How to Build a Better Onboarding Process

Onboarding is the easiest piece of the hiring process to get wrong. Many companies have used the sam...

Posted by Berkshire on June 20 2014

Onboarding is the easiest piece of the hiring process to get wrong. Many companies have used the same legacy onboarding processes for decades. But HR teams are learning how to make the onboarding process better for both their managers and employees.

When you get onboarding right, you can increase employee engagement and improve long-term employee retention outcomes. “When we think about how we engage our employees, it really starts with onboarding,” says Cindy Hing, Director and People Business Partner at Volta Charging. “It’s such a critical component.”

Here’s how to improve the onboarding process to help new employees adjust to your business and company culture.

Develop Standard Guidelines

The human resources department is less involved in onboarding than direct managers, who carry the bulk of the process. But your HR team should be architects behind onboarding by creating a standard employee onboarding process to guide hiring managers. Without a centralized process, managers will develop their own individual approaches, fragmenting your brand.

Develop a set of guidelines laying out the essential elements of an effective onboarding program. These guidelines should include a defined timeline (anywhere from three to 12 months) for executing onboarding and suggested topics for managers to address in ongoing check-ins.

Managers will appreciate having guidance and understanding their responsibilities in the process, says Katee Van Horn, CEO of VH Included Consulting. Having clear accountability and ownership for each piece helps everyone understand their role in the onboarding process.

Set Expectations for the Process

Don’t make any assumptions about what each candidate expects from the onboarding process. Help new employees understand what’s coming next at each stage. Encourage managers to reach out ahead of the employee’s first day.

“The piece that’s critical to any effective onboarding process is communication,” Van Horn says. “Have some sort of touchpoint right up front as soon as the offer is signed.”

HR and managers should be available to answer any questions new hires may have, especially as they complete their new-hire paperwork. This availability can help humanize HR, Van Horn says, by encouraging new hires to feel that HR is there to help them even before their start date.

When new hires reach out, point them to the right resources or people who can answer their questions. “Set up ways to let people know what’s going on,” Van Horn says, “and how they can connect with other people on the team.”

Communicate Company Culture

Culture can be difficult to share with new hires without overwhelming them with experiences. But there are other ways to communicate culture, too.

Distill as much workplace culture and norms as you can into an orientation outlining the company’s mission, vision and values. “Make sure that employees who are coming in have a clear understanding of the company objectives,” Hing says.

Take a team approach to onboarding, which tells new hires a lot about your culture. Assign a longer-tenured colleague as a “buddy” for each new hire, giving them a resource for asking questions as they arise.

Encourage colleagues and leaders to reach out to new team members before they start. This gesture is simple, but “simple does not mean trivial,” Hing says. Reaching out early from different points in the company shows your culture, how you engage with employees and the priority you place on communication.

Create a Consistent Onboarding Experience

Don’t limit your vision to HR and onboarding process improvement. Focus on employee onboarding as a curated experience. “Every piece of onboarding should be an experience,” Hing says. What do you want employees to feel coming out of the process?

For example, information overload can be overwhelming for an employee learning new tasks. A more thoughtful experience would involve releasing the information new hires need to perform their role as they need it, so all of the pieces make more sense together.

Draw from your standard onboarding guidelines to create a consistent experience across company roles and levels. “Employee experience isn’t the same for every single person,” Van Horn says. The more you can drive consistency, the more you can drive transparency — and the better off everyone is.

Demonstrate Investment in New Hires

You need to cement your investment in employee development from the beginning of your relationship with them. Start by instilling a sense of purpose by providing clarity about their role. Help new hires understand their potential for impact in the company.

Train managers on options for each role’s career development and mobility. Have them act as coaches and help get new hires set up with a professional development plan and career trajectory by the end of the onboarding process.

These steps to improve your employee onboarding process produce a stronger relationship among the new hires, their managers and the company. That sets the stage for longer tenure and higher productivity and engagement. Building a better onboarding process is essential for improving your talent outcomes.

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