What do you do when a new employee is hired? Do you have a process for onboarding new employees?
Some organizations have no real plan for managing this process at all. Whatever happens, happens, and it varies from one new employee to the next based on a variety of circumstances.
Other organizations have some minimal preparations in place. The person gets a desk, computer, and phone, or the proper tools and safety equipment, and gets to fill out his or her benefit paperwork.
But high-performing organizations have a consistent, well-thought out new employee onboarding process in place. We’ll show you what that involves below. There’s even a checklist at the bottom for you.
According to a report by Booz Allen Hamilton prepared for the Partnership for Public Service, “Onboarding is the process of integrating and acculturating new employees into the organization and providing them with the tools, resources, and knowledge to become successful and productive.”
To get into a little more detail, onboarding is also a process that:
We’ll look at this more comprehensively below, but that’s a starter.
Doing nothing to help a new hire is NOT onboarding. But you probably guessed that.
And doing a set of somewhat-random things for one new employee, and a different set of somewhat-random things for another new employee, based on circumstances, time, and your gut feeling, isn’t onboarding either.
In addition, people sometimes get confused and think that a one-day orientation process, often led by the HR department, is onboarding. That’s better than doing nothing, by far, but it still falls short of an onboarding program. Instead, the one-day orientation is part of a more robust onboarding process. You don’t want to throw out the baby (orientation) with the bathwater (onboarding), but you’ve got to pour a lot more water into that tub.
Onboarding programs that are well-designed and well-executed often have these benefits:
As you can see, these are strong benefits for both the onboarding company and the employee being onboarded. In short, onboarding is worth it.
Your onboarding program for new employees should include specific:
Let’s look at each of these four aspects more closely.
In general terms, your onboarding program should have the following goals or objectives:
Keep these goals in mind while designing your onboarding program. Note that they may require you to do some research (what is our company’s mission?) and introspection (what is our company’s culture?).
As an additional benefit, your onboarding program will help you learn more about your new employee, as well.
Different people at your workplace will play a role in the onboarding program.
The roles are explained in more detail below.
HR will have paperwork for the new employee to sign, benefits to explain, and policies to go over. IT will have computers to set up. Facilities will have desks and chairs or other work equipment to put in place. Safety may have PPE to distribute. The Training Department will have training to deliver and performance support to supply. Leaders of other departments or work processes may be involved.
The efforts of all these people/departments should be coordinated, organized, and timely. Because there are multiple owners of this process, there’s a risk that nobody takes true ownership and accountability. That raises the chances of something going wrong.
One way to address this is to make sure the responsibilities of each business process owner is very clearly defined and communicated.
Another way is to consider appointing a single person with the overall responsibility and authority to make sure all the business process owners stay on task. You could think of that person as an “onboarding czar.”
It’s important that senior leadership play a role and make an effort to meet or otherwise communicate with the new employee (in large companies, that may happen through group meetings with new hire groups, videos, email communication, signed welcome letters, or similar means). For example, during the new employee’s first day, senior leadership should address and welcome them, explaining the history, mission, values, and strategic goals of the company. If it’s a smaller company, this can happen in person. If it’s a larger company, this can be via a live webinar or a recorded video.
Senior leadership may also make it a point to check back in with the new hire, maybe hosting a meeting or even lunch after 90 days and again after a year. It’s also nice to have an email, letter, or in-person visit from senior leadership to mark the new employee’s one-year anniversary.
The new employee’s manager and/or supervisor will play a large role in the onboarding process. This will include:
This is a more experienced, successful worker in the same department or job role.
The sponsor should be a good employee, should have good people skills, and should be enthusiastic about playing this role. It’s also important to give the sponsor enough time to perform this role–don’t just dump another responsibility onto the person’s already busy schedule.
The sponsor can be the person the new employee goes to with common questions, such as “Where can I find this?” and “Who do I talk to about that?”
The sponsor can also help to explain to the new employee formal/written and informal/unwritten elements of the organization’s culture and expectations, help the new employee understand the organizational structure and internal politics better, introduce the new employee to personnel over time, and answer random questions.
We’ve listed a lot of people doing stuff to help the new employee “fit in” and succeed at work. But onboarding is a two-way street, and the new employee has responsibilities, too. These include:
We’ve mentioned earlier that onboarding is more than just a one-day process and can take place during the entire first year.
You can break it down into a different number of stages or phases, with different activities occurring during each phase. We’ve chosen to break it down into five stages. The first stage begins after the employee is hired but before the first day on the job. The final stage ends at the worker’s one-year work anniversary.
There’s no need for an employee to fill out all paperwork and/or learn about all benefits on the first day.
In fact, it’s probably better for everyone involved to get this started before the first day. That gives the new employee more time to learn and think about things, and makes it easier to consult with family or friends if necessary. It also means your staff can focus on collecting paperwork, answering outstanding questions, and getting the new worker moving forward more quickly instead of on clerical work.
Much of this can be done by mailing materials to the new hire, emailing materials, setting up some form of online web portal for hew hires, or a combination of all this.
Here are some things to think about sending/getting completed before the worker’s first day:
Many companies offer some form of first-day, new employee orientation program. That’s true even if the company doesn’t have a larger, more comprehensive onboarding program, and it’s certainly true of companies who do.
Here are some things to do/include during that orientation program:
The Association for Talent Development (ATD) offers a helpful New Employee Orientation Training Workbook written by Karen Lawson with guides and activities for conducting a new worker orientation. The book is quite detailed and offers checklists, slides, activities and online resources, and gives tips for presenting the orientation in different lengths: two days, one day, and a half-day. If you’re looking for additional help with this phase, this book is a good start.
During the first week, keep integrating the new employee into the general workflow while continuing to address “new employee” issues and needs.
Here are some things to address during this time:
After the first week, the employee should begin the process of accepting additional work responsibilities and moving toward full productivity.
Here are some things to focus on during this phase:
It’s not unusual for many companies to have hired a new employee on a temporary basis, with the 90-day point being the point at which the employee is let go or offered a permanent position.
Here’s what you can focus on after those first ninety days and during the remainder of the employee’s first year:
You should take and evaluate measurements on key performance indicators (KPIs) to see if your onboarding program is having a desired effect. Don’t simply assume it is, as you may be wrong.
But what should you measure?
Consider measuring and tracking things like:
If your KPIs are moving in the right direction, you’re making progress. If they’re not, go back to the drawing board and tweak some dials (to mix my metaphors).
Now that you know what a new employee onboarding program is, and you know about objectives, roles, phases, and measurement, let’s move on.
Here are some tips to keep in mind and use while developing you’re own onboarding program.
Here are some general tips to keep you focused while developing or improving your current onboarding:
More specifically, you’re going to want to keep the following goals in mind:
Do an organizational analysis and come up with a current baseline.
Analyze, understand, and document your current processes and measurements.
Some day, hopefully not too far in the future, you’ll have an excellent, comprehensive, exhaustive, world-class new employee onboarding program.
But until then, after you’ve assessed your current state and have identified some gaps, you can make some quick wins that will have a fast payoff without taking a lot of time or requiring a lot of work.
Some of these may include:
With these items and other quick wins addressed, you can turn your attention to more time-consuming, difficult, or problematic items.
Ideally, your onboarding program will really have several programs.
This will include one that will be universal for all employees. Get this one in place or moving forward first.
Next, you’ll have a series of more “tailored” onboarding programs for employees who are joining specific departments or filling specific job roles. The department-level managers or supervisors will have input in how to create these, and these may differ from department to department. Begin working with department heads and/or empower them to begin creating these. It may be helpful to create a general checklist of things for the department-level managers to consider/include.
Don’t have various stakeholders creating onboarding materials in silos. Get people together, make sure there’s a shared vision, communicate, and make resources available for copying/borrowing.
You don’t have to do all of this with paper, the mail service, and in-person discussions. Here are some tech tools that may prove helpful:
There are companies that make products entirely dedicated to this process.
There are some forms that can be made available to new employees online. Then can then print and complete these forms, bringing them to work on the first day, or complete them online.
You can create your own Intranet web portals for new and current employees to access. These portals can be organized for ease of use and can include useful information that the employee can refer to–organization structure, contacts, mission statement, company rules and policies, benefit information, and more.
You can use video (in many forms–recorded, webinar, etc.) to deliver information to your new employees. One example would be a recorded video of your CEO or another senior leader explaining the company mission, values, and objectives.
A learning management system (LMS) can help you create, assign, deliver, track, and report on the training aspects of onboarding.
Check our article on Using an LMS During Onboarding for more on this.
You can use mobile devices and apps during your onboarding. For example, you could have your coworkers “find” important work documents and contacts by using mapping information on a mobile device.
Wikis, “traditional” social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn, and similar tools made to facilitate inter-company communication (Jive, Yammer, etc.) may be helpful as well.
Use this checklist to help walk you through the steps of onboarding a new employee. Modify this checklist as needed by adding, deleting, or changing items to fit your needs.
New Employee Name:
Complete these tasks before the employee’s first day on the job
Complete these tasks on employee’s first day of job
Complete these tasks during employee’s first week on job
Complete these tasks during employees’ first 90 days on the job
Complete these tasks during employee’s first year
Let us know if you have tips of your own for successful onboarding, that’s what the Comments section below is for.
What do you do at your own workplace? What works well and what doesn’t? What did we say well above. What did we miss or say poorly?
How important do you think it is to onboard a new employee effectively?
Still curious about onboarding? Check out this interesting article on onboarding from the Harvard Business Review.
And don’t forget to download the Guide to Effective Manufacturing Training below.
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