Hiring a new team member is an exciting time, both for the employee and your team. It shows that your company is growing and it presents a new opportunity for your culture (and business) to evolve with new talent, fresh perspectives and lots of enthusiasm.
Those first few weeks are filled with potential, so you should use this period to harness all that excitement and lay the foundation for long-term success. This is where your onboarding process comes in.
Employee onboarding can make or break a new hire’s experience. When implemented correctly, it drives team engagement and fosters a sense of belonging. Conversely, a poorly executed onboarding process can lead to confusion, frustration and a higher likelihood of early departures.
That’s why it’s vital to design an onboarding process that gets employees up to speed as efficiently as possible. The sooner you get people on board, the faster they can contribute meaningfully to your team.
Start Onboarding Before Employees Officially Start
Get a head start on the onboarding process by engaging with a new hire before their official start date. This preemptive approach builds an immediate sense of belonging, gets them immersed in your business culture and, most importantly, revs them up for their official first day.
“The first strategy is to send institutional materials and information (non-confidential) to the employee after they accept the offer, before their start date,” said Lucas Diegues, HR Business Partner at Revelo. “At this moment, the employee is interested and excited, and you can take advantage of this to create a positive impact leading up to their employment.”
Aside from putting the employee at ease, starting the onboarding process early also helps reinforce their decision to join your team. By building confidence, you will reduce the likelihood that they will reconsider other employment opportunities.
“Today, companies see candidates find a better offer and jump ship before they even get started,” noted Melanie Wertzberger, Co-founder of the employee engagement software Shaka. That’s why she recommended keeping brand new hires engaged by sending welcome videos, postcards or a welcome swag box. That way, new employees feel valued and connected from the outset, leading to a smoother onboarding process overall.
Leverage Technology to Streamline Processes
Nothing slows down the employee onboarding experience more than manual processes. Paper-based forms, tedious back-and-forth communication and inefficient tracking not only complicate the onboarding experience, they also open up room for errors and lead to frustration and delays.
Prevent likely headaches by adopting digital tools to streamline and automate various parts of the process. Angela Anderson, Founder of #1 HR Expert recommends using electronic systems for paperwork, as well as e-signatures and document management to streamline administrative tasks. For best results, evaluate your existing systems (if you already have certain tools in place) while exploring the marketplace for HR solutions that can digitize employee onboarding.
The key is to choose a solution that integrates well into your processes and platforms.
“Technology is now becoming pivotal, leaning towards critical,” said Gary Makredes, Industry Principal at Simms & Associates. “Every employer has ‘tech’ but the real question is: Has the tech been designed, configured and planned in a way that creates efficiency for the HR managers?“
He added that the most effective programs are centered on technology, “but it’s not just flipping what was once manual to electronic forms or PDFs. It’s about making the whole process more accessible, real-time referenceable and repeatable. Having all of this automated ensures everyone is informed and engaged at the same juncture in their onboarding journey.”
To that end, see that your chosen technology not only digitizes existing processes but also enhances the overall onboarding journey — particularly for new hires and your HR team.
Have a Clear Onboarding Roadmap
Employee onboarding isn’t something that you can simply “wing.” Navigating a new company without a clear plan can derail a new hire’s journey, so always provide a structured framework that supports new hires through their transition.
This is where an onboarding roadmap can be extremely valuable; it is a detailed guide that outlines the key milestones, activities and expectations for new employees.
“The employee should have a clear and actionable roadmap for their first day, week, month. etc., so they feel comfortable and confident in their role,” said Recruiting Manager Sean McGaughran.
While the specifics of the onboarding guide will depend on the person’s role, some key information includes:
- Overview of your company and its culture
- A schedule of training sessions
- List of key team members, particularly the people they’ll be working closely with
- A checklist of tasks to complete throughout the onboarding process
- Timelines and milestones for essential tasks, goals, assessments, etc.
- Links to employee resources and documentation
Assign Mentors or Buddies
A big part of employee onboarding is adjusting to the company’s environment and team dynamics. A mentor or buddy can help new hires navigate the company culture, which speeds up their integration into the team.
Employees feel less alone and more supported when paired with experienced colleagues as mentors or buddies. This helps them adjust to their new workplace more smoothly, streamlining the onboarding process.
Not to mention, new hires often have questions that can’t always be answered in an employee manual or handbook. A buddy or mentor gives the employee someone they can turn to for the answers they need, in a more casual and relaxed context.
How can you best pair new employees with the right mentors and buddies? Consider the following:
- Choose employees with a lot of company knowledge, particularly about the company’s history, background, operational procedures, etc.
- Ensure mentors and buddies have the time and energy to commit to the program.
- Select employees who embody your company’s culture and values.
- Focus on people skilled at interpersonal communication; they should be approachable, empathetic and good at building relationships.
Measure and Iterate
How do you know if your onboarding processes are yielding the desired results? You measure them.
One of the best ways to do this is to conduct employee surveys. Diegues recommended using a two-stage employee satisfaction form. You can send the first one “immediately after the onboarding process concludes and another 30 days after that date,” he said.
He suggested including “specific questions related to identification and adaptation to the company’s culture in the performance review.”
You should also establish key performance indicators for your onboarding to determine if it effectively integrates new employees and quickly gets them on the path to success.
Some KPIs to keep in mind are:
Onboarding checklist completion rate. The completion rate is a tell-tale sign of how engaged (or not) a new hire is. Nikita Sherbina, Sr. HR Manager at AIScreen, said they use this metric to see if their welcoming process works. “We aim for a 90% completion rate on our checklist within the first week.”
Ramp-up time. Measure how long it takes for new employees to get fully operational. “How quickly a person is capable of ramping up in a role could be an indicator of a successful or problematic onboarding plan,” said McGaughran.
Sherbina agreed and said they “keep tabs on how long it takes for new folks to get up to speed, aiming for a 15% faster learning curve than the industry average.”
Employee satisfaction. This tells you whether new employees feel supported and engaged in their roles. And it’s straightforward to measure: “We ask new hires to rate their experience, and any score below a four out of five makes us review things thoroughly for improvements,” said Sherbina.
Employee satisfaction also “indicates the effectiveness of the assimilation process,” said Anderson.
Referral rates. Are new hires referring people from their network? “A higher rate suggests that employees feel positive about the organization and its onboarding process,” according to Anderson.
Bringing it All Together
Effective employee onboarding is key to harnessing the initial enthusiasm of new hires and setting them up for long-term success. But remember: onboarding isn’t just about ticking off a checklist. It’s about creating a supportive environment that empowers new employees to thrive in their roles and contribute meaningfully to your organization’s success.