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Grow Your Business Your Team

Starting Strong: How to Successfully Onboard a New Hire

Starting Strong: How to Successfully Onboard a New Hire
Credit: Nelosa/Shutterstock

In recent years, "onboarding" has become a popular human resources term to describe the new hire initiation process. While it may sound like a corporate buzzword, onboarding is actually an extremely important step in ensuring that employees start their new jobs on the right foot, and remain engaged throughout their tenure.

"Companies that fail to have an official onboarding process increase their risk of having employees with low productivity and higher turnover rates," said Jeanne City, executive vice president of human resources at weight loss program Medifast Inc. "Therefore, it's critical to adopt proven techniques to engage new employees before and after their first day at work."

"The moment when an employee first accepts a job is ... when they are most thirsty for knowledge and receptive to coaching and molding," added Jack Hill, Director of Talent Acquisition Solutions at PeopleFluent, a human capital management (HCM) software company. "This is a prime opportunity organizations have to take advantage of an eager employee looking to succeed and also give a great first impression as well."

HR experts and business leaders shared their thoughts on creating a successful employee onboarding program. [8 Tips for Hiring the Right Person for the Job]

Before a new employee's first day on the job, all relevant staff members — HR, the person's manager, direct teammates, etc. — should be prepared for his or her arrival.

"You worked diligently to recruit this new employee but the process is not yet over," said Erika Kauffman, partner and general manager of 5W Public Relations. "A [good] first impression on day one of the job is the most essential step in proper onboarding."

City advised publicizing the new hire through a companywide email, and perhaps even sending the employee a welcome package. Similarly, Deb LaMere, vice president of employee engagement at HCM software company Ceridian, suggested reaching out to new employees before their start date to express enthusiasm at their joining the team and outline the plan for their first few days on the job.

Logistically speaking, you'll want to have all the requisite HR paperwork and tech equipment set up and ready to go on an employee's first day. But you'll also want to make sure you block off the time to go through everything together and help him or her process the information.

David Almeda, chief people officer of workforce management software company Kronos, said that many managers greet employees when they start and then send them to their desk to pore through handbooks, org charts and manuals, but they should be facilitating integration into the company's culture and community.

"Make it personal," Almeda told Business News Daily. "Have the [new] employee's co-workers decorate his or her cube and leave personal welcome notes.Invite the new hire to a yoga class or play basketball at lunch. Host a meet-and-greet lunch. Folding new employees into your culture will increase their engagement and productivity, and lower your turnover."

Almeda says his company thinks of onboarding in terms of four broad "C's" that can guide your general strategy:

  • Company: Giving employees information about the company's mission, strategy, goals, customers and operational structure, and how their job fits into that bigger picture.
  • Career: Laying out employees' individual objectives and how those will be measured, as well as setting expectations for success and advancement.
  • Culture: Ensuring that employees not only understand the company's culture and environment, but can thrive in it.
  • Connection: Helping employees forge relationships with their new colleagues, both formally and informally.

In terms of specific actions to take, LaMere advised scheduling detailed training sessions in an employee's first week of work, and emphasizing — and demonstrating — the importance of open communication.

"During the first few days of the new hire's onboarding process, [frequently] check in with them via email, or better yet, in-person," LaMere said. "It could simply be a 'how's it going,' or even sending them company information or industry news until they are added to the distribution lists.  The more you can communicate and share with the new hire in the first few days, the better the experience is for him or her."

Kauffman said it's also important to thoroughly explain the day-to-day personalities of co-workers, clients and executives to give new hires an idea of the people they'll be interacting with.

"Nuances such as clients who prefer a phone call to a detailed email outlining action items or vice versa are key pieces of information, which new employees need to know in order to be successful when interacting with both internal and external decision-makers," she said.

It takes some time to develop a strong, consistent onboarding process, but there are a few crucial mistakes employers should be aware of and avoid at all costs, if they hope to make a new employee's initiation period successful.

Giving new employees too much, too soon. The first few weeks at a new job can be an overwhelming adjustment for an employee. While you may want to get your new hire involved right away, you don't want to overload him or her with too much work before he or she is ready, LaMere said.

Assuming new hires understand everything. By the same token, you can't expect an employee to pick up on all the nuances, buzzwords and procedures involved with his or her new job after one quick run-through. Hill reminded employers that even new hires with industry experience should be given the chance to digest and absorb all the information they're given — including co-workers' names, company policies and norms and their own work flow.

Failing to measure the onboarding process. As with any business process, measuring the results of your onboarding efforts is the key to improving it. City noted that managers tend to forget the "assessment" step of the process, which is crucial to helping you determine if you're achieving the intended results.

As you might have guessed, onboarding doesn't end after the employee's first couple of weeks. It's an ongoing process that ensures engagement and involvement long after day one.

"Today's employees are looking for immersive and interactive communication channels, content libraries, and more that continue the experience post-hire," Hill said. "Onboarding [goes] beyond just learning tools and paperwork, [and is] really being seen as a part of career development."

To ensure continued engagement, Kaufmann recommended outlining a new employee's goals for 30, 60 and 90 days post-hire, and providing direct feedback at each of these markers so the employee can measure his or her progress.

LaMere noted that the new hire's colleagues should also be a part of ongoing engagement efforts, and advised employers to give new team members the opportunity to meet with and learn from other employees.

"This can happen through formal orientation sessions, mentorships, as needed check-in meetings, or even through the assignment of a buddy who can answer general questions," La Mere said.  "Rely on top performing employees who have been employed by the company for a significant amount of time and are well immersed in the organization's culture."

Nicole Fallon

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the managing editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.