There’s a saying that a company is nothing without its people.
A company is also nothing without a culture that empowers its employees to learn, develop, and grow. That culture starts with your onboarding process.
But what does that process look like? And how do you make it extraordinary?
Here’s how we think about onboarding at Sana.
What is onboarding?
Every online resource will tell you that employee onboarding is an integration process. A series of events that helps new recruits get up to speed and become productive in their roles.
That definition is accurate, but it misses the point.
Employee onboarding is company culture in action. It’s more than an integration process. It’s an immersive experience. And done right, an unforgettable one too.
At Sana, we want our company to be a place where people do their life’s work. A place you’d want to spend your entire career. Onboarding is key to achieving that goal. It’s where we set the tone and ambition of our organization. It’s how we prove that we are who we said we were during all the interviews. And crucially, it’s how we give every team member the tools and knowledge they need to achieve our mission.
And it starts before each new recruit’s first day.
The secrets to an exceptional onboarding experience Hint: it’s not about the SWAG.
At Sana, the onboarding experience begins as soon as the signature ink is dry. Even if there are months to wait before the first day, we want to create that mutual excitement.
I remember my experience vividly.
A couple of days after signing the contract, I received an email from our CEO introducing me to the entire company. Within seconds the welcome replies were pouring in, and my soon-to-be colleague Sofie had already scheduled a virtual coffee for the following week. I had never felt so seen by a future team.
The welcome email is a pre-boarding ritual at Sana. It brings joy and excitement to everyone involved. Sure, it might be hard to scale org-wide beyond a certain company size. But you can always make it work on a team level. Whatever the solution, your ultimate goal is simple: show your new recruit how wanted they are.
Invite them over
There are plenty of other ways to bring people into the fold. We like to invite new hires to a lunch or Friday demo a few weeks before their start date. These events can be in person or remote and are entirely voluntary. But new joiners almost always say yes, and we’re so glad they do. It helps us break the ice, which usually makes the first day more relaxed — because familiar faces are around.
- Top tasks from Sana’s pre-boarding checklist
- Send the welcome email to new recruits and all staff members
- Collect their birthday and add it to the birthday tracker
- Create the “first-day” event in calendar and invite them
- Send a “what to expect during your first week” email
- Invite to a lunch or Friday demo, ideally two weeks before the start date
- Match them with a buddy
- Provide resources
In addition to pre-boarding events, we share pre-boarding material. In the what-to-expect email, we explain what will happen during week 1. And we also link to our company handbook, The Infinite Game, which lives in the Sana platform as a personalized course. Again, taking this course in advance is entirely voluntary — all new joiners take it on their first day regardless. But some folks feel more confident with a little forward prep, so we provide it.
This is the day they and you have been waiting for. Every minute of it counts!
Be the concierge
For those starting at Sana HQ, every new hire’s manager will wait at the door with Olivia, our Chief of Staff. The coffee flows, the office tour begins, and then the equipment gets set up. With the essentials taken care of, it’s time for the first manager 1:1. Building this relationship is critical, so why wait?
Up the energy
We like to keep the pace high on the first day. At no point should a new hire be left alone without knowing what to do. We want the vibe to feel a bit hectic but highly energizing. If it’s a Monday, we’ll get them straight into All Hands. Then we follow up with a few core sessions — company culture and values, led by our CEO Joel, and intro sessions with all team leads. There’s a welcome lunch, which we usually cook ourselves in the kitchen (and it’s usually pasta – pasta is a Sanian special), and a slot to take the Infinite Game course.
“What I liked most about the Sana onboarding was that I felt part of the whole company, not just my team. Meeting all the team leads and hearing about their long-term goals and daily activities—that really gave me the full picture.” — Axel Danielsson, Summer Intern
And yes, there is also SWAG.
The first 2 weeks
Help them get a quick win
Ambitious new hires want to make an impact. It’s your job to create that opportunity for them as soon as possible. That means striking a balance between onboarding training and regular work. Whatever task you give, make sure you acknowledge the effort. Share the kudos publicly. The sooner your new recruit feels that sense of accomplishment, the more confidence they’ll have.
Ask them to tell a lie
Introducing new hires to the rest of the team should be fun and personable. In our weekly All-Hands, every new starter shares a ‘two truths and a lie’ about themselves. Everyone enjoys making guesses — which option seems too detailed to be true? Which one seems too silly, or too run-of-the-mill? Making it simple for new hires to share their interests, and background. It helps to grow connections, and feel comfortable – so they can start delivering.
Get them into the product
At Sana, all new hires test the entire product within X days of joining. We do this for two reasons: (1) cement our commitment to user empathy and (2) build psychological safety. By encouraging new Sanians to experience the product as a user, everyone has a safe space to question it. They learn that we welcome challenges, reframes, and exciting ideas. This helps us show that we value the expertise they bring to the table right from day one. They’ll experience our feedback structures, and understand how fast we run with brilliant new ideas from our talented people.
Top tasks from Sana’s onboarding checklist
- Schedule random coffee chats with the wider team
- Schedule recurring 1:1s with their manager
- Run speed friending with the whole company
- Book in-product demo and feedback sessions
Make it social
Onboarding isn’t only about training. At Sana, we pre-fill that first-week calendar with plenty of 1:1s. They’re short—15-minutes long. Just enough time to break the ice without the pressure to keep the conversation going. And we always run company-wide speed friending, spurred on with fun prompts and silly questions. This isn’t about building skills; it’s about building bonds.
“During my first few weeks at Sana, I learned not just how work happens here but why—the bigger picture around Sana's mission, vision, and shared values. It would have been quick and easy for Sana to only onboard me onto my specific role, team, and function... but it felt like Sana took the time to personally invest in me as a human who might have something to bring to every team.”—Katie Kirsch, Summer Intern
Highlights from Sana’s onboarding program
The full scheduled onboarding program usually lasts about two weeks. These are some of our favorite sessions:
- Welcome lunch - Cook, eat, laugh
- Sana culture and values - Live account of the Sana story by our CEO
- The Infinite Game - Our company handbook, packaged as a personalized course
- All-company speed friending - Rapid-fire chats and fun
- Sales 101 - Because everyone is a salesperson
- Storytelling and presenting - Tips and exercises on how to communicate well
- Managing energy and giving feedback - How to feel at your best and be candid with others
The first 3 months
Extend the rope
90 day plans only work if you increase responsibility along the way. By the end of that stretch, your new joiner should be owning something end to end. We see this as an incremental and iterative process.
Start with the smallest possible task on day 2, then check in 3 hours later. Increase the scope a little on day 3 and review by the end of day. This is how you extend the rope.
“Extending the rope isn’t just about them; it’s also about you. You’ve hired this person to take over some of your responsibilities. That means learning to let go.” —Olivia Elf, Chief of Staff at Sana
Running this tight feedback loop is high effort but high reward.
Build cross-team connections
As you extend the rope, think about how tasks can aid integration. For example, could the exercise involve collaborating with someone on another team?
Speaking of teams, turn your new joiners into a team of their own. If you have 3-5 starting on the same day, help them form a tight crew as soon as possible. Let them arrange a fun activity to do together. The faster these people connect, the more they will be able to trust and support each other.
Prepare them for change
Cross-team bonds are especially important for fast-moving companies. At Sana, we work with the DiBB framework. Working this way allows us to make bold bets, based on data, insight, and beliefs. To pull off those bold bets, we sometimes need to make radical changes, and quickly. In practice, that means Sanians might move teams, or their team might change its focus.
Aligning our teams to our company goals requires trust and adaptability. Change can be hard, so it’s important that we communicate as early as possible how normal it is at Sana, and what the positive benefits are for them and the company. If new hires learn that change is positive, and build plenty of cross-team bonds during onboarding, they’ll be more open to making the switch as and when the time comes.
Let them shape your company
You hired these people to make your company better. But new hires can worry about stepping on toes. To help them overcome the barrier, ask them to change something about how the company works. The point here is permission — show them change is welcome and appreciated.
Keep up the tempo
When you’re starting somewhere new, there’s nothing worse than having nothing to do. Our list of activities might sound long. But, in our experience, new hires are hungry, so we dare to overschedule. We stay on top of it by maintaining 15, 30, 60, and 90-day activity checklists.
There are no hard rules for onboarding. Not really. Because every company is different. What matters is that you create an experience that’s true to your culture, valuable for your new hires, and fun for everyone involved.
That’s the real secret to extraordinary onboarding.
Outstanding first impressions at scaleExplore Sana for onboarding