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Onboarding process for new employees

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Onboarding Process Steps: 9 Best Practices for Onboarding New Employees

22 Aug

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Clearly defined onboarding process steps can help your business ramp up new hires quickly and make them productive sooner.

Companies that follow proven onboarding best practices for new employees are seeing that change for the better: happier, more productive hires who stay longer. Recent research shows a 62% increase in productivity and 50% greater new hire retention as a result of a standardized onboarding.

Your business has everything to gain from structured onboarding process steps. But it can feel challenging to know where to begin. Here’s a list of the top nine onboarding best practices include in your business’s onboarding process. 

Onboarding Process Steps

1.      Do your onboarding homework. This includes educating yourself and your current employees about the importance of onboarding, current research as to why it matters, and how you’ll use it to reach concrete goals at your company.As part of your “Onboarding 101”:

  • Form an internal onboarding committee, gather feedback, and train your team.  Include input from all departments, a cross-section of roles and levels, as well as data from hiring and exit (or “offboarding) interviews. Ask current employees what they liked and disliked about onboarding at your company, as well as their experiences with other employers. Fully dispel the myths that small companies only do informal onboarding, or that first-day orientation fulfills the onboarding process. 
  • Educate yourself on onboarding industry standards (The Society for Human Resources Management is an authoritative resource).
  • Put a plan and a timeline in place. Your onboarding process should have a defined start and end, duration and clear steps, including the goals you wish to accomplish. Ask yourself: what should employees walk away with having experienced or accomplished at the end of first day, week, month, quarter, half-year, and year? What are the roles your colleagues play in the process? How will you convey your culture and work environment and how will you gather feedback and measure your onboarding program’s success?
  • As part of this planning, get all your onboarding documents in place.  Your onboarding checklist template will become your gold standard for ensuring you’re not missing any of that critical paperwork.  It will also ensure you’re not missing the larger opportunity to make or break an employee’s chances for success at your business.

2.      Make it personal. Customizing the onboarding process for each new employee is especially important. While onboarding should be comprehensive, it’s about quality not quantity when it comes to meaningful interactions. As you devise a personal onboarding plan for each new hire:

Customizing the onboarding process for each new employee is important.
  • Think about your employee as an entire person. What’s their educational and career background, skill set, learning style, and personality type? What do you know about them based on your screening and interview process? What are their goals and aspirations? What matters to them inside and outside the workplace?
  • Consider where new employees are in their career or professional lifecycle, but also in their personal life. With multiple generations now in the workforce, it’s important to take into consideration how your benefits and policies, communication and training methods, and overall onboarding strategy will best engage each new hire. 

3.      Start onboarding before a new employee’s first day. Onboarding begins the moment your new hire signs their offer letter. As soon as you confirm their acceptance:

  • Email any onboarding documents that your new employee can fill out ahead of time to help facilitate the process on their first day in the office. Include reminders about any required identification. 
  • Send an official welcome email, including some get-to-know-you questions.
  • Share with them a general outline of what their first day and first week will look like, including an overall explanation of how the onboarding process works at your company – and why it matters.
  • Maximize this period of time to get a better sense of how your recruiting strategy is going. Your new hire is fresh out of the process. Get their feedback as soon as possible. 
  • Start customizing their official onboarding process template.

4.      Galvanize your new hire’s onboarding team. Alert the hiring manager and any other relevant onboarding team members that the process has begun and you need their input and participation. As part of engaging the team:

Create an onboarding team and discuss  the goals and process.
  • Circulate a draft onboarding schedule for day one, as well as week one, including key meetings, training and development, and lunches.
  • Schedule a brief, initial onboarding meeting where you collectively review the schedule and make any necessary additions or changes. 
  • Be sure each team member understands their role in the onboarding process, in addition to agreeing on an assigned mentor (ideally someone other than the new hire’s immediate manager).

5.      Outline your new employee’s training and development plan; recognize it will evolve over time. Line up the resources you’ll need, including videos or online tutorials, manuals, or face-to-face meetings. Remember along the way:

Onboarding training for new hires can include videos or online tutorials, manuals, or face-to-face meetings.
  • Both day one and week one are critical markers for getting training off on the right foot – and beginning to measure its impact. Make sure to also pay attention to training at the 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day markers, as well as the 6-month, 9-month, and one-year anniversaries. 
  • Remember to value “fresh eyes” during training. Your new hire has a great outsider’s perspective, which won’t last long. While they should be absorbing as much as possible, encourage them to ask lots of questions and capture their opinions and insights. This potential for enlightenment across any area of your organization can be invaluable.

6.      Have your onboarding documents in order – and process them electronically, if possible. Your onboarding plan is in place and your new employee walks through the door. You can stay ahead of this potentially overwhelming part of the onboarding process when you:

Send your new hire their onboarding documents ahead of time, and include details of required ID they need on day one.
  • Send onboarding documents to your new hire ahead of time, and include details of required identification they need to bring with them on day one. Unsure which documents to include? View a detailed list of all new employee forms your company should be using. 
  • Break up the time in your new hire’s schedule when they’re reviewing and filling out documents. It can be tedious – and that can be conducive to unnecessary errors. Try not to make them do it all at once.
  • Send them their near-final onboarding schedule (as far out as available) in advance as well so they know what to expect.
  • Have a safe and secure system in place to keep your employee’s documents properly stored. Using small business HR software or an online storage system can save you time and ensure you don’t miss any onboarding documents.
Include a thorough review of your company’s policies and values as communicated in your Employee Handbook.
  • Include a thorough review of your company’s policies and values as communicated in things like your Employee Handbook. Don’t just ask your new hire to read and sign it. Highlight the most important elements or have a targeted one-on-one discussion. Consider having the hiring manager and other onboarding team members reinforce the most important parts in their initial meetings, too.

7.      Avoid too much too soon. You want engagement, not glazing over. Pacing information, introductions and training is an art. Regularly review what you’ve laid out for your new employee and:

Your onboarding process will welcome new employees and help them feel less overwhelmed on their first day.
Your onboarding process should engage new employees and help them feel less overwhelmed on their first day.
  • Assess if your new hire is applying what they’ve learned in meetings and training sessions to work they’ve produced since joining your company.
  • Ask them how they best learn and absorb new material. Do they like to read and then discuss? Or, watch a demo and then try hands-on? This will obviously vary depending on the type of material and its purpose, their job role, and your industry. 
  • Consider giving your new employee access to a select library of videos, tutorials, or other materials that they can work through at their own pace during the first few weeks or months of employment. Follow up with them at the end of that period to be sure they were completed and answer any questions.

8.      Foster a strong manager relationship that includes the creation of short- and long-term goals. How your new employee relates to their boss is more important than anything else when it comes to retention. You can’t value it enough as part of your onboarding process. As you work to get the employee-manager relationship off to a good start:

How your new employee relates to their boss is more important than anything else when it comes to retention.
  • Know the statistics. Recent research continues to show that “people leave managers, not companies.” This report showed that 57% of employees have left a job because of their manager.
  • Have your hiring manager ask their new hire what really motivates them as they set clear short- and long-term goals. LinkedIn recently cited a case where an employer found great success with asking new employees for both monetary and non-monetary motivators. 
  • Encourage managers to not only be clear with the new employee about their roles and responsibilities, but to also make it clear to the rest of their team how this person now fits in.
  • Get a neutral mentor in place. And switch things up with help from a peer buddy who is in charge of a week’s worth of onboarding – overseeing schedule, answering questions, and going to lunch. 

9.   Adhere to a regular check-in schedule throughout the first year – and beyond. It may seem simple, but checking in goes a long way. Employees want to be asked how they’re doing and what can help them do better. You’ve taken care to lay all the building blocks of a well-trained professional. Now it’s time to make sure nothing is slipping through the cracks as time moves on:

Conduct employee check-ins at the end of week one, month one, 60- and 90-days, have a 6-month formal review, 9-month check-in, and a 1-year formal review.
  • Conduct check-ins at the end of week one, month one, 60- and 90-days, have a 6-month formal review, 9-month check-in, and a 1-year formal review.
  • Establish standardized templates and a company-accepted process and criteria for your reviews.
    • Clearly communicate job and salary changes as commensurate with these reviews. 
    • Safely secure all review records from both employee and manager.
  • Utilize online survey tools as part of your feedback gathering, along with face-to-face meetings.
  • Recognize you can’t win them all. Even if you’ve done everything you can to design and adhere to a deliberate and thorough onboarding program, some employees may still leave within that first year. Regular check-ins could help prevent this, or may help soften the blow with some advance warning.

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How to Improve Your Onboarding Process

Following onboarding best practices can help your business ramp up new hires quickly and make them productive sooner.

To improve your onboarding process, pay attention to feedback given in exit interviews. It will provide you with critical insight into your organization, its culture, and processes. It also enables employees to leave on good terms which may enable you to rehire them in the future. 

If an employee leaves your company, be sure follow best practices for employee offboarding.

Invest time in planning, staging, and engaging key stakeholders in the right onboarding process steps. It can help ensure the success and longevity of both your employees and your business.

Following these onboarding best practices can safeguard against the negative impact of high employee turnover rates. It also leads to improved employee performance, reduced turnover, and a more satisfying workplace culture.

Your onboarding process steps will determine how quickly your new employees will ramp up and become productive in their new roles.

Onboarding Process FAQs:

What is involved in an onboarding process?

The onboarding process is the series of steps that an organization takes to introduce and integrate a new employee into all key parts of their company. This process unfolds over days, weeks, and months within the first year of employment.

The process includes the completion and ongoing review of a larger onboarding strategy, as well as a customized onboarding plan for each new employee. It also includes the management of onboarding paperwork, job-specific training and development, and the setting of defined goals.

Additionally, the communication of your company’s mission, policies, and culture is critical during this time. The end goal of the onboarding process is to provide your new hire with the skills, knowledge, and tools they need to contribute and succeed for the short- and long-term within your organization.

I’m a small company. Do I really need to establish a formal onboarding program?

Yes, it’s particularly important for small businesses to establish a formal onboarding program as a strategy to boost employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention – especially in today’s competitive job marketplace.

While some of the specific onboarding activities of large companies may not be applicable for smaller organizations, proven onboarding best practices are universal and can be applied to any sized business. A recent study from CareerBuilder found that small businesses with a structured onboarding process reported higher employee engagement, confidence, trust, morale, efficiencies, and productivity. Thirty-two percent also reported lower turnover. 

Why is onboarding new employees so important?

Onboarding new employees through a dedicated and comprehensive process helps acclimate and integrate your hire into your company faster, with the attention, tools, and skills they need to succeed. The Harvard Business Review reported that organizations with a standardized onboarding process experience 62% greater new hire productivity, along with 50% greater new hire retention.

What are the most important onboarding process steps?

As outlined above, it’s critical that your onboarding process steps include educating yourself and your employees about onboarding, developing a company onboarding plan, and working to improve it. 

To get started, customize the new employee checklist template you maintain for each new hire and begin the onboarding process as soon as the candidate signs their offer letter. 

Get them started on feeling welcome and completing onboarding documents before their first day. Outline an initial job training and ongoing development plan. Set a detailed schedule for the first day and entire first week, including key meetings, training, and lunches. Regular check-ins should take place at one month, 60- and 90-days, as well at six months, nine months, and one year. Formal reviews should also take place at the half-year and one year mark.

Should I provide specific onboarding training to my existing employees as part of our overall onboarding plan?

Yes, it’s important to educate all your employees about the importance of onboarding, what the onboarding process encompasses, and the role they play. 

Hiring managers are an especially important group to receive regular onboarding training.

You can also post short onboarding training videos, important updates, and other key information on the employee intranet or portal, or through other social media channels you utilize at your company. 

What’s the ideal length of time for a successful onboarding program?

According to The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), onboarding should unfold over the course of the first year of employment.

The first day, first week, and first month are important milestones with key onboarding goals that should be met. A 60- and 90-day check-in are essential, as are formal reviews at the six-month and one-year anniversaries. 

What onboarding documents are required?

Tax withholding and work identification documents like the Form W-4 and I-9 are required for all newly hired employees. And it’s important to stay on top of any changes to these forms or requirements for processing them, such as the changes to the Form W-4 in 2020.

Onboarding documents also include a signed offer letter, background check authorization, employee handbook, and employment contract. Benefits selection forms, as offered by your organization should be processed. Emergency contact, direct deposit, and equipment inventory assigned to the new hire are also included. 

Where can I get help developing an onboarding plan, or support to better facilitate the onboarding process?

Small businesses can partner with human resources providers such as a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) to get both expert advice and top-notch hr software to help guide your business through a successful onboarding process. 

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