Create an onboarding plan that sets employees up for success

With the unemployment rate remaining steadily low, employers continue to focus their efforts on filling openings. Finding qualified candidates and getting them to accept your job offer, though, is just the tip of the iceberg in the hiring process. Without proper attention to the employee experience, you risk new team members heading out the door. You’re back to square one.

An effective onboarding program sets the stage for welcoming new employees, getting them up to speed, and building connections with the organization. It capitalizes on their eagerness to learn about their new role and fit into company culture. A successful onboarding experience strengthens feelings that they made the right decision after opening that offer letter.

Employers stand to reap numerous benefits by paying attention to new employee onboarding. Consider the following metrics:

  • Employees who attend structured onboarding programs are 69 percent more likely to remain after three years.

  • Organizations with structured onboarding programs enjoy a 60 percent year-over-year improvement in revenue per full-time employee.

  • Organizations with structured onboarding programs enjoy a 63 percent year-over-year improvement in customer satisfaction.

Ready to construct an onboarding plan that makes a solid first impression during those critical first months of employment? Follow this guide:


Smart companies start the onboarding process before a new hire’s actual start date. They capitalize on the “I just landed a new job!” excitement felt by their newest team members.

Hiring for Attitude D

Starting a new role generally involves a great deal of new hire paperwork and reading material. While not the most exciting part of getting hired, these things are important for compliance, setting up payment and benefits, and learning company policies. Through onboarding software, new employees can receive forms and information electronically before day one. They can fill out documents at their convenience, think about options such as different health insurance plans, and read things as many times as they want without the pressure of an HR professional waiting for them to finish.

Passing along the employee handbook at this stage is a great idea, too. Curious about their new employer and the work environment they will enter, there’s a good chance people will read it thoroughly! The handbook should answer many common new employee questions before their arrival on the first day, and they can jot down anything they don’t quite understand to ask the HR team for further explanation.

Automation also ensures things do not slip through the cracks. A new hire checklist presents what must be done. Both employees and employers can check the status of individual items. This streamlined process is organized and efficient, and it frees up human resources to attend to other matters.

But don’t limit pre-boarding to “bureaucratic” tasks. Build excitement by sending along some company swag. Conduct an online tour of the office. Encourage co-workers to send welcome emails introducing themselves. All of these things convey the message that the organization and its people are happy that you took the job and want you to feel comfortable as quickly as possible.

On the manager’s end, use the pre-boarding period to prepare for the new hire’s arrival. Create an appealing, ready-to-go workstation. This may involve removing items left by the previous occupant or things temporarily stored there while unoccupied. Secure equipment, keys, passwords, parking passes, and anything else that will aid in creating a smooth, productive beginning. Inform relevant people of the new arrival and his start date. The last thing a new hire needs is somebody thinking he is an intruder and calling security!

First day on the job

Never wing an employee’s first day. Newbies pay particularly close attention to everything on this occasion, so put forth your best. Use a new hire checklist to outline everything that needs to occur. This document keeps the onboarding process organized and flowing. Since activities may vary by job description, use a customizable onboarding template. This ensures, for instance, that someone who needs to watch a safety video has that task on her agenda. The schedule of a fellow newcomer from a different department may have that unnecessary item replaced by a relevant job training.

In addition to starting to learn about operations and workflow, the first day of a successful onboarding experience focuses on building relationships. Social activities, such as a catered lunch for the new hire and her co-workers, offer a chance to get to know each other in a pleasant atmosphere.

Many places assign new staff members an onboarding buddy. This experienced colleague serves as a valuable source of knowledge and support. Having a designated person to turn to boosts comfort levels.

An employee onboarding checklist for day one should include dedicated one-to-one time with the person’s direct manager. Since new hires generally look at their boss as their lifeline at the company, this check-in is crucial. The two can talk about expectations, goals, preferences, motivations, and the like. The manager can convey a sense of purpose by linking the person’s individual work to the overall company mission. Feeling that your work contributes to the greater good promotes employee engagement.

Employee onboarding beyond day one

A large part of employee orientation takes place on that critical first day of the new job. Companies committed to meaningful new hire onboarding, however, realize that the employee onboarding process must extend much longer.

Many organizations consider the first three months on a job as the onboarding period. They construct a 90-day plan that outlines what needs to be accomplished. Details such as when certain tasks get taught and by whom ensure things do not get overlooked.

Such an employee onboarding checklist generates excitement. New hires can see what job training and other events are coming up. They gain confidence that their new employer cares about their development.

Some elements of the 90-day plan will be common to all new employees. Everyone, for instance, may need to take a class on bystander intervention or watch a video on creating a psychologically safe work environment.

Other items are tailored to the individual’s job description. Since, obviously, everything that needs to be taught cannot be done immediately, the onboarding plan must prioritize responsibilities. The first week may focus on things deemed most critical or basic. As skill sets and comfort levels grow over time, advanced tasks come later in the plan.

Throughout the onboarding period, and perhaps even through the entire first year, scheduling regular check-ins is a must. These 1:1 meetings between a manager and a new employee provide the opportunity for both sides to offer feedback. The leader can convey what the person is doing well, which builds confidence. The leader also can offer tips for improvement, which puts the newbie on track to better performance. The worker can use the time to ask questions and present concerns. Understanding challenges faced helps a manager better support his new charge. He also can gain a sense of employee satisfaction and take appropriate action if needed to ensure retention.

Other onboarding plan considerations

As you construct your onboarding plan, here are a few additional things to keep in mind:

Start the “real” action early

Reading training material, watching videos, filling out forms… such activities make up a good chunk of onboarding at most places. While these things are useful and necessary, they also can get a bit monotonous. Most newcomers are eager to start doing the tasks for which they were hired. Grant their wish as much as possible. Plan hands-on opportunities to participate in group projects or tackle assignments on their own. They will start feeling like valuable contributors who are part of the team.

Integrate fun into the mix

Think about what you can do to make onboarding more lively and memorable. Maybe a scavenger hunt could help newbies learn the lay of the land in an active, interesting way. Perhaps an icebreaker game with intriguing questions could help dissolve some of the awkwardness of meeting new colleagues. Get people out of their seats and interacting!

Take full advantage of a captive audience

Most new employees are curious, energetic, and attentive. They want to know as much as possible about their great new employer and the company culture of which they are now a part. Use this early time wisely. Emotional engagement from the start can pay off in terms of employee satisfaction and retention down the line.

Telling your organization’s story is an effective way to help new hires understand your mission and become connected to it. Use the onboarding period to convey how the business got started and how it has progressed over the years. Highlight what the organization does and how that plays into the world at large. Share what your brand stands for and how it differs from competitors. Talk about workplace culture and what makes employment here special.

Most of all, do what you can to make new hires feel like part of your future story. Repeatedly stress how thrilled you are to have them aboard and how much you look forward to their contributions. Appreciate their talents, and let them know the company wants to support their development. The best onboarding plans not only take care of what individuals need to begin working now, they leave a sense of true belonging that carries over into the years ahead.