Onboarding: How To Develop a Happy and Engaged Small Business Team

Onboarding: How To Develop a Happy and Engaged Small Business Team


Gig Economy - Your People Partners

As a small business owner, you wear many hats – and one of the most important is bringing new talent onboard. An effective onboarding program isn’t just about ticking administrative boxes and handing over a laptop. It’s your opportunity to set new hires up for success, integrate them into your unique culture, and lay the foundation for long-term satisfaction and productivity.

Investing in a structured onboarding process might seem like a luxury when resources are stretched, but it’s a strategic decision with massive payoffs, especially for small businesses.

Why Onboarding Matters (Even More) for Small Teams

  • First Impressions Count – Especially in Small Teams: In larger companies, a new hire might be one of many, with ample time to find their feet. In a small business, each person’s impact is immediate. A strong onboarding experience builds confidence, sets expectations, and fosters a sense of belonging from day one.
  • Small Business Culture is Everything: Your company’s values and unique way of working are likely a major reason employees join you. Failing to actively integrate new hires into that culture risks dilution, misalignment, and early turnover.
  • Mistakes are Costlier in Small Companies: With a leaner team, every member needs to pull their weight quickly. A poorly designed onboarding process extends the ramp-up period, costing you time, money and potentially impacting customer experience.
  • Boost Retention and Attract Top Talent: A positive onboarding experience translates to higher employee satisfaction long-term. This not only reduces those costly turnover headaches unique to small businesses but also enhances your employer brand, making it easier to draw in the best candidates.

Building a Stellar Onboarding Program for Your Small Business

Your People Partners understands that every company is different. Here’s a foundational outline to get started, with customization crucial for maximum impact:

Phase 1: Before Day One

  • Set the Stage: Don’t let day one be their “real” start. Send welcome emails, paperwork (as streamlined as possible), and any essential pre-start information. This demonstrates organization and helps them hit the ground running.
  • The Human Touch: Assign a designated ‘buddy’ or mentor. Informal questions and a friendly point of contact ease first-day jitters.
  • Make Them Feel Expected: Small gestures matter! Prepare their workspace, order any necessary equipment, and inform current team members of the new hire, building excitement.

Phase 2: The First Week(s)

  • Clarity is Key: Provide a detailed schedule, outlining introductions, training sessions, and initial project assignments. Clarify expectations to minimize uncertainty.
  • Meet the Team: Facilitate social interactions and team-building, especially important for remote or hybrid team members.
  • Mentorship Matters: Formalise the mentor/buddy relationship, providing structure for ongoing support and open communication beyond their manager.
  • Dedicated Training Time: Schedule focused sessions for necessary technical skills, company policies, and any immediate tasks they’ll be taking on.
  • Feedback is Fuel: Check in regularly, both you and their designated mentor. This allows for early course correction and shows you care.

Phase 3: Ongoing Integration & Development

  • 90 Day Plan: Collaborate to establish clear goals and expectations for their first months. Provide regular reviews and track progress.
  • Open Communication: Encourage new hires to ask questions and voice concerns. A culture of open feedback prevents issues from festering.
  • Cultural Immersion: Involve them in team events, traditions, and celebrations. Reinforce a sense of belonging and connection.
  • Professional Development Opportunities: Even in small companies, show a commitment to their growth. Access to learning resources or mentoring programs goes a long way.

Your People Partners: Your Onboarding Advantage

While this outline provides a solid base, we know small businesses need bespoke solutions:

  • Culture-Driven Onboarding: We help you identify and codify the elements that make your company special, ensuring your onboarding process reinforces your unique value proposition.
  • Tech Tools: We know the best HR tech platforms for streamlining your onboarding process, from document management to automated task reminders, freeing up your time.
  • Feedback & Optimisation: We help you collect data from new hires, analysing their onboarding experience to continuously improve and maximize the impact.
  • Start Them Right, Keep Them Long-Term: A strong onboarding sets the stage for exceptional employee retention, crucial for small business success.

Through our journey exploring the ins and outs of small business recruitment and onboarding, we’ve unearthed what you can do to ensure a new employee’s first few weeks and months are exceptional.

Why not set up a call with Helen Sanders, Founder and Chief People Partner, to discuss your onboarding and hiring needs. Here is a link to her diary.

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Helen Sanders Managing Director and Chief People Partner
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