Onboarding Series Part 2: Pre-Boarding, Building a Strong Foundation

The fight for excellent talent is real. Today, recruitment doesn’t stop at the offer. We cover this and the overall importance of an intentional onboarding process in part 1 of this three-part series of resources. You’ll find that as you vet new employees for the first three months, they’ll be vetting you too.

We’re seeing trends on platforms like TikTok that encourage behaviours you may agree or disagree with related to tips on negation, interviewing, and feedback. The reality is that access to information is greater than ever.

How can you help them choose you? 

Pre-boarding is a process that fills the gap between when an offer is signed and the first day. It allows you to engage a new hire by begging their integration into your organization and start the ball rolling on the paperwork. This window of time can elevate your onboarding, don’t sleep on it. Radio silence can be interpreted as a lack of interest on your part.

Below are suggestions and advice on how you can design this onboarding phase to ensure they feel prepared from day one. 

Who needs to be involved in the pre-boarding?

  • HR or people operations team
  • Manager or Team Lead
  • Founders

If you’re an early-stage company, you may wear all three hats or two of the three. Reach finds that it’s not until a company has 30 employees that you see a dedicated HR team. 

What are their roles during the pre-boarding phase?

People operations /HR can proactively handle the paperwork. This includes sending codes of conduct, health benefits sign-up forms, and HR policies doc for the new hire to review. They also set people up in your internal people management system (input their birthday, emergency phone number etc.). This team can also be available to answer administrative and cultural questions before a new hire’s first day. 

Tip: Ask your new hire if they’re available to meet before they start (they may be finishing up their current job) to ask questions they may have; even if they don’t take you up on it, offering demonstrates availability. 

Your managers, including the leaders this person may not report to, play an essential part. Managers can proactively identify process / historical documents and project updates across projects that the new hire will work on during their first three months.

Tip: Build a folder as you interview candidates. A 30, 60, or 90-day plan will help with this, but having some resources ready to go will ensure that they trust there is clarity in their role.

The founder/founding team can welcome a new hire to build buy-in for the vision and mission. This is a crucial relationship-building moment to build anticipation for the company’s future, help people dream, and find the more significant meaning of their role. 

Tip: Founders are busy. Schedule a 10-minute conversation in your process after each offer is made of a business day before the start day to build excitement. 

Designing the Pre-boarding phase: 

Pre-boarding tasks can be grouped into three categories:

  1. Technology & systems set up
  2. Organizational compliance 
  3. Role-specific knowledge 

The system setup is straightforward: email, product log-in, assigning a laptop, and the basic technology needs they need on the first day. 

Tech-stack setup is also a system: share a list of the log-ins they need for daily tasks. Payroll; CRM; Slack or other internal messaging apps; JIRA; and other tech solutions helps you get them up to speed.

The organizational compliance tasks include signing the contract, filling in tax forms, signing a code of conduct, or other forms not included in the employment contract. Including any non-confidential process documents in a shared folder or wiki for them to review before the start day helps you in the long term.

Role-specific prep, led by the manager, includes a detailed role description, first-month expectation or project, and an overview of your own KPI or performance tracking framework such as annual goals or OKRS. Role-specific preparation succeeds when managers provide as many touch points as possible to give context. 

Designing the Pre-boarding: the Buddy System 

A buddy is a go-to person during the onboarding phase for your new hire to help them get situated, connected, navigate processes and become productive faster than the manager buddy. 

A buddy rapidly becomes a person of trust. A buddy provides additional context about the structure, product, past decisions, and culture without the pressure of a manager-employee relationship. 

Buddies also play a crucial role in connecting new hires to the larger team. Buddies can create informal settings for introductions and keep managers in the loop of observations, triumphs or flags that arise. At this point, things might have gone in one ear and out the other. 

Match your buddy to your new hire on their first day. You can set this up as an informal “coffee chat. “

During the first three months, no repetition is too much repetition. Buddy systems level out power dynamics and support your existing team in building trust with a new team member. 

When picking the right buddy, keep in mind:

  • They are under two years in the organization
  • Are you from the same team
  • Report to the same manager

If someone can relate to the reality of being relatively new, they are more likely to support the new hire compassionately. Being from the same team leads to building the opportunity for collaboration sooner and ensures a common understanding of the working styles on the team and the expectations of the manager.

Don’t lose sight of your exciting team members’ participation; make this part of their evaluation process and celebrate their contribution.

Making a buddy system successful: 

  1.  Define the duration of your buddy program (one to two months is the norm)
  2. Ensure your current team members must be willing and has the capacity (make this intentional, you may need to re-allocate some of their workloads to ensure they can play the role of a buddy effectively)
  3. Setup a structure (pre-scheduled weekly standup calls or morning Slack check-ins are quick wins)

Buddy systems work at summer camp, and they work at work.

Measuring the effectiveness of your pre-boarding: 

There are a few things that will point to the success of your pre-boarding.

  1. Your new hire makes it to day 1, is excited about it and can tell you about some long-term company goals or vision.
  2. Your new hire has questions or knows where to access process documents on the day, such as a wiki or shared drive.
  3. Your new hire has no more administrative questions about the payroll schedule, benefits, or paid time off.
  4. Your team knows there is a new hire, that one of them has been paired as the buddy, and how long they’ll support them.
  5. You mutually understand the evaluation period and can comfortably share KPIs and expectations.