Bringing on new hires at a fast-growing company can be like training a fresh pit crew during the Indianapolis 500. At my startup NerdWallet -- where staff has grown 50 percent in the last three months --- it feels like we’re also making the new crew change the tires while the car’s speeding along the track. A tactic that can feel impossible at times.
Onboarding new employees is an oil slick where many companies crash and burn. Companies lose 25 percent of all new hires within a year, according to the 2012 Allied Workforce Mobility Survey. The No. 1 reason: Poor onboarding of recent hires.
The average cost to the company to recruit each new employee was $11,000, the study reported, and just under a third of the companies surveyed said it takes a year for new employees to reach full productivity. That may work fine and dandy for big corporations but startups don’t have a year for employees to get up to speed. (We’re lucky if we have a month.)
At NerdWallet we learned that as we grew, we needed to formalize our onboarding process. That evolution came through new employee feedback. They didn’t know where things were, how to find it and who to ask. Most worrisome, they didn’t know what their colleagues did, how they do it and how their own role fit with the rest of the team.
Our “process” before was this: Have them sit next to their manager, and the manager takes it from there. That’s pretty common in the startup community and makes sense when you’re small. But as you grow, it becomes problematic.
Every manager has their own style -- their own take of the company history, its mission and what we were trying to accomplish. Frankly, some people did it better than others. A lot got overlooked. People felt out of the loop, which naturally makes them less engaged in their work. We realized we needed a consistent process so all hires were given the same treatment and information.
Here are the steps we took to make sure everyone hits the ground running:
1. Have someone own the process. Onboarding is a shared responsibility, but you need to have someone to be the conductor. We hired Lincy Suen as our head associate for people operations last year to be the conduit that keeps the flow of communication consistent and transparent from the top down and the bottom up.
2. Greet new employees at the door. With all the stress, worry and effort put into hiring someone, it’s surprising how quickly we forget this basic etiquette. Before we formalized our onboarding process, we had new hires circling the block, trying every door to find their new home -- not a good way to start on the right foot.
“When you join any group -- whether a company, a party or just walking into an unfamiliar place -- the first thing you want is to feel welcome, says Suen. "You want to feel a part of the group, you want your presence to feel important.”
3. Cover the basics and own it. How do you get paid, where are the expense reports, how do you claim health benefits, what is the employee handbook, what’s the company wiki and what information can be found there? You need to ensure you cover all the basics during orientation for new employees.
However, for many companies this is the beginning and end of the onboarding process -- often administered by an HR employee who appears in the life of a new employee on day one, then disappears to a back office except for bureaucratic matters related to benefits and pay. To take onboarding to the next step, it must be owned at the highest levels of the company.
4. Have company founders at new employee orientation. This is obviously hard to do at a firm with more than 1,000 employees but for smaller companies it’s a great way to keep the startup spirit alive (even as the company grows beyond its adolescent stage).
Plus, for CEO Tim Chen and myself, it’s a chance to meet all new hires and share the story of NerdWallet. We talk about the history of the company, its mission and long-term goals and how their work will be part of that mission. In short, we get to know each other.
5. Ensure presentations from every department head. It’s important to get buy-in from all team leaders, as they too should be an intimate part of the orientation process.
At NerdWallet, each team leader talks to our new employees about what their team does and how to best communicate with them. This gives new employees direct access to the people shepherding every corner of the operation. And the process works in reverse. If each manager is part of the onboarding process, it’s reinforced on a daily basis and becomes part of the fabric of the company.
6. Refresh and review the process. Once you start an onboarding process, it would be a mistake to say, “okay, that’s done,” and put it on the shelf. Onboarding requires constant feedback from new hires and experienced employees, especially as the company rockets forward. What worked six months ago may no longer be germane. Don’t let onboarding become a stale ritual.
We think hiring and retention is the end all and be all of this company and getting everyone onboard has become a critical part of that mission. The race is too important to leave new hires in the dust.