Ten Steps for Awesome Onboarding and Higher Productivity!

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Do you want to have faster time-to-full productivity for your new hires?  Improved retention? Higher employee engagement? Have your new hires be your best new hire referral source?

Who doesn’t? So, what is your company doing to have an awesome onboarding program?

The Aberdeen Group, in a 2009 study, found that companies with effective onboarding programs had higher success rates for new hire assimilation: 62% had faster time-to-productivity, and 54% reported higher employee engagement. I have found that onboarding programs that follow the steps below also reduce new hire turnover and raise the employee referral rate from new hires.

Onboarding is no longer only about enrolling in payroll, benefits, reading the company’s policies, learning how to log into the company’s computer systems, and receiving a company branded coffee cup.  These are the basics and technology, such as interactive onboarding systems, videos, and even bots, can make the cumbersome processes easier.

Some companies have gone overboard with onboarding technology, using it exclusively to send out benefits, policy, compliance and company information, as well as conduct enrollments.  Many of these companies have eliminated face-to-face events. For me, this is a mistake, because using technology alone is too sterile.

Onboarding is as much about the heart as it is about the head.  The heart is about finding purpose and building relationships. Successful onboarding programs also use the gap between “I accept” and the first day of work to build commitment to the company’s purpose and brand.

Here are the ten steps you need to take to have an awesome onboarding program that will improve employee engagement, accelerate the time-to-full-productivity for new hires, and reduce costly turnover.  They address the head AND the heart!

  1. Think of onboarding as a 90-day process to help new hires find their emotional place in the business and improve their productivity. Onboarding is no longer only about the first day, which many companies have parsed out over the first month, so that new hires no longer feel hooked up to a fire hose.

As a matter of fact, some organizations, such as eBay, have eliminated the first day orientation altogether. They have replaced it by disseminating information about the company’s mission, brand, benefits and policies before a new employee even starts! They also hold a series of webinars, training and events that build emotional ties to the company.

I am still a fan of a short first day, or first week. This time should be used for meetings to provide new hires the basics of getting started, learning the basics, tours of the facility, and product and service demonstrations. I also love eBay’s innovative approach!


  1. Learn the major obstacles experienced by your past new hires and help your current new employees overcome them. Collect data from your previous new hires about their experiences.  It is easy to do with a short survey or focus group. Ask them what they liked, didn’t like, and what they would change about the onboarding process. I have found that most employees want training or a coach to help them learn how to use the company’s systems and software, how internal processes really work, and how work gets done. Managers can help with this training, but often a peer coach is better because a new hire feels more comfortable asking a peer for help.

Providing one or more peer coaches is essential. For example, in a marketing department I worked with, the main complaint from new hires was about mastering an on-line, convoluted approval process for new marketing materials to assure they did not violate ethical and legal standards. We overcame this obstacle by providing a written “how to” guide, as well as a peer coach, who provided an initial training and was available for follow-up questions. As a result, the complaints of new marketing hires fell dramatically, and their time-to-full-productivity was cut in half.  Incidentally, we financially rewarded the coaches, who also had day jobs. It provided a great return on investment.

  1. Proactively schedule time for new hires to meet their stakeholders. It is essential for new hires to build relationships with the individuals they will be supporting. Have new hires learn first-hand from their stakeholders, their likes and don’t likes.


  1. Build community and address the heart. New hire lunches with each other and their bosses are always appreciated. Invite new hires to join your affinity groups or sports teams. Why not use social media to create on-line social networks for new hires on Twitter? LinkedIn creates networks for new hires to exchange experiences, share tips, and build relationships on, you guessed it, LinkedIn. Millennials love it!


  1. Be clear about the role of managers in new hire orientation, and hold them accountable. New hires want a relationship primarily with their managers, not Human Resources. This relationship is critically important and, all too often, is not executed well by managers. Work with managers to develop their specific roles, tasks, and a time schedule for completing new hire orientation. At a minimum, this includes explaining the team’s goals, the new hire’s goals, where they will work, the operating norms for work, such as meeting schedules, and communication norms. Managers should introduce new hires to their new team members.

Above all, have the managers build relationships—addressing the heart —with every new hire by learning the traits of their favorite and least favorite past bosses and work environments. Learn and answer their questions about the job, and learn about their career aspirations.


  1. Have executive leaders speak to groups of new hires about the company’s purpose, opportunities in the market place, and strategies to achieve its goals. This addresses the heart and the head. It makes a great first impression when new hires hear from top executives, and feel their commitment, about the company’s strategies. Many orientations tell “creation stories” and provide history—all good when done well. These stories can build a lasting impression of important company values—but you also want to use this opportunity to get new hires excited about the company’s future success.

I recommend that you include customers and product demonstrations in these meetings, which can be achieved through videos.  For a medical device company I worked with, we provided a live feed of medical procedures that were performed using our products. The doctors described the procedures, the performance of our products, and its benefits to the patient. These sessions were standing room only (even when they were available on-line) and created a strong commitment to the company’s purpose and strategies

  1. Provide first hand testimonials about how your current executives rose in their careers. One way I have done this is by inviting executives to tell their career stories to a group of new hires, offer career advice, and answer their questions. We did this through a face-to-face breakfast, which was broadcast to remote new hires by videoconference. The breakfasts were always well attended.


  1. Use technology to provide reminders to new hires. Someday, it might be Siri or Alexa providing friendly voice reminders to new hires to complete benefits enrollment or attend necessary job trainings. In the meantime, use whatever technology you have to generate reminders.


  1. Create a flawless process. I am always amazed whenever companies have new hires start before their computers or on-line authorizations are set up. This does not create a good first impression! You need to build a flawless process between HR, IT, marketing, your benefit providers, and HR systems so that new employees aren’t frustrated on the first day. When new hires see that the company has their act together in getting them off to a good start, it builds their commitment to the company’s goals.


  1. If you have multiple locations, use videoconferencing and virtual meetings to involve remote employees in the onboarding Frankly, it is not difficult or costly with today’s technology.

Have you changed your onboarding lately? Tried something new? Have questions?  Join the discussion. I would love to hear from you.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults on innovation, global talent management, developing agile leaders and teams, and other strategic initiatives. Questions? Please e-mail Victor at victorassad6@gmail.com or visit http://www.victorhrconsultant.com. For innovation visit http://www.InnovationOne.io


  1. I wanted to thank you for this advice for good onboarding. You mentioned a good onboarding program should use the first day of work to build a commitment to the company. I’m interested to learn if how the program would be structured would depend on the industry the company is in.

  2. Hi Taylor, thank you for your question. The industry will determine some of the parameters of a successful onboarding program. For example, the high tech industry will need many digital components to its onboarding to meet the expectation of workers. However, there are other factors that I believe are more critical such as the distribution of the workforce. Are the workers located in one or several major facilities or are they distributed broadly in many small offices or working from home? The higher the distribution the more important it is to have digital sources for onboarding. Most critical is to have onboarding that conveys the company’s higher purpose for humanity, how it got started, key stories that speak to the companies values, a briefing on the company’s competitive position and strategies to win in the market place, and coaching on career development and a coach for each worker to guide them on systems and how work gets done in the company. At the end of the day, great onboarding is about building relationships with the new employees. You don’t build relationships without a strong human touch. Best, Victor

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