This Nordic Tech Company’s Onboarding Secret? Cinnamon Buns

Here are a few tips for adding a human touch in your new hires’ early days, when it counts more than ever.

This Nordic Tech Company’s Onboarding Secret? Cinnamon Buns
[Photo: Otto Norin]/Unsplash]

I’ve played a part in onboarding around 300 of my company’s 500 employees, and in my experience, one of the factors that’s kept our turnover rate really low over the years is the way we onboard new hires. As a tech company based in Finland, we’ve brought a few lessons (and one delicious sweet) from Nordic culture into our onboarding process, in order to make sure the human element doesn’t get lost during those crucial first days and weeks on the job. These are a few of the techniques and practices we use here at Reaktor that seem to pay off.


Start Onboarding During The Interview

There are at least three rounds to our interviews, where we ask candidates to meet with as many people as possible from across the company–not just from the team where the new hire will be working. Yes, it takes more time that way, but there are two major upsides. First, we get a chance to see whether the applicant is a good fit for the company as a whole, rather than just a good fit for the position. And second, we’re able to start integrating each prospective new hire into our community, making them feel like they can fit in around here should they ultimately get and accept an offer.

Related: This Nordic Company’s Four Tips For Hiring (And Keeping) Great Talent Anywhere

Get The Basics Down Before Day One

In many companies, new hires spend their first days at the IT desk registering for a company laptop or smartphone, configuring email and user accounts, and chasing down the HR team for their paperwork. It can make for a lot of running around and waiting on others, which feels not only silly but unwelcoming. At Reaktor, we make sure to take care of all of our new hires’ groundwork before their start date. Being handed a working phone and a laptop that’s already up and running makes new hires feel like we’ve been expecting them and that we value their time. Hopefully, it also kindles an immediate sense of belonging and sets the tone for how we’ll work together.

Share A Coffee And Cinnamon Bun, And Just Be Human

On every new employee’s first day on the job, we always start by having a cup of coffee and a korvapuusti, a Finnish cinnamon bun–because what’s the rush? The paperwork has already been filed, and the new hire has already met a bunch of their colleagues. So now let’s get to know each other as people!

At Reaktor we’re genuinely interested in the people we work with and believe everyone can be themselves at work. No matter how informal and personable your interview process, every candidate will be in “candidate mode” until they’ve signed their offer letter. This small first-day ritual might not be the most dramatic gesture, but it’s an effort to shake new hires out of that inevitable mind-set and welcome them to the team. It adds a dose of hygge (a Danish term referring to shared moments of warmth and well-being) on that first morning when new hires might have the new-job jitters. And it’s often one of the things our employees remember the most about their first days with us.

Related: The Norwegian Secret To Enjoying A Long Winter


Reveal Your Secrets

We believe in full transparency from day one. The more information our new employees have, the better decisions they can make. That includes everything from understanding the intricacies of our finances to seeing what goes into our long-term strategy. Sharing this knowledge right from the get-go influences how new employees allocate their time and the types of decisions they’ll make down the road.

But it also simply creates trust and a sense of rapport–reinforcing the reality that we’re all aiming for the same goal. As a result, we also set aside time to discuss how our company currently operates and make it clear that anyone can initiate decision making in our self-organizing community.

Start Discussing Purpose

Two weeks to two months in, we get all of our new hires together in a room somewhere outside the office, and we begin by asking them: “What do you think the purpose of this firm is? What do you think that purpose should be in the future?” Instead of telling our employees what to think (e.g., “Here’s our mission statement, please memorize it”), we invite new Reaktorians to explore what they’ve picked up firsthand in their first weeks and contemplate what we do and represent–and could in the future.

I’ve found that this is far more important and effective than were we to try and explain our own sense of purpose in detail to new hires. Instead, we frequently pose that question to everyone. Needless to say, there are always lots of different answers. What counts most isn’t deciding which one is more “right” than the other, but that everyone feels that they’re in charge of it–because they are. As a company, our purpose evolves over time, but it’s always a hybrid; we create it together, every single day.

When Reaktor was founded 17 years ago, our dream was simply to become the best Java-development house in Helsinki. We’ve evolved quite a bit since then, but it’s great when our older employees join these conversations with new hires, since it’s never too late to reboot, recalibrate–and even re-onboard people who’ve been with you for years.

Panu Liira is a senior partner at Reaktor, where he cultivates the self-organizing culture and community of the company.