Key Technical Matters
Whoever did the hiring should do the first-day greeting of the new person.
And the awkward introduction tour.
And possibly the lunch.
And the pointing out of the restrooms.
Note: The new person doesn't need to be accompanied to the restroom.
The new person should be given something to do.
Reading the employee manual is not one of those things.
The new person should be told about any important quirks of the office.
How the coffee machine works ...
That the vending machine doesn't accept coins ...
That printing is discouraged ...
The deal with that guy over there.
When introducing the new person to individual employees, say, "This is Deb." Don't call Deb "The New Lindsay."
Because Lindsay isn't deceased. She just works at another company.
Anyway, Deb was Deb before she got here, and she's going to be Deb when she leaves.
For the new employee, little that happens on the first day is indicative of the workplace, the people who work there or the job itself. It's like a long, boring preface to an otherwise exciting book. The first day of a job is irrelevant, and it blows.
But there's another kind of first day that happens on day one: the first day of being a boss to the new person. But not just a boss--a mentor, a friend, a guide, a protector. The manager's job on the employee's first day is to mitigate the one thing every new hire fears: awkwardness. Which is a simple, generous, short-term act that has long-term implications. Because if you get the first day right, the new person will never forget it.
The First Hour
The first hour should be worked out in advance. Maybe even well in advance.
"Before the person even starts, we send a fruit basket," says Roger Lee, co-founder of PaperG, a San Francisco-based advertising technology company whose staff tripled in size last year. "So by the time that first day comes around, they feel welcome and excited."
Maybe not excited. It's a fruit basket, after all. But they will feel welcome. And feeling welcome is everything.
The fruit basket isn't just a nice thing to do. It's an emblem of preparation and care. Which is all any new person wants to see and feel when he or she walks in the door. An activated e-mail account is a fruit basket. A clean workspace is a fruit basket. Being greeted at the door by the person who hired you is a fruit basket. An effusive introductory e-mail is a fruit basket. These things make an employee feel valued from the outset. A job offer doesn't fully do that; the gestures do.
You can't underestimate how important expressions of appreciation are, because you can't underestimate how intense it is to walk into an office for the first time. Nobody remembers how weird this is. We forget that an office is a tribe, and encountering a tribe for the first time is highly unsettling.
You don't speak the language. You don't know the customs.
Says Jessica Miller-Merrell, CEO of Oklahoma City-based Xceptional HR: "I think anytime you're in a life transition, which a new job is, it's very important for the employer to put on a good face but create a more formal process. [The new hire] doesn't know the nuances or personalities or the certain things that you know as you get comfortable in an office. They're not familiar with the grumpy guy in the corner who doesn't smile. Someone needs to say, 'That's Bob, that's how he is.'"
The new person should be told about Bob. The new person should be told about other strange things. We'd like to propose that the new person be given a list. And that list should be called "Things You Should Know About This Office." It can be e-mailed, handwritten or spoken out loud. But these things should be shared.
Or you could make a complete set of briefing books, like the guy who's responsible for welcoming the first family to the White House does. "The initial one I gave to the incoming first lady when I met with her was intended to start a conversation," says Gary Walters, chief usher at the White House from 1986 to 2007 and maybe the most fastidious and prepared first-day manager in America. "Preparation is the most important part. We have to be in a position to allow the family to feel comfortable from the time they walk in the door."
You don't need to make a set of briefing books, but you do need to provide information. Every new employee should be afforded the same kind of courtesy as the first family.
The Introductory All-Staff E-mail: A Template
(It's OK to be effusive. And a little off-topic. And brief.)
I'm very excited to welcome ______.
She comes to us from ______ where she ______. [This part can be long.]
She has the important task of ______ and will work closely with ______.
Apparently, she ______ [snow skis, collects and presses flowers, does orienteering, dabbles in hapkido, etc.].
I couldn't be happier to have her here.
A Few Words On Lunch
Take the new person to lunch. Or have someone else take them. Not taking the new person to lunch is a shunning by the tribe. It's humiliating and lonely. Expense it.
And Maybe Give Them Some Work. Like, Actual Work.
All employees want something to do. There is no emptier feeling than that of being bored at work. It's effectively prison: You have nothing to do, and you have to stay where you are. So give the new person something to do. Even if it's just, "Can you start thinking about this?" Or "Have a look at this and let me know what you think." Work. If the first day diminishes an employee, a proper task will ennoble them.
The End of the Day
Maybe you grab a drink after work. Maybe you have a quick chat in the office. The point is that the welcome is a daylong thing. I'm glad you're here is the message that needs to be expressed. You might even make it the actual message. Because "I'm glad you're here" is exactly what someone wants to hear at the end of a weird day. It's direct, reassuring and generous.
The whole first day should work that way. Anyone can make an invitation; that's what the job offer is.
The hard part is the welcome. But if you handle it right, the welcome settles the nerves and demystifies the tribe. And it establishes the most important factor in business: trust.