You just hired a new employee and you’re pumped. You can’t wait for her to share her ideas and contribute to overall team success. There’s just one important thing: she needs to be onboarded.
Bringing new employees into the fold is challenging. But Golbie Kamarei, Chief People Officer at Culture Amp, an employee feedback, people and culture analytics platform, has a few onboarding best practices up her sleeve. She knows that in order for the onboarding process to be efficient, effective and empowering, it needs to start before new hires even arrive at the office. “We’re trying to redefine the experience of work, and what is possible when you amplify what someone is capable of being at work,” she says.
Here are six onboarding best practices to borrow from her team.
1. Give new hires time to adjust, be vulnerable and to celebrate
Starting a new role with a new company is a pivotal moment, and Kamarei suggests treating it with proper respect. “There’s a lot of excitement, there’s uncertainty, there’s risk, there’s hope—emotions are heightened, both the good and the bad,” she says.
As such, consider doing something to celebrate with new hires. Culture Amp, for example, is currently searching for global charitable organizations that embody the company’s core values so that every time new employees join the team, a donation will be made in their honor to the charity of their choosing.
“Ultimately, I think you want to honor this unique period of time when so much is possible, because you’re really giving people a chance to solidify the idea that they fit at a company,” Kamarei says. “You want [new hires] to feel like it was a good decision, that the best is yet to come, [and that you’re] setting them up for what could be a career they never want to leave.”
Companies need to strike a balance between getting new employees started quickly and giving them enough time to adjust and feel accepted. For Kamarei, that involves honoring what someone might be experiencing or feeling from both an emotional and logistical point of view. “We really throw people in, but we do keep that first week or two sacred for the acclimation period,” she says.
2. Approach onboarding best practices from both a tactical and psychosocial angle
Along with being a transitional moment, onboarding is a time of crucial personal and professional development. Not only are hires learning the intricacies of a new role, they’re also looking for acceptance and acclimatizing to a whole new way of doing things.
On a tactical level, equip your new employees with the knowledge, tools and data they need about the market and the players. “You want [them] to understand the company, which is everything from the founder story to your organizational structure,” Kamarei says. “It’s knowing the leadership team. What do they do and why are they doing it? Who are they?”
Then there’s the psychosocial aspect of onboarding best practices, which involves cultivating a nuanced sense of belonging among new hires. “How do you help them understand the mission of the company? How do you align the mission of the company with their own unique purpose? How do they understand the components of the culture, the behavior, the rituals?”
To help with both the tactical and the psychosocial, Culture Amp likes to focus on customer stories throughout onboarding, and even goes so far as to share these during monthly all-company meetings. “We want people to feel that sense of connection, not only to their colleagues and the people leading Culture Amp, but most importantly to the customers and the people in our People Geek community,” Kamarei says.
3. Empower employees to learn at their own pace
Everyone has their own learning styles and preferences, which is something Kamarei and her team take seriously. “What will make someone successful is often about asking them, ‘How do you want to receive information? What is the best way to engage as you acculturate and as you onboard?’ ”
“Letting people get grounded when they arrive at a new company, when they go through this transition period, is essential to setting them up for success. Allow them space to just be for a little while.”
Culture Amp takes a “push and pull” approach. On one hand, employees immediately get access to a library of information to educate or “pull” themselves. But to ensure that they’re getting everything they need, there’s still an element of “push” from the company, in the form of training sessions and inductions.
“Some people want to consume videos and read documentation—they want that independent ‘pull’ process,” Kamarei says. “Some people learn by interacting and they want to ask questions. What we try to create is, essentially, a suite of different ways that individuals can consume information. Then we give people space to gravitate towards the process that resonates most for them.”
Her team also uses surveys to help mentors and managers understand where new team members might have missed information in the “pull” process. They then use results to provide tailored resources for a light “push” in the right direction.
4. Involve everyone in the employee onboarding process (and be flexible)
Another one of Culture Amp’s onboarding best practices? Include every new employee—irrespective of their team or role—in your knowledge sharing.
“New hires are part of a cross-functional onboarding cohort,” Kamarei explains. “They get to experience the company with other people who might be doing jobs in different functions and different practices than them.”
And often, the sessions are also facilitated by company leaders. Culture Amp’s chief growth officer talks to new hires about where the company is headed, while the chief product officer teaches them about the platform and the CEO leads a session on values. “It’s really senior leadership saying, ‘You coming on board is a big deal. We’re making time, and we want to make sure that you feel like we respect and value you as a part of our team, because we’re not going to win without you.’”
It’s also important to remember that there’s no one onboarding formula that will work for everyone. Depending on the role, how fast the company is growing and how complex the organization is, teams and employees will have their own calendar and their own process, and that’s something Culture Amp values.
“Courage to be vulnerable, trust people to make decisions, learn faster through feedback, amplify others—each of our four values is focused on what people are capable of being and accomplishing at work,” Kamarei says. “We strive to never hold people back from contribution and growth. We want their unique experience and their unique point of view.”
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5. Don’t set a “start” or “end” date
At Culture Amp, the onboarding journey begins as soon as the offer letter is signed—or even sooner. But it doesn’t end there: Onboarding is ongoing.
From a tactical perspective, even seasoned employees (especially those at fast-scaling companies) need to constantly update their understanding of the company, products and customers. From a psychosocial perspective, it’s important to make sure employees never lose touch with why they joined the company in the first place.
“Even once you’ve done the onboarding data dump and everyone knows the basics, like how to get their paycheck, you don’t neglect the part that keeps employees engaged and feeling like they belong as the company grows and scales,” Kamarei says. “Culture is a living and breathing thing. It’s a misconception that onboarding is a time-bound experience.”
6. Make mindfulness and presence a priority
Kamarei is well known for pioneering a meditation and mindfulness program at BlackRock financial services, where she was also vice chair of the People and Culture Network and Women’s Network. Now she’s ready to start a similar program at Culture Amp for employees, customers and community members. “So much about being mindful is about being here now, to let your experiences unfold with observation and curiosity, moment by moment.”
But how does mindfulness relate to onboarding best practices? It begins by giving new employees space to just be themselves; there should be no expectations or judgments about how they should think or feel, behave or perform.
“Letting people get grounded when they arrive at a new company, when they go through this transition period, is essential to setting them up for success,” Kamarei says. “Allow them space to just be for a little while, as they come to feel out this new home—not as a role or a machine, but just a human in our space with us, knowing they have our support.” Then, it’s all about building on this foundation and creating conditions for employees to do exceptional work.
Welcoming new employees to the team
You know your onboarding approach is successful if your new hires feel comfortable, secure and excited for the opportunities that await. Says Kamarei, “It’s one of many practices that can change a person’s experience, because what it really is, is allowing people to connect as people, and creating the space for that to be not only safe, but welcomed.”