6 tips for building an intentional onboarding process
A deliberate, coordinated onboarding strategy can make your new hire much stickier—and much happier
By Mike Ariale
Onboarding is a critical part of the employee journey—but it’s often overlooked. With an enormous focus on hiring and recruiting, many hiring managers think the employee journey ends once they have a signed offer and start date. This leaves onboarding a weaker process, inconsistent and unstructured at best, and at worst, actively sabotaging the new hire and their future work.
Research shows that 82% of employees are more likely to stay at their company longer after a great onboarding experience. In the midst of the great resignation, this is a huge opportunity to stand out from other employers. With the substantial time and monetary investment that goes into hiring an employee, a clean, simple onboarding process can make your hire much stickier—and much happier.
While every onboarding process is unique to each individual company, there are a few themes I think are must-haves when designing your own onboarding playbook:
Onboarding begins before the first day.
I’ve seen so many scrambles the morning of—or even the weekend before—a new hire is set to start. Onboarding should actually begin when the employee signs their offer; it requires intentional planning, coordination, and communication by multiple parties to ensure the new hire is welcomed and ready to go on day one. IT needs to set up equipment and provision accounts, managers need to ensure the engineering environment is set up, HR needs to ensure benefits and payroll are turned on. If you begin onboarding early, it will not only make for a prepared team, but an engaged employee, who feels connected and welcomed to the team!
Onboarding doesn’t end on the first day.
Sure, the day one experience is critical—but truly onboarding with a new hire can take a lot longer. It might be months before they’re fully integrated into the company culture and contributing to the mission in an autonomous way.
To set clear expectations for new hires as well as a path to success, I’ve often used an onboarding scorecard. This document outlines very simple expectations of new hires' roles, tangible steps they can take, and benchmarks for where a hire should be at pre-defined periods of times (I personally like 30/60/90 day checkpoints). For my new hires, I review this scorecard on day one to get buy-in, and then adjust as we see fit.
Pick a primary voice to communicate with the new hire.
I’ve seen well-intended onboarding go awry with competing voices in the room sharing information with a new hire. At one company I worked at, I saw this overload negatively affect my team’s ability to get critical information to new hires. IT, People Ops, Managers, Security, and Benefits were all reaching out to new hires at different cadences to give them a variety of tasks—without sharing a clear picture of the broader plan or timeline. Things were falling to the floor; after a retro, it was clear we needed a communication plan.
A quick iteration consolidated many disparate voices into one primary voice. They’d set the scene for the internal team, but they’d also act as the primary voice communicating with our new hire, delivering a rough timeline of what to expect so the new hire could keep an eye out for critical information. They also channeled and escalated any issues the new hire had to ensure the right people were getting the right info at the right time: gone were the days of IT being asked when a new hire’s 401k plan would vest.
Build out clear plans for your onboarding team.
Developing an initial onboarding plan may be a heavy lift, but once it’s complete, it pays off many times over. There are a number of places you can build these templates, like Notion, Confluence, or even HRIS tools like BambooHR or Greenhouse Onboarding.
If you’re trying to figure out how to get started, I’ve created an example onboarding timeline. Each company is unique and should tailor the onboarding journey to its own needs, but this should serve as a nice jumping off point if you’re in a pinch!
Plug and play as much as you can.
Ideally once the template is built, each plan should only require a few tweaks to customize for the employees needs (e.g., unique environment configurations for engineers, high beta roles, new hire locations to the company). Outside of edge cases and a semi-quarterly refresh, the plan should be relatively operationalized so you can focus more on your people, not your process.
Make it fun!
Onboarding doesn’t have to be—and arguably shouldn’t be—all paperwork and webinars. This is a key opportunity to show what culture looks like at your company, especially while excitement around a new hire is high, to keep that positive momentum rolling well past the first day.
Ask yourself: What team or company traditions do you have? Do you gather regularly for non-work social time (e.g., team lunches, game nights, clubs, ERGs, new hire buddy program). What meaningful swag that you can get in the hands of your employee on day one? How can you demonstrate company-wide excitement for the new hire? Even in a remote environment, there are ample opportunities to make this happen. Incorporating company culture in your onboarding helps set an example of what good looks like at your organization.