How to prepare an onboarding process for your first employee

How to prepare an onboarding process for your first employee

Posted: Wed 27th Nov 2019

Your first employee helps set the culture of the company. It's crucial to get the onboarding process right to make them feel comfortable and allow them to work effectively. But how do you get started?

We spoke to Enterprise Nation advisers about the steps you should take to get ready for your first employee to join the company.

Introducing your company's values

The onboarding process starts with thinking about the role, writing the job advert and conducting the interview.

Emma del Torto, Enterprise Nation adviser and managing director of PitStopHR, said business owners should carefully consider what they need from their first hire.

"A lot of the recruitment we see by small businesses is done as a knee-jerk reaction. What they don't do is take time to think about the role and resource they need. To take the time to make the job description attractive," she said.

The interview gives an opportunity to introduce the company's ethos and values. del Torto recommends talking about the company's mission because candidates are becoming more and more concerned about company values.

Enterprise Nation adviser and Human Capital Department founder Peter Lawrence said a number of his clients have created a short presentation to explain their company's values.

"Put together a slide deck of who you are, what you do and what makes you different. Why would they want to come and work with you?" he said.

The foundation of the understanding you create in the interview process can be built upon when the new employee joins the team.

What to include in an employment contract

Once you've chosen a candidate you need to create a contract. Lawrence warned that it is something small business owners often overlook, particularly for their first few hires.

"You would like to think most businesses do it but they don't and that can be a problem further down the line," he said.

Employers have to provide the written particulars of the job within two months of a new hire starting. The law changes in April 2020, when you'll be required to provide this information from day one, explained del Torto. Some of the key elements are:

  • Hours of work and where you're working

  • How much you're going to get paid and pension entitlement

  • Job title and duties

del Torto added that it's best to send a letter of offer and employment contract before a new hire starts.

Putting a probation period in place

By including a probation period, you have the chance to make sure the employee is suitable. Probation periods generally last for the first three or six months of employment.

Set the review dates for probation periods at the start of their employment and include details in your offer letter. These meetings will likely include a review and a final meeting. Share feedback during the meeting, take notes about performance and keep a record on the employee's file.

Permanent employment should be confirmed in writing, when the probation period is over.

Plan your first employees' immediate tasks

Planning is an important part of the onboarding process. Knowing what's expected of them helps new employees feel comfortable and makes sure they can work effectively. Lawrence explained the key elements to include:

  1. Introductions to colleagues

  2. Set up their work station, machinery, equipment or computers for their immediate use

  3. A clear and brief overview of products and services

  4. Setting job priorities week for the first few weeks

Details like holidays, pay and benefits are covered in the employment contract. However, it's often written in complicated language. Having a document that explains what's in the contract and the related processes provides a handy resources for new team members.

It's great to start creating this employee handbook when your first employee starts with the company. You can add to it as they ask questions and you add more processes. Updating it regularly will save you from hunting around for details in the future.

Ongoing support and feedback

Working in a small team makes it easy to assume an employee will share the challenges they face. However, it can be difficult for someone new to bring up issues. Holding regular one-to-one meetings is a good way of ensuring both the employee and the manager gets feedback.

"In the first few days and weeks, you need to really take an interest in the person," said Lawrence. "Partly to make sure they're doing things right, but also to give that comfort factor. Businesses are generally bad at giving praise to people. It's all about reinforcing the positive behaviours."

Creating a list of questions to cover in each meeting is a useful way to prompt people to raise issues they are concerned about. The list can evolve over time. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  1. Update the employee on company performance and goals

  2. What's gone well since you last talked?

  3. Are there any challenges that are preventing them from doing their job well?

  4. What can you do to improve their job role?

  5. What do they hope to achieve before your next meeting?

Understanding the wider goals of the company and the opportunities this creates for them helps with motivation.

"You might have been recruited for this job, but as the business expands, there might be more opportunities for you," said Lawrence. "That's difficult to put across. In a small business you're not quite sure where it's going. But you should be positive and give them the impression that if things go well they will do well."

Refer to the notes from previous meetings each time you talk and discuss progress.

Employing friends and family

It's really common for small businesses to hire friends and family members. It's an easy option because you have an established relationship - and they can be cheaper than hiring a stranger. But handling the relationship properly from the start is important if you want to avoid conflict further down the line.

"The reality is people recruit from people they know," del Torto said. "You need to treat them as employees. You would be well advised to give them employment contracts and manage their expectations. Disputes arise in the gap between what's been expressly said and the expectations."

Modelling behaviour for your first employee

When you're running a small business, it can be difficult to even find the time to complete paperwork that's legally required. Things like brand guidelines and customer service policies can get put on the backburner.

One of the most powerful things you have in your arsenal - and it's something that doesn't cost anything - is the fact that your first employee will imitate your behaviour.

"New employees almost intuitively take the lead from seeing how you behave. If the owner is a bit less interested in customers, they might be inclined to be a bit less interested. Role model the behaviour you want to see. It's a difficult thing to put in a policy because you have to see " said Lawrence.

Relevant resources

Chris has over a decade of experience writing about small businesses and startups. He runs Inkwell, a content agency that helps companies that sell to small business owners grow their audiences through content marketing. You can find him on Twitter at @CPGoodfellow.

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