Onboarding: Doing it right in your growing business

Onboarding: Doing it right in your growing business

Written by
Fred Thompson
Date published
September 12, 2023

Despite being the founding CEO of an L&D business, when one of my businesses saw moderate growth, we still hit problems with our onboarding flow.

What were the challenges?

First and foremost, we were not prepared.

Its rather well known that as you scale up from your first 10 employees to 25, to 100, and beyond, the challenges that appear at each level are new and challenging.

At the small-team family-like approach of your first dozen team members, new members have been joining the business and learnt everything they need to know on the job from their manager, colleagues, and likely everyone in the business. As a business owner at this level, it is likely that you’ve liaised with and co-ordinated all your teams members directly so far. As your company grows, however, your process, structures and technologies have to, too.

Here are some challenges I’ve seen or experienced at each level of small business, and how to solve them.

When your company grows above 10 people:

When your team increases to around 10 people you fall at the first hurdle. Its common to rely on repeating the approaches that have seen you get so far, but the increase in personnel leads to insufficient orientation and lack of detail to help new hires understand the company culture and expectations. This coupled with unclear roles and responsibilities (which typically up until this point hasn’t particularly been on your radar as everyone does everything in small businesses) leads to confusion and overlapping duties.

When your company grows above 25 people:

New problems arise at around 25 people. Due the sheer increase in numbers, communication can become fragmented, and any onboarding experience you have set up in advance of this stage often becomes vastly inconsistent due to a lack of standardisation.

Furthermore, at this stage in your company lifecycle, you are most likely to be focused on growing the business and delivering value to your customer, and growth to 25 team members can often be quick, and setting up structured process for new employee arrivals is typically not paramount.

When your company grows above 100 people:

Many of the same problems at this level of business re-occur, but do so at grandiose scale. Your company culture is tremendously at threat, as the number and range of personalities, experience, age and ability vary wildly and - as we know - people are the hardest part of any business.

The organisation structures you have put into place are tested to capacity, and you may see new hires having limited opportunities to engage with leadership, which can impact their sense of connection and belonging. It may also take longer to provide feedback and reviews to new hires, which can affect their performance and growth within the company.


So, what do we do?

Whilst the challenges are each stage are unique, they are resolved with a relatively consistent set of approaches and tools. The common challenges as the business grows tend to fall within three themes, and here are some actionable approaches to address each.

Organisational structure

It needs to be clear who new hires report to, and which team member is responsible for their day to day, progress and health and wellbeing. Implementing a structure early in your business can feel a daunting sacrifice of power, but empowering individuals within the business to take control will ensure that new members of team join and are onboarded into a controlled subset of your growing business, where communications lines and responsibilities are clear, and culture can be more easily maintained.

Communication and feedback loops

Within a well thought out organisation structure, communication is streamlined and channels for new team members to be able to request guidance and assist others is starting to take shape. This needs to be encouraged by implementing supporting technologies (i.e. Teams or Slack) alongside a clear message to “stand-up” and ask for help from colleagues or managers when required.

It is also important to add structure to formal feedback cycles, including a company wide notice of the expected timeframe of formal reviews, alongside what is and can be expected from each employee and manager. This reduces anxiety within your team and sets a clear plan to ensure reviews and feedback do not go missed.

Clear and defined process

From the moment a potential new hire has been offered a position at your business, ensure you are utilising technology to employ a pre-defined process, all the way through to probation review.

To arrive at your process, ensure you cover every formal piece of their onboarding flow in your HR system (set up their key pass, purchased their hardware, configured their email, etc) but then ensure this continues on into the first 3 months within the business.

Implement a learning platform to provide central training that they will need for their role, and implement a suite of onboarding tools, courses and resources to ensure they have the relevant information about your business and their role to hand immediately when they join.

Ensure feedback reviews and 1-to-1 sessions with their line manager are booked in from the outset and capture direct thoughts from new hires to inform and improve the process going forward.

“Startup CEOs should not play the odds. When you are building a company, you must believe there is an answer and you cannot pay attention to your odds of finding it. You just have to find it. It matters not whether your chances are nine in ten or one in a thousand; your task is the same.” Ben Horowitz, "The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers"

What tools helped?

To help you accomplish this refined onboarding flow, there are various tools to use, but I would certainly focus on ensuring you have a robust Human Resources (HR) and an engaging learning platform in place first to provide the most value across the business.

HR platform of choice:

HR Partner is a fantastic small business HR system that will grow with you, and it is a pleasure to use. It allows you to configure onboarding and offboarding checklists that can be assigned automatically and require completion by both new employee and manager.

Learning platform of choice:

thirst is great modern learning platform that puts social learning and conversation at the centre of the experience. It can be used to support onboarding, compliance, and tacit knowledge sharing within your business within a dynamic skills framework.

"Fun is one of the most important - and underrated - ingredients in any successful venture. If you're not having fun, then it's probably time to call it quits and try something else." Richard Branson

It’s hard, but fun, …right?

I’ve been there and I’m still there. I haven’t got everything right yet either, but we’re getting there.

Its exciting to grow your business, your head count and your bottom line, but with it come new challenges each day. Try to make the time to implement some of the approaches above as early in your journey as you can, as its likely to save you much more pain in the long run.

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