In many situations, how you start sets the tone for how things will progress. A golfer who doesn’t settle his stance before beginning his swing may find his ball within the bounds of a sand trap versus a desired manicured fairway. A comedian who doesn’t set his story up well can easily lose his audience in confusion instead of guiding them along a path of delighted laughter. The same is true for your employee onboarding process.

How your employees begin their tenure with your company will set the stage for the duration of their employment. Organizations are waking up to this reality. This is also why organizations are taking the onboarding process so seriously. Successfully onboarding employees impacts the speed at which new employees become proficient in their roles, the level of employee turnover and retention rates, how your company culture is communicated, and even how existing employees adapt to changing work dynamics.

With so much depending on this early stage of an employee’s tenure with your company, it’s important to understand the fundamentals that make an employee onboarding process successful.

What an Onboarding Process Is and Isn’t

Can we get a little clarification first though, before we detail the finer points of a successful process? Employee onboarding is not synonymous with employee orientation.

Orientations are important, but their purpose is transactional and often refers to the clerical side of the hiring process. An employee orientation may involve completing W-2 and benefit forms, payroll designations, and verifying that the employee handbook has been received and read. While all essential to getting an employee established, none of that supports the long-term success of your employees. Employee orientations are a subset of the onboarding process.

Onboarding is the seamless transition of helping employees integrate into your organization to become productive and influential employees. More importantly, is that this should be a continuation of the opportunity portrayed throughout the hiring process and communicated via your employee value proposition.

Fundamentals of a Successful Employee Onboarding Process

There is a great deal of flexibility in terms of how to structure your onboarding process, the length of time it will span, and even who is all included. However, three critical components are essential to successfully onboard your employees: preparation, connection, and direction.

Preparation

Successful onboarding processes are intentionally thought out, clearly documented, and start before your new employee even begins their first day of work.

  • Know what is needed. Consider what your new employee will need to perform their role from technology to software access, office furniture to team member support. Have a structured checklist of what will need to be accomplished, secured, or set up before their first day.

  • Formalize your plan. Successful onboarding happens in organizations that have documented their process. This ensures the process is consistently repeated and that any variations are made with intention and thought.

  • Update your entire team. Even though a new employee’s first week will likely be filled with plenty of training sessions, business meetings, and meet-n-greets, make sure everyone else knows who is joining them, what their title is, and what their responsibilities will be.

Connection

Organizations that focus on assisting their new employees with building and maintaining connections, will have successful onboarding processes.

  • Be intentional about creating opportunities to foster beneficial working relationships and to help new team members feel part of the organization. This may mean allowing for a bit of flexibility to personalize the experience for each individual.

  • Begin communicating regularly. Once the offer has been accepted, begin sharing information and notices that will help them begin to feel included and to help them transition into the processes and operations of their new organization.

  • Personalize the experience. Find out their personal preferences (how they like their coffee, favorite lunch spots, etc) to make them feel welcome and valued.

  • Get everyone involved. While a manager, mentor, and/or team lead will be most involved in the process, make sure everyone from your team or department (or company if you are still small enough) has the opportunity to connect with your new hire.

  • Encourage feedback. Once your new employee has started, be intentional about seeking input at regular intervals (30-60-90 days) to review thoughts, processes, feedback, and perspectives. Not only will this encourage ongoing healthy dialog, but it will also help you shape future onboarding efforts.

Direction

Remember your onboarding process is intended to help new employees transition from external candidates to influential employees for your organization. Providing direction and a framework for how your organization is structured will help them learn about your organization and how they fit within it.

  • Share the full story. Include senior management in this process to share your company history and structure. Detail where things have gone wrong, as well as your biggest accomplishments. Help them see the bigger view of what your futures together could accomplish.

  • Share and explain your company mission, vision, and values. These statements are fundamental to your organizational goals and strategic plans, so they should be an integral part of onboarding new team members as well.

Ready to dive a little deeper? Learn how your onboarding process fits into your larger Employee Engagement Strategies.

General Onboarding Tips

Here are a few more best practice tips to ensure the success of your onboarding process.

  • Take your time. While you will have a structured format with specific steps to accomplish, remember that each employee will learn at their own pace. Onboarding also isn’t meant to be completed in a week. This is meant to span the first 6-12 months with your organization. Don’t rush the process.

  • Keep it fun and engaging. Vary the format of training sessions or change the locations of meetings when possible. The entire onboarding process is meant to build excitement, not be a never-ending lecture.

  • Share your way of communicating and thinking. Don’t gloss over industry jargon or company culture. The idea is to bring your new employee into your world. As your new team members, make sure they get to know the rules of engagement and your approach.

While the onboarding process is going to look a little different for each organization, there are similarities among the most successful ones. Employee onboarding processes that successfully transition new hires into productive employees are intentional and planned out, proactively work to help new employees find their place in the organization, and provide a view of what their future could hold.

Whether your employees are in-person, entirely remote, or a combination, access our Virtual Hiring Guide for specific tips on the pre-boarding and onboarding process.

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