all about onboarding
Successful onboarding is a key part of any recruiting and hiring strategy. It’s the next logical step after an employment offer has been extended and accepted. At this point, recruiting efforts make a critical turn inward to prepare new employees for success and create a sense of belonging that promotes engagement and loyalty.
As the first major step in the new employee-employer relationship, it’s important to get things off on the right foot. A carefully designed onboarding process will put your new hire in the best position to excel within your organization — and that can pay dividends down the line.
These objectives may be addressed through an onboarding process that’s well planned and executed, and we’ll walk you through the steps on how to realize that goal here.
Before you start designing your new onboarding process, it’s important to come to a consensus about what onboarding is and isn’t. This way, you’ll get a better idea of the upcoming project’s scope and what items may or may not fall under its purview.
Informal onboarding refers to the process by which employees learn about their new jobs without an explicit organizational plan. Formal onboarding, on the other hand, refers to a written set of coordinated policies and procedures that assist employees in adjusting to their new jobs in terms of both tasks and socialization.1
Along with formal and informal approaches, onboarding generally falls under different levels of complexity called the four C’s.3
ensuring that new employees understand basic legal and policy-related rules and regulations.
taking the time to make sure employees understand their new jobs and performance expectations.
providing employees a sense of community by educating them about the organization’s values, beliefs, goals, mission and behaviors.
Why is a positive onboarding experience so important? Because it's the first opportunity for the hiring organization to personally deliver on the career promise as communicated in its employer brand during the recruitment phase. From the perspective of the new employee, the onboarding experience directly reflects on the character of their new employer — how dedicated the organization is to their success, and how satisfying a career they are likely to have.
A great onboarding experience does more than just get a new hire up to speed. In fact, a great onboarding experience improves new-hire retention by 82 percent and increases productivity by 70 percent. In other words, not only does a positive onboarding experience mean that new hires will stick around longer, it also means they get more done.
A bad onboarding experience, on the other hand, results in new hires being twice as likely to look for other opportunities.
You know what onboarding is and why it’s important — now it’s time to start outlining what the process will look like for your organization.
When onboarding is conducted properly, it can produce substantial results for the new employee and the hiring organization. Because of the many moving parts, planning and implementing a sound onboarding process should start with consideration of three elements: participants, information and duration.
Who is going to be part of the process, and how are you going to prepare them? The onboarding process should involve as many applicable stakeholders as possible — including senior management, immediate supervisors and key coworkers. The strategy is to have important stakeholders and the new employee personally interact in ways that help them understand one another.
What materials will be needed (such as an itinerary, welcome package, company information)? The information provided should clearly inform the new employee about what is expected in terms of job performance, responsibilities and workplace behaviors.
Larger organizations provide onboarding that can last from several months to more than a year. For smaller companies, an onboarding process that lasts a few days to a few weeks is common.
Plan its primary drivers, including duration, the information that will be covered and all personnel involved. Additionally, outline all materials that will be needed, and plan both routine and nonroutine logistical situations like an office or department tour. This up-front investment pays off in the long run.
Company leaders, colleagues or managers who will be working directly with the new hire may have specific insights for making the onboarding process more targeted and relevant. Meet with the new hire's direct supervisor to learn about the position’s role, goals, projects and duties. Likewise, incorporate feedback from employees about what they would have liked or found helpful when they were being onboarded.
If you’re not implementing the onboarding process yourself, designate a single individual to do so. This employee should be exceptionally knowledgeable about all aspects of the company. Choose an employee who is a proven company “ambassador” with polished communication skills, a positive attitude and a personable approach. Having a single point of contact for all matters of employee onboarding can provide clarity and consistency throughout the process.
This will help ensure a welcoming atmosphere.
The employee should work in the same or a similar area and be a proactive role model.
The new hire has demonstrated a commitment by accepting the employment offer. Return that commitment by communicating with the new employee as soon as possible and as often as needed. If there’s no concrete information to deliver about the upcoming onboarding process, a simple and genuine welcome greeting will do.
If your team is returning to work after stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19, re-onboarding can welcome them back and re-energize your workforce. SHRM has a brief but thorough guide to re-onboarding you can view here.
With your new process in place, and a heap of new hires ready to walk through the door, it’s time to put your plan into action. Follow these steps to get off to a good start.
Onboarding provides the opportunity to make a great first impression. The first person the new hire meets should be central to the onboarding process. This may be an experienced HR staff member, the director of HR, the hiring manager or another relevant stakeholder. Never underestimate the value of a warm handshake and an enthusiastic smile.
There is undoubtedly paperwork and other information that must be completed by the new employee. Having the necessary paperwork — all in one place — adds an orderly tone to this process. Furthermore, providing information about the organization’s values and history can help make the new hire feel connected right from the beginning.
Relevant information may include:
a welcome guide
While completing necessary forms and information is a key part of the hiring process, most new hires would rather not spend their first day solely engaged in this task. If possible, provide as much information and documentation online before the first day of onboarding. This will leave more time for workplace socialization, skills learning, team bonding and more. If it’s not possible to address administrative tasks in advance, take a few days to complete the process.
Every employee should know whom to talk to, whether regarding a business-related question or otherwise.
Managers or direct supervisors should also communicate the cadence for reviewing the employee’s progress so the new hire knows when to expect feedback. This can be especially critical during the first 90 days.
A checklist of elements to address may include:
providing tools or equipment that will be used on the job, including software
setting up email accounts and communication portals
company-wide policies and procedures
supplying reading materials or anything that can help bring the new hire up to speed with current company projects
Include phone numbers for internal resources like the help desk, IT or HR, so the new hire feels empowered to try to fix any issues immediately.
While a good portion of onboarding is dedicated to educating the new employee about company-wide operations, culture, goals and mission, time should also be devoted to job-specific learning. These elements may include:
a tour of the relevant department
meetings with immediate supervisors
a detailed description of job responsibilities and duties
information about departmental processes and objectives
This can assist the new employee with skills learning and building a company social network — which are both key to accomplishing better productivity and loyalty. Shadowing someone else in the role, or an employee with similar responsibilities, can be a great way to quickly learn best practices. Additionally, arranging an activity or lunch with a group of coworkers can be a great way for a new hire to socialize and begin to build a professional network within the organization.
Have all necessary materials, supplies, equipment and furniture in place to create a welcoming environment. Request access to tools or software that may be used.
Include everyone involved in the onboarding process: the new hire, immediate managers and supervisors, HR staff, senior leadership and coworkers. The collected information can be an invaluable source of actionable data for improving future onboarding efforts.
Careful execution of employee onboarding also involves regular monitoring. Depending on the duration of the process, plan to check in consistently with the new employee and with managers. These check-ins can take the form of a simple phone call or email at the end of each day, or they can be planned meetings that are part of the onboarding schedule.
If you made it this far, and followed all the steps outlined in this guide, then you should be well on your way to improving the onboarding experience for your new employees.
Smart onboarding helps businesses move forward and fosters deep personal connections in the workplace. It strengthens an organization’s focus on continuously developing its talent, which is something that prospective and current employees value — and expect — from their employers.
If you have questions along the way as you go about revamping your onboarding program, or you just want to make sure you’re incorporating all of the best practices discussed in this guide, consult the onboarding outline below for a quick recap of the essentials.
develop an outline
involve other company personnel
make contact prior to the new hire's start date
schedule lunch or an activity outside of work
choose someone to own the process
communicate to staff that a new hire will be joining the company
choose a staff member to mentor the new employee
prepare a warm, personal welcome
organize documents and information
set expectations about performance
prepare the workspace, and provide necessary software, tools and access
make the process relevant to the position
introduce the new hire to a mentor or peer guide
1. J. Zahrly and H. Tosi, “The differential effect of organizational induction process on early work role adjustment,” Journal of Organizational Behavior 10 (1989): 59–74. M.R. Louis, “Surprise and sense making: What newcomers experience in entering unfamiliar organizational settings,” Administrative Science Quarterly 25 (1980): 226–251. M.R. Louis, B.Z. Posner, and G.N. Powell, “The availability and helpfulness of socialization practices,” Personnel Psychology 36 (1983): 857–866.
2. For reviews, see T.N. Bauer and B. Erdogan (in press). T.N. Bauer, E.W. Morrison, and R.R. Callister, APA Press, 1998. A.M. Saks and B.E. Ashforth, “Organizational socialization: Making sense of past and present as a prologue for the future,” Journal of Vocational Behavior 51 (1997): 234–279. A.M. Saks, K.L. Uggerslev, and N.E. Fassina, “Socialization tactics and newcomer adjustment: A meta-analytic review and test of a model,” Journal of Vocational Behavior 70 (2007): 413–446.
3. Copyright 2010, Talya N. Bauer.