demonstrate key features and explain technology behind it, too. Introduce co-founders and senior product people.
  • Customer session. Explain the customer profile(s) and what the product can do for them. Case studies are golden! Introducing senior customer success people.
  • Sales and Marketing session. Go over your sales and marketing strategies, how you get the product into the world. Introduce senior sales and marketing people.
  • Culture session. Go over how you live your values and operate as a team and individuals. Highlight the behavior you want to encourage — How employees treat each other, communicate, hold one another accountable, give feedback, collectively resolve issues and make decisions. This session should be lead by the CEO.

Department specific on-boarding session

  • Quarterly department OKRs
  • Department project list for the quarter
  • KPIs for the department
  • Department Org Chart and highlighting key people across teams
  • Accountability on OKRs and KPIs
  • Meeting rhythms in the department and team
  • How the hire fits into the org chart and will contribute to the goals (mission of the role)
  • 3-month roadmap for key projects they will be working on
  • Performance and company-wide review expectations and policies
  • Content / Playbooks / Training
  • Main department processes
  • Wiki / Knowledge hub

New hire assignments for the first two weeks

  • Create a personal development plan based on your weakest competencies / talents on the job scorecard. For companies giving access to coaches, sessions can be used to bridge gaps in leadership abilities, productivity, people skills, etc. Find books, courses, and videos that sound interesting and add them to your development plan. Then let your manager sign off and give input. Here, a comprehensive list of great resources.
  • Create a 30–60–90 plan. Based on your job scorecard, department OKRs, personal dev. plan, etc., create a plan with specific objectives and outcomes for the first 3 months, broken down into increments. This includes key meetings, in-depth knowledge about specific areas, a roadmap of key projects, and clear performance objectives and indicators.

New hire assignment for the first month

During first 3 months

  • Weekly 1–1s with managers
  • Ask for feedback on the on-boarding process — continue tweaking and improving it
  • Provide opportunities for new employees to socialize and make connections
  • Send out employee feedback and happiness surveys

Of course, every organization is different. Don’t try to implement something that seems impossible to maintain. But keep in mind that the amount of face time people get with their teams and manager will greatly affect the time they need to get up to speed — especially if you’re remote first. Kick off with the bigger picture (strategy, etc) and administrative setup, then move to department specific onboarding, making it crystal clear for the new hire to understand how their work contributes to the greater mission of the organization. For managers looking to keep their direct reports engaged and improve retention, take a look at Patrick Lencioni’s The truth about employee engagement. For any questions or suggestions please don’t hesitate to reach out at katy@katytrost.com

Coaching tech CEOs at Series B and beyond. katytrost.com linkedin.com/in/katytrost/

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Katy Trost

Katy Trost

Coaching tech CEOs at Series B and beyond. katytrost.com linkedin.com/in/katytrost/

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