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A New Employee Checklist Designed for Humans

By George Dickson on May 18, 2016

A new employee checklist can be a useful tool to help ensure you're covering all the bases during your onboarding process, but they're often incomplete and lack crucial elements of emotional intelligence.

They start too late in the process, end too early, and feel like a cold, dry legal document.

Is that any way to introduce someone to an organization?

We built a new checklist that is optimized for humans, based on empathy, and designed to driving success early on, and into the future.

The interview process (candidate experience)

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Candidate experience is a crucial, yet often ignored element of the onboarding experience. That's why this new employee checklist starts before someone even signs their offer letter. It starts before they even walk in the door for their first interview.

On time? Check.
Don't show up late to the interview, reschedule it on short notice, or bump it. You're a grownup and can make it to a simple meeting. The only reason you'd miss it would be a matter of prioritization, and that prioritization speaks volumes to the candidate. You'd make it work if it were a meeting with the board of directors, so just make it work here, too.

If you're constantly finding yourself in situations where more important things pop up during your scheduled interview times, get better at scheduling, and/or practice better management.

Make that interview your priority for whatever time slot you've assigned it. This interaction you're about to have may not feel like the most important 30 minutes of your day, but you can guarantee that it will be the most important 30 minutes of theirs.

It's a simple matter of respect and empathy for another person's time, their feelings, and their patience.

Prepare yourself.
If this person is a serious candidate (and they all should be if you're doing a good job of sourcing) you can bet they've done their homework on you, the organization, and the industry.

At the very least, take 5 minutes to learn a little about this person. You're asking them to commit a considerable amount of their time and mental resources to your organization, so return the favor. Those few minutes you spend will pay large dividends later on.

Skip the "clever" interview questions
They're not impressing anyone, and waste precious time that could be spent gaining a better understanding of how this person will solve real problems relative to the work they'd do in your organization.

Ask questions that get at the heart of the problems you're trying to solve on a daily basis, and that give you a sense of how the candidate would solve them.

The interim process

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There's usually a gap or two between the time an offer has been made, and when an employee comes into the workplace for their first day. The actions you take in those interim time periods can make a significant impact on a new employee's experience.

Post-interview communication.
After wrapping up the interview, there's likely going to be a period of time before an offer is made. You may have other candidates to interview, or some meetings with key stakeholders to hold regarding the new hire. 

The key during this period is to maintain clear communication with the candidate. Don't make them wonder where they stand, or when they should expect to hear back from you. If they're a solid candidate, there are likely other organizations they're interviewing with, and it's important to keep them in the loop.

This gesture of transparency and empathy (or lack thereof) will go a long way in terms of how they'll feel about your organization early on.

The offer.
This is it. You've decided that this person will be a great addition to your team. There's a good chance the offer is going to be a big part of whether or not they'll agree with that. 

Make sure you're setting and maintaining reasonable expectations early on about the compensation they should expect so it's not a surprise.

Post-offer communication.
You've made the offer, they've accepted, but there's still some time left before your new employee shows up for their first day on site. This is a perfect opportunity to get ahead of the game. 

In a modern business there are usually multiple IT and operations processes that need to take place when a new employee is brought on. They'll need a company email address, perhaps a Slack account, and several other credentials.

Taking care of these details in the interim period can make more room for relationship building and orientation, while reducing cognitive load (more on that later) during an employee's first day on site. It also gives them a sense of belonging and an opportunity to build friendships early on that they can carry through their onboarding.

Reducing cognitive load

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A recurring theme in this checklist is the need to reduce cognitive load wherever you can. A person's first day on the job can be overwhelming, so eliminating friction wherever you can will be a huge benefit.

During a panel discussion we hosted recently, people ops guru Jonathan Basker discussed psychological theory and provided some insight into why this is so important. 

Human beings have a hierarchy of needs that must be fulfilled, and failing to fulfill the most basic needs at the bottom of the hierarchy will make fulfilling any above them nearly impossible.

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His advice was to find out where you’re adding cognitive load at any of the layers of that pyramid (even something as simple as making sure they know where the bathroom is), so they can get to work and be happy about how quick they got through the onboarding process.

The less cognitive load placed on an employee during the first days of their tenure, the better their experience will be, and the sooner they'll be able to start contributing to the organization in a meaningful way.

Tools

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Access
If they'll need keys, keycards, or any other special form of identification to get into the building, make sure those are available. 

Hardware
This is an easy one. Just make sure that your new employee has all the hardware they need to get their job done as efficiently and effectively as possible. Do you use phones in your day-to-day operations? Make sure they have one and it works. How about a computer? It should have a fresh installation of whatever OS you use, and be hooked into the network.

Software
Does your organization use any specialized software, or a special implementation of common software? Make sure each new employee gets access, a proper introduction, and adequate instruction on using it.

Have all the software pre-installed if you can as it will make a big difference in cognitive load. Especially have communication and collaboration tools ready, which can make it much easier for them to reach out to the right people for help when they need it.

Workspace
There's nothing like getting started on your first day of work at a brand new desk. There's also nothing like coming to work on your first day and having to clear out the previous employee's mess, track down the tools you need, all while you're still trying to get a grip on the company overall.

Make the experience as enjoyable as possible. Button's Stephen Milbank suggests making big gestures early on, like setting up their workspace with all the gear they need and some small welcome gifts. A little bit of forethought here goes a long way.

Introductions

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There's no second chance for first impressions. How you choose to introduce a new employee to the team makes a difference, not just in their impressions of the work environment, but in how they're perceived. 

Someone who's naturally a bit introverted might have a really hard time getting up in front of a crowd of people and introducing themselves. Giving this interaction the consideration it deserves can be a game-changer.

The buddy system
Make sure your new employee has at least one person they can count on to show them the ropes.  This doesn't mean "everyone's really nice — we have a whole company full of mentors and guides." Designate someone that they can start building trust and a meaningful relationship with.

Some suggest new employees are best paired with a buddy from a cross-functional role. 

Team lunch
This is a great way to get everyone introduced in a neutral and positive setting. Go somewhere fun so it's something that everyone's going to be excited to attend, rather than somewhere they'll be disgruntled about being forced to attend. 

Games / Outside activity
Dr. Jeffrey Mogil, the E.P. Taylor Professor of Pain Studies and the Canada Research Chair in the Genetics of Pain at McGill University found that a game between strangers can promote increased empathy. That automatic shift in relationship dynamics is worth the time spent playing together.

Cultivating relationships and psychological safety

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One of the most important aspects of a new employee's success is the relationships they build. These relationships are not only valuable within the context of the working environment. 61 percent of employees mentioned support from their colleagues at work was instrumental in helping them through life's challenges.

This is why it's absolutely vital to provide an environment that makes cultivating those relationships as easy as possible. Here are some easy ways to go about it:

Build collaborative spaces
This doesn't mean you need to have an open floor plan. The key is to design multiple areas where employees will naturally congregate. These are great places for new hires to bump into their colleagues, and interact with one another.

Establish psychological safety
Peer relationships are the driving force behind an employee's experience at work, so it's paramount to ensure those relationships are positive.

Establish a policy of psychological safety early on, so new members of the team are able to contribute and share their ideas without worrying about how others might respond.

Path to success

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What does it look like to be successful in your organization?

That's likely the #1 question a new employee has during their onboarding period, and will continue to have for the months that follow. Do your best to make it abundantly clear what it takes to succeed.

Establish expectations
What expectations do you have for your new teammate? What expectations does the organization have? Make sure this is clear early on so they have an opportunity to meet and exceed them.

This can hold many meanings, and can be very different between organizations. That's why it's important to make these expectations clear. They could include things like:

  • Overall conduct
  • Performance
  • Dress code (if you have one)
  • Working hours
  • Security
  • etc.

Don't expect them to guess the right answer. Give them the answer — once again, it's about eliminating cognitive overhead from the process. Don't make a new employee waste cycles wondering if they've dressed appropriately, or showed up at the right time. They've got enough to think about already.

Methodologies
Do let new hires know how you go about getting things done. They'll probably have been trained in many of the core competencies you expect, but might not approach those activities the same way you do. 

Making them figure it out by trial and error is a process nobody really benefits from.

Surmountable challenges

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You should have some surmountable challenges in mind to help your new colleague get a sense of what their daily work will look like. Start thinking about assigning them once the initial setup process comes to a close.

Don't just dump a project with a tight deadline in their lap — that's not the type of challenge we're talking about here.

Don't make the project too difficult  you've assumedly weeded out prospects who aren't going to make the cut, so there's no need to do that at this stage.

Do give them some bite-sized projects related to the actual work they'll expected to complete in the future. It will give them something other than the anxiety of starting at a new company to focus on, and ease them into the rhythm they'll ultimately adopt once they're settled.

Do recognize their achievements as they complete the new tasks they're assigned.

Recognition

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There are countless benefits to building and maintaining a recognition-rich environment in your organization, and many of them are directly beneficial to onboarding.

Visible recognition
Frequent, visible recognition is an excellent opportunity to show a new employee what you, the organization, and their closest colleagues value. 

Make sure you're recognizing others around them for the great work they're doing as well. This shows early on that your organization genuinely appreciates the work its employees do on a regular basis.

That kind of genuine appreciation is a great sign for a new employee that they're in the right place, and that they've made a good choice by leaving their previous position.

Frequent recognition
Frequent, widespread, and visible recognition also provides great, built-in teachable moments by exhibiting examples of behavioral traits and contributions the organization and its constituents consider valuable.

Check-ins

It's important to check in frequently with new hires, and find out how the onboarding process is going for them. Below are some checkpoints that should be addressed as a bare minimum, but providing additional support beyond this is advised.

These check-ins might look different from company to company, but here are some basic ones to get you started:

Day 1: 

  • How are they feeling overall?
  • Do they still have any basic questions that you can answer for them?
  • Is there anything they need that they don't have yet?

Week 1:

  • How did the first few projects go?
  • How are they getting along with their new colleagues?
  • How are they feeling about the company culture?
  • Are they feeling prepared to take on some larger challenges?
  • Is there anything you can provide to help them settle in?

Month 1:

  • How are they feeling about their growing responsibilities?
  • How did the first few larger projects go?
  • Anything you can provide to improve their experience?
  • What are some projects they're excited to sink their teeth into?

Month 3: 

  • How are they feeling about their progress?
  • Do they need anything to help them grow?
  • Is there anything blocking their progress that you can eliminate?

Don't stop here. Continue to working to ensure you're providing the best possible scenario for success.

Continued feedback and guidance

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It's essential to continue providing feedback and guidance for any new employee, well beyond the standard onboarding, or "ramping," phase. The job isn't done once the first month is over, and the new hire has a few projects under their belt.

This is a crucial process in the development of any employee, but especially for a new one.

Multi-directional feedback
Make sure the feedback isn't only going in one direction — establish and encourage a healthy pattern of bi-directional communication. It's not only going to be beneficial for new employees, but for you as well.

Guidance
Provide the guidance you wish you had when you were first starting out in your role. 

In summary

There's no clearly-defined finish line for this process. Don't be satisfied to say "my door is always open" and dust your hands off after the first couple days. Actively participate in your teammate's development and growth, and you'll be amazed by how quickly they ramp, how well they perform, and how long they stick around.

Need more help building a great company culture and keeping employees engaged? Check out our latest guide:

The Leadership Survival Kit

Written by George Dickson

George Dickson

George manages content and community at Bonusly. He's dedicated to strengthening organizational cultures through thoughtful leadership and frequent recognition.