It’s not enough just to hire a talented candidate for an open role within your company. You need to onboard them in a progressive, tailored way to bring them up to speed and make them part of the team as soon as possible, but without undue stress that can increase turnover.
What should an onboarding process look like? It can vary from company to company, but the basic core of the process remains the same. Simply adjust and customize this process to suit your business needs.
Understand the Timing
The first part of onboarding starts not with the candidate, but with you. You need to understand the time frames you’re working with.
“It takes 8-12 months for a new hire to be as competent and proficient as a more senior co-worker.”
During this time – essentially the first year of employment – you need to be willing and able to handle all aspects of onboarding, including addressing employee pain points to help bolster both productivity and retention. After all, as many as 15% of employees say a bad onboarding process contributed to their leaving a company.
Decide Between Formal and Informal
An informal onboarding process is a free-for-all. A new employee shows up and they are largely ignored by all but the most directly related employees. They don’t have any designated workspace or tasks to complete, nor do they have paperwork on hand to file. They haven’t been issued any company hardware and are forced to find a space to operate within a hot-seat open office.
An informal onboarding process is when a new hire needs to learn the ropes of their job, including both rules and unspoken social norms in the office, mostly on their own. In a cordial and friendly environment, this can work. In a tense and hostile environment, it can be stressful and painful. A company culture of trial by fire, new employee hazing, and repeated tests can make some who pass through it come out with more loyalty to their company and their coworkers. On the other hand, it dramatically increases turnover.
Some employees and some companies can thrive in this kind of atmosphere. Most do not.
Contrast with a formal onboarding process. SHRM says:
“Organizations that engage in formal onboarding by implementing step-by-step programs for new employees to teach them what their roles are, what the norms of the company are, and how they are to behave are more effective than those that do not.”
Prepare the Four Cs
Tayla Bauer, professor of management for Portland State University, has codified employee needs into four Cs.
Compliance. This is everything an employee needs to prevent failure in their job. It includes HR policies, company rules, codes of conduct, dress codes, attendance and tardiness policies, any applicable government policies, and other tangible, codified rules. These should be provided to the employee, discussed as necessary, and explained when possible.
Clarification. The clarification section encompasses discussions between the new employee and their coworkers, team leads, and managers. While the employee may know in broad strokes what their job will entail, the clarification process involves talking to those to whom they report, their team leads, and others who can nail down and specify precise job requirements, KPIs, task lists, and duties. Clarification means discussing this with the employee, as well as providing avenues whereby the employee can pursue further elucidation.
Culture. Culture is the “real talk” aspect of onboarding. Once an employee is hired, the façade can drop; the company doesn’t have to exaggerate or represent itself a certain way, because the employee will be able to see and experience the truth for themselves. Discussing this openly with the employee – including company norms and cultural perspective – provides a lot of benefits. How is worth ethic perceived? How does the leadership function? Getting a direct supervisor or coworker to discuss this with the new hire is the general best choice.
Connection. For an employee to succeed, they need connections. Connections with their coworkers, connections with their superiors, connections with the executives; they’re all important. To a certain extent, this is an extrapolation of company culture, but it can be codified in onboarding by giving a new employee a company mentor, an opportunity to chat with an executive, and channels they can use to communicate with anyone they need to reach.
As you develop your onboarding process, remember to cover all of the Cs.
Provide a Mentor
One of the best things a company can do for both company culture and connections is assigning each new employee a mentor from within their department.
This may be a more senior employee in the same role, the person who just vacated the role to internal promotion or a direct supervisor. It should not be someone outside of the department or someone who will treat mentorship as a vacation from their actual work.
The mentor is the first point of contact for the employee. They are the person the employee gets to know first, a potential friend in the office, and someone who knows what to do, how to solve problems, and who to talk to when those problems can’t be solved right away.
They help guide and teach the new hire exactly what they should be doing, how to act, who to talk to, and what not to do. Their assistance will be invaluable.
Ensure the Employee Has Goals
Nothing kills the drive to work for a company faster than being hired, showing up, and having nothing to do. The first day, first week, and first month of employment should feel productive and accomplished, even if the employee isn’t working up to full speed.
To this end, give the employee tasks to complete with distinct processes in place to assist them. This shouldn’t just mean HR paperwork; it should include training and actual job tasks, the work they will be doing when they’ve found their feet and can catch up to speed with everyone else. Their mentor should be familiar with the tasks as well, to help with business-specific processes, challenges, and systems should the need arise.
Arrange Frequent Communication
Employees aren’t always the best at communicating when they need assistance. You can claim to foster company culture and environment that enables new employees to ask for assistance as necessary, but it can still be a personal burden to determine when they’ve reached that point. There are also a lot of people for whom the act of struggling and succeeding without help is a sign of personal worth, and they may handicap themselves when left to their own devices.
In the employee’s first month, there is no such thing as too much communication. Ideally, several people should be checking in with the new hire in several different communications channels. This provides many benefits:
- It opens up lines of communications and connections the new employee can use to reach individuals in different areas and departments.
- It demonstrates the utility of communicating via intra-office channels such as phone, Slack, and in-person meetings.
- It allows different people of differing levels of authority to check with the team and ask if the employees need help. It also lets them ask for help from someone they feel most comfortable approaching.
Some employers recommend checking in with the new employee every 30-60 minutes for their first week of employment, ensuring that they have everything they need. After the end of the first week, sit them down to recap what happened, what the expectations for the next week will be, how they’re stacking up, and what resources they may need moving forward. Repeat this for the first month, then dial it back as they get their stride.
This is also a good way to establish a company culture of communication. As Engagedly says:
“Introduce the concept of employee check-ins to your employees and create a framework that works with your organization. Train people how to be a part of employee check-ins and how it could help them. Remember that while your employees may be open to check-ins during the training, they will need a little push from management to regularize the practice.”
Sample Process Framework
This section is an example of what an onboarding process can look like. The timeline, the exact things that happen each day and each week, and what you cover all vary depending on your company.
Fill in the blanks as necessary to suit your business.
- Day 0: Handle all of the basic “onboarding” tasks. Give the employee their handbook, code of conduct, business policies, compliance rules, and paperwork they need to fill out. Make yourself available to answer any questions about it all. Much of this should be done prior to the start date, but after an offer is accepted. Make sure anything the employee needs day 1 is prepared, including an office/cubicle space, a computer and any tools they need, their uniform if one exists, and so on.
- Day 1: Introduce the employee to their cube/office, their department, and the office as a whole. Give them the tour. Discuss the new hire’s responsibilities, both for the first week/month and in general in their role. Introduce them to their objectives and the company’s overall direction. Assign a mentor and take both of them out to lunch, so you, the mentor, and the new hire can bond and discuss the company in a casual situation.
- Week 1: Provide training for the employee on what they’ll be doing for the bulk of their job. Verify paperwork has been signed and address any issues that come up (such as with names/pronoun preferences, username issues, technological glitches, paperwork errors, and so on. Trust us; they always happen, so plan for them.)
Set aside specific times for the employee’s team or sections of their team to go to a (company-sponsored) lunch meeting for socialization purposes. You don’t need to enforce pithy ice-breakers or team-building exercises, but giving them all a casual space to introduce themselves and join a social circle can be very important.
Check with the employee at the end of the week and see how they’re doing. Address any specific concerns as necessary.
- Month 1: Slowly ramp up responsibilities according to what the employee can handle. Increase opportunities for inter-office and intra-office socialization. Include the employee in meetings, as relevant. Establish a training plan addressing specific skill gaps or needs the employee may have. At the end of the month, check in with an overall perspective, measuring productivity according to your usual office KPIs and benchmarks.
- Month 3: Continue ramping up responsibilities and reducing hand-holding, while making it clear that the channels are always open if the employee needs assistance. Set up a 1:1 meeting with the manager responsible for the employee, to discuss how they’ve been settling in, how they’ve been making progress, and if they’re ahead or behind the curve. Consider giving the employee the chance to set their own goals for the next three months, with guidance to ensure that they’re reasonable and achievable. Talk to the new hire specifically about their onboarding experience.
Finally, recognize that no onboarding process is ever perfect. As your company evolves, your workforce grows and changes, your business processes adapt and evolve, your onboarding process will need to change as well.
After a new employee has settled in, discuss with them their experience with the onboarding process itself. Spend time discussing how it was handled, whether it felt too rushed or too drawn out, whether there were any pain points or issues overlooked, and how the process can be adapted for your current business situation. Treat it as a living document, changes to the pressures of new employees and a changing company.
Remember, turnover is highest within the first 18 months of employment. These are the most important times to make a good impression and showcase a solid management process and structure to your new hires. Turnover is costly; learning how to minimize it through a good onboarding process is critical.