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Making a great first impression: Onboarding matters

As a growing organization, we onboard new employees almost every week. While this is something we do regularly, it’s a once in a lifetime experience for the employee starting. A new job can be stressful, and the decision to stick with a job or move on is often made within the first few days. It’s vital that we create a great onboarding experience. We never want to lose sight of the fact that people are at the heart of what we do.

Over the past year we’ve onboarded 36 new employees, almost doubling the staff at CDS. We’ve always been excited about adding new people to our team, but we knew that we needed to make improvements to our onboarding experience. How could we apply the techniques and tools we use to build technology to help us create something excellent? Turns out, it takes some research, some discovery, and some testing.

A desk in the CDS office is set up with a monitor, a laptop, boxed headphones, sticky notes, pens, and a line of sticky notes that read "Welcome to CDS".

Onboarding starts before the first day on the job

When most people think of onboarding, they think of the first day or first couple of weeks on the job. We like to think it starts when we make an offer and continues through the first year. To start looking into how we could improve things, we carried out interviews with new employees to get a better understanding of what their experience was like and how it could’ve been better.

Overall, new employees were happy with their onboarding experience, however, one lower score really jumped out at us: the post-offer/pre-hire period. Every new job involves paperwork and process; doubly so within government. This can mean unclear timelines and uncertainty for the person coming on. Changing jobs is nerve wracking on its own. We realized that while many of the administrative government requirements are beyond our control, we can reduce the anxiety and uncertainty in the process.

With the feedback from our employees as our inspiration, we created a document called “What to Expect When you are Joining CDS” which outlines all of the steps that are coming up as a part of the hiring process. We then tested it with people from outside of our organization in order to get an unbiased view into how helpful it would be. Based on those interviews we made changes to make the document more clear and started using it (or as our engineering colleagues call it, shipping). Creating, evaluating, and iterating on this document has led to a better new employee experience.

Making the first day a great day

The other big piece of an onboarding experience is an employee’s first day. We know that new CDS staff come in excited and ready to start delivering on our mission. So we do our best to make them feel welcome and to set them up to succeed.

Multiple team members help make day one successful. Our Internal Operations Team ensure that new employees have their TBS tech on time. (It’s hard to do your job without the tech you need. At CDS, this includes TBS Tablets, phones, and MacBooks.) The Talent Team sets up the new employee’s desk with a personalized notebook, stationery, headphones, and a welcome sign. We ensure new employees are brought to a workstation that has been set up just for them. It’s amazing to see how something that only takes us a few minutes to set up, can have such a great impact.

A photo of Kate's work station on her first day, specifically four sticky notes that read KATE, three pens, a notebook with Kate's name, a CDS sticker, and sticky notes.

One very important thing we do is let the rest of CDS know when a new staffer is joining us. We use a coming soon/now playing board on a wall in the head office in Ottawa. This means that everyone is ready to make a new hire feel welcomed.

Making sure the new CDS staff get off on the right foot, the first week, also includes meetings with key team members, coffee chats with the COO, an introduction at our weekly all-staff meeting, lunch with their team, and a meeting with an onboarding buddy to help them learn the ins and outs of CDS culture.

Onboarding beyond day one

We check in with employees and their managers at the two and six month marks. This gives us valuable insight into what we need to improve for onboarding and for our employee experience in general. We’re always looking to do better.

The next issue we plan to tackle head on is the process to sign up for health benefits. Our hope is that by creating clear documentation and being available for troubleshooting, employees will have a significantly better (and faster) process of getting everything they need as a part of the CDS team. There’s always something we can improve on and since onboarding is about starting something new, why not make it spectacular?

Three CDS members who play a role in the integration of new employees are side by side, with open arms and a smile on their faces.