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The onboarding process – Creating an exceptional new starter experience

The paperwork has been signed. You’ve secured a talented employee and it’s high fives all around the office, or your co-working space or wherever your business “lives”. But don’t get ahead of yourselves just yet.

Now that you’ve attracted an exceptional candidate you must create an equally exceptional onboarding experience.

That experience needs to align with your company brand and values. What’s more, your approach must match the “story” you communicated to the candidate during the interview process. It must also  comprehensively bring them to speed in all areas of your company and your industry sector.

A definition of onboarding

As defined by Wikipedia, onboarding (also known as organizational socialization), refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors in order to become effective organizational members and insiders.[1]

It is the process of integrating a new employee into the organization and its culture.[2] Tactics used in this process include formal meetings, lectures, videos, printed materials, or computer-based orientations to introduce newcomers to their new jobs and organizations.

Research has demonstrated that these socialization techniques lead to positive outcomes for new employees such as higher job satisfaction, better job performance, greater organizational commitment, and reduction in occupational stress and intent to quit.”

Onboarding is not a new idea

Onboarding is not a new concept. However, a couple of things have changed in recent times. The first is that new technology has advanced. Newly available technology tools can help your company to onboard new employees more professionally and consistently.

The second change is that, new employees now expect an exceptional onboarding experience. This will optimise their engagement, performance and retention.

Whilst technology can assist you with some of the more laborious aspects of the onboarding process, you cannot automate everything. Meaningful human interaction MUST feature, to optimise your new employee experience.

In saying that, it is highly likely that you will experience onboarding efficiencies by automating the delivery of some content via an app, a web based solution or via mobile with your new starters.

69% of employees are more likely to stay with the company for three years if they experienced great onboarding – SHRM article

HR onboarding

Onboarding is a key activity that sits within the HR function. This does NOT mean that HR and your Recruitment and Talent Acquisition teams are the only employees accountable for creating a compelling onboarding experience.

The onboarding process plays an important role in introducing your new employees to the attitudes, knowledge, skills, behaviors, tools and resources of your company. Every employee has a role to play in this process.

Reference onboarding of the Careers page of your website

Outlining your onboarding approach (in broad terms) on your Careers page, shows candidates you are focused on more than just getting them to the start line with your company.

It demonstrates your commitment to a consistent and highly professional approach to guiding new employees through a process that is going to optimise their knowledge of your company, job satisfaction and performance.

In addition, you might consider having a page on your intranet (or company information sharing mechanism of choice) for new starters. It could direct them to other pages on your intranet to find specific information, remind them of content covered in their initial onboarding and provide specific contact details for them if they have any queries.

The importance of an onboarding checklist

It is a useful idea to develop a checklist of steps in your onboarding process. This ensures every new starter onboarding experience is consistent. If designed and executed well, this process will create an exceptional new employee introduction to your company.

If you are a start up or a small company and don’t have a lot of cash to spare, this onboarding checklist could exist as a centrally stored spreadsheet, shared with those who are involved in the onboarding process.

Alternatively tools like Trello can be effective, allowing team members to share the accountability for a smooth onboarding experience every time.

Do the onboarding basics…and more

More and more companies are leveraging technology to enhance their onboarding process. They are automating some elements of the process.

This makes sense. Efficiencies gained in delivering some of the more laborious elements via technology, means you can spend more time with new employees on high impact elements in person.

To get an edge over your competitors, you should cover all of the basics (of course) BUT also do a little bit more, to exceed your new employee’s expectations.

Sure, some onboarding content can be a little dry. But you can still make the process fun, innovative and memorable. Use multiple channels to educate and inform your new starters like videos, gamification and more.

Key basic content to include in your onboarding process includes:

  • Company values, culture, working ethos as well as long and short term company strategies and goals
  • Client demographic information
  • OH&S and office or client site logistics
  • Meetings with key players within your company
  • Explanation of key company information including social media sharing guidelines, referral program in place, mentoring and succession planning processes
  • Learning & Development approach (including a discussion about gaps in knowledge, skills and career aspirations, “what’s next” discussions informed by information gleaned from the interview process)
  • Key company events and forums
  • Tools, systems and knowledge sharing orientation sessions

“Companies with engaged employees experience 23% greater annual revenue and 23% greater employee loyalty, according to a 2015 Gallup report”

Onboarding apps versus web based onboarding solutions

There are plenty of technology solutions now available to enhance your onboarding experience. The two key solutions for you to consider include apps and web based solutions.

There is a difference between onboarding apps and web based onboarding solutions. App based software needs to be developed and then downloaded and installed onto a user device. Mobile first web-based software is stored on a server. It’s user interface is accessed through a web browser.

Both options have merit but also some pitfalls.

Employee onboarding app pitfalls:

  • Can be a bit of a pain to build, maintain, customise and adjust
  • You are relying on new employees to install the app on their phones and notifications can sometimes be a little hit and miss (depending on the mobile devices your new starters use)
  • Some users may struggle to download the app depending on the type of smart phone they use (Apple, Android etc)
  • Bespoke apps are expensive to build

Web based onboarding solution pitfalls:

  • Some web based solutions may be difficult to tailor to your industry sector
  • They can be expensive to purchase

On the flipside, web based onboarding solutions don’t require any downloading, are usually cheaper, quicker and easier to update than apps and they allow for new employees and company leaders to choose their preferred channel of engagement (ie SMS, email, Slack etc).

Best onboarding practices

The success of your onboarding program lies in the experience it creates for new employees. Whilst you may have used the latest technology to create a world class onboarding methodology, if your new employees don’t like it, or it is difficult to use, all that work is wasted.

32% of global executives rate the onboarding they experienced as poor (Source: Harvard Business Review) and replacing each failed executive can cost a business up to 213% of his or her salary (Source: Center for American Progress) – HR Tech Weekly

How do you know how new employees feel about your onboarding system? You ask them. A couple of weeks after a new starter has commenced with you, send them a survey to see how they found your initial onboarding process.

To make it easy and to increase the likelihood of new starters providing honest feedback, make the survey quick and easy to follow with some free text sections provided to gain more specific feedback not addressed in your core questions.

Organisations with a standard onboarding process experience 50% greater new hire productivity – SHRM

Allow anonymity if you think that will bring you better results. And of course, let new starters know that you are seeking feedback to improve the process moving forward.

Related: Here is a New Hire Onboarding survey template from SurveyMonkey as an example 

The onboarding experience

When onboarding new employees, you are aiming for a seamless, comprehensive, but not overwhelming experience.

Your onboarding program should be contemporary (ie not 4 hours in a small room with a myriad of Powerpoint slides!), interesting and easy to “consume”. New employees should come away from your program feeling valued, inspired, interested and excited about what lies ahead with your company.

54% of companies with onboarding programs reported higher employee engagement (Source: Society For Human Resources Management). – HR Tech Weekly

Quick tip: If you already have a program in place, consider looking at each element of your current program. Does each element create an exceptional new employee onboarding experience?

If there are elements of your program that could do with a face-lift, take action. Don’t wait to review your onboarding program once a year – make iterative changes regularly to continually improve the new employee experience.

Onboarding ux

Onboarding what? Onboarding ux is the name for the process of getting someone “up and running” with your company. Ux stands for “user experience”.

Your company must commence your onboarding process as soon as the employee accepts a role with your company. There is no one right way to do this but the user experience, in this case, the new employee experience, is extremely important.

It is astounding to me that we all expect an exceptional customer experience as a consumer of goods and services and yet many companies don’t measure how well they meet new employee expectations when they are onboarded.

It’s as if, we are concerned about the response – and perhaps some companies that is a legitimate concern!

Measure your onboarding results

Service organisations regularly send me surveys to rate my experience with their customer service team. Yet so many companies don’t seek feedback from employees about their onboarding experience with the company.

In recruitment and talent acquisition settings, we must take on a customer experience mentality. We must constantly monitor, how are we meeting the needs of our new employees. How can we improve their working experience with us when they commence with us? How could the onboarding experience be more effective for them so they are up and running more effectively?

As mentioned earlier in this article, technology is starting to change the game of onboarding. With the assistance of web based employee onboarding and team collaboration tools, you should be able to put together an outstanding onboarding program.

Equally, technology and digital tools allow you to collate meaningful data, that can be sliced and diced, to provide powerful insights into the effectiveness of your current onboarding program. Use them.

Onboarding for contingent workers

Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room. Not all employees are permanent members of staff. Contingent and freelance numbers are rapidly increasing as talented individuals seek more flexibility in the way that they work. These talented individuals play an important role in the success of your company too.

So you need to consider what subset of your existing onboarding activities should be delivered to your contingent and freelance work force as well. New material may need to be created to specifically address the needs of those workers.

It is paramount to monitor and survey those working with your company on a flexible basis, to understand how they have found their onboarding experience. It may differ to those who you onboard in a permanent capacity.

In an article written by Peter Limone, published on, he suggests asking flexible workers “to rate collaboration and rapport between core and temporary employees on a five-point scale.” In addition, include some open ended questions for suggested changes and consider using a third party provider to conduct the survey (or devise surveys where contributors maintain their anonymity).

Onboarding contact points

If you map your onboarding experience, you will see that your new employees have a number of key contact points throughout the process. View each of these touch points as an opportunity to create an exceptional new employee experience.

You don’t need to invest any more money to enhance the experience – you simply need to ensure that you have consciously thought about what you want each touch point to look like from a new employee point of view.

You also need to make sure that the person within your company making contact at each of those junctures understands the importance of creating an exceptional experience.

Here are just a few typical touch points in a new employee onboarding process:

  • An email or meeting to provide a letter of offer and contract paperwork
  • Communication about how paperwork needs to be returned and to whom within your company
  • Email correspondence to outlines details of a new starter’s first day with your company
  • If notice is being served by your new starter, someone should be checking in once per week until your new starter commences (to build rapport, excitement and maintain engagement)
  • Various “meet and greets” with your employees throughout the onboarding process
  • Email of a survey or a face to face meeting to get feedback on their onboarding experience
  • An introduction to a mentor for the new starter who will work with them across their first 12 months

Innovation in employee onboarding

In our fast paced, changing work landscape, I’ve witnessed a number of innovative changes in new employee onboarding practices and processes which create happier, more engaged and productive employees. My Onboarding e-Guide explores some of these ideas in detail.

Innovation in onboarding success measurement and continuous improvement

If you are committed to ongoing innovation, here are some ideas to consider to ensure your onboarding process remains contemporary, effective and engaging:

  • Assess and measure your onboarding process effectiveness with robust data based analysis and qualitative and quantitative feedback from new starters before making decisions about changing elements of your onboarding process
  • Create shared best practice forums to quickly identify areas for improvement, collating ideas across business units and looking both within and externally for best practices that should be adopted
  • Consider an onboarding hack session (say once every quarter or so) to throw ideas around about how you can innovate further to exceed new starter expectations and/or streamline your onboarding process to be more efficient

A word about onboarding for start ups and companies scaling quickly

All of this talk of onboarding may sound overwhelming for those within start ups and companies that are scaling really quickly. But your agility is your strength.

In the early days, don’t overthink things too much. Put a process in place but be open to making changes as you learn more about what works and what doesn’t.

Some start ups use tools such as Evernote to keep track of their onboarding program. Others use tools like Trello, an effective visual collaboration tool that ensures no steps or processes are missed as you onboard new employees.

Time for an audit of your existing onboarding program?

It you have not reviewed your onboarding program for a year or two, it’s time to review it. Consider how you can innovate with web based tools and digital content to improve the new employee onboarding experience.

Companies are taking action right now to improve their onboarding programs to gain competitive advantage.

So, if you have just made a note to get your team together, socialise some new ideas, come back together in a couple of months to talk again, don’t waste your time. Start making changes as soon as you can. Here’s a few ideas to get you going:

  1. Look at the current content of your employee onboarding program – can any of it be digitised? Would an infographic better explain certain ideas, processes or services of your company?
  2. Survey or get feedback from those who have been onboarded over the last 6-12 months. What did those new starters think of the process? Take their feedback onboard and start making incremental changes, starting with changes that you think will have the greatest impact first
  3. Create a 30 day action plan for changes, including assigning accountability for various components as relevant
  4. Consider whether an app or web based onboarding system is right for your company. Assign someone in your team to take a look at some of the key players in this space and come back to the team with costings as well as pros and cons
  5. Create REAL accountability for measuring the success of your employee onboarding program. Regularly reviewing onboarded employees and reporting results regularly to your Executive team, Founder, CEO or Board

Need some help overhauling your current employee onboarding program or creating a new innovative onboarding program? I can help. Get in touch and we can explore how I can assist you. 

Further resources and reading

The best employee onboarding software
Top 7 Onboarding tools
Capterra Onboarding software 
Employee onboarding creating a positive new employee experience
Onboarding programs killers – 15 common errors to avoid
SHRM – Don’t underestimate the importance of effective onboarding
Top 6 employee onboarding statistics
Temporary worker onboarding welcome

Our 6 must reads for onboarding tactics that help new hires succeed (and stay)

My practical onboarding e-guide, complete with templates to assist your company to improve your onboarding process, may be all the help you need to get started. These tools and resources will assist you to create an exceptional onboarding experience for ALL new employees. The e-guide includes:

  • Audit template for your current onboarding program
  • Sample onboarding checklist
  • Sample onboarding schedule
  • Sample Agenda for meetings to innovate and improve your current onboarding experience
  • Sample survey for new employees to measure their onboarding experience
  • “Touch point” strategy template to ensure you are creating an exceptional onboarding experience for all new employees
  • Hints and tips for going the “extra mile” to create an exceptional onboarding experience

Get in touch for pricing of this Onboarding e-Guide, or for details of a more comprehensive and personalised service, by clicking here.

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