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How To Get Onboarding Right

September always brings up feelings of back-to-school and feelings of change. For many, heading back to school is a time to see old friends and get back to ruling the playground. For others, heading to school is a time of big nerves. For those going to a new school or going to school for the first time, it’s an especially anxiety-provoking time. Fears of fitting in, eating alone at lunch, and being accepted by this microcosm of society are prevalent and real. I spent one year of high school at a brand new school and can still remember the smell of the library where I hid out during lunch for my first lonely month (I guess everyone needs a Cher in their HS lives).

Being the new person in an organization evokes those same fears of fitting in and being accepted. Starting a new job means new colleagues, a new manager, and a new set of roles and responsibilities. Full stop - that’s scary.

What’s even scarier is that new people are justified in their fears. As humans, we’re hardwired to be suspicious of outsiders. New people are different from us based on the simple fact that they’re new and not part of the current in-group. And subconsciously, this newness creates distance, inhibits trust, and induces stereotyping (as discussed by sociologists over and over again). Plus, whether we admit it or not, there may be a sense of competition and protection - is this new person a friend or foe?

And what’s at stake for your team and organization when new people join? Well, greater solidarity with a team reduces likelihood that an individual leaves. When groups are more socially integrated, there’s more trust and more collaboration. And having just one close friend at work makes employees happier and more productive. So when folks don’t feel integrated….the reverse happens: there’s conflict, competition and lots of turnover.

You’re probably thinking….I don’t have to worry about assimilating new people into my team. We’re the friendliest bunch of folks around – we couldn’t be more welcoming and warm. Well, to that I say, you have one chance to get it right when a new person joins your team. You have one chance to make sure that person feels fully welcomed with open arms and that everyone on your team is doing that welcoming.

To be a great manager, you should onboard new team members thoughtfully, consistently and thoroughly; you should leave nothing to chance when bringing a new person into your organization.

So, there are two ways to do this as a manager:

First. Work with your organization to build an onboarding checklist and stick to it. Like doctors in a hospital, checklists help to ensure that nothing gets forgotten and that everyone knows their role to play. New people coming in immediately feel more comfortable when they know that there’s a clear process for getting the information they need to be successful.

I like to structure onboarding checklists as “activities to be done a week before the person joins”, “first day activities”, “first week activities”, and “first month activities”. Put together the checklist and stick to it every single time someone comes onboard. Just to prove how much I care about this checklist, here’s a copy of one that you can use and adapt if you don’t already have one in your organization!

Second, as a manager, there are softer things you can do to welcome people to your team while also making sure your current team does not feel wary of or threatened by the new person. For example, one easy win is to assign new joiners a buddy for their first week - someone to answer any and all questions and just keep an eye out for the newbie.

Here’s a list of my other must-do’s: they seem deceptively simple, but with time constraints and growing teams, these activities often fall by the wayside (but shouldn’t!)

Things To Do So The New Guy Doesn’t Feel So New…

1. For your first meeting with your new managee, take the person out to coffee and get to know him as a person. Give the person space to share what he is excited about, what’s he’s nervous about, and anything else personal that he didn’t have a chance to share in the interview. I know the first day will be busy, but make the time. It will be worth it.

2. When a new person joins, immediately task her with a project that has a deadline about two weeks out. This gives the person the opportunity to work on something meaty right off the bat and fills the time in between getting-to-know-you meetings and required trainings. It boosts confidence and makes the person feel immediately useful. (Bonus points if the assigned project requires that the new person interact with other stakeholders in the organization.)

3. Get your current team quickly invested in the new person’s success. This could be done through a joint project (working on a collective goal is one of the best ways to build a cohesive team!); or through tasking your existing team member with teaching or training the new person on a part of the business.

4. Organize a lunch for the newbie with a different member of your team every day for the first week. Make this part of your overall team culture and emphasize its importance over and over again to your current team.

5. At the end of his first week, take you new team member out to coffee again (!). Ask him for reflections for the week, anything that is still unclear, or any outstanding questions for you. And most importantly, share information about yourself during this meeting if you didn’t have an opportunity to during the first meeting. Show a little bit of vulnerability as a manager, and your new team member will feel even that much more comfortable with you and the group (and you'll start to build the foundation of trust!)

Dale Carnegie in "How to Win Friends & Influence People" talks about the feeling we get when our dogs greet us at the end of the day. When we're welcomed by others in the same way - energy, excitement and sheer joy simply because we showed up - we feel great. Onboarding can create the same feeling in new people. Build discipline and process in how you onboard and those little things you do will make a huge difference in how comfortable and accepted your new joiners feel. Oh, and a simple "Thank you for joining the team. I am so excited that you are here!" can go a really long way.


  • Joining a new team or new organization is scary and anxiety-inducing

  • Existing team members may also be wary or distrustful of new individuals joining their team or organization

  • Great managers build disciplined process and structure around onboarding new people into their teams and organizations

  • An onboarding checklist that is used consistently for every single new hire ensures that nothing is forgotten when someone joins; it also brings comfort to the new joiner that he’s not missing critical pieces of information or technology needed to be successful at his job

  • Need a checklist template to build from - you can use this one!

  • Additionally, managers should make sure to take the new joiner out to coffee for the first meeting; immediately assign a project that takes about two weeks to complete; and enlist the rest of the team to support the new person’s success

Other great ways to onboard new joiners? Share them below (please)!


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