The definitive guide to building your onboarding process from beginning to end

The onboarding process has become a top priority for human resource professionals.

Companies have come to the realization that employees cannot be left to their own devices when first joining their organizations. They now understand that it is necessary to properly prepare their arrival so they can understand how the company works, meet their colleagues, and become familiar with the workplace. The goal is clear: for new hires to feel comfortable during their first days, to start being productive as soon as possible, and to decide to stay in the company.

According to research by the Brandon Hall Group, a good onboarding process improves the retention rate of new employees by 82% and their productivity by more than 70%. This means that you should take onboarding very seriously, devote as many resources as possible to it, and design a well-defined process from start to finish.

In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to do it successfully.

The onboarding process in four steps

If you are to take the onboarding process seriously, you’ll need to plan it in different stages. It is important to design a comprehensive plan, which can give information in doses and takes into account the different moments newcomers may find themselves in. All stages are important, and it’s important to make sure none of your new employees get lost along the way.

1. Pre-onboarding

Even before you offer someone a job, it’s important to communicate the company’s values and how the recruiting and hiring process works. Many of the things that will be explained in the onboarding process should already have been touched on during interviews. What is the company culture? Who will be their manager? What are the daily schedule and general company rules? Sharing all this information will help you and the candidate decide if you are a good fit. If you are, the onboarding process will have already gotten off to a good start.

In the pre-onboarding process, another important stage is the period between when the employee accepts the job offer and their arrival at the office. This is usually a time when the employee is very enthusiastic and eager to get started, but they may also have a lot of questions about what the new job will really be like. At this stage, it is important to maintain open communication with new employees, so they can find out what the onboarding process will consist of and get started on as much paperwork as possible. For example, the technology company Twitter places special emphasis on this period, calling it “Yes to Desk”.

With these aspects in mind, here are five practical tips that will help you with the pre-onboarding process:

1. Pay special attention to your “Job Opportunities” website. If you want to save time, make sure that all job candidates are familiar with the way the company generally works, its values, and its culture. Highlight these points on the “career opportunities” page, showcasing unique, practical, and real-world information about your company.

2. Don’t forget about job listings. Companies often miss the opportunity to include a consistent and motivating description of their company in job listings. However, this space is highly important for pre-onboarding: use it to communicate your organization’s business culture and most relevant information. Be sure to mention this information in job interviews, and ask candidates if they would feel comfortable in such a company.

3. Make it personal. Between when they accept the job offer and their arrival at the company, make sure you send them a friendly, personalized message. Make them feel at home. Show them you’re happy they’re going to be part of your organization.

4. Get a head start on paperwork. Before their first day at work, take the opportunity to send out all the documentation that new employees will have to read and sign. This includes any legal documents (employment contract, confidentiality or competition clauses, tax model, etc.), as well as the welcome manual, videos, and basic company presentations. This way, you can get a head start while maintaining communication with them.

5. Prepare their first day. Explain in detail what their first day will be like and what they need to do before they start their new job.

2. The onboarding process: the first day at work

An employee’s first day should be magical. You have to plan everything to a T in order to make a positive impression and motivate the new hires. In addition to covering all your practical and logistical needs, it is important to take care of the human aspect. The goal should be that, when asked how their first day of work was, the employee responds with an ear-to-ear smile. This is the best sign of an enthusiastic worker who wants to start and stay with your company.

To achieve this, here are 8 tips for a great onboarding process:

1. Logistics. Be clear about what employees need to bring with them on their first day. Don’t forget to set an exact place, time, and contact person.

2. Select a host who can act as an informal guide for the newcomer. On their first day, it should be someone from their own department. This way, new employees can begin to open up their social circle and get to know the company’s way of working.

3. Meeting with their manager. It’s important for new employees to meet with their direct manager on their first day. This is often the first thing they do as soon as they get to the office. It is a way to attach importance to their hiring and above all to start talking about objectives, responsibilities, and expectations.

4. IT. Make sure that everything computer-related is in working order before their first day. This includes their email, access to local servers, availability of all software related to their role, and the use of the photocopier and telephone. Although it seems simple, experiencing computer issues on the first day of work is one of the most common (and most frustrating) problems during the onboarding process.

5. Get to know the workspace. While many things may seem obvious to you, it’s important that new hires know where everything is and what things are for. Questions such as “where are the bathrooms”, “how does the vending machine work”, “how do you book a meeting room”, and “what is the phone number of each department” are often overlooked in many onboarding processes. Make sure that new employees become familiar with their new work environment, as this will give them security, peace of mind, and confidence.

6. Celebrate their arrival. The hiring of a new employee should be turned into a major celebration for the whole company. To do this, send an email to all workers with a short presentation, place photos of new employees on the office walls or in the kitchen, have their business cards ready on their desk, or organize an informal presentation on the first day.

7. Meet the managers. It’s important for new hires to meet the company’s top managers. This helps to get managers involved in the onboarding process and to let the new hires know who they can go to for help. Depending on your company’s culture, this can take the form of a simple handshake and a few words of welcome or even a meal on the first day.

8. Do something nice for your new employees. Any bit of attention paid to the new hires can make all the difference between a memorable onboarding process and a normal one. This may be a T-shirt with the company’s logo and name; a bottle of wine; or an invitation to a full breakfast. Whatever it is, it will make them feel special.

3. The onboarding process: the first week

The first week is vital to a new employee’s successful landing. A lot can happen in five days, and in this time, the employee must be able to learn about the general functioning of their department, figure out what their objectives are, start working autonomously, establish personal relationships, and feel identified with the mission of the company.

These five tips will help you achieve this:

1. Design an accurate and reasonable roadmap. The best way to ensure a successful onboarding process is to design a series of milestones or stages that every new employee must go through. On the one hand, this helps employees manage their own expectations and follow a well-signposted path; on the other, it can help ensure that everyone completes the onboarding process without getting lost along the way. You can do this using an Excel spreadsheet or a checklist.

2. Give information in small doses. One of the most frequent mistakes is to give as much information as possible all at once or in a very short time. The employees have just arrived at an unfamiliar organization: take it easy and give them information in small chunks, through short presentation sessions and by mixing social activities with more instructive ones.

3. The manager: 5 minutes every day. Make sure the manager talks to newcomers every day and evaluates their progress throughout the week. Even if it’s only 5 or 10 minutes every day (maybe first thing in the morning), showing interest in new employees and answering their questions can guarantee a successful onboarding process. At the end of the week, set up a feedback session to find out what their experience has been like during the first five days.

4. Get to know the other departments. It’s important that newcomers interact with employees outside of their team. To do so, prepare one or two sessions a day with the heads of each of the company’s departments. This way, not only will new employees be able to expand their social circle, but they’ll also get a better understanding of the whole company structure. You could also assign a host from a different department for each day of the week or organize meals with members of different teams.

5. Take a picture of the employees. Whether it’s for their email signature, your company’s organization chart, or any other creative communication material, have your photographer ready and don’t forget to take a snapshot of each new employee. Doing so will help them feel like they have truly become a part of the company.

4. Continuous onboarding

The onboarding process does not end after the first week. The following days and months require other types of activities to complete employee integration. This is the time to go into more detail regarding the business model and the specifics of your sector, but also to personalize the onboarding process and to respond to the particularities of each employee. In some companies, onboarding processes can last more than a year.

So as not to leave the work unfinished, pay attention to the following six points:

1. The first month. Make sure your manager keeps track of the first thirty days by checking in on a weekly basis (e.g. every Friday). New employees’ knowledge regarding the company will have increased as will their number of questions. Check that they have completed the first month’s roadmap and offer them feedback so they can continue to move forward in the organization.

2. Promote a unique culture. In the onboarding process, don’t forget to make your company stand out. New employees need to feel part of something bigger than themselves where they can develop as professionals and as people. Explain what the company’s mission is and what it is doing to improve the world. Use some unique elements of the company (a song, phrase, logo, mascot, idea, etc.) to make them feel part of it.

3. Experts in your products. If new hires have tried your products in the first days and weeks, now is the time for them to get to know them in depth. Make sure they are familiar with them, experience them first-hand, and understand all their technical peculiarities.

4. Present them to customers. In a world where companies are increasingly customer and consumer oriented (the customer-centric concept is a trend), it is vital that new employees can put a face to them. Not only do newcomers need to know their socioeconomic profile (age, income, location, studies, lifestyle, etc.), they also need to go one step further and empathize with them. If possible, and depending on the type of business, make sure that new employees meet some of the company’s customers in person.

5. Processes, processes, processes. During onboarding, the necessary processes that govern the day-to-day are often neglected. How are tasks delegated? What types of software and formats are used? What is the policy on responding to emails? How are the different departments coordinated? It is essential that little by little and during the whole onboarding process, employees learn all these details so they can function in the office and fit into the gears of the organization.

6. Team building. Don’t forget to encourage the socialization of new employees as much as possible. Whether it is with informal meals, Friday afternoon leisure activities, or participation in sports competitions, the onboarding process must include human and social integration. In the first three months, for example, it is advisable to do some team building exercises so that employees feel part of the team.

Bonus: two tips for achieving excellence in your onboarding process

1. Gamify your onboarding process. If you want your employees to have a unique, innovative, and different experience, add gamification to your onboarding process. Customizable video games such as ADA can help engage and motivate new employees while teaching them about the company’s history, spending policy, values, and culture. In this sense, gamification can turn something that is otherwise boring (technical aspects of the industry, compliance, financial regulation, etc.) into a fascinating adventure.

2. Ask for feedback to improve your onboarding process. From start to finish, don’t forget to measure everything that happens during the onboarding process and ask new employees for feedback. Take several surveys over time (first week, first month, first quarter) to measure the level of satisfaction. What are the weak points? Where do new hires often get stuck? What areas can be improved upon? Make sure you get honest answers from new employees, as they often have fresh new ideas.

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