13 Ways to Upgrade Your Onboarding Process

These tactics promote higher levels of employee engagement and retention.

Just 41% of recent hires believe their organization’s onboarding primed them for success, a 2016 Oracle study found. “Employees ultimately decide if they would like to stay with a company within the first two weeks of employment,” says Gretchen Alarcon, Oracle’s VP of HCM product strategy. “What this means, is that within the first 14 days, employees are already asking themselves, ‘Do I think I can progress here?’”


Too often, companies don’t understand the full scope of what onboarding should involve. “Onboarding is often confused with orientation,” says the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Rather than lasting a few days, like orientation, onboarding should optimally last a full year.

Good onboarding results in higher levels of retention and job satisfaction; a higher level of performance and engagement; and lower stress, says SHRM. Conversely, lack of proper onboarding can make employees feel isolated and uncertain, lacking a sense of purpose and having no idea if they’re contributing in meaningful ways. What’s more, one study found that thorough onboarding can get employees fully up to speed two months faster, SHRM adds.

In Creative Onboarding Programs, Doris M. Sims advises to avoid these common pitfalls in your onboarding program:

  • The “firehose approach”: bombarding new hires with an overwhelming stream of information.
  • The minimalist approach: sharing only nuts-and-bolts information about job responsibilities, which gives little insight into workplace culture and doesn’t foster interpersonal connections.

Standardize Your System

Creating a series of steps that you can easily replicate for each new hire will help everything go smoothly each time. Plus, it will help ensure fairness, as everyone will receive the same treatment. Standardization also allows you to automate some elements of onboarding, saving you time and energy that you can put into tasks that require creativity and insight, like coaching.

Twitter streamlines the steps required in onboarding so managers won’t forget anything important, says Harvard Business Review (HBR). Managers spend less time planning and more time coaching new hires.

Design a standard onboarding plan that all of your managers can use, breaking it down into stages (“preliminary phase,” “day one,” “week one,” “month one,” “first three months,” and “first year,” for instance). Then break each stage down into steps, and break down the steps into tasks. Read SHRM’s guide to designing an onboarding program for more direction.

Start Before Day One


Begin welcoming your new hire to the workplace before she even begins her first day of work. Introduce her to an online progress management system that she can familiarize herself with at home. Include training modules that she can access to begin learning her role. This prep work will give her more confidence on her first day and allow her to absorb the new information at her own pace.

Facebook has employees working on a project within their first 45 minutes on the job, due to thorough preliminary training!

Review your own training materials. Which parts of the curriculum can employees start before day one on the job? Implement a system that jumpstarts learning before they even sit down at their desks.

Learn more about how technology can help new hires jumpstart learning here.

Have a Welcome Breakfast

Make new hires feel welcomed from their first moment on the job by holding a welcome breakfast with team members. Everyone will be in a good mood when they get to take a time out from work to do something special, creating a welcoming atmosphere.

Prepare to introduce the new hire by refreshing your mind about her work history and strengths, so you can enthusiastically share what she brings to the table.

Assign a Sponsor


Designate another employee to act as the new hire’s “sponsor.” When others have concerns about the employee’s performance, they should approach the sponsor to discuss them. This helps assign collective responsibility for the employee’s success, says HBR. The sponsor can help the new hire understand how to improve when another team member shares criticism, acting as a supportive coach.

Read more about implementing a sponsorship system from the Project Management Institute.

Create a Collage of Staff

To help new employees remember the many faces they’ll meet on their first day, create a collage of team members’ faces. Add names and titles below, and arrange them into a chart showing how workflow and communication move across the company. Share “fun facts” about team members below their names. Give new hires an electronic or paper copy of the chart.

Encourage Relationship-Building

New hires should play a key role in their own onboarding by striving to forge strong relationships with other staff, says SHRM. Encourage them to get to know their coworkers, collaborate on projects, and meet staff from other departments. Emphasize that building a broad network of relationships will open new doors for them down the road.

Liven Things Up


Interactive learning will help new hires absorb more information. Instead of just talking at them, challenge them to learn and test their knowledge in fun ways, such as games. Create a trivia challenge about their company, team, and role, for instance. Let them ask other staff members questions to help them find the answers–but only one question per team member, which will prompt them to talk with multiple people.

A tech firm called BazaarVoice challenges new hires to complete a week-long scavenger hunt that helps them learn about their new company and its culture.

Read this Forbes article for more tips on using games as a learning tool for new hires.

Give Them Control of Their Learning

A 2015 InterCall survey found that 47% of employees want the flexibility to complete training at their own pace. If they feel rushed through it–especially in the first week, when everything feels overwhelming–they may not truly absorb what they’re learning. Let employees control the pace of their own learning, so they’ll actually retain the new information. Set up your training modules so employees can complete them at their own pace (or even redo a module for a refresher). During in-person check-ins, share additional resources or tactics for learning that are catered to their individual learning style. Job shadowing might work well for an employee who learns by watching and interacting with others, for instance.

Create a toolbox of resources catered to different learning styles for each phase of training. Read SHRM’s “A Personalized Approach to Corporate Learning” for more ideas for learning tools.

Share Unwritten Rules

Don’t test new employees’ ability to decipher and follow your company’s unwritten rules. Things like communication norms, typical work hours, level of risk-taking encouraged, and extent of socialization outside of work are just a few examples that Sims notes in Creative Onboarding Programs. The sponsor can help the new hire continue navigating these waters beyond your initial conversations.

Instill the Culture


Instilling a strong belief in company culture should be front and center in any onboarding program, says Forbes. In JAMF Software, every new hire–from cleaning staff to new execs–spends time at corporate headquarters, talking with the founders and key leaders about the culture they’ve worked to create. This underscores the importance of participating in that culture–and by making each employee feel valued, it’s led to a 90% retention rate while keeping that culture going strong.

Consider whether higher-level leaders at your company could connect more strongly with new employees. Plan a lunch with a leader and several recent hires where the new team members can learn about vision, mission, and goals, for instance.

Introduce Potential Mentors

While you can’t necessarily decide who should be a mentor for any given employee, you can help potential mentors and mentees make connections. Describing Millennials, Karl Moore says in Forbes, They are used to searching for and choosing their own mentors. In fact, mandatory corporate mentorship programs feel forced and unauthentic.”

Additionally, the younger generations usually want to have several mentors rather than just one, so help them meet a range of people who could fulfill that role. As you get to know the new hire within the first several months, introduce him to people who can help guide his development.

If the new hire has specific knowledge to share with the mentor in turn–for instance, a more recent college grad might know more about leveraging newer technologies–they could engage in reverse mentoring as well, says Moore.

Look around your workplace, and see if any new hires and senior staff members have complementary skill sets! Then make those introductions.

Read this Robert Half article for more guidance on pairing new hires with the right mentors.

Show Concern for Their Wellbeing

Don’t just help new employees learn the roles in their new job–support them in achieving emotional well-being as well. Share your commitment to helping staff find work/life balance and minimize stress. Tell them about programs or resources intended to support them in those ways, sharing concrete examples of what other employees have found helpful.

If you haven’t already, create an info packet about such programs for new hires. Hold a brief info session about them at a staff meeting to keep them fresh in everyone’s mind, too.

Give Managers Prompts

Managers are busy, so send them reminders to ensure they carry out onboarding tasks on time. Google sends hiring managers a reminder email with a checklist of tasks to complete. HR staff can schedule these emails at the time of hiring, setting them up for delivery at key moments throughout the new hire’s first several months.

Making a new hire feel socially accepted is a key element of bringing her up to speed, says Harvard Business Review. Thus, onboarding is as much about fostering positive social dynamics as it is about the technical aspects of learning the job.

Survey recent hires to find out what they feel would have strengthened their own onboarding. That will help you continuously work to make a stronger impression on the new team members you’re welcoming on board.

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