Do you remember being onboarded to your company? What was it like? Did you find it rushed, chaotic and messy? Did they throw you into the deep end with little more than a laptop?
Or was it wow-worthy? Was it personalized for your position? Did they happily answer your "silly" questions about parking spots and let you play an active role from the start?
Your employees will remember your onboarding process. No one forgets their first day, especially if it wasn't great. It's the beginning of their work journey and sets the stage for the rest of their experience, whether that lasts months, years or possibly even decades.
Talent leaders and HR teams strive to get the onboarding experience right, but it's no easy task. How can we make employees feel they made the right decision? How can we set new employees off to the right start? We asked experts in the field; here are the seven things they said.
Tailor Onboarding to the Many Ways We Learn
For a new hire, the biggest piece of the onboarding puzzle is learning. They have to learn the new office layout, the company's values, new technology, new processes, their new role and how their role connects to their new team's collective goals.
To create a wow-worthy onboarding experience, think about the three different ways people learn, says Ben Eubanks, Principal Analyst at Lighthouse Research & Advisory:
Most onboarding experiences rely on the first way – formal instruction. These often include:
- Watching training videos
- Attending in-classroom lessons
- Reviewing organization charts
- Reading handbooks and policies
Formal instruction works fine for handling the basics, such as work hours and how to access your benefits. The onboarding experience falls short when organizations end the process at this stage.
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The second way we learn is informally through social interaction. Being social and communicating will help new hires feel more connected to the organization and their colleagues. They'll create bonds, begin to recognize who knows and handles what area and will feel more immersed in the office dynamic. Instead of relying only on their manager for help each step of the way, social interactions help a new hire stand on their own two feet more quickly.
Experiential learning is the third piece to learning, says Ben. This is all about letting the new hire learn by actively testing, trying, exploring and doing new things. This isn't a one-day trial run, but a months-long experience. Over this period, the new employee will test, try, explore and do, and eventually become a fully onboarded, productive team member.
If your onboarding process only relies on one or two of learning styles, and neither is your new hire's preferred way to learn, you're missing the chance to help them succeed. An outstanding onboarding experience integrates every learning style.
Keep the Onboarding Process Flexible and Dynamic
Try as you might, a one-size-fits-all onboarding program that helps every employee in every department in every role get up to speed at the same time does not exist! While a great onboarding checklist can do a lot to keep things in line, a wow-worthy onboarding process needs to be flexible and dynamic.
For John Sumser, Principal Analyst for HRExaminer, this means sculpting the process to fit the employee instead of forcing the employee to fit the process:
If an organization wants to onboard a new hire properly (and create a great experience too), they need to invest more energy in knowing what it takes to get up to speed in that role, and then provide the new hire with the resources necessary to do it.
Don't Overlook the Obvious! Put Yourself in Their Shoes
When you've been with an organization for a while, certain details begin to feel obvious. But a new hire won't know this basic (yet crucial) information yet. Don't overlook fundamental information that a new employee will need to know to feel comfortable and welcomed.
Begin by giving them the chance to ask practical questions, such as:
- Where is my office or desk?
- Do I get a parking spot?
- What's the best meeting room—and why?
- Are there lunch spots nearby?
- Where do I put my coat?
Once your new employee has this foundational knowledge they'll be better equipped to excel in other areas. In this video, John Helmer uses Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to explain why structuring your onboarding process in this way is the key to a better experience:
Give New Hires the Chance to Make Tangible Contributions
To create a successful onboarding experience, you need to make sure the new employee is an active—not passive—participant. Move from a "check-the-box activity" toward a process that includes the new hire as an active contributor.
Often, when someone starts a new job, they've got a lot of energy. They're open for new experiences, willing and ready to sink their teeth into something. For Julie-Winkle Giulioni, that means accelerating the opportunity for tangible contributions:
This doesn't necessarily mean assigning them a massive, important project right off the bat. You don't want to overwhelm the person. Instead, give them a meaningful task, one that's related to the work they'll be doing, that they can channel their energy into.
When you get the new employee involved in the onboarding process instead of just handing them forms to complete, they'll feel useful, productive and more confident in their role. They'll also start forming a bond with the organization from the get-go, which is good news for retention.
Emphasize Social Connectedness During Onboarding
A truly successful onboarding process will make the new hire feel like they belong. Once this happens, it reinforces their decision to join the organization, encourages engagement and "stretches out that new hire feeling" says Jason Lauritsen:
But, social connectedness requires more than a one-hour sit down between the new hire and their team to ask questions. It can start before they're even in the office.
Offer the new hire their future colleagues' emails so they can chat, introduce themselves and get excited about the opportunity ahead. Or, invite the new hire to the office—before their real first day—for an afternoon spent solely on socializing. Then, when the new hire arrives on day one of work, they already feel comfortable and welcomed.
Beyond those benefits, social connectedness also creates a sense of ownership and investment for the employee. It sets the stage for a (hopefully) years- or decades-long relationship between the employee and company. A strong sense of social connectedness helps employees stay dedicated to a company, even when things inevitably change in other areas of work.
Make Sure the New Hire's Manager is Well Prepared
A great onboarding process centers on the new hire and talent leaders. You need a great people team and great tools to integrate the new person well and set them up for success. But, once the HR meetings and the forms are done, it's up to the new hire's manager to keep things running smoothly.
Managers have a direct impact on an employee's engagement and happiness. If they aren't onboarded well themselves, all of the great work you've done in the initial onboarding steps will be for naught.
So, help your managers help their new hires by teaching them fundamentals like:
- How to handle paycheck errors
- How to request new software
- How to enter sick or vacation days
If the manager's well-prepared, they'll do a great job leading the rest of the new hire's onboarding experience.
Remember the Onboarding Process is a Two-Way Street
Often, the onboarding process focuses too much on what the organization can teach the new hire, and not enough on what the new hire can teach the organization. One of the greatest risks about the onboarding process involves one-way (instead of two-way) information sharing.
Yes, the new hire has a lot to learn when they're joining a new role, new team, new department and new organization. But a successful onboarding process requires that the organization learn something new from each onboarding process too.
Steve Simpson recommends that talent leaders consider what information they could collect from new hires that could improve the onboarding process or even benefit the entire company.
Remember that onboarding is a two-way street and there's always something that the organization could learn from too. So if you want to create a better onboarding experience, ask those who've recently gone through it what they liked and didn't like, and really think about their answers.
Ready to Get Started?
Getting the onboarding experience right just makes sense. Employers spend an exuberant amount of time and money onboarding an employee, just to have one-third of new hires leave by the six-month mark.
These seven tips are a great starting point to reaching onboarding success. But, if you're looking for even more guidance, you can find that in our How Great Organizations Welcome New Employees eBook. This complete guide shares five best practices, success stories and everything else your organization needs for a wow-worthy onboarding process.