Call Us: 800-299-3770 Fax: 508-651-2674

Top Tips for Onboarding New Employees

Every week, Kim Marshall summarizes great articles in his Marshall Memo. Some time ago, he found Keith Rollag’s Harvard Business Review article, “Managing Yourself: Success in New Situations,” where he explored how new hires can help themselves when onboarding into a new job.

In fact, making a new hire’s experience successful is a joint effort that requires effort by both the company and employee. Below are tips for both the new folks coming in to a new job and for the managers and trainers who are welcoming them.

Tips for New Hires

On the part of new employees, Rollag suggests these three skills are critical:

“1) Introducing yourself – Many people hesitate to do this because of worries about interrupting or bothering people, fear of making mistakes during an introduction, and the possibility of being brushed off. But if you don’t introduce yourself to strangers up front, he says, there’s a strong possibility you will fall into “a pattern of awkward smiles, nods, and waves and never forge critical relationships.” Some pointers:

  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If it were you, you’d probably be delighted to meet the new kid on the block.
  • Practice your opening lines. “Write down, rehearse, and experiment with what you will tell others about yourself,” suggests Rollag. “Note what sustains interest and what causes other people’s eyes to glaze over.”
  • Make the other person feel heard, valued, and respected. “Great first impressions rarely hinge on what you reveal about yourself,” he says; “what matters is how you make your counterpart feel.”
  • Write things down. “Don’t trust your memory,” he advises. “As soon as you can, write down everything you have learned about the person’s background and interests.”

2) Remembering names – More than 80 percent of the leaders Rollag has worked with confess that they have trouble retaining names in a new situation. A British study found that people’s worst fear is forgetting the name of someone being introduced. Doing better at this is a priority since “People feel more warmly toward those who remember crucial information about them, including their names, and that amity can serve as a springboard to fruitful conversations and deeper trust.” Rollag suggest:

  • Commit to focusing and paying attention when being introduced to a new person.
  • Repeat the name up front, and reinforce your recall by retrieving it during the conversation.
  • Write it down afterward.
  • Study and retest your recall, matching names with faces.
  • Use vivid imagery, associating each person with a mental picture and some memorable detail or mnemonic.
  • Use cheat sheets before a meeting to refresh your memory.

3) Asking questions – “I didn’t ask enough questions,” confess many leaders as they think back on their early days in a new organization. Why? Fear of interrupting busy co-workers, not wanting to seem dumb or incompetent, and general insecurity. Try this:

  • Be clear on what you want and why. Information? Advice? Feedback? Assistance?
  • Is this the right person and the right time? “One trick is to ask people during introductions if you can contact them later for advice,” he says. Another is an open-ended question like, “Who might explain how to…?”
  • Use short, to-the-point questions, for example, “Can you show me how to format this report? Five minutes of your time, and I’ll be good to go.”
  • Say thank you and close the loop. “Don’t underestimate the power of gratitude,” says Rollag. It makes people feel valued and more likely to be helpful in the future.
  • Cultivate a go-to buddy – preferably a veteran who still remembers what it’s like to be a newbie.”

“Managing Yourself: Success in New Situations” by Keith Rollag in Harvard Business Review, December 2015 (Vol. 93, #12, p. 112-115),

Orientation and On-Boarding Activities and Tips

I found a range of creative games, activities and approaches to new hire orientation online:


I like to start my new hire orientations with this exercise: I pass around a pack of M&Ms and ask all participants to take a random number of m&ms (between 1 and 5). Once they all make their choice I tell them that each m&m stands for something they have to tell about themselves. For example, red – favorite vacation spot, green – favorite food, yellow – dream job, blue – favorite thing to do outside of work, brown – wild card (can talk about anything). You can modify the questions based on the purpose of the exercise. Posted by Mykola Soldatenko

Create a “Positivity” Welcome Pack:

Send the message that you mean business when it comes to creating a positive corporate culture or learning environment. Give each colleague a “Positivity Pack” with key icons that reflect your organization’s values and personality. It’s fun to include both a memento and a list indicating which value it represents. For instance:

  • Team Squeezy Toys: support and respect the team
  • Smile Ball: Make customers happy!
  • Mini-Sneaker: go the extra mile to improve quality  
  • Learning Mo-Mints: keep growing and learning
  • Party Blowout horn: have fun  (Fun)
  • Stretchy String: be flexible and open to change 
  • Mirror Ball: embrace diverse perspectives
  • Crayons: express your creativity

Colleague-to-Colleague Certificates

Peer-to-peer recognition is a great way to build morale and encourage individuals to take notice of one another’s efforts. I found Julie Biddle’s tip online and wanted to share it.

“For a long, several-day course, have the learners prepare certificates for each other. At the beginning of the workshop each person draws a name and gets a blank certificate with that name on it.

“During the workshop they observe the person and make some notes about what they did well. Allot some time each day (right after lunch, or just before closing) for them to make the certificates. Be sure to make available markers, stickers, glitter glue, and other creative tools.

“At the end of the session, each person goes to the front of the room, invites the person they have been observing, presents the certificate and says all the good things they have recorded. Everyone is reminded of what happened during the class and it helps them become a group, so it’s particularly good for new hire orientation sessions.” Posted online by Julie Biddle

Trade-up game for new hires

The objective of Trade-Up is for each person to try to trade the low-valued item (i.e. pencil, pin, sticky note) they’ve been given for something of a higher value, by visiting other around the office. Once each person has completed this task within a time-frame, all the teams/members will put an agreed value on each item which they have traded up to determine the highest value and the winner.

The idea is to help new hires to step out of their comfort zone and get to know people within their new working environment. As they have to return the item(s) back to their owners, new hires would have to remember the person they got the item(s) from.

This exercise also leaves lots of room for discussion. You might ask:

1) Why did you choose that person to trade with? (First Impression)

2) What did you do to allow a complete stranger to entrust you with a valuable item just for a Post-it? (Organisation Relationship)

3) How did you approach others? (Body Language)

Paper Cut

Give each person an identical piece of paper and tell them to close their eyes. Then, give a series of instructions to fold and tear the paper in specific ways. When you instruct them to open their eyes, have each person unfold their paper and share it with the group. You will see how each person interpreted the instructions differently. This quickly shows that everyone has their own way of processing the training and brings their own unique perspective to the job.  Maryanne Muigai

Balloon Burst

Using darts and balloons, insert a simple question into the balloons, fill them with air and have participants toss a dart to burst a balloon and answer the question.( who was your best boss, what is your favorite fun activity, where was your first job, what did you like / hate about your first job, etc. etc.) Tell participants in advance the types of questions to expect and also insert some gift cards to add some excitement and reward for participating. Make it fun ! Bill Mars

Appreciative Inquiry Questions

How about getting people to pair up and do a mini-appreciative inquiry by interviewing a cross-section of people who work for the company and some customers etc? They could find out “What is great about it?”, “Why do people enjoy working for it?”, “Why do customers return?” Can they find stories of it at its best etc? “How could it be even better?” What you inquire into grows, so just asking the questions would have a positive impact. They and you would learn a lot. For information on Appreciative Inquiry. Nick Heap


Help your new hires identify others with whom they share some common ground with the Common Ground Thumball. Just toss the ball, pre-printed with conversation starters, and let the fun and connections begin!  Susan Landay

From a SHRM blog: Onboarding Mistakes to Avoid And Some Creative Ideas to Adopt

These were a few more ideas that were shared by a variety of HR professionals on the SHRM blog:

Post Their Photo 

Prior to new employees starting, we ask them to send us a photo and write a paragraph about their background so we can post those on our intranet site. It shows up in the “featured news” section so everyone sees it when they log in. In addition, we give the new workers a tour of our office and introduce them to everyone. —Ashley Weiner, SHRM-SCP, HR manager, MG2 Architecture, Seattle

Scavenger Hunt 

On their first day, new hires take a property tour with our Hawaiian cultural advisor to learn the history of the Grand Wailea Resort and the locations of key areas, including pools, restaurants and the spa. Then we send them on a scavenger hunt on the second day to confirm they understand the layout of the property. They have to solve 10 riddles that reveal the names of various places where they find small baskets of gold coins. The goal is to collect a coin from each basket and make an extraordinary lifetime memory for a guest while on the hunt.

—Kristi Millhiser, SHRM-SCP, director of learning and development, Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, Wailea, Hawaii

Video Greeting

At a health care facility where I previously worked, we created personalized welcome videos to the new hires from their supervisor. It was a good way for the candidates to put a face to a name and feel like part of the team even before they started their first day.

—Ben Crenca, graduate student, University of Baltimore, former HR specialist

Create Accountability

Onboarding should be a visible element of the organizational strategy, and managers must be held accountable for consistently executing an onboarding plan. A critical disconnect is to not establish performance metrics for hiring managers that address their role in onboarding, talent development and talent retention—three critical drivers of employee engagement. In the absence of some strategic alignment, managers will focus on what they are held most accountable for. —Zeb G. LeVasseur, HR consultant, Houston

Sweet Start

Our onboarding process begins with a questionnaire that we send to employees before they start. We find out interesting facts, including what their favorite candy is, and on their first day they arrive to a bag of that candy on their desk. We have a three-day orientation that includes every department. New hires receive a staff directory with everyone’s picture, e-mail and phone number. —Karen Sharp-Price, HR manager, VoIP Supply, Amherst, N.Y.

Fun and Games 

I once created a Jeopardy game for orientation. It was fun and competitive, and the new employees learned all they needed to be productive after spending a week with HR and other departments. We also gave new hires company shirts that were all the same color, so other employees knew from afar who they were and could help them get on board.

—Claudia Rozo, international HR consultant, Miami

Read more…

How To Promote Your Company’s Core Values


Please share your thoughts!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *