Pre-boarding: Tips on How to Improve Your Business
Pre-boarding: Tips on How to Improve Your Business

Pre-boarding: Tips on How to Improve Your Business

You’ve finally found a brilliant employee, and it looks like it could become an amazing team. Your team together will improve your business results and… Stop dreaming! The fact is you can lose your new hire until he or she is fully on board.

Pre-boarding is one of the most important phases in “the employee lifecycle.” Dr. John Sullivan, one of the most influential HR professionals in the world, uncovers the secrets of successfully building a relationship with your new hire.

Dr. John Sullivan a recognized thought leader with 40 + years in HR and former Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees has authored 10 books and more than 900 articles. Currently, Dr. Sullivan is Professor of Management at San Francisco State University and has advised over 200 firms on six continents.

Many thanks to HR Daily Advisor and Citrix RightSignature for organizing and sponsoring the webinar with Dr. John Sullivan.

John Sullivan

Dr. John Sullivan

“WOW” actions

“An important part of the pre-boarding and onboarding process is to create impactful “WOW” experiences that drive productivity and improve business results. And the key is to provide “WOW” actions throughout “the employee lifecycle” in order to retain the individual, to motivate your employees, and to get them to full productivity,” says Dr. Sullivan.

What does the “WOW” factor mean? It is a plan or experience, something that you plan doing during onboarding process, that makes the new hires really think, “WOW.” It makes a strong impression, something that they will remember and share with colleagues, family and their social media contacts.

“And again, it is about building your own brand. When new hires start a job, many people will call them and tell them what it’s like to be in this company. And you really want all of those people to be excited,” explains Dr. Sullivan.

4 examples that illustrate advanced “WOW onboarding”

  1. Facebook and its 6-week onboarding boot camp for all hires:

– New hires get key paperwork before they start.

– They get a mentor.

– The entire time they work on real team projects with access to the complete computer code.

– At the end of 6 weeks, something amazing happens: “bootcampers choose the term and the project that they will join.”


“So, when you join a company and really don’t know it, you choose one job, but after 6 weeks, when somebody asks you, “Hey, what job would you like now?” you are more likely pick another one job, which may be more exciting for you,” says Dr. Sullivan.

  1. Another example comes from Cisco Choice and their 3-week onboarding program:

– The goal of this rotation is to avoid scaring away college engineer prospects because of a narrowly defined job descriptions.

– They are rotated and exposed to senior executives and different parts of the business.

– They have 500 participants per year and have seen a 10% increase in technical female college recruits.

– Amazingly, at the end, “they get to choose their engineering department, manager, and job.”

  1. Another factor is using video and social media to onboard.

 Arrow Electronics developed a video game for employee onboarding. It saved 90% over the old approach.

– Sun Micro did a really exciting video too.

 IBM even used SecondLife for onboarding process.

  1. Google proved simple actions have a great impact:

“The managers of new hires were sent a 1-page “nudge” onboarding email the night before the new hire started… There was no policy, no rules,” says Dr. Sullivan. It simply reminded them of these 5 actions:

  • Have a discussion on the new hire’s role and responsibilities.
  • Match your new hire with a peer buddy.
  • Help your new hire to build a social network.
  • Set up onboarding check-ins once a month for their first 6 months on the job.
  • Encourage an open dialogue, because people that start a job have lots of questions.

“So, just 5 simple things, but in the end they found that “time to minimum productivity” for the new hires of the reminded managers was 25% faster,” says Dr. Sullivan.

“Pre-boarding” — beginning the relationship

pre-boarding team work

“The first phase of “the employee lifecycle” is the offer-acceptance period, which lasts from 1 to 3 days after offer acceptance.” says Dr. Sullivan. “I recommend taking some actions during this phase. First of all, thank them for accepting, share your excitement, and request they stop their job search activities. Then finalize the hiring paperwork and alert the new hires about the pre-boarding steps.”

Pre-boarding time period is the 2-week “notice period” between offer acceptance and their start date.

The top 7 goals of pre-boarding:

  1. To reinforce the idea that “this firm is different”.
  2. To ensure that they don’t change their minds.
  3. Jumpstart employee engagement with the firm during their notice period.
  4. To give the new-hire an early start at network building and team relationships.
  5. To ensure they come to work the first day fully prepared and enthusiastic.
  6. To get them thinking about benefits sign-ups.
  7. To get them to start planning around their job and what they will do during the first weeks.

Take proactive pre-boarding actions! Reduce no-shows and prepare for counter offers.

Actions to reduce no-shows:

engagement pre-boarding

– Ensure that they “notify their current manager of their final decision to leave” — ask them to alert you when this is done.

– Tell them you expect them to change their social media profiles — peer pressure can be powerful, so check to make sure that they do it.

– Reinforce their acceptance decision — “reinforce the sale” by reminding them again what you have to offer and why they said yes.

– Remind them how much they are needed — and that their team is counting on them. Remind them that the team is looking forward to their arrival.

– Anticipate a counter offer — have a plan B in place.


“Have you been petrified before starting a new job? This is a common situation; a lot of people have serious doubts. So, you have to be prepared for that: ‘Oh, by the way, I changed my mind.’ You have to act to reduce no-shows,” says Dr. Sullivan. “Act to reduce any ‘I can’t do the job’ fears. It is important to remind them that they clearly fit with the firm and that everyone is 100% confident that they will succeed.”

Send them things

Another proactive pre-boarding action is sending them things to build engagement, for instance, providing first-day details to alleviate anxiety about their first day.

Send them the following information:

–  Let them know what will happen on their first day; let them know the schedule.

– Directions to the location and transit options; tell them how long it takes to get there.

– Parking information.

– When and where should they report for working instructions; make sure that it will be easy for them to find HR.

– What they should bring/not bring.

– How they should dress. etc. Even better, send them pictures of the office dress code.

– Food options.

“In order to get them engaged, send to the new hires information about their workspace: office / workspace location, phone number, email address, the type of computer / smart phone they will have. In many cases, it is a good idea to send them a picture of their workplace.”

Send them “a starter pack” as well. It could include a mobile phone or laptop, business cards, message pads with their name on it, a company logoed item (T-shirt, hat, computer bag).

Meet with the new hire

pre-boarding onboarding process

Meeting with a new hire is an important part of pre-boarding.

– Face-to-face meetings off site — it’s difficult to meet during work hours. So schedule an after-work off-site face-to-face meeting over coffee, lunch or dinner within a week after they accept; remind them that you care about them.

– It is also a good idea to meet on site. It will really interest them to meet the team. On-site face-to-face meetings — they won’t be able to visit during work hours but consider having them visit the firm at night or on a Saturday to reinforce their commitment.

– Electronic meetings — to build a relationship with the team consider holding an electronic meet-up or a Skype video conference call.

Enhancing contacts during pre-boarding

“Make it easy for the new-hire to research the team—provide links (with their permission) to the team’s LinkedIn and social media profiles or put it together in a single team profile document. Also, encourage the team to invite them to connect,” advises Dr. Sullivan. “New hires may feel disconnected, so have a coworker or two voluntarily periodically call them / connect to make them feel more part of the team. And allow them to e-mail / text the team and ask questions.”

pre-boarding employee onboarding

Enhancing contacts during pre-boarding:

– Have their recruiter /manager callcontact the new hire periodically just to check in. But also ask them a question to engage them (Skype calls may be even more powerful).

– Set up a new-hire social media group — when many hires are starting at once (i.e., college hires), set up a social media network so that new hires can communicate with each other (Yammer).

– Frequent contact with college hires are even more important — students have the highest no-show rate and the fewest mental barriers against dropping out.

“I recommend providing the new hires with a personalized welcome. Just send individualized welcome letters or videos from the team. Imagine a large corporation, if someone sent you a personalized anything that was customized for you, it just makes you feel good. But also it is a good idea to send a personal letter from the CEO as part of onboarding.”


Provide them with information:

– Provide FAQs — provide a list of frequently asked questions with answers from previous pre-boarders.

– Ask them what they need before they start — treat new hires like customers and ask them what they need and what their concerns are.

– Survey them on their job and training needs — show them that their individual needs are important.

– Begin benefit awareness — provide basic information about the firm’s benefits so that they can begin the process of determining which ones they want (or even begin signing up to them).

“You have a few more things to do as well. For instance, provide the new hires with a voluntary opportunity to take online training. This may help the firm because the training may develop them faster and it may also increase retention. As an example, Succeeding@IBM offered new hires learning opportunities from job acceptance until their new job start time. Those who participated had a much better first-year retention rate — 80% higher retention.”

And finally, ask your new hires just to start thinking about their new job and have an outline of a plan of what they will do during their first weeks.

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