Starting a new job means confronting the unknown — new colleagues to meet, skills to learn, and processes to become acquainted with. An effective new hire program goes beyond ticking the boxes of an onboarding checklist (although you still need one!) and functions more like a months-long framework that accompanies new employees from the hiring process through to feeling comfortable and capable in their role. Below we look more closely at eight best practices for an effective onboarding process.
The Importance of New Employee Onboarding
An employee’s first 90 days in a new role are critical. According to Harvard Business School career coach Matt Spielman, an employee’s first three months in a role can predict their likelihood of success in the role, set the foundation for their working relationships across the team and with their manager, and even partially determine whether or not they’ll stay. In a 2021 article about improving the onboarding process, Gallup writers explained that employees who report having an excellent onboarding experience are “2.6 times as likely to be extremely satisfied with their workplace — and consequently, far more likely to stay.”
Yet getting onboarding right isn’t easy, and only 12% of US employees believe their organization does a great job of onboarding new employees. But by treating it as a process to be managed rather than a one-and-done activity, HR can create an onboarding experience that engenders high-performing employees and teams down the line.
“Onboarding is a project management task, and it’s all about identifying how we usher the project through to completion using resources like technology and other stakeholders,” said Emily Goodson, CEO of CultureSmart, a workplace culture consulting firm.
Here’s what you need to know as you build out or restructure the onboarding process at your company.
8 Must-Haves for Your Onboarding Program
1. Automated Approach to Paperwork and Logistics
Streamlining logistics improves the employee onboarding experience and allows HR and managers to focus on more impactful activities during employees’ first week, but this isn’t solely a job for the people team. HR must align with the hiring manager and IT to secure the right hardware, provide account access, and make introductions across the team.
At a minimum, you’ll want to cover:
- Introduction emails with linked resources: Draft a welcome email that reiterates your excitement to have the new hire joining the team, introduces them to their co-workers, and provides a brief overview of each person’s role. In a separate email, provide the following resources:
- Company email account and app access details
- Orientation and onboarding schedule
- HR system access information
- Cheat sheet of who to reach out to for what
- The correct paperwork: Paperwork will vary by state (and sometimes city, too) and company policy, but common forms include:
- Employment agreement
- Non-disclosure agreement
- Employee invention agreement
- Employee handbook
- IRS form W-4
- IRS form I-9
- Direct deposit forms
- Hardware and accessories: Coordinate with IT to provide laptops, phones, cables, and any other accessories the new employee will need to get started or set up their workspace.
2. Ongoing Dialogue to Convey Mission, Vision, and Values
Orientation to your company’s mission, vision, and values is an ongoing process, much like onboarding is. “It’s not sufficient to just dedicate one day to values orientation out of a week-long new hire orientation,” Goodson said. This process should be a dialogue, a two-way conversation to demonstrate how the company and its people live their values, as well as give the new hire a chance to share how they see themself as part of those values and mission.
Managers, executives, and new hire buddies — colleagues assigned to support new hires during onboarding — should also be a part of that conversation to round out the new employee’s understanding of how individuals and leadership leverage the company’s mission, vision, and values when making decisions and setting strategy.
“This can look like providing a summary in writing or from company website or marketing efforts before an employee even starts, followed by an introduction on an employee’s first day by senior leaders in the organization — including the CEO or other executives — who can personally convey the company's mission, vision, and values,” she said.
3. Dynamic Approach to New Hire Training
Your new hire will be bringing a strong set of skills, competencies, and experience to their role, but their existing knowledge and skills won’t be all they need to thrive at the company.
Elisa DiMauro, director of talent development at Rent the Runway, a premium designer clothing rental company, recommends human resources teams work backward to create a framework and roadmap for their approach to training and orientation.
First, consider the final, ideal end state. “What does a person in this position need to understand (knowledge) and be able to do (skills) to exceed expectations in this role?” she said. Based on that answer, DiMauro recommends you ask:
- Who do they need to meet?
- What parts of the business should they be introduced to?
- What resources do they need access to?
- What processes do they need to be trained on?
Then, based on those answers, consider “what is the ‘stickiest’ way to present the information?” she added. By way of example, DiMauro shared these suggestions:
- Hands-on experience: Where can the employee experience the company? Can they shadow a sales call? Can they get a tour of the factory?
- Scenarios and case studies: Can you introduce a team by sharing examples of what they work on and how they work? For example, how does the product team determine priorities? What feedback did we get from customers and how did that influence our product?
- Inquiry-based problem-solving: Ask the new hires a question that a team is currently working on, and talk about how they’re working on addressing it. For example: “There are multiple ways to acquire new customers. What are we currently doing and why? What hasn’t worked and why?”
- Media and visuals: Consider where you can incorporate videos or images that give employees a deeper look into different parts of the company. For example, record a welcome video from the CEO if they can’t be present at every orientation.
- Tactile or product interaction: Find ways for the employee to interact with the product. For example, if you're a software-as-a-service company, create a “scavenger hunt” to help new employees understand the ins and outs of the platform.
Roles are dynamic, and training should be too. Consider creative ways to present job description-specific information, knowledge, and skills to make it more likely to stick.
Having consistent check-ins allows the manager to catch errors, misconceptions, or inefficiencies early on.
4. Consistent Manager Check-Ins and One-on-Ones
It’s up to managers to provide the contact, guidance, and feedback needed to help new hires integrate into their work environment and role, and weekly one-on-ones can provide the format and space in which to do so.
These early conversations assist the new hire in adjusting to their role and create the foundation for the employee-manager working relationship — which is essential for employee engagement and high performance on teams. “The employee experience begins and ends with the manager. To be more exact, an employee's conversations with their manager define their employee experience,” wrote the authors of a 2021 Gallup article detailing the influence of a good manager. “Effective and personal conversations engage employees, keep them excited about their job, and improve their performance and well-being,” they added.
Regular conversations between managers and new hires are also a moment to clarify expectations or responsibilities and exchange feedback. “Having consistent check-ins allows the manager to catch errors, misconceptions, or inefficiencies early on when it’s easier to fix. They also allow the employee to have a space to get their questions answered, get reassurance that they’re doing things right, or get the necessary coaching to course correct,” DiMauro said.
To make sure these meetings happen, schedule one-on-ones in advance and block off at least 45 minutes for each meeting during the new hire’s first month, DiMauro recommended. Use a tool that makes it easy to set and share the agenda and keep track of meeting notes to keep both parties aligned.
5. Individual Development Plan With New Hire Goals
As HR professionals, make sure your onboarding roadmap includes individual development plans and goal-setting for new employees, and work with managers to ensure they’re covering the right topics. Goals are critically important for new employees because they create purpose and direction — especially as the new hire learns about the business, their role, and their responsibilities.
“Goal-setting is crucial when starting a new job as it helps new hires establish a roadmap for success, aligns their efforts with company goals, enables progress tracking, and helps improve motivation and focus on achieving the desired outcomes,” Kirk said.
Setting goals serves as a touchpoint to bolster the relationship between employee and manager, too. “The time invested in setting goals helps to strengthen trust between employees and managers and also provides a great opportunity for learning how to best work together,” Kirk added.
Managers should work with the new employee to set goals for the first 30, 60, and 90 days. “It could be as simple as ‘Learn our Salesforce system’ to as complex as ‘Put together a strategy for X,’” Goodson said. To get the most out of these, set goals that help the employee learn the skills or knowledge needed for their new role and also give managers a benchmark to gauge how the employee is adjusting to their new role.
6. Regular Cadence of Onboarding Surveys
Onboarding surveys, or new hire surveys, are a touchpoint for HR and people teams to gather feedback about the new hire employee experience while reinforcing the organization’s commitment to continuous feedback. Onboarding surveys:
- Enable HR to measure the impact and effectiveness of their onboarding programs. Companies invest a lot of resources, effort, and money into onboarding programs, and onboarding surveys allow HR to measure the program’s effectiveness. Armed with these insights, people teams can spot gaps or inefficiencies in the onboarding process and work to correct them.
- Provide the fresh perspective of new employees against the backdrop of their other experiences. New hires bring unique experiences from other companies to onboarding, and onboarding surveys are a platform for your company to benchmark itself against the onboarding at other organizations.
- Make new hires feel heard and set the tone that the company values their feedback. Asking early and often for the new hire’s feedback establishes the company’s interest in hearing what they have to say. Doing so authentically from day one can increase the chances employees will share openly as time goes on.
How and When You Should Conduct Onboarding Surveys
Timing is important to get right because you want to capture data while the experience is still fresh in new hires’ minds, and because their experience will change throughout onboarding.
We recommend running onboarding surveys at 30-, 60-, and 90-day intervals to capture feedback at various stages of the onboarding process.
What to Ask in Onboarding Surveys
Use a ranking system, like the Likert Scale, to ask new hires about their experiences with onboarding, support, and manager enablement. For example:
7. 90-Day Reviews
Some organizations use 90-day reviews as “probationary reviews” to identify if a hire is a fit long term, but that’s not the only use of this tool. These discussions are also an opportunity to gather invaluable feedback from employees on their perspective — including their experience on the team — whether the role is what they expected it to be, and what more they need in order to succeed.
Managers can leverage 90-day reviews to reiterate expectations and correct work habits that don’t align with the team’s ethos, expectations, or workflows. DiMauro said that it’s common for managers to wish they had corrected bad habits, clarified expectations, or learned more about the new hire’s employee experience in hindsight — when it’s too late. “The 90-day check-in is your chance to actually do something. It should serve as an alignment check and an opportunity for feedback. As a manager, you should be interested in what's going well, while also identifying any areas that may need more support,” she added.
Mimic the 360-degree review by asking questions that reflect three audiences: the new hire, the manager, and peers. Here’s a sample of what you could ask.
- The new hire: Are you set up for success? Are you getting the training and feedback you need?
- The manager: What are the 1-3 areas of focus (key projects or goals) for your new team member?
- Peers: Over the past three months, what have you observed this person do really well?
Get more inspiration for your review questions by downloading Lattice’s free 90-day review template.
8. Authentic Team-Building Strategies
To build programming to meaningfully support team building and foster a sense of belonging, people teams must believe it matters. “First and foremost, the people responsible for orientation have to genuinely believe that belonging is essential for high-performing teams,” DiMauro said. “If they do, [their desire to foster genuine belonging] will show up authentically in the programming. If they don’t, it can feel disingenuous at best — and falls to the bottom of the to-do list at worst,” she added.
Assigning a new hire buddy is one of the top ways to introduce new hires to company culture and support belonging. Match new hires with a buddy from another department to help them get to know others in their new company. Especially in the hybrid workplace, meeting colleagues on other teams can be a challenge, so pairing new hires and buddies cross-functionally will help bridge this from the start.
HR can try a variety of other team-building activities to spark connection and establish trust in teams. Be sure to host a meet-and-greet lunch (virtual or otherwise) and consider allocating the first five minutes of every meeting during the new hire’s first week so team members can go around and share about themselves.
Onboarding is more than a chance to make a great first impression with new hires. Done well, onboarding sets the foundation for a fulfilling and successful employee tenure at the company — a win-win for all. But you won’t know if your approach to onboarding is working unless you measure it.
You can create your own onboarding survey with any freeform survey builder, but if you’re looking for a more streamlined way to build, administer, and track your onboarding surveys, download Lattice’s 30-60-90 onboarding survey template today.