The Importance of Onboarding

Excerpt from “Recruit Rockstars” by Jeff Hyman.

While it’s true that Rockstar employees ramp up more rapidly, they still need to be oriented to the business. It’s shortsighted to bypass training they need at this point because you’ve invested so much time in the recruiting process. Remember that if this new hire leaves after a week or a month, you’ve already released your backup candidate. You’ll have to start the whole process over by finding 150 new viable candidates to refill your pipeline. I’ve been there. In a word, it sucks.

Successful onboarding isn’t rocket science. It’s a period when your new employees need to be taught the things they’ll need to know to be successful. It’s not just, “Here’s the bathroom. Here’s your Website login. Get started.” You need to teach them not only how to perform but also about the company’s values. Bad habits can form quickly if your expectations about behavior and performance are not articulated.

Go slow to go fast. Every hour you invest in onboarding pays off down the road. Of course, if you can onboard several people at once, it’s a great leverage of time. I work with my clients to have all new employees start on the first Monday of each month, or every other Monday.

So what needs to be covered during onboarding? Whether formally or informally, there are vital areas. The more forethought, documentation, and rehearsal you can put into these, the better they scale and can be reused with new hires (updated on occasion).

The Role Itself

Be sure that your new Rockstars are clear on the role they’ve accepted. Go over the role (yes, again), the responsibilities, and the priorities. Point by point. Invest the time to ensure they are crystal clear. Flesh out all the things you discussed during the recruiting process. If one of the responsibilities is to build a process that ensures fewer bugs in the software, talk about what that means and what the goal is. Provide a target and timeframe.


Also, talk about constraints. Do the Rockstars have a budget? Can they make hires—whether employees or consultants? Who will approve those hires, and how?


If you fail to prioritize for your new Rockstars, they’ll use their best judgment. But that isn’t yet informed by the realities of your business situation. Tell them the things you want them to focus on during the first week, first month, and first quarter. Equally importantly, tell them why. Get their buy-in to the plan of attack.


How are you going to communicate? Each company—and each manager—has a rhythm. New hires need to know how to communicate up, down, and sideways. They also need to be aware of expectations about attending standing meetings, providing weekly reports, giving you a heads-up on bad news, and the like. Whatever your communication preferences are, set them now. The onus is on you, and the best hiring managers start good habits from day one.

It’s also important to ask new hires how they prefer to communicate. Some people are better in person, others on the phone, or in writing. Some prefer groups, others individual conversations. If you know their preferences, you can adjust accordingly.

The Business

Make sure they understand the company’s mission, vision, history, priorities, and the main initiatives the business is focused on. Educate every single employee—regardless of role or level—on the financials. How much money the business makes, your margins, variable costs, fixed costs, how you make a profit, cash in the bank, etc. There’s no reason anyone in the company, from CEO to receptionist, shouldn’t understand the basic financials of the business.

Company meetings are a great time to make sure everyone has this information. Done properly, it shouldn’t take more than an hour. You’d be shocked by how few employers help their people know the numbers.

The Team

Who does what? What are the key functions? Who are the leaders of those functions? What’s important to them? What are the key responsibilities?


What’s expected of the new hire, in terms of values and DNA? What is not tolerated? How do we function as a company? What does bad behavior look like? Provide recent examples—no names necessary—of Rockstars who were shown the door for violating the culture, regardless of their outstanding performance.


Who is our competition? How many others are there? What’s the market share? On what basis do they compete? Who tries to be the low-cost provider? Who tries to be a high-service company? How do we differentiate ourselves?

Sales and Marketing

What are our key messages? Who are our target customers? How do we acquire customer leads and convert those leads? Advertising? E-mail? Referrals? How do we keep customers? What are the customers’ concerns, objections, and fears? Everyone in the company is a salesperson. They can’t sell if they don’t understand the key messages.

The Product

Teach your new Rockstar about the products you sell. Pricing, features, benefits, functionality. I was fortunate years ago to serve as the first vice president of Marketing for Dyson, the large consumer products maker. One of our culture rites of passage was that, during their first week, every new employee was required to take apart a Dyson vacuum and reassemble it—to understand how it works from the inside out. If your product is software, provide hands-on demos. If it’s an intangible service, teach them how the experience works. Reinforce this knowledge constantly, particularly around new product launches.

Career Aspirations

In addition to training on matters relating to the business, the onboarding period is also the time to understand your new hires’ aspirations. I tell my employees they’ve hopped on our company train and that my job as their manager is to keep them on our train for as long as possible. That said, I’ll acknowledge it’s probably not going to be the last train they ride and that’s okay.

Tell them that whether they stay two years, five years, or 10 years, you want to maximize that time and make sure they learn and grow and see it as beneficial to their career. To do that, you need to understand their career aspirations. Find out where they want to grow. Do they want to improve at leading people? Do they want to work internationally? Start their own company one day? You can’t own their career, but you can help them by providing opportunities consistent with what they want to do long term.


There are countless ways to deliver onboarding training. You get to pick and choose the most effective method based on the topic and how many people you’re training at the same time.

How you teach your new employee these things will vary. Common topics such as product knowledge can be done in an interactive group setting, while expectations of a particular role will be an individual conversation. Ask questions. Allow new hires to come to their own conclusions. Use quizzes to reinforce the material.

Individual training will cover career aspirations, roles, and responsibilities. Videos are effective if they’re interesting. For larger companies, share a video of the CEO speaking about the company’s key initiatives and mission. Before the start date, give new hires some pre-reading; it can be case studies of customers, timelines of new projects, or industry reports. Anything you might give to a prospective or current customer (sales brochure, product data, sales contract, instructions on how to use a product) should be provided to new hires so they can read and understand them, too.


Be clear with your new hire as to when you expect them to be up to speed. Let them know it doesn’t need to be within the first day or week or month. But within three months, they should be at least 80 percent ramped. During the first month, they’re crawling while they observe, attend meetings, and start to make contributions as they put the pieces together. Within the first quarter, they’re walking, starting to deliver on some individual assignments. After a quarter, they should be up and running.

Weekly 1:1 Check-Ins

The weekly 1:1 is a vital part of the employee experience, and even Rockstars need them. Particularly as the person is getting ramped up, here are some questions to ask:

  • “How are you feeling in your new job? Are you feeling confident or shaky? Are you nervous?”
  • “What are you enjoying the most?”
  • “What’s the piece you’re most excited about?”
  • “Is it what you expected?” This is important. If they say “No,” you have a potential early departure. Say: “Let’s work together to figure out how to make it more of what you expected” or “Let’s agree that we made a mistake and see if there’s another role in the company that could be up your alley.”
  • “Has anything surprised you?”
  • “Do you have everything you need?”
  • “Is there anything that’s unclear?”
  • “What else can I do to make you more successful? Do you need more of my time? Do you need less guidance?”

You don’t want someone to depart who you didn’t even know was unhappy. Getting feedback early and often is key. You also are assessing them. How’s their performance? The work itself? Their pace, quality, decision-making, judgment? How are their values? Is their DNA what you thought it was?

Still unsure if onboarding is time well spent? According to a recent study by the Aberdeen Group, 66 percent of companies with an onboarding program report a higher rate of successful assimilation of new hires into the company culture and a faster time to productivity. Go slow to go fast.

Excerpt from “Recruit Rockstars” by Jeff Hyman. For more information, visit:

Jeff Hyman launched his recruiting career at global executive search firms Heidrick & Struggles and Spencer Stuart. Today, he is Chief Talent Officer at Chicago-based Strong Suit Executive Search. Along the way, Hyman created four companies, backed by $50 million in venture capital. He currently teaches the MBA course about recruiting at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and hosts the five-star Strong Suit Podcast.


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