Creating The Best First Day

Being new is daunting. Particularly when joining a new school. One virtue that my daughters’ school injects into new students and their parents is that they are only new on the first day. From day two, they are members of a community designed to foster learning and progress.

This philosophy has remarkable results which engage the entire culture of the school.

For students, it accelerates how they accept their new environment and helps them start learning and participating the moment they walk in the door. Teachers plan their first day and over-index on assisting students in feeling welcome. And older students, who have benefited from the same tradition, participate with enthusiasm as if the better the reception they received.

Not surprisingly, schools that pay little attention to welcoming newcomers have different effects on students. The bottom line is that students take longer to open up and participate. And this can have significant downstream consequences.

The same is true for companies.

I’ve written about how founders can help new team members demonstrate their worth. But I’d like to share some thoughts on how to create the best first day for new team members. One that has significant positive flow-on effects for the team, new team members, and how the company approaches hiring.

Founders control the first-day experience

I think about the first-day experience in the same way Brian Chesky feels about the guest experience at Airbnb. Each level of the experience has a star rating, but it doesn’t end at a five or even six-star experience. It ends at whatever ‘awesome’ is for the experience you are trying to create.

The ‘no-star’ first experience is no one is there to meet the new team member.

The ‘one-star’ experience involves someone being there, but they don’t know the new team member, who comes in and sits in the corner until their hiring manager arrives.

‘Two-star’ experiences look like a hiring manager being there to greet the new starter who is then shown to a desk and asked to complete mandatory online training before being asked to sit in endless meetings to ‘learn the business’.

Imagine a ‘five-star’ experience. The new team member arrives and is welcomed by a few of their colleagues, gets swag and is granted access to essential systems within an hour of arriving.

Most people would think that’s pretty good but imagine a ’12-star’ experience.

The entire company throws a party to welcome the new starter. Jerry Seinfeld is on stage doing comedy celebrating the new arrival. There is swag that includes a new, top of the line laptop and phone that are gifts for personal use and Morgan Freeman has recorded a personal welcome film directed by Michael Bay. And as if that wasn’t enough, the new starter gets the desk of their choice and gets a bonus four weeks vacation.

The point is that founders control the first-day experience and by extension, the first impression of the companies culture.

This first impression must be remarkable.

Because this is how new starters will talk about and characterise the company that week and well into the future to friends, family and other potential hires. It’s also how they will act for the next new team member.

If the experience is poor, that will be the message and the behaviour when a new hire arrives.

A first day that starts with the unexpected

Creating the best first day doesn’t mean showering a new starter with expensive swag. The ambition is to ensure that they only feel new on day one and from day two, they feel part of a learning and progress-oriented community.

I learned while building AirShr that a remarkable first day starts with the unexpected. Let me explain.

Nova Entertainment, a national Australian radio broadcaster, agreed with AirShr to pilot our technology. This pilot took place at their Brisbane station, Nova106.9, One morning, as I entered the Nova offices, as I had done dozens of times previously, I entered the lift and started the ride to the studio floor. I was on the phone and the only person in the elevator. When the lift doors opened party crackers and music erupted. A red carpet was laid out in front of me, and the entire Nova staff started to cheer and dance. They formed an arch to walk through that extended more than forty meters.

“I’ll have to call you back”, and I hung up. The unexpected greeting was a complete surprise. And not for me!

They thought that I was a new starter, scheduled to arrive at 9 am. The Nova team reset and moments later, started again for the actual new team member.

Observing this for a second time, I could see the smile and disbelief on the new arrivals face. But the first-day experience didn’t stop there. After being shown to her desk and getting access to email and other systems, the team invited her out for lunch before she could head home. Her first day was a half-day.

This experience is a remarkable ritual at Nova that engages every member of the organisation.

How we do it

As I designed the onboarding process at Drop, I asked colleagues about their approaches. Some great suggestions included cultural rituals, swag and unique experiences. One company does a little social stalking to learn more about what their new team members love. They then include an experience that relates to that passion as part of their onboarding which is deeply thoughtful, and remarkable.

I’m aiming for an 8-star first-day experience at Drop which balances remarkability with the practicalities of a venture at our stage of growth

New Team Member Onboarding Process 

The first day for a new team member is a momentous occasion and a critical first impression. It is our first true demonstration of culture, and this day must be consistent and memorable for everyone who joins Drop, and unlike any other first day that they have experienced in their career.

Our aim is for people to finish their first day feeling like they are no longer new. This is the beginning of a process to help them learn what we know and for us to understand their ambition in the context of Drop’s vision. 

Here is how we approach each first day for new team members.

Each new team member is assigned a ‘buddy’. They are responsible for welcoming them to Drop. This includes:

    • Sending the new team member a welcome email on Friday before they start (there’s a template below)  
    • Welcoming the new team member at the office on their first day and then introducing them on Slack when they first log in 
    • Being the go-to person to ask questions about the ins and outs about Drop and ‘how we work around here’ 

They start on Tuesdays. This allows them a long weekend and helps us move through our weekly kickoff meetings, for which new team members won’t have context

We spend the first two hours of their day at a coffee shop learning about why they joined Drop and our reasons for joining and ambitions for the company

When they arrive back in the office, they receive online access. In addition to receiving wi-fi access, their email address has been set up, and when they sign in, they will see emails inviting them to join Slack, Trello as well as invitations to key team meetings. If they haven’t already updated their LinkedIn profile with their shiny new role, they can do that too.

Their swag is also on their desk! This includes a Drop KeepCup, notebook, a $50 Hey You voucher (to keep them in coffee) and a copy of Deep Medicine to see what’s coming and Bad Blood to understand modern history.

Then, lunch! The buddy, available team members and the new team member head out for lunch after which the team member gets the afternoon off. This is a chance for them to reflect on what they have seen and heard during the day, relax and then come fully charged to start on Wednesday!

And so the journey begins!

One last thing…

The onboarding process will no doubt evolve as the company and team grow. The key takeaway, however, is that the founders control this experience. It has cultural ripple effects that compound with time.

I didn’t use to value the importance of creating the best first day for new team members. But I do now because you learn what matters over time.

I’d love to know how you welcome new team members. Leave a comment below or shoot me an email!