A simple framework for employee onboarding
We have several new employees starting over the next month. What's your advice for early-stage startups that don't yet have a process for onboarding new employees?
First, coaching and 1:1 contact will work better than structure and process for early-stage startups. This means managers and peers should spend a lot of time with new hires to guide them through their onboarding. As you grow it will become essential to standardise employee onboarding with standard operating procedures, especially for common roles (e.g., customer service, sales, engineers). But, in the early days, this can probably wait.
Second, design all roles to have specific goals and responsibilities. Goals tell employees what success looks like, and responsibilities give them a clear idea of what they should be doing. Goals are more important than responsibilities because innovative employees might achieve their goals in creative ways that redefine their responsibilities. While you can do this through simple job descriptions, I recommend adopting role playbooks (which you can read more about here).
Next, set very clear expectations for what new employees should achieve in their first thirty, sixty or ninety days. For KPI-driven roles like sales and support, these could be based on the success measures your new employee will eventually be held to (e.g., we expect support agents to be solving at least 10 cases per day within three months of starting). For unique roles like management they could be based on deliverables (e.g., deliver an analysis of the current state of the partner channel and outline opportunities and obstacles for our goals). For positions that cover a wide range of responsibilities it can be helpful to instruct new starters to focus on just a subset of responsibilities for the first few months of employment (e.g., a marketing manager could focus on just social media and events for the first few months). Communicate these expectations during the hiring process and standardise/define these success measures in your role playbooks. This makes conversations around performance with new starters much more productive and straightforward.
Lastly, it's critical to keep new employees focused. In startups it is often tempting to give additional responsibilities to employees, especially high-performers. This not only solves problems, it provides career development opportunities. Doing this too early can seriously sabotage new employees, though. By getting caught up on new responsibilities, new employees often fail at their core role, depriving them of the opportunity to prove themselves in the role they were hired for. A simple rule of thumb is to never broaden the scope of someones role until they have first demonstrated success in their core role (as per the criteria in the previous paragraph).