Creating an Onboarding Process

By Staff Report

Mar. 27, 2015

Roadmaps is a practical guide for human resources leaders on how to plan, implement and review key talent management programs. This Orientation Guide on Onboarding offers advice on how to create a program that ensures new employees are supported, engaged and productive from day one. For more details on Roadmaps, visit

Did you know that within six months of being hired nearly one-third of employees are already looking for a new job? When you consider the cost and time associated with bringing on each new employee, this statistic should be alarming. A new employee’s decision to stay or go depends largely on first impressions, yet many organizations put little thought or planning into that critical first-touch experience — the onboarding process.

You’re not going to make a great impression on new hires by abandoning them in empty cubicles or forgetting to give them their laptop computers or showing them where the bathroom is. Nor will you gain favor by inundating them with videos about how great the company is but failing to tell them how to do their jobs. If you do, they will probably start planning their exit strategy before they finish filling out their W-2s.

Fast Lane
Onboarding is the first experience  new hires have with the company, and the process by which they are introduced into the company. The best onboarding programs combine tactical tasks, such as benefits paperwork and desk assignments, with cultural training so employees understand how the company works and how they will fit into that environment. Ideally it is a joint effort between HR, the information technology department and the managers responsible for new employees, and can last anywhere from a few days to several months.

“Onboarding is a make-or-break process,” said Katherine Jones, lead analyst for HCM technology at Bersin by Deloitte. “A bad onboarding program can be the kiss of death for a new employee.”

But good onboarding programs can have a dramatic effect on retention, productivity and job satisfaction. A 2013 Aberdeen report shows that companies with best-in-class onboarding programs report a 91 percent retention rate compared with 30 percent at the lowest-performing companies. The high achievers also see improved customer retention and report higher revenue per full-time employee than all other groups.

Yet, only 37 percent of organizations invest in a formal onboarding program for more than two years, Aberdeen reports.

Fast Lane
If you want to ensure management is committed to its role in the onboarding process, write it into their job description and tie that performance to managers’ annual evaluation, said Elissa Tucker of the APQC.

To avoid losing great people before they even get settled, companies need to take a closer look at their onboarding process and craft a balanced approach that both educates and indoctrinates new hires into the workplace. When they make this investment, they are more likely to meet growth objectives and address the hard-to-fill skill gaps that plague organizations today.

Watch the Video: How-to HR: Onboarding

When done right, an effective onboarding program helps employees ramp up faster and increases the chance they will stay with the company for the long term.

Two Roads Diverge
When companies have an onboarding program, it usually follows one of two paths, said Leighanne Levensaler, vice president of product management at Workday. They either focus purely on administrative tasks while doing little to engage new hires in the corporate culture, or they make the orientation into a celebration, complete with videos and monologues about how great the company is, but do nothing to help them become productive members of the team.

“You have to blend the two,” Levensaler said. “You want to be efficient but also welcoming in one process.”

Fast Lane
When someone is hired, HR should be able to blast an email to IT and the facilities group requesting a computer, phone, badge, office space or anything else that employee needs to be successful, said Lois Miller, senior vice president and group head of HR solutions and services at MasterCard Inc. “Taking care of those logistics is so important to a good onboarding experience.”

This Roadmap will help you find that balance.

Step One: Make a Plan
Talk to existing employees: The best way to identify flaws in your current onboarding process is to talk to employees who have gone through it, said Elissa Tucker, research program manager for the American Productivity & Quality Center, or APQC, a nonprofit business benchmarking organization. “Ask them what they wish someone had told them, and what they had to learn the hard way.”

It may be as simple as understanding the dress code or knowing how to access the company intranet, or you may find out that new hires are spending days without a desk or computer. “It’s a great way to eliminate mistakes and to help set up new hires for a better onboarding experience,” Tucker said.
Engage managers: Managers perform a critical role in helping new hires get settled, and they are the ones who stand to gain the most from their ability to quickly become productive.

“You can’t cram everything into the first 30 days,” said Kim Lamoureux, a lead analyst at Bersin by Deloitte. Think about what they need right away and what can wait 60 or 90 days, then a make a plan to roll those features out over time.

Yet only 37 percent of managers are involved in onboarding programs, according to the “2013 Onboarding Trends Report” from Impact Instruction Group.
That’s a recipe for failure, Tucker said. While HR generally owns the onboarding process, it can’t do it alone. “Onboarding has to be a joint effort between HR and managers, or a lot of issues won’t be addressed.”

To be sure managers are pulling their weight, HR should offer training and feedback on their role in the onboarding process and set specific goals for them. That list may include getting new hires the tools and technology they need to do their job, introducing them to the team, getting them signed up for job-specific training or coaching, and making sure they understand what is expected of them on day one.

Set goals: Onboarding programs are more successful when they are aligned with goals. Whether you are planning for rapid growth, want to increase retention or need to fill skill gaps, a good onboarding program can be an important first step. Keep these goals in mind as you plan your program so you can hone every decision to deliver the greatest value.

Step Two: Roll It Out
Streamline paperwork: There is no way to avoid first-day paperwork, but you can streamline it by making documents simple, allowing employees to complete them online and making sure someone is available to answer all of their questions. “If this basic first step is horrible and cumbersome, it sets a negative tone for the whole experience,” Tucker said.

Less than 40 percent of organizations deliver onboarding through technology-based solutions, according to the “2013 Onboarding Trends Report.” Among those that do use technology for onboarding, 62 percent use a companywide intranet and
55 percent employ e-learning modules.

Standardize the process: There are certain steps necessary to onboard anyone from a frontline worker to a vice president. Along with requisite paperwork, the onboarding experience may include sharing information about the company and its leadership, giving a tour of the building or reviewing workplace policies. Create a standard program to deliver that information; it will make you more efficient and ensure everyone gets the same message.

Customize the rest: Work with managers to identify onboarding steps that are specific to their team, department or region. This may include more detailed information about their role, performance expectations, teammates or the tools they will use to do their jobs.

Take advantage of technology: From online social networks to HRIS tracking tools, most companies have a wealth of technology that can easily be adapted for onboarding tasks. Look at the tools you use to connect and track employees, and consider how that might translate to onboarding. For example, put first-day documents on the intranet, send welcome emails with links to online content about the company, add new hires to the talent development system and start tracking their progress. And most importantly, make sure they have access to all of the online networks and tools they need to do their jobs.

Fast Lane
To increase productivity and engagement from day one, consider having new hires complete their paperwork before the first day by giving them remote online access to the documents.

Step Three: Review Your Progress
Check completion of onboarding tasks: Whether through an automated onboarding tool or manual updates, check back with new hires periodically to be sure they are completing all of their paperwork, training and any other introductory tasks on schedule.

Ask how they are doing: Survey new hires at 60, 90 and 180 days to see how they are faring. Find out whether they feel engaged and productive, whether they are getting the information and support they need to be successful, and if anything is missing, Lamoureux said. Combine these survey results with workplace data-tracking productivity, retention and job satisfaction to determine whether your program is working. “Time to productivity and retention are the core measures of a good onboarding program,” Lamoureux said.

Tie results to strategy: The C-suite shouldn’t be concerned about the minutiae of the onboarding program, but it should care about the results. Give executives annual updates on measures of success that align with strategic goals, i.e., retention at one year, reduced time to productivity and increased value per new hire.

Linking corporate outcomes to the onboarding process will reinforce commitment to this program, and ensure you have the resources you need to make it successful.

Onboarding Roadmap Review

We’ve organized our online Roadmap into three phases to help you implement the planning and execution of your performance management program. Below is a summary of the “Plan,” “Do” and “Review” of performance management.


  • Look at what you already have in place for onboarding, and build your program from that base.
  • Establish a current baseline for onboarding metrics around increased retention, speed to productivity and improved job satisfaction. This will help you demonstrate results later on.
  • Talk to recently hired employees about their own onboarding experiences. Ask what they liked, what was missing and what they wished they would have learned sooner.
  • Talk to managers about their expectations for new hires, where they’ve experienced problems with bringing on new workers in the past and the role they see themselves playing in the onboarding experience.
  •  Review your current human resource information system and social management systems to identify tools or modules that can be used to support onboarding, and decide whether you need to add additional software.


  • Organize all of the administrative paperwork that new hires need to complete, and look for ways to streamline that process.
  • Create a standardized onboarding process appropriate for all new employees that includes administrative tasks and information about the corporate culture and workplace processes.
  • Work with managers to create additional custom onboarding processes for specific job categories. This may include additional training, mentor assignments and high-level views of what will be expected of them.
  • Set expectations for managers and teams in every business unit.


  • Conduct annual reviews of the onboarding program by measuring retention, time to productivity and employee satisfaction. Compare these results against your baseline to demonstrate improvements and/or identify problems.
  • Break out measurement data to see where you are having the most and least success.
  • Tie onboarding efforts to managers’ annual performance reviews, and consider making it part of their bonus structure.
  • Report progress to the executive team focusing on how onboarding success supports goals.


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