Providing new employees with a positive onboarding experience is a good way to both make them happy and satisfy larger business goals. The faster employees can get up to speed, the faster they’ll be able to contribute to the growth and success of your organization.
But great onboarding isn’t something that happens by accident. It needs to be effectively structured if it is to set the standard and equip employees with the knowledge and skills they need.
In this guide, we dig into how you can create an impactful onboarding plan.
What Is an Employee Onboarding Process?
Employee onboarding is a structured process that helps integrate new hires into their role and the organization. No matter the job, there’s usually some form of onboarding involved. This could include:
- team introductions
- worksheets and training materials
- equipment and workstation setup
Onboarding starts during the hiring process and ends when an employee is settled into their role. The main goals are to make people feel comfortable and expedite the training process.
How Long Does Employee Onboarding Take?
The onboarding process can last about three months, though some time frames may be shorter or longer, depending on the role.
Building a robust onboarding process is not only an effective way to welcome people, it also contributes to long-term satisfaction and retention. Research from Gallup found that employees who had exceptional onboarding experiences were 2.6 times more likely to be satisfied with where they work and 3.5 times more likely to agree they have a clear plan for their professional development.
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The 6 C’s of Effective Onboarding
The concept of the four C’s of onboarding—compliance, clarification, culture and connection—was developed in 2010 by Talya Bauer (PhD) and published by the Society for Human Resource Management. Guided by additional research and the changing nature of work, Bauer has since added two more C’s: confidence and checkbacks.
Before you get too far down the onboarding road, there are some basic items you’ll need to cross off your to-do list. Compliance is often nicknamed the housekeeping stage for this reason. It includes getting new hires up to speed on standard policies, procedures and rules, and having them fill out any necessary paperwork.
You want to make sure new hires have a solid understanding of the role they’re taking on. What are their key responsibilities? Are there any ongoing tasks they need to start now, and what projects can they expect to take on in the future?
Here, it’s about helping people become familiar with formal and informal organizational norms. It could encompass elements such as the company’s mission and vision, and it could also include team- or department-specific information about commonly used acronyms, phrases or more.
It’s important to note that this stage will evolve. New hires will learn about the established culture they’re coming into, but they’ll also contribute to and help shape it over time.
This is one of the biggest, broadest stages of onboarding. In essence, it’s about supporting new hires in building relationships within the organization. Robust intra-organization connections are beneficial for both employees and companies. On an individual level, it can create social capital and help employees feel more valued and committed to their work. For the organization, it also gives employees a wider network to tap into if they have a question or need to solve a problem.
Equally important is helping new hires feel confident that they have the support and resources they need to be successful in the job. Effective knowledge transfer will be a key component here.
Often, the best way to find out whether your onboarding programs have been successful is to ask the people who have gone through them. Feedback from your employees can help you supercharge what’s working and sunset what’s not.
The 4 Phases of Onboarding
Onboarding can be broken down into four phases. Let’s take a look at what they are.
Phase 1: Pre-Onboarding
The pre-onboarding phase starts once a new hire accepts the job offer. You may send over information about policies to help the soon-to-be employees get acquainted with your company. If there are supplemental training resources that would be helpful, you can share those too. There will likely be paperwork for them to fill out. Lastly, depending on the nature of the job or the work your company does, there may be additional checks they have to complete as well.
Whatever pre-onboarding looks like at your organization, the goal is simply to get new employees ready for and excited to start their role.
Phase 2: Onboarding and Orientation
Whether the process takes place in person or online, this is the phase where you welcome new hires to the team. It can be important for helping them initiate relationships with the people they’ll be working with, feel comfortable with your organization, and deepen their understanding of the company’s culture, values and expectations.
Some employers will set up individual or team meetings with representatives from various departments so new employees can put faces to names. If the job is based in an office, oftentimes there will be a welcome lunch or office tour to make the experience memorable.
Phase 3: Training
This is one of the most critical parts of onboarding. It’s where new hires learn the tools, workflows and skills needed to perform their role effectively.
Training can cover a wide scope of content. Some components will be broader courses that everyone needs to complete for compliance reasons, while others will be specific to the department, team or product the new hire will be working with. The methods of delivery will vary too. If someone is onboarding onto the sales team, for example, you may get them to practice adapting a script and role-play delivering a pitch.
It’s also important that training be delivered at a cadence that won’t overwhelm new employees. You can give them a breakdown at the beginning that outlines key tasks they can aim to accomplish or milestones they can work to hit each week. You may also be able to use your online learning platform to automate parts of the process for you, releasing content in stages as their competency grows or they complete more modules.
Phase 4: Ongoing Employee Development
The final stage is an evergreen one. Employee development can involve setting milestones so employees can see how they’re growing professionally and contributing to the success of your organization. Ongoing development can include a few of the following components:
- competency assessments
- performance reviews
- employee recognition
- personal and professional goals
- career mapping
- one-on-one check-ins with team leads
It’s about looking beyond the first few months—helping your employees stay engaged in their work and find pathways to grow in their careers.
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3 Key Elements of a Successful Onboarding Process
Your onboarding timeline lays out the format and steps of your onboarding process. This ensures new employees can follow a consistent, clear path the whole way. Your process timeline should include the following:
Training Session Schedule
Creating a standard onboarding process keeps everyone on track. You should consider creating a schedule to help new hires monitor their meetings and training sessions. You can also use a corporate learning management system to help organize checklists and documents.
Checklists are a useful tool for helping new hires stay on top of all their training activities. They can include standard tasks that every new hire needs to complete as well as role- or team-specific milestones.
Your checklists can include actions such as:
- meet the team
- attend a welcome orientation
- complete your online email and profile
- fill out benefits forms for human resources
- review personal time off or vacation policies
Make sure to check in with your employees on a regular basis to see how they’re doing. This gives you the opportunity to gather feedback on how the onboarding is going. Plus, it builds rapport and makes a lasting impression on people.
Make a Great First Impression
The simple truth is that a good onboarding experience matters. It gives employees a positive impression and confidence in your company. Plus, it sets new hires up for success, which benefits your organization in turn.
And remember, while we can learn from best practices and each other, no two onboarding strategies are going to be fully alike. Figuring out what works best for your organization and your employees is what will help put everyone on a pathway to success.
Haley Wilson is a Content Marketing Manager at D2L, specializing in the corporate learning space. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Guelph as well as a Master of Arts focused in history from Wilfrid Laurier University.
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