Ask HR: How to get new hires productive more quickly

First, ‘you have to start from the feet up’

Q: How can we get newly hired employees productive more quickly?

A. “You have to start from the feet up.” While I may not be on solid HR footing quoting a con artist from the movie “American Hustle,” when it comes to employee onboarding there is truth to “starting from the feet up.”

(For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, Irving Rosenfeld, Christian Bale’s character, is referring to the fact that in order do things right – the con – you have to have a solid foundation and pay attention to the details.)

Most of us recall our first day on a new job. I remember starting work in my first HR position. I was thrilled to be there and champing at the bit to make a contribution and apply the knowledge from my newly minted degree. However the first day was a litany of paperwork followed by “there’s your desk” and “your business cards and computer are on order.” I smiled through it and said, “It’s OK,” but secretly a bit of the excitement and enthusiasm about this new opportunity drained.

This is the experience many of us have when starting a new job, and is the way many companies onboard their new hires each day.

Capitalizing on the enthusiasm and excitement your new employee has for their job while instilling your company’s core values and workplace culture early is the natural outcome of “starting from the feet up.”

Let’s explore some ideas about how to successfully engage new hires and get them productive sooner:

 • The buddy system is certainly not a new concept, but when it comes to the workplace, it is often a forgotten tool. First, determine the criteria for those who can play the role of “buddy.” When working with clients, we recommend selecting an employee who exemplifies your core values and culture and who has a natural ability for conversation. The new hire’s new “buddy” can be a resource for all of those questions the employee may be afraid to ask their boss for fear of looking stupid. (Things like, what does that acronym mean? Or, when is payday? – though this should actually be in your employee handbook.) The buddy can introduce the new hire to other people throughout the company and invite them to lunch during the first week of work.

 • Make certain the employee has all of the tools needed to hit the ground running, such as a computer, email, desk and office supplies. Having business cards ready and waiting for them shows your attention to detail and that you have planned for their arrival. Make sure they have instructions on how to set up voicemail, etc.

 • Mailing a welcome card signed by the team to your new hire’s home in advance of their first day may sound “fluffy” to some, but this action sends a powerful message that you can’t wait for them to come on board. An additional benefit of this action is that it sends a reinforcing message that by accepting your offer, they made the right decision.

 • Most new employees want to make a contribution and do a good job at work. Understanding their day-to-day duties is one thing, but understanding how their contribution fits into the bigger picture of company mission and goals takes things to a higher level. Communicating the bigger picture helps give their daily work more meaning, which in turn increases productivity.

 • There are a number of ways to set expectations. Written job descriptions are one way to communicate what you expect of your new employee. But beyond this, most companies fall short. We encourage our clients to talk with new hires about the “unwritten” expectations they have such as, “I expect when I send you an email that you will reply to me the same day,” or “Any work product you send to me for review should be in final format.” These are the things we assume employees will know, but believe me, people do not have the same mindset on things that you do, so communicate, communicate, communicate.

On the flip side, ask them what their expectations are of you, their supervisor. Even though in the early stages of their employment they may be reluctant to respond to this, it sends the message that this is not just a top-down relationship, that you are seeking their input too.

These are just a few ways to “start from the feet up,” making sure the new hire onboarding process is a success so that your newest team member can hit the ground running.

Delise West, president and founder of Human Resource Partners, with offices in Dover and Concord, can be reached at 603-749-8989 or through

Categories: Business Advice