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Onboarding is a crucial but often overlooked stage in the employee lifecyle. Here’s why onboarding is so important and some tips for developing an effective onboarding process.

What is onboarding?

With regard to employees, onboarding is the process of integrating new hires into an organization. The aim is to make them feel welcome, teach them about the organization and ways of working, and get them productive as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Onboarding is one of HR's key responsibilities. It's an important step in the employee lifecycle because it has a significant impact on retention, engagement, and productivity. Research has found that organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%.

What should an onboarding process include

Like no two organizations are the same, no two onboarding processes are the same. The process will be shaped by your culture, the nuances of the role, the individual joining, and the resources available to you.

Having said that, the onboarding process generally constitutes a few key phases:

1. Preboarding

Even before the new hire’s first day, provide resources they’ll need to help prepare them for their new role. This could include information about what to expect in their first week or equipment such as laptops.

Anything to help prepare them, alleviate nerves, and get them excited is fair game. If you have an employee handbook or similar, this is a great resource to send over.

2. Orientation

While a great first impression doesn’t always lead to a great lasting impression, it certainly helps set the stage for one. And this is what employee orientation is all about.

Starting a new job can be nerve-wracking and you’re never really sure what you’re getting yourself into. The orientation phase is all about welcoming the new hire into the fold and leaving them feeling like they made the right decision.

An effective employee orientation program also makes new team members aware of your HR policies and expectations, helps them complete essential paperwork, and answers any questions or concerns they may have before they transition into their new position.

1-30 days

The common consensus is that the ‘official’ onboarding should be longer than the first week and will last up to 90 days, or even a year in some cases.

The first 30 days are very hands-on in helping the new hire get to grips with the organization and what’s required of them in their new position.

Pro tip: Create a 30-60-90 day plan before your new hire starts.

It covers important first steps such as getting training on the technology, software, and tools that your organization uses and learning about your org’s mission, vision, values, products, business model, and customers.

This phase has the most overlap between new hires regardless of their role, so it’s easier to standardize. It also involves creating some short and long-term goals for the remainder of the plan.

30-60 days

Now new hires have gotten to grips with the basics they require less hand-holding and can start delving deeper into their role.

The knowledge gained from the first 30 days will now be ramped up and put into action, and they can get more involved in projects and start to speak up more with their thoughts and ideas.

The KPIs, goals, and milestones that you set in the previous 30 days? They’ll start making headway on them.

Naturally, at this stage, the process will start to diverge depending on the new hire’s position.

60-90 days

At this stage, new hires will be working on projects with less supervision, be more involved with their teams and the organization as a whole, and follow up with their managers to ensure that they are hitting their metrics.

At this point, team members can begin to go to the new hire for their expertise. Maybe they even make a new team altogether for a project they're working on.

Mistakes will still be made, and they won’t be 100% productive yet, but by now they should have a firm understanding of their role and how to go about it.

Onboarding tools

There are various onboarding software tools that can help you optimize onboarding and measure onboarding success.

These will help automate onboarding tasks such as sending paperwork in addition to goal setting and milestones and helping to track the new hire through the process.

You can go as low or hi-tech as you like here. We created some useful templates in our resource library.

The onboarding romance

If you think about it, onboarding is very much the honeymoon period in the employee relationship. 

You’ve decided you like each other enough to give things a try and you’re excited to get to know each other better.

Onboarding is a reflection of your culture, so don’t be shy! There are any number of ways this can come out in your process. By following some key onboarding best practices, you'll set your employees up for a long and happy relationship.

Maybe you send them a nice welcome pack with some company stash and a voucher for their favorite store, or perhaps you invite them along to a team social ahead of their first day.

While not the be-all and end-all, little touches like this always go down well!

Have anything to add regarding onboarding and how to make it a great experience? Leave something in the comments or join the conversation in the People Managing People Community, a supportive community of HR and business leaders passionate about building organizations of the future.

By Finn Bartram

Finn is an editor at People Managing People. He's passionate about growing organizations where people are empowered to continuously improve and genuinely enjoy coming to work. If not at his desk, you can find him playing sports or enjoying the great outdoors.