What you, as employer, make happen during the interviewing process and subsequent onboarding, can make the difference between a winning hire and a losing one.
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When LeBron James opted out of his contract with the Cavaliers early to join the Lakers, he didn’t come alone. To the surprise of many, he convinced long-time rival Lance Stephenson to leave the Pacers and join him. The Lakers’ roster is still changing thanks to James’s recruitment efforts.
Your startup may be a lot like the Lakers, in that its momentum begins with strategic recruiting and effective onboarding. You don’t have the luxury of investing in candidates who don’t thrive in their roles, because everyone’s daily contribution is critical to the company’s short- and long-term success. You don’t have the resources or the time to recruit, train, fire and restart multiple times.
And here, you’re not alone: According to the Society for Human Resources Management, even well-established organizations have little room for error in the hiring process. Not every new hire requires a professional athlete’s salary, but filling each position costs an average of $4,129. It also takes an average of 42 days to fill an open position, and as the leader of a cash-strapped startup trying to find its feet, you know that every one of those dollars and days counts.
Recruiting is one of the biggest challenges startup founders face. Because the company is still young, the employee’s role might be less defined than it would be at other companies, and that can make it difficult for you, during the interviewing process, to sell a candidate on taking the job.
Next comes onboarding; and onboarding also has its challenges. What might seem like minor hurdles, such as not having a workstation set up or not taking a newcomer around for formal introductions with the rest of the team, can make this new hire feel like less of a priority.
That isn’t the way to start off on the right foot with a new employee.
However, there is advice that can be offered for this scenario. And I can offer it, having learned a few things during my journey to help your startup recruit and establish an onboarding process:
1. Exude passion for your vision.
Larger corporations may outbid you in compensation, but leverage what is unique to your organization: passion for your vision. For many potential employees, the opportunity to work with people who are passionate about what they’re doing outweighs compensation and industry.
All those employees will spend roughly a third of their lives at work, according to the World Health Organization, so although someone could have his or her dream job, being surrounded by people who lack enthusiasm, humor, curiosity and the drive to grow, is going to make you miserable.
Remember, this is a two-way street: People will want to work for your company if you are infectious with your vision; likewise, you also want to identify and hire candidates who have the same enthusiasm or excitement about your company.
When Zappos launched in 1999, its founder, Nick Swinmurn, had a clear vision: to offer the best selection in shoes and the absolute best customer service of any online retailer. The company also realized that in order for employees to deliver top-notch service to customers, those employees themselves needed to love coming to work every day and be passionate about providing outstanding customer experiences.
2. Let your current employees refer new super-stars.
For the first several years of your startup’s existence, recruiting will fall squarely on your shoulders. The relationships you forge in your own community are going to be your greatest asset as you build out your initial team — a simple conversation today could lead to a critical hire or partner being referred to you in the near future.
As your company grows, you likely won’t be hand-picking each new employee. That means you’ll need to rely on your current employees to bring in new talent. It’s a tactic that’s proven to work — in LinkedIn’s “Global Recruiting Trends” report, 48 percent of businesses say their highest-quality hires come from employee referrals.
To encourage employees to refer more good people to your company, first make it easy for them to do so. Don’t make people jump through hoops or wade through a sea of red tape to make a referral, and be sure to reward those who do refer strong candidates. These rewards don’t need to be huge bonuses or fancy gifts, either — sometimes just public recognition and a pat on the back is all it takes to motivate employees.
3. Develop an immersive universal onboarding program for all new hires.
Recruiting and hiring are easier when you promote your startup’s unique vision, but sustaining that new hire’s interest depends on what happens right afterward. Despite the perhaps unconventional nature of your startup’s culture, it’s still important to be organized throughout the entire hiring and onboarding process.
The first day is an employee’s most important day at any company, and your priority should be to make that employee confident that he or she made the right decision joining yours. It’s that critical first impression that sets the tone for the rest of the relationship — in fact, 69 percent of employees say they’re more likely to stay with a company for at least three years if they have a great onboarding experience, according to employee recognition company O.C. Tanner.
Our top priority at our company on day one is to send new employees home knowing they made the best decision possible in joining the team. Part of this comes down to simple preparedness and readiness to greet and welcome our new team members.
One of the most common mistakes managers make after hiring someone is to leave new employees to fend for themselves. At Conversion Logic, every new employee attends a series of presentations and small group sessions with each department head. In these sessions, new employees learn the company’s history, product, customers and vision. New employees are given the opportunity to get a ground-floor view of the inner workings of each department and are encouraged to ask as many questions as they can.
We aim to be mindful not to overwhelm people in their first few days, but we strongly believe that these orientation sessions are critical before new employees settle into their new roles. The hiring manager also develops a 30-60-90 day plan for each new hire that’s specific to his or her function or team.
Progress against this plan is then tracked consistently, and the hiring manager regularly discusses the progress with the new hire as a feedback loop for future improvement.
When it comes to recruiting top talent (and keeping them on board), it might seem like startups are at a disadvantage because they can’t offer as lucrative a paycheck or as out-of-this-world benefits as established companies with more resources can. But what startups can offer is a unique vision for the future, the chance to work with passionate people and the opportunity to join something incredible at the ground level.
By recruiting the right people and ensuring that their first few days, weeks and months are a smooth transition, you’ll be setting up that person for success — and for longevity at your company.