Day One is the most important experience during a new hire’s onboarding journey. The first few hours on the job set the tone and expectation for what’s to come. But for many new hires, the day is either over- or under-whelming.
Here’s how one experienced Head of People walks crafts his first days.
Mike Kohn is a People Ops veteran, who has served as Head of People across a number of growing teams in a variety of industries— from cleantech to philanthropy consulting. Mike is currently the Director of People and Talent at the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, a private foundation dedicated to advancing artificial intelligence and data science solutions to create a thriving, equitable, and sustainable future for all.
Mike loves the people function because it’s all about human connection. He enjoys building out learning and development programs; coaching employees and managers; and creating opportunities for diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility to thrive in an organization.
Mike has spent years iterating on his Day One program.
It all starts when a candidate signs an offer letter. Mike calls this time period Day Zero.
Ideally, there’s a week or two between the time candidates sign and when they start at the organization. In reality, Day Zero has an infinite lifespan. Sometimes it’s short, sometimes it’s long, and he usually has little control over its length (this is the case for most teams we talk to).
During this period, time-sensitive things come first. These include:
From a high level, Mike is aware of the potential for information overload on Day One. Instead of trying to cram in as much as possible, he focuses the first few sessions on the foundational stuff that helps the new hire get up and running as quickly as possible.
Topics he likes to cover include:
From experience, he knows that anything too specific — how to use specific software, how to reimburse expenses, etc. — will likely go in one ear and out the other.
Mike also makes sure that he follows best practices for adult learning. For example, he ensures that onboarding sessions are not full of one-way communication.
Before he hits send on Day One plans, Mike steps back to examine what he has prepared from the perspective of the new person. He asks himself,
After years honing his craft, here’s what Mike’s Day One schedule looks like for Mike’s new hires:
Mike and the people manager meet the new hire as they arrive with a hearty welcome to the team.
Mike likes to walk through the Day One and Week One agenda, so the new hire can set expectations and ask questions.
Next is the boring, but essential paperwork— the I-9 form, key employment information, accessing email and/or Slack. This has to get done on Day One. Mike knows it’s best to knock it out early while energy is high.
After a packed morning, the new hire usually needs a little downtime for a break and a quick recharge.
Lunch is a big moment. Mike has the people manager and the new employee go to lunch together — or lunch over video — to get to know each other a little bit better outside the office.
After lunch, the new hire usually needs a break from people. This is a time Mike likes to reserve for the employee to start to tackle some action items on their own— adding a company bio, sharing a headshot, etc. The new hire also uses this period for reading and checking email.
The mid-afternoon strategy session covers the organization’s mission, vision, and how this new hire is an important piece of it all.
As the day closes, Mike likes to check in with the people manager to talk next steps and make sure the new hire has tangible items to work on for the rest of the week. Mike also likes to talk with the new hire directly to continue building a human connection.
By having the new hire arrive at work a little later than the day typically starts — around 9:30 or 10 am— Mike makes sure that everything is prepared for the arrival. Plus, he usually has a little extra time to triage tasks and emails before the hectic day begins.
It’s fun to build some kind of little unique ritual into the Day One experience, to keep everything lighthearted. A ritual might be something with swag or some kind of activity, but it’s always consistent and custom to organizational culture.
It’s a best practice in onboarding software engineers to make them feel empowered enough to write code as early as possible. Consider that same concept for all functions. New hires want to be productive as fast as you want them to be productive. Maybe you can enable them to do something impactful on Day One. If not, you could show them the pathway to getting there as quickly as possible.