Why your agency’s Employee Onboarding process needs to start earlier

Written by: Karl Sakas

Planning to hire new employees this year? Congrats on your growth… but don’t celebrate yet! If you want to retain your new employees, you need a strong Employee Onboarding process.

You’re not alone—many agencies struggle with employee onboarding. Some are “making it up” every time. Many leave onboarding to individual department managers, leading to vastly different onboarding experiences across the agency. And others don’t start thinking about onboarding until a day or two before the new employee starts.

This lack of intentionality creates all kinds of problems, ranging from low productivity to early resignations. Ideally, you’ll think about onboarding before you even post the job—and you’d be ready to start the onboarding process as soon as the new employee accepts your job offer.

Fortunately, you don’t have to start from scratch! In this article, I’ll explore why employee onboarding starts sooner than you might think and review which team member(s) should “own” employee onboarding.

What not to do: Employee onboarding gone wrong

My second agency job didn’t start smoothly. I’d met most of my future coworkers during the interview process, and I was excited to join. All the interviews had been by phone, so I was looking forward to meeting my new boss—the agency CEO—in person.

No email access for 3 days!

When I arrived, I learned my boss decided not to come into the office that day. Also, I was about to be on a conference call with one of our largest and longest-term clients! Our salesperson briefed me about the client about 10 minutes before the call started.

My predecessor had left a couple weeks earlier, so at least I inherited her computer. But none of my technology accounts were set up. In fact, I didn’t get access to my email account until halfway through my third day—which meant I couldn’t activate any of the other SaaS accounts, either. It’s hard to be a project manager without email.

Making things better for future hires

Things got better after that, but I remembered the experience of my first week. When I became the agency’s Operations Manager, I invested time in preparing for each new hire. And everyone had a working email account, starting Day 1.

My onboarding experience wasn’t bad on purpose—it’s just that everyone was distracted and overloaded, and no one thought about everything falling through the cracks. Fortunately, you can do better!

What to do instead: Employee Onboarding philosophy

Start by committing to creating a better onboarding experience at your agency. After all, your employee morale and retention are depending on it! Specifically, commit to three things: be strategic, start early, and put someone in charge of this.

If you’re reading this article, congrats—you’re already thinking strategically. For more on the other two points, read on.

Why employee onboarding starts before their first day at your agency

Put yourself in the shoes of your new employee. They’re taking a risk—they likely resigned from their current job, because they think your agency is the right next step in their career. You’ve interviewed them—but they’ve also interviewed you. They’ve read Glassdoor reviews and asked around. But they’re still not sure you’re the right match.

And if their concerns multiple, you’re at risk of “candidate’s remorse.” If their current employer hadn’t made a counter-offer yet, they might make one now.

One of my clients had that happen. A new employee accepted the agency’s offer and gave two weeks’ notice at her current job. The day before she started at my client’s agency, she called to say the other company had given her a counter-offer—an additional $50K in salary, plus stock options.

For that extra $50K and equity, she decided to stay… and my client had to start their candidate search all over again. Counter-offers are a bad business idea for most agencies, but they’re a fact of life—especially for deep-pocketed companies.

What’s the solution? Be ready. Acknowledge that new employees are jumpy… and take action.

Which team member(s) should own the Employee Onboarding process?

As the agency owner, you’re ultimately Accountable for employee onboarding. But you’ll likely delegate day-to-day duties, so that someone else is Responsible for running the onboarding program.

Don’t make your department heads lead onboarding

Should you have department heads handle onboarding? They’ll definitely be heavily involved—but they probably shouldn’t lead the initial stages of onboarding. Why? Because you want to create a consistent experience for new employees, and that’s hard to do when each department handles things differently.

Instead, your onboarding lead should coordinate with the department heads so that everyone’s in the loop. But the department head is likely too overloaded to successfully lead a smooth onboarding process.

Owners should meet new hires… but should rarely lead onboarding

Speaking of overloaded, should the agency owner ever lead onboarding? If you have fewer than 10 people, you’ll probably be doing onboarding. But as you grow, it’s important for you to meet people—but not to be handling all the onboarding details yourself.

Default to your head of HR

Who’s the right person? The person in charge of Human Resources (HR). Depending on your org chart and agency size, their job title might be:

  • Director of Culture or Head of People
  • Director of HR or HR Generalist
  • Operations Manager or Office Manager

It’s important that they know they’re in charge. And they also need to know which other team members need to be Consulted—for instance, the new team member’s department head or other hiring manager.

What to do next at your agency

Think about your agency’s current Employee Onboarding process. Do you have multiple department heads leading vastly different onboarding processes? Have you had new employees reneging offers or leave early due to a bumpy transition?

If you’re seeing problems like that, consider: work to unify your onboarding process, ensure the process begins before a new employee joins, and identify who is in charge. These changes will significantly improve the onboarding process—not only for your new hires, but for your current team, too.

Want even more? See my article next month for access to my Employee Onboarding Checklist to strengthen onboarding at your agency. Be sure to subscribe to my newsletter, so that you don’t miss the free checklist and other helpful agency resources.

Question: What are your next steps in up-leveling your agency’s Employee Onboarding process?

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