How 15 Companies Nail The Employee Onboarding Process
When it comes to recruiting, the job doesn’t end once the candidate says yes. There’s still one more task to be accomplished, and it’s arguably the most important one: employee onboarding.
But getting it right isn’t easy, so we asked 15 pros to share some tips on how they set new hires up for success. From entry level roles to the c-suite, their advice can help anyone looking to revamp their employee onboarding process.
15 Employee Onboarding Tips From The Pros
Tip 1 - Get started before they start
Remember the last time you accepted a new job? It was probably an exciting whirlwind of applications, interviews, reference checks and soul searching that culminated with you finally signing on the dotted line.
But then you filed your two weeks notice and spent the next 14 days asking yourself a lot of questions. “What’s it going to be like? What am I going to be doing? Why haven’t I heard anything since I accepted my offer? DID I MAKE A TERRIBLE MISTAKE!?”
Thankfully this is rarely the case, but one easy way to allay any lingering fears a new hire may be feeling is to begin the onboarding process before their first day.
“Before new hires start, we send them a personalized onboarding packet,” says Keenan Cronyn, People Operations Manager at Sidebench. These packets contain personal profiles of all employees at the company, their schedule for the first few days, a customized 90-day plan and other useful information that helps new hires understand timelines and expectations. “By the time they walk in on Monday morning, they have a good grip on what’s to come,” says Cronyn.
How you can apply this employee onboarding strategy: Creating a combination welcome/onboarding package is a simple way to engage with new hires before they start and keep them excited about their decision. Whether you go with a few emails from future colleagues or a more robust solution like Sidebench, a pre-hire onboarding experience can only pay dividends.
tip 2 - Make it structured
A little dependability can be a good thing - especially when it comes to employee onboarding. While no two hires will be exactly the same, providing a standardized onboarding approach can go a long way toward ensuring everyone on the team is on the same page.
“Regardless of what team you will be joining, your first two weeks at FareHarbor will be an intensive ‘classroom-style’ training,” says Bri Tonns, Operations Manager at FareHarbor. “These two weeks are followed by another few weeks of training with your specific team, which will allow new hires to dive deeper into their role with some role-play exercises, problem-solving tests and shadowing.”
This structured approach provides every new hire with the same broad overview of the company, as well as additional time to learn with their individual team. It also makes life easier for the onboarding team when they know exactly what the process looks like before it begins. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
How you can apply this employee onboarding strategy: The greatest risk associated with a highly structured onboarding process is the chance that you may get it wrong, sending every new hire down the wrong path from the get go. To avoid this, make sure to do your research before designing your onboarding program. Ask enough questions of your existing employees (what worked, what didn’t, what could be better, etc.) and you’ll have the information you need to design a repeatable and scalable onboarding process.
tip 3 - get them in the trenches
Most companies are an amalgamation of specialized teams that handle unique functions of the business, and while this makes sense from a performance standpoint, it can also lead to organizational silos. Using the onboarding process to get new hires in the trenches is a great way to help them understand what it is the company actually does and how they can impact outcomes.
“Every hire, regardless of level or department, spends their first two weeks in customer service,” says Leslie Joseph, VP of People and Organization at RXBAR. “This experience enables new hires to interact with the incredible customers we service every day and adapt the servant mindset that drives everything we do.”
Most of us will never experience all of the functions that make a business run, but the onboarding process is a great way to help new hires better understand the village that’s working to keep things moving.
How you can apply this employee onboarding strategy: Customer success is a great idea, but there’s no limit to the ways you can get new hires involved. Have them man the IT inbox for a day, help the fulfillment team or make a widget or two! Not only will this help new hires develop a sense of empathy for your customers, it will also help them understand what their colleagues are doing on a daily basis as well.
tip 4 - emphasize your culture
At the base level, most businesses are relatively similar. Sure, they all have their unique identities, but once you’ve worked in an office or two you typically know what to expect. What really sets organizations apart are their unique company cultures, so make sure to emphasize this in your employee onboarding process.
“It starts with the onboarding process, where every new hire goes through a ‘culture orientation’ which details why we chose those values, why we run meetings a certain way, why we prioritize unstructured one-on-ones, and why we provide feedback the way we do,” says Madeline Mann, Director of People Operations at Gem. “The business impact of a well-understood culture has been strong internal communication, improved hiring decisions around culture fit and an ingrained sense of humor that stems from fostering moments of pure silliness to keep ourselves spirited.”
With tangible business impacts like that, why wouldn’t you make your company culture a part of your onboarding process?
How you can apply this employee onboarding strategy: Infusing your culture into your onboarding process is as simple as setting aside some time to have an open and honest conversation about who you are, and why you do things the way you do. Most new hires will come away from the interview process with a fairly clear picture of your company culture, but taking the time to have a dedicated conversation can help to answer any questions they may still have.
Tip 5 - build a new hire bench
Every company onboards employees in their own way, but the goal is usually the same: to get them ready to contribute to the team as quickly as possible.
HomeAdvisor does things a little differently.
“I started with HomeAdvisor as a sales representative and earned the opportunity to lead our Inferno team,” says Inside Sales Manager Kenny Madison. “The Inferno is a team of relatively new sales representatives who are polishing their sales skills before being put onto a sales team.”
By providing its new hires with a simulated environment that mirrors what they’ll soon encounter, HomeAdvisor gives them the opportunity to tackle real challenges and scenarios without the pressure associated with an actual sales call. By the time they join their team, new hires have been through plenty of hands-on training and better understand what they need to do to succeed.
How you can apply this employee onboarding strategy: Typical onboarding processes may help new hires learn about the industry, the company and its product offerings, but they rarely offer the sort of real-world experience that benefits employees most. Building out a farm team training program may require some added work, but this sort of “live fire” training will prove more beneficial than any orientation or welcome packet.
tip 6 - use technology to make it fun
The worlds of HR and recruiting are full of more technology than you can shake a stick at. From ATS platforms to HRIS systems, there’s no shortage of tools making the process easier. Smart companies are also using this technology to add an element of fun to employee onboarding.
“On the way to meet your orientation class — the other new hires you’ll spend much of your first week with — you might notice your picture and bio displayed on our internal signage network,” says Tor Stenbakken, Organizational Effectiveness Leader at Four Winds Interactive. “We’ve also created an app called FastStart which has experiential, scavenger-hunt like activities that new hires can engage in to help them learn about our company while also taking part in some friendly competition.”
For Four Winds, a few relatively minor investments in technology have taken what would be an otherwise traditional onboarding experience to the next level, adding an element of delight that’s sure to leave new hires with a positive experience.
How you can apply this employee onboarding strategy: Building a dedicated app may not be a realistic possibility for your company, but there are plenty of other ways to use technology to layer in a little fun. From social media posts and dedicated Slack channels to a little low-fi fun with Photoshop, it's easy to leverage the technology at your disposal to make new hires feel like part of the team.
tip 7 - Get senior leadership involved
A new hire’s first day of onboarding is full of paperwork, employee handbooks, IT obligations and all the other mundanity that comes with the territory, but all too often it’s lacking on one major point: inspiration.
One easy fix? Have your senior leaders sit down with every new hire and walk them through the mission and vision of the company. No one is better equipped to have this conversation, and it’s sure to leave a lasting impact on new employees.
“Our CEO and co-founder, Peter Rahal, sits down with all new hires for two hours to share a general company overview,” says Leslie Joseph, VP of People and Organization at RXBAR. “In addition to highlighting our history and humble beginnings, Peter hones in on our company culture.”
How you can apply this employee onboarding strategy: At a certain point, it won’t be realistic to have your CEO meet with every new hire (let’s be real - Jeff Bezos isn’t sitting down with every new Amazonner), but you can always get senior leaders involved. Taking the time to have team heads, Directors or VPs sit down with new hires on their first day is an easy way to make them feel appreciated and valued.
tip 8 - ditch the deadlines
Most onboarding processes are tightly regimented affairs, guided by 30-60-90 day plans, formal ramp periods and enough swimlanes and guardrails to ensure everything adheres to a finely-tuned schedule. But that isn’t always the best course. In fact, sometimes it’s best to ditch onboarding deadlines altogether.
“My onboarding experience at Shutterstock could not have been better,” says Christie Ramsaran, software engineer at Shutterstock. “Most notably, there was no deadline for my training — it was tailor-made to suit my needs.”
A no-deadline onboarding process may seem like a recipe for disaster, but it could be just what you need to ensure everyone on the team gets the time they need to excel.
How you can apply this employee onboarding strategy: Timelines and schedules may be important, but every new hire is different, and enforcing a one-size-fits-all approach is rarely in anyone’s best interest. Deadline-free onboarding processes aren’t traditional, but in an increasingly complex professional world they can provide the support and security employees need to thrive. You hired them because you believed they were the best fit for the role, so give them the time and space they need to prove you right.
tip 9 - don't forget the human element
Employee onboarding typically focuses on the “technical” elements of a new hire’s first few days or weeks. Getting their systems set up. Walking through the employee handbook. Meeting with their supervisor and direct reports. These are certainly important tasks, but they can be a little, how do we say this...BORING!
Don’t be afraid to add a little more sizzle to your process.
“We approach onboarding from a human-centered perspective,” says Anthony Onesto, SVP of Human Resources at Suzy. “From the moment new employees walk through the elevator banks to the time they sit in their workspace, we are building experiences to capture their attention while also surprising them with a ‘Disney-like’ attention to details.”
How you can apply this employee onboarding strategy: Whether you go big or small, when it comes to leaving a lasting impression, a little effort goes a long way. Strapped for ideas? Don’t overthink it. Make sure new hires are greeted in the lobby with a warm welcome on their first morning. Have the team gather to provide a round of applause as they first walk in the door. Leave a collection of their favorite snacks on their desk. You don’t have to break the bank to provide a memorable experience.
tip 10 - relationship building is key
As employees, we spend the majority of our time working with colleagues on our team or in our business function. This makes perfect sense given the structure of your average organizational chart, but we also spend a healthy amount of time working collaboratively with colleagues from other teams, departments or office locations. In these instances, having established relationships is key to success, and those relationships should begin in the onboarding process.
“The first few weeks for a new hire are comprised of cross-functional introductions to develop relationships, as well as shadowing other team members to provide functional training,” says Sarah Steinbach, Senior HR Business Partner at Progyny. New hires are then assigned a “buddy” from outside of their team to help them continue to develop and nurture relationships across the company.
Progyny’s approach to onboarding ensures new hires are introduced to the company as a whole - not just their individual team - and helps them forge relationships with the people they’ll soon be collaborating with.
How you can apply this employee onboarding strategy: Getting outside team members involved in the onboarding process is as simple as asking for volunteers. Your employees likely remember what it was like to be the newbie, and most of them will be more than happy to lend a helping hand. Do keep in mind that the buddy system works best when the mentor has been with the company long enough to answer questions (or at least point them in the right direction) and provide useful advice. New hires leading new hires is not a good idea.
tip 11 - get them involved fast
Taking the time to set people up for success is important, but you don’t want to overdo it. Sometimes it’s best to get new hires involved as soon as possible, assuming it’s done in a manner that offers plenty of support.
“New hires are assigned to a basic project where they can get their feet wet with our technologies while getting up to speed with our project management and development processes,” says Tom Patterson, Lead Developer at NextCapital. “Mentors will pair program with new hires in order to show them the ropes.”
By assigning new hires low-lift projects and plenty of assistance, Braintree allows them to make an immediate impact and see the fruits of their labor.
How you can apply this employee onboarding strategy: There’s always plenty of work that needs to be done, so identify some impactful (but manageable) projects and get your new hires involved.
tip 12 - make training and onboarding a responsibility unto itself
Onboarding is typically viewed as a team affair, but sometimes it makes sense to lean on a specialist or two to get the job done. Dedicated onboarding and training personnel spend 100% of their time on this function, and they’re masters of their craft.
“All new employees will work directly with our amazing training manager,” says Brian Troxell, Director of Training at Signpost. “His whole goal is to ensure that all employees know our product, possess the necessary skills and can use all tools effectively.”
Especially for high-growth companies, staffing a team of dedicated experts can both streamline the process and deliver better outcomes, so don’t sleep on your training function.
How you can apply this employee onboarding strategy: This one is definitely a little more tough to implement, but at the end of the day it comes down to a cost-benefit analysis. How much time is your team spending onboarding new hires, and what is the productivity loss associated with that obligation? If they could be making you more money focusing on their primary responsibilities, it’s time to bring in a specialist.
tip 13 - get feedback from the source
An onboarding process can always be better, and the easiest way to make the right changes is to consult with the people that know best: your own employees.
“We have continuously asked ourselves: How could it be better,” says Katie Schaaf Klinzing, Director of Support at Braintree. “We turn this question on our new hires because we’ve learned that our best source of insights into how to set them up for success is to ask.”
No one understands the onboarding process better than the people that have already been through it, so make sure to tap into them for actionable feedback.
How you can apply this employee onboarding strategy: There are plenty of ways to solicit feedback, so get creative. Sitting down with recent hires that have just completed the onboarding process will provide the most timely feedback, but don’t forget about options like surveys and suggestion boxes. There’s no wrong way to go about it.
tip 14 - create a curriculum with expert help
Building out a robust onboarding and training program is no small feat, and if you don’t have experts on staff, it may make more sense to partner with third-party partners rather than try to figure it out on your own.
Big Data company Klaviyo partnered with professional development provider General Assembly on a 60-hour data science immersion course designed to get all new hires up to speed on the business’ core competency, regardless of their background.
But it doesn’t stop there. Klaviyo also offers its employees an additional $3,000 for seminars, training and immersion courses that will help them continue to develop their skill sets.
How you can apply this employee onboarding strategy: There are a host of organizations out there that focus on professional development and training, so do a little research and find one that meets your needs (and budget) and get started.
tip 15 - Don't hold them back
We’ve spent a lot of time discussing repeatable and scalable onboarding processes, but sometimes you need to know when to break the mold. When it comes to senior hires, lengthy and over-structured onboarding processes can actually slow them down, limiting their ability to contribute. If a new hire is truly ready to jump right into the deep end, let them.
“My very first day on the job involved flying out to San Francisco to help pitch a big client, and it's been an exciting ride ever since,” says Anatola He, VP of Business Development at HyperScience. “While there wasn't formal orientation or training when I joined, I spent the first few weeks getting to know everyone and joining any call or meeting I could to get up to speed.”
Senior-level hires bring a wealth of hands-on experience and big ideas to the table, and the last thing you want to do is tie them down with training that may not be necessary given their advanced skill set.
How you can apply this employee onboarding strategy: Sure, letting someone get their hands dirty on day one sounds great, but how do you know they’re actually ready? In the case of senior-level hires, the interview process is likely to be a longer affair. Top candidates will ask you plenty of questions, so don’t be afraid to provide honest answers. Treating the interview process as a de facto onboarding program will ensure senior leaders are ready to hit the ground running on day one.