Onboarding is a critical part of the employee experience and can have a knock-on effect not just in the short term performance of the employee but on their long term effectiveness and tenure. In this post, we will share a simple and effective employee onboarding checklist.
What is onboarding?
Effectively, it is the process of getting new employees productive as quickly as possible.
Why should you take onboarding seriously?
In many organisations, employee onboarding is simply an introduction to HR, a visit to your desk and a link to some online training. If that’s how you operate, you need to read the following very carefully.
According to Harvard Business Review research:
- 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for 3 years if they experienced great onboarding
- Nearly 33% of new hires look for a new job within their first 6 months on the job. (Among Millennials, that percentage is even higher)
- It typically takes 8 months for a newly hired employee to reach full productivity
- The organizational costs of employee turnover are estimated to range between 100% and 300% of the replaced employee’s salary
It’s clear then, that failing to take onboarding seriously can be very costly to your company, especially in software companies where the average tenure of an employee is now, on average, less than two years. Onboarding employees correctly can fast track employees’ productivity and integration into the company.
Who is responsible for onboarding?
This is very, very important. In some organisations, HR are in charge of onboarding the new starter. This is completely wrong. The owner of a new employee is the employees’ manager.
HR has a vital role to play in providing the onboarding infrastructure. However, it is the manager’s responsibility to use this infrastructure (processes, tools, networks) to take ownership of the new starter and onboard them effectively into their new team. In my organisation, managers receive a yellow card for failing to be there on the first day of an employee joining the company. Remember: a new employee is a company asset and depending on the level in the organisation and the role costs tens of thousands of euros.
Imagine a factory taking delivery of a new piece of hardware costing €50,000. Imagine that this asset gets more valuable rather than depreciating over time. You can be sure the manager would be there to make sure it arrived safely in the building and was looked after. Treat each new employee in the same way!
What is involved in onboarding?
Have you ever really stepped back to think what your employee needs from an onboarding process? We can all remember our first day in a new role and how disorienting it can be. Typically you have just left a role in a company where, over time, you have established your credibility, have a social network of colleagues and friends and where you really understood your role and how to be successful. On your last day, you may go out for drinks having chats with friends who tell you they will miss you, to keep in touch and that you will smash your new role.
But then it dawns on you. You have found your way into a new job where nobody knows you or the positive reputation you had at your old job. Everything is unfamiliar. It can be a lonely and scary place to be.
Failure to onboard employees properly can lead to issues like imposter syndrome, diminished self-confidence, stress, a sense of alienation or social exclusion as well as reduced performance and lack of engagement. Employees with in-demand skills won’t hesitate to move on if they feel they don’t fit in or get a sense they are making an impact.
A good onboarding experience proactively addresses these issues and any structured onboarding needs to achieve the following:
1. Role Clarity (“I know what I am supposed to do”)
Despite reading the job description for the role that they have signed off on when an employee enters the office for the first time or meets their new manager on Skype or Zoom, they need to know what is expected of them. This is achieved by setting clear short and medium-term objectives for the employee so they know they are doing the right things and can objectively measure their progress. This is best achieved by managers meeting the new hire on day 1 and discussing the role and the expectations.
2. Role efficacy (“I have the capability, the tools and the support to do my job well”)
Have you ever joined a company where you are put at a desk and told to read a manual. Maybe because your manager is not available. Or your laptop hasn’t been configured. Getting the setup right in advance is critical. Ensure that all stakeholders in the onboarding process from the manager to recruitment, HR, IT and workplace experience are aware of a new starter. Setting up a robust new starter process ensuring that each person in the process knows who is joining well in advance. In this way, the new starter can get up and running quickly and efficiently.
3. Social Acceptance (“I’m one of the gang”)
Often overlooked, ensuring new hires quickly build a network is really important. We spend most of our lives in work so having colleagues and friends in the workplace not only makes the experience more fun, it is critical to bonding teams. Having positive social outlets through work increases the stickiness of the role and reduces employee churn. Creating a structured set of introduction meetings to key stakeholders, welcome buddies as well as teams and social clubs help employees build their internal network.
4. Knowledge of the Culture (“I know how things are done around here”)
Looking from the outside, software companies use similar processes, tools and languages to build their software products. But every company has a unique culture. Sir Ken Robinson, a renowned expert in creativity and culture defines culture as “the unique habits and habitat of an organisation.” Employees may be doing the same thing, developing software, but how they go about it can be very different.
It is important that managers and colleagues take the time to show employees how things work in the company: for example do people take an hour’s lunch or snack at their desk? Helping the new starter to interpret the ceremonies and rituals of a company can help them fit in more quickly and understand how they can adapt their ways of working to the culture.
5. Personal and Professional Impact
For this, I must be very brief and blunt. Give your talented new hires opportunities to do their best work and see the impact they are having on the success of the organisation. If you fail to provide them with these opportunities they will quickly find a company that will!
The responsibility of the team
They say it takes a village to raise a child. In many ways, it’s the same with onboarding new starters. It’s important that before a new hire starts that the team is aware that a new person will be joining, the scope of their role and what is expected of the team as part of onboarding a new person.
Typically there are a number of key roles required for onboarding:
Manager – ultimately the manager is accountable for the successful onboarding of the new resource. They need to plan a programme and provide coaching for the new resource as they come up to speed. They will be the anchor point for the new resource in the business.
HR – HR are responsible for providing onboarding infrastructure, a set of tools, guidelines and processes to ensure the smooth and consistent employee experience that is required. HR coordinate the handoff from recruitment and act as a coordinator to ensure that all the different stakeholders (IT, facilities and finance) are informed about the new starter and ensure that the employee gets plugged into the company quickly and efficiently.
Welcome buddy – socialisation is a key aspect to onboarding. The role of the welcome buddy (typically from a different team) who helps to introduce the employee into the culture of the company and show them the best place to buy coffee in the local area. The welcome buddies need to be trained to know what to do and be dedicated enough to meet up with the new starter on a regular basis.
Technical buddy – Even in non-software companies, it’s important to have someone who can show you how the technical ropes are. How to log your timesheet, or who knows which person from IT can help you with the logins. In software companies, this role is vital in getting employees up to speed on what can sometimes be a challenging environment.
Before the employee joins, HR should bring all the different stakeholders together to ensure that everything is ready for the new starter.
Preboarding – kick start the learning curve
At the outset, I described how the purpose of onboarding is to speed employees on their learning curve and have them productive as soon as possible. One of the easiest ways to get a headstart is to start the process of onboarding days or even weeks before they join the organisation.
Whatever the role you don’t have to give away any trade secrets to share your ways of working. For example, if you hire a software engineer a 20-minute conversation in the weeks before the employee joins to talk about the tools and technology used in the project is helpful. The employee can do their research and come in with an edge. In this competitive space, it also keeps employees engaged with the company between the job offer and their first day.
Meet and greet with the team
If you are hiring a manager, encourage them to meet the team members informally before their first day. In the current situation that might be a quick eCoffee so that way they can get to know the individuals and build personal rapport before they start.
The manager and the new team need to ensure they have everything ready for the new starter. This means having a clear and comprehensive onboarding plan for the new starter which covers the first days and weeks of the employees’ career in your company. Details are important particularly in current circumstances where it’s not easy to sit next to an employee and help give them access to files or grab the keyboard that you forgot to order from IT. Create a checklist and a timeline and make sure you order hardware well in advance as the supply chain is being tested to its limits at the moment.
Now you are good to go
Remember why you are bringing on the team member and think about what would have been important to you. Take note of the guidelines above and see what works best for you. Take time to meet the employee after a few months and do a retrospective with them and the buddies to see honestly what worked and what didn’t work about onboarding. Improve your process and go again. The benefits of doing this well will reap major rewards for your business so it’s worth investing the time to get buy in to do this. You’ll appreciate it in 3 years time when your high performers are still with your company.
Read our post on remote onboarding tools