Onboarding 4 min

Shift Your Onboarding Into High Gear

September 7, 2016

For new employees, going through the onboarding process is a lot like learning how to drive a stick shift. I might be showing my age a little, but more than half my life ago, my mom taught me how. We took my one-and-a-half cylinder Toyota pickup out to some deserted back roads and worked on the strategy behind shifting. Then it was time to shift out of first gear.

“Ok, Brian, you’re in first gear, now push the clutch, move it to second…”

Gearbox: “grrrrrrrrnclack!”

“Ok, we’re picking up speed, now shift to…”


“We’re in third, now WATCH OUT FOR THOSE POTHO-”

The rest was lost to my rattling teeth as we tested the suspension at 40 miles an hour.

Your onboarding process doesn’t have to go this way. If you coordinate with your current employees and develop an onboarding strategy, you can reduce friction for your new hires and keep things running smoothly.

Turn the Key: Checking the Boxes

In the driving-as-onboarding metaphor, HR works as the ignition. Nothing starts moving for your new employee until you help them complete their paperwork. You can go the old-fashioned way with paper documents and signatures, which is a little like turning the crank on a Model T. Or you can make ignition effortless for your new employees with electronic signatures, and give them time on their first day to start learning more important things (like their job).

Shifting Gears: Training with a New Team

For most of your new employees, this isn’t their first time in the driver’s seat. They’ve gone the distance in their previous position, and they come with the skills and experience that made them the best choice for your organization.

But even top-gear employees need help fitting in with a new team that’s already running on all cylinders. It takes more than a 15-minute introduction for a new employee to match names to faces and faces to job responsibilities. And it takes time for your current team to get to know a new employee as more than just a list of qualifications.

This is a critical time for your new employees. They’ve just made a big shift in both their professional and personal lives, with interconnected results. Even the best candidates sometimes feel pressure to prove that they’re not an imposter. When a new hire is used to being self-sufficient, it can be hard for him or her to ask for needed help during the first few weeks.  

Once you’ve extended the job offer, provide your new employees with the connections they need in their new position: their direct manager, the people who share their job responsibilities, and fellow team members. In return, you can help your new employees break the ice with a welcome email to their team, listing who they are, where they come from, and some of their basic interests. Self-onboarding software helps make this process even easier, letting you capture and distribute this information without spending extra time composing emails.

Mapping the Potholes: Clear the Way with Information

In HR, you most likely won’t be directly responsible for training new employees. But you can provide their managers with the resources and connections they need to optimize the new employee experience.

First, get everyone on the same page. Make sure that the new hire has a place to work, the needed software, and the proper access. From there, encourage your managers to put themselves in their new hires’ shoes and answer these questions:

“Is this ok?” Every workplace has a different culture. In my case, I went from peering over a cubicle wall into the silence outside the call center to a boisterous shared workplace with witty banter and a homegrown game involving couches and balance balls.

When and where can they take cell phone calls? What do they need to know about building security or badge access? Where can they get lunch and still be back to the office on time? Is there a break room? How do you even play that couchball game?

The less your new hires have to worry about answering these questions, the more they can focus on their new responsibilities.

“What’s next?” Every team has a rhythm. Managers should explain any recurring weekly meetings and lay out the workflow for the new hire’s projects. It may also help to set up reminders on a Google calendar or create a training document for future reference.

“How about now?” When you’ve been with an organization for a year or two, the weeks and months start to fly by. For a new hire, though, it can take up to a full year to fully integrate, and every week brings a new set of challenges and questions. Rather than guessing at what they need, set up both formal and informal feedback sessions to respond to their questions. They may also have new insights into improving the onboarding experience for the next group.


Once you learn how to drive a stick, you never forget. And when you experience a carefully coordinated welcome to a new company, it’s an experience you’ll remember forever. To get the best mileage from your new hires, go beyond paperwork and implement effective onboarding.


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Brian Anderson

Brian Anderson expertly decodes all things HR, drawing on a decade of technical writing in the business organization industry to provide editorial support to internal and external learning programs at BambooHR. His writing explores the different motivations that shape the employee experience and the psychology of human resources.