Effective New Hire Onboarding: 4 Tips For Busy Managers

Last updated: 3/31/21
Estimated reading time: 5 min


You’ve already done a lot of heavy lifting in the hiring process—identifying and testing for must-haves, building a diverse pool, and weaving equity into every stage. But your new hire’s job—and your work together—has only just begun. As their manager, you have the most important role in their success (no pressure!). No matter how busy you are, it’s worth taking the time to think through how to craft their onboarding experience. Here are some tips for effective onboarding:

1. Set and align on expectations

All else being equal, nothing will matter more for the success of your new hire than your alignment on what they’re expected to contribute and accomplish in their role. Here are some tools to help:

  • Use this expectation-setting resource to help them understand the full scope of their role.
  • Check out this onboarding planning toolkit for topics to cover and a sample agenda for the first week.
  • Use this worksheet to outline their 30, 60, and 90-day goals. Ask yourself: “What would success look like after 30, 60, and 90 days?” It’ll likely include a mix of work products (e.g., write X articles or conduct Y trainings), relationship-building (“start building authentic and supportive relationships with XYZ”), and knowledge (“learn to use XYZ system or process with minimal support”). These goals will form the basis of your 90-day discussion. Ask your new hire to propose a few goals of their own.
  • Reflect on your preferences, traditions, and requirements regarding communication, relationship-building, and the work itself. Share your preferences and traditions upfront, get their perspective, and be open to reconsidering (or be honest if you’re not). Examining your PTR helps you check your biases that could cause unintentional favoritism or prejudice.

2. Balance learning and doing

No matter how qualified they are, your new hire (or newly promoted staff person) will need development to excel in their role. Consider how you will support them through an array of learning opportunities such as training, modeling, side-by-side work, scaffolding, and debriefs. Learning doesn’t have to be separate from their work plan.

Here’s what we recommend:

  • Frontload learning and relationship-building as you ramp up the “doing.” If it makes sense for your context, give your new hire time to acclimate and build connections, especially in the first few weeks. But don’t pack their schedule with trainings and meetings! Be intentional about pacing and sequencing.
  • Let them do the job. Select one or two assignments that allow them to get immersed in their role in the first month—with ample modeling and side-by-side work with you.
  • Debrief everything. While (for some roles) much of your new hire’s learning will come from formal learning opportunities and side-by-side work using the I do/we do/you do model (e.g., planning an event together) a lot of their learning—especially for roles that require the person to take on their full responsibilities all at once— will come from well-timed check-ins and debriefs. For example, let’s say you receive an email inquiry from a stakeholder that comes up frequently. You might forward your response to your new hire and talk through it at your next check-in so that they can learn more about the stakeholder, your thinking behind the reply, and other context that would be helpful for them to have when fielding inquiries.

3. Instill good habits

You only get one chance to start a new relationship. The best part of a new management relationship is that you can normalize the use of tools, practices, and processes from the beginning. Use your onboarding process to create and reinforce good management habits:

  • Have regular check-ins. In the first week or two, you may want to do shorter check-ins daily or every other day. After the first two weeks, switch to weekly and have your new hire own the check-in agenda. In the first month, you’ll spend a lot of time answering questions, sharing context, and debriefing.
  • Systematize feedback. Use regular 2x2s where you share praise and constructive feedback in your weekly check-ins and do debriefs after completing projects or assignments. The more you can normalize feedback from the beginning, the better you’ll be set up for your long-term relationship.
  • Use delegation tools. Get into the habit of sharing the 5 W’s, doing repeat-backs, and checking your preferences, traditions, and requirements.

4. Focus on belonging

The more welcomed, respected, and valued people feel, the more empowered they are to contribute their best. For those with marginalized identities–who often face the burden of codeswitching, compartmentalizing, or diminishing aspects of their identities to “fit in”—this is especially important. As the manager, you have a unique opportunity and responsibility to cultivate and maintain a sense of belonging for your new staff member. Here are some ways to cultivate a feeling of belonging:

  • Ask for their access needs. Checking in about access needs—things that people need to communicate, learn, or fully participate in an activity—is one way to create a space that values access and fosters belonging.
  • Be a bridge. In their first few months, your new employee will need you to help establish connections across the organization. That could look like making introductions, sharing context about a key relationship before a one-on-one, or simply inviting them to join a conversation at the watercooler.
  • Share the playbook (and invite feedback/questions). Part of setting your staff member up for success is sharing information that will help them do their job well. However, keep in mind that you (hopefully) hired them not just to carry out the work as dictated by you or others but also to own, improve, and—in some cases—co-create the vision and strategy for success in their realm.
  • Own and learn from mistakes. Your new hire will learn early on how you react when people (including you) mess up. Their long-term psychological safety in the role depends on being able to take risks and make occasional mistakes without fear of reprisal.

Check out the other articles in our Onboarding Series:

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