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Employee Onboarding – What’s Your Plan?


HR – that department within a company that is responsible for so many things – recruitment, employment, policy manuals, training and development, performance evaluation structures, terminations/outboarding, and more. And for small businesses, all of these functions fall upon the single owner. Consider the time it takes to do the following:

  • Screen resumes and identify the top three candidates
  • Conduct phone and in-person interviews
  • Check references and perform the pre-employment background checks
  • Make the offer and set the start date
  • Make certain plans are in place for orientation and onboarding

One function that often gets put on the “back burner” is onboarding. For many organizations, onboarding consists of:

  • Filling out all of the required paperwork, tax forms, etc.
  • Going over the company/employee policy manual and getting that all-important signature that the employee has received it
  • Finding a co-worker to “assign” the new employee to who is tasked with “showing them the ropes” and introducing them around
  • A supervisor providing some small tasks and responsibilities until the newbie gets his/her “feet on the ground.”

What employers often fail to realize is this: It takes an average of eight months for a new employee to become fully productive, and, in a recent survey, almost 50% of millennials (the largest group currently being hired) say they would have appreciated better onboarding.

And while HR can do the nuts and bolts type of onboarding activities, it falls to managers and supervisors to onboard new people in their departments. This is a leadership function, really, and many managers and supervisors are in their roles without having had any formal training in how to onboard new employees who land in their departments. They use their experiences of the past and maybe information they have picked up from conversations with other managers and supervisors.

Onboarding Processes Are Not All Created Equal

Consider the differences between onboarding a new clerical staff member who must learn the organization’s software for invoicing procedures vs. a new staff member who will be responsible for evaluating current IT finance and budget systems and for coming up with better solutions, vs. the new inventory control manager vs. a new content marketer.

The Commonalities

There are certain onboarding processes that will be generic and common to all of these varied employees, but then they will split off to their own specific orientations and onboarding activities that relate to their task responsibilities. Still, no matter what he department and no matter what responsibilities the new employee will have, there have to be plans in place to do the following:

  • Ensure that the new hire feels welcome
  • Clearly establish responsibilities
  • Make certain they meet as many people as possible, and certainly all of the people within their department
  • Familiarize them with the company “culture”

And when those plans are in place, both the new hire and the organization benefit:

  • It reduces costs in the long run – learning on the job time is reduced. It is estimated that employees cost as much as $37 billion to U.S. and UK business annually, because those employees do not fully understand their jobs or have misinterpreted policies and/or important information.
  • Supervisors and even co-workers can follow the plans that have been set out
  • Improves morale and satisfaction of the new hire

The Plan

Every organization is different, but they are all made of people – people who work and, hopefully, play together as well. And so, an onboarding program should incorporate serious stuff, but some fun stuff as well. Here is a general plan that should fit any organization.

The First Day

Rather than spend time with all of the paperwork, give it to the employee in advance of his/her first day. Then, it just needs to be submitted and the first day can be relegated to more enjoyable activities. Here are some possibilities:

  • Every person that will be a co-worker or team member should be given some background information on the new hire in advance – name, a bit of background (professional and personal) and any other information that might be fun to know.
  • Have a checklist of what every new hire will receive in the way of information about the “housekeeping” matters and who exactly will be responsible for that. (e.g., making sure the workspace is set up and ready to go). On the first day, all of the items on the checklist should be checked off.
  • Create a welcome sign and have all of the new hire’s co-workers sign it
  • Have a breakfast for the team or group of co-workers on that first morning.
  • Make sure the new hire gets any company swag that others have – coffee mug, pens, T-shirt, etc.
  • Plan a group lunch or at least make certain that someone accompanies the new hire to lunch.

The First Week

The Supervisor or manager should be certain that the new hire has a mentor within the team. Tasks should be assigned by pairing the newbie with a veteran and working on them together. This trains the new person by having them “do” rather than just be fed explanations or reading materials.

For all new types of tasks, this plan works well. People learn by doing. And if there are interactive videos for some of this training, all the better. The trainee can choose his/her own viewing time, even during non-work hours. But be certain that the digital training materials are interactive and engage the trainee. Nothing is more boring than a video-taped lecture.

A number of mid to large-sized organizations are using gamification for training. If you have your onboarding goals and objectives clearly identified with defined learner outcomes, there are plenty of consulting developers who can transform training materials into games.

The First Month

Onboarding is an ongoing process. After the first month of a new hire employment, every manager or supervisor should have a one-on-one with that individual. The purpose is as much for that team leader as it is for the employee.

  • Ask the new employee how the onboarding process could be improved
  • Be certain to have the new hire identify those areas in which s/he still feels uncomfortable in terms of task responsibilities.
  • Provide honest feedback to the employee in a non-threatening manner. You’ve invested a lot of time and money into this person. You want them to have good morale and the feeling that they have already provided value to the team.

These one-on-ones should occur monthly for several months. It’s important for new employees to know that they are valued and that their supervisors are invested in their success. They will stay committed to their tasks and to the organization.

It’s far less expensive to nurture and develop an employee than it is to go out and seek a replacement for that person, because onboarding has not been successful, and the company and the hire have decided that there is not a fit after all. If you are losing new employees who obviously have the talent and skills you need, then chances are the onboarding process failed in some respect(s). If you have a plan, at least you have a start point to determine what may not be working and where that “connection” has broken down.

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