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7 tips for hiring and onboarding small business staff

Avoid the costs associated with a bad hire by putting steps in place that can help ensure a new recruit is a good fit and is onboarded in a way that makes them want to stick around.

At a glance

Here’s a snapshot of the advice from our interviewee:

  • Avoid hiring on the fly. Always refer to your business growth roadmap.
  • Hire for cultural fit, not just competency.
  • Don’t confuse induction with onboarding. They serve different purposes.
  • Onboarding is an ongoing process. Expect it to take at least six months.
  • Take the guesswork out of those early months by giving and asking for feedback.

With a low unemployment rate, a surging tech industry and good investment in small businesses, finding new staff that can complement your team can sometimes be challenging. Anything a small business can do to avoid the costs and culture impact of staff churn or a poor fit is worth consideration – including mastering the art of onboarding.

Hiring right means hiring strategically

“Hiring the right people for your business is a pillar of success,” says Vanesha Din, co-founder of growth and human resources consultancy Sprout. “People are a critical part of being able to realise your business vision.”

But often recruitment is reactive. People are hired when the need becomes urgent or in response to new funding or a new project. The recruitment and onboarding process is rushed and you can end up with the wrong person for the job. It can be a costly mistake.

According to New Zealand employers polled in 2019, the top three impacts of a bad hire are increased stress on colleagues (46%), increased workloads for existing employees (43%) and increased stress on managers (37%). Lost productivity, higher recruitment costs and plummeting staff morale could also be the result of a poor fit.

“It’s so important to take a step back, consider your business strategy and plan your recruitment efforts with intention,” says Vanesha. “If the role doesn’t help you achieve your objectives or you have to spend time and money on coaching and development or on managing the role out through restructure or redundancy, that’s a big cost for a small growing business.”

Vanesha recommends taking into account your organisational vision and structure and recruiting for the competencies and values that will help you achieve that vision.

“It’s best to develop a road map and work from it instead of hiring on the fly. And remember: hiring for values and cultural fit is as critical as hiring for competencies.”

Onboarding new starters is a process, not a checkbox

About 90% of new recruits decide in the first six months whether they’ll stay with their employer and take about 12 months to reach their full potential in a role. The onboarding process should also be created to suit that timeline – you have six to 12 months to build a lasting relationship.

“Employers often make the mistake of treating induction and onboarding as the same thing,” explains Vanesha. “They are totally different. Induction is a compliance-driven process. It’s about making sure your new starter has the correct health and safety information, payroll documents, company policies, internet policies and working from home policies before they get started.”

Onboarding, on the other hand, looks at the bigger picture.

“[It] is about their role in the business, building relationships, understanding the rhythm of the business and how they will be contributing to meeting its goals. That’s something that takes time and engagement from the employer.”

Here are Vanesha’s tips to getting it right:

1. Preboard before you onboard

“Onboarding starts when you make the offer,” says Vanesha. “Then there’s often a period of a few weeks before the person actually starts. We call this the preboarding period.”

This is not the time to go silent. Make sure your new recruit gets a congratulatory call and check in a couple of times to let them know you’re excited to have them onboard.

2. Get organised

Use that preboarding period to prepare everything your new recruit needs to feel valued and useful from the moment they walk in, Vanesha advises. We’ve all experienced those first days on a job when there’s no computer ready or a desk hasn’t been set up. It’s not a good start. So make sure your new recruit has a workstation, computer, logins, email address, business cards, shared drives and anything else they need to make a smooth start.

3. Prebook meetings

Set up meetings for your new recruit to connect with staff. Everyone is busy – don’t count on being able to do proper introductions on the fly.

4. Surprise and delight

Have some company merchandise you can send your new starter? Got time to arrange a welcome morning tea? Go for it. Those ‘above and beyond’ touches set a positive tone.

5. Set clear expectations

Take the guesswork out of as much as possible for your new starter by letting them know what’s expected of them and what goals they should be striving for.

6. Ask for feedback and give feedback

Ask your new recruit about how they’re going, what they are struggling with, if there are any resources they need, who they still need to connect with. This helps you anticipate issues before they become problems.

And give them feedback.

“We often get calls from candidates checking to see if their new employer has said anything about how they’re performing because they haven’t received the feedback themselves,” says Vanesha. “It’s critical that employers provide feedback especially in those early months when a new starter may still be learning the ropes.”

7. Be mindful of how remote working changes everything

“You can’t rely anymore on being able to pop your head into an office or have a chat in the staff kitchen to gauge how someone is settling in,” says Vanesha. “Remote working means it’s more important than ever to set aside dedicated time to talk with your new recruit. Avoid trying to squish it in at the end of a project meeting. Instead, set up a structured schedule for catching up during those first six months and checking in for significant milestones.

“And remember, a little empathy goes a long way. Working from home can present a whole other set of challenges for a new starter so make sure they feel properly supported.”

Speak with one of our small business lending specialists about how a Prospa Small Business Loan could help you supercharge your growth plans.

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