How to ensure a good employee onboarding process
Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
A study by the Recruiting Roundtable shows that a good employee onboarding process will lift new hire performance by 30%. In addition, other studies show that new hires will stay longer if the introductory experience is good. This six-step guide can help you to succeed in your employee onboarding process.
First: What is a bad employee onboarding process?
Let’s start with imagining a poor employee onboarding process for a moment by putting ourselves in a new hire’s shoes: You finally landed your dream job. Your first day is still weeks away. Despite that, you spend a lot of time reading up on your new place of work. After all, you want to prepare yourself to “hit the ground running” on your first day.
Your first day arrives and you enter the building. You ask to meet your new boss. “She’s in a meeting,” the receptionist says. After 10 minutes someone else, Peter, comes down to pick you up. “Oh, so you’re the new marketing guy? – nice to meet you”, Peter says. Once in the office, no one really knows where you should sit, so you wait for your new boss to come out of her meeting. And the story could go on like this for three to six months.
Of course, most people have a good first day. However, everyone experiences mistakes and omissions during their first months. There are simply too many details to get right for too many people in different departments and roles across the organisation. This is what makes a successful employee onboarding process so hard to achieve each time.
With this guide we hope we’ll share our experiences from helping dozens of companies with their employee onboarding process. In it we will share some of the best practices for good employee onboarding processes. With that said we’re sure you know the basics and maybe you even have nice introductory materials and a guide for the hiring manager.
What is in this guide?
- How to ensure a good employee onboarding process
- First: What is a bad employee onboarding process?
- Why a good employee onboarding process matters
- The typical errors in employee onboarding
- Six steps to set up your own employee onboarding process
More than 50 different tasks done in sequence and at the right time by five different departments or people x the number of new people joining every year = a lot of risks that something will be forgotten or done the wrong way.
Why a good employee onboarding process matters
So the new employee has done her part. She will make a good first impression. Perhaps her boss and new colleagues will too. The hard part will be to ensure that all the first impressions she will have over the coming months will be good as well.
According to an article on HR.com a good employee onboarding process really pays off:
- Onboarding programs can increase retention by 25% and improve employee performance by 11%.
- Also, employees who participate in a structured onboarding program are 69% more likely to stay with an organization for 3 years.
- It takes 8-12 months for new hires to be as proficient as their experienced colleagues.
- 15% of employees said the lack of an effective onboarding program aided in their decision to quit.
Enough said about why it matters. We’re sure you are here because you know it matters. So let’s get on with it.
The typical errors in employee onboarding
“Nothing is as exciting – or as nerve-wracking – as being the new girl. Whether it’s your first day of school or you’re starting a dream job, if there’s one thing that makes a first impression a lot less daunting, it’s a really, really good hair day.”
– Elaine Welteroth
From our own experiences with employee onboarding processes and from talking about this with a lot of companies we see these typical errors:
Being too ambitious
Funnily enough, it’s not that executives and HR managers don’t recognize the need for good onboarding. Many times the process contains high ambitions for courses and meetings during the first few months. When these do not happen or are postponed then the expectations of the new colleagues are not met. Better to not make a promise than to make one and then not keep it…
Forgetting that “the devil is in the detail”
If you have the impression that your new place of work is top professional then you get disappointed about all the little things that go wrong:
- not on emailing lists
- don’t have the right software
- don’t have the right access rights
- not invited to key meetings.
- Etc etc.
Every time a small thing is forgotten the new colleague thinks that “either they don’t care, or it’s more chaos here than I thought.” Neither interpretation is good.
Leaving it to a few inspired people
You probably know those friendly HR people, secretaries and receptionists that remember everything. If they are at work then employee onboarding will be handheld and personal. What happens when they leave and you get a replacement that is not as good? Or simply are away on leave? Then tasks start slipping through the cracks. You need to make your employee onboarding process independent of individuals – even if you’re just 30 people.
Having too many flashy brochures and too little substance
Larger companies employ top professional people to present all their employee offerings, their code of conduct and how the company works from a very general point of view. This is great. However, many experience frustration when they see that the thinking about their role and the processes and systems that are involved is only “in the minds of their experienced colleagues”.
“You will only understand how we work after you have been here for at least three years”. Anonymous employee at a Danish company.
The result is that once the flashy materials are consumed then the new colleague has to feel like she interrupts her boss and colleagues in their work. Regardless if you’re a new graduate or a seasoned professional it is frustrating to have to ask for favours when you’re just trying to complete simple tasks as doing travel expenses, purchase requests or booking meetings.
Not controlling it
Can you document that everything happened at the right time for every new employee who came through your onboarding process last year? Probably not. If you don’t keep track of how can you ensure it happens? Also, these days there may be legal requirements that you can document e.g. security training, instructions and that you’re storing their personal information. Problem is that just keeping track of this easily becomes a full-time position, so many leave it to chance.
Six steps to set up your own employee onboarding process
Set your vision
First, you need to set the vision for your employee onboarding process. If your company culture is highly fluid and informal then your onboarding should reflect this. If you’re in a highly regulated and mature industry, then your onboarding should match it. It will be a different experience if you’re employed by a tech startup or by a government organisation. Therefore, the onboarding experience should be a natural introduction to the company as it is. This way the new employee naturally transitions into his new role without feeling that no one cares about him or her anymore.
As part of this, you should decide what to include and how long your employee onboarding process will be.
Does it cover all mandatory training?
Does it go into topics that are unique to the person’s level, function and country?
How long will it last – one, three or six months?
Describe the perfect introduction
Once you’re clear on the ambition level and style, then it’s time to describe the perfect employee onboarding process as experienced by the employee throughout the induction period.
Write as detailed as possible. It should result in a better version of bad employee onboarding experience that we started to outline at the beginning of this guide:
“Your first day arrives and you enter the building. You ask to meet your new boss. “She’s in a meeting,” the receptionist says. After 10 minutes someone else, Peter, comes down to pick you up. “Oh, so you’re the new marketing guy? – nice to meet you”, Peter says.”
Map your process flow across roles
Bring together representatives from IT, HR and other functions that are involved and map out the flow.
The point of this exercise is to agree on the main activities and who is responsible for them. Keep it at a fairly high level and split your flow into to Pre-arrival, Arrival and Post-arrival activities.
Start with mapping your employee onboarding process as it is today. This means just focusing on the basic, highly critical tasks. Examples would be: Ensuring there is a desk and a pc, that the person is greeted etc. This should focus on tasks that the new employee will clearly miss and feel frustrated about.
Unsure about process mapping? Read our guide to simple process mapping.
You may end up with something like this:
Describe what to do in each activity
Now that you agree on the main responsibilities across your organisation it’s time to go one level deeper. This means describing each activity in your flow diagram. The best person to do this is a representative from each of the roles that are involved. So for instance, the IT manager describes the tools needed and how to set up a new employee in detail. Ideally, this is done as a step-by-step guide with screenshots – or even better as a video recording of the screen.
Let another colleague with the same role (e.g. IT Manager) try each instruction the next time you’re onboarding, someone. Ideally, the writer then observes how easy the instruction is to follow and adjusts afterwards.
Unsure about writing work instructions? Read our guide to writing work instructions
An example that uses Gluu’s work instruction feature:
Add measurable tasks
When you’re clear about the different activities and how they are to be done, then it’s time to set up some measurable tasks. These should represent the results of each activity.
The IT Manager has the activity “Prepare all tools” and he has described how to order a pc, a phone and set up the new employee in different systems.
Now he should define the measurable outcomes as tasks, so e.g,
- Order pc
- Set up pc
- Set up a new employee in an Active Directory
Why? To track and measure tasks. To know-how and the timeframe of their completion.
Set up process controls for your employee onboarding process
At this step, you’re almost there. You have a process flow that shows which roles that are responsible for each activity in the onboarding process. Experts have documented how to carry out each activity so that new recruits are able to complete their tasks. Lastly, declare the specific tasks that need to be completed.
So far so good. Now comes the harder part: Making sure that each task is done every time for every employee. This is where you need an owner of your employee onboarding process. The owner will be responsible for improving your process, ensuring that it is executed every time and answering questions from everyone.
Unsure about what a process owner is? Read this article about how a process owner can help you to break internal silos.
Three methods of controlling task completion:
#1: The low tech but time-consuming one
The process owner is responsible for tracking each new employee. Who updates their findings in a spreadsheet on a weekly basis. Role owners get reminders by email and report based on those findings.
This is quick to start with but it takes a lot of time to keep updated and involves a lot of communication back and forth. It’s perfectly fine to involve 3-4 people assuming you are onboarding 1-2 new employees every month.
#2: Using project management tools
Set up each new hire as a project by copying the previous one as a template. E.g. in Trello you can copy a ‘board’.
This is better. Especially if everyone uses the same system. However, it ties tasks to individuals rather than roles. This is a problem when someone is absent. Also, it doesn’t connect with the work instructions required. A method like this can scale well to involve 5-10 role owners and perhaps 5 employees a month.
#3: Using a BPM platform for your employee onboarding process
Use a specialised tool for understanding, executing and improving processes – Gluu! (Sorry, this is the time when we unashamedly plug our own product. We just can’t help it.) This lets you connect people, roles, processes, work instructions and tasks in one space. Every role owner will see their task for each new employee. This way tasks will be done at the right time and in the right way even if someone is away.
Also, as you improve and adjust your employee onboarding process along the way, then you can easily have closed-loop communications at each step in your process. Doing it this way can help you achieve a consistent process across multiple locations and keep quality high even when role owners leave and join.
Check out this video for a quick tour of how it could work, or read more about Gluu for onboarding here.
“Treat employees like they make a difference and they will”
This concludes our guide. We hope you have found it useful. Now it’s time for you to start your work! You may start exploring employee onboarding software.
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