The onboarding process in 5 phases
Many companies get better results when they approach onboarding as a process rather than a task to accomplish. However, it does require more planning and attention to detail. The process can be divided into 5 phases.
The tasks and goals for each stage differ, as well as the amount of time required, because of factors such as:
- Company size and industry. A small company with a few employees and 1 location may require a shorter onboarding timeline than a larger, more complex business. Likewise, those in industries with many regulatory and compliance issues might require more time than others.
- Role or position. High-level positions with many responsibilities demand a more intense onboarding process.
- On-site vs. remote employees. Remote onboarding tends to be more challenging than on-site onboarding. Video conferences give HR professionals and hiring managers access to remote employees, but it’s still harder for all involved to stay engaged.
Planning helps a company avoid surprises and onboarding problems while giving employees advance notice of what’s to come. Here’s a look at how to structure the 5 phases of onboarding.
This stage begins after an employee accepts a job offer and before the agreed-upon start date. It often begins about a week before that start date. Pre-onboarding gives the new hire their first taste of the organizational culture and company policies. Companies can show that they are serious and well-organized while also displaying heart and concern. They do this in pre-onboarding by getting things done efficiently while also anticipating the questions and needs of the new employee.
Companies can mail or email a new hire letter and a welcome package that includes paperwork to be completed. The package might also include directions to a company portal that also provides much of the information and paperwork needed at this stage. In pre-boarding, the company can offer:
- A new hire video, or welcome video, including greetings from the new team leaders and teammates.
- An agenda for the onboarding process.
- A schedule for the first day and week.
- Information on company culture and the new job.
- Maps and guides about parking and other facilities and features of the workplace.
- Information to help set expectations and goals for the first few weeks and months.
- Company swag.
- Invitation to an ice-breaker lunch or dinner outside of work hours or during the first week of work.
At the same time, managers and other employees will be taking care of other pre-onboarding jobs, such as:
- Setting up company email.
- Setting up access to physical and network locations.
- Preparing the physical workspace for the new employee.
- Gathering plant access cards, equipment, and tools for the new employee.
- Sending a new employee announcement email to the staff to let them know about the new employee, including some light, personal information and outlining the employee’s roles and responsibilities.
- Preparing training documents and personnel.
2. New employee orientation
The orientation phase starts on the new employee’s first day and continues for another day or two. In this phase, the new hire gets more familiar with company culture, policies, and mission.
To feel oriented is to feel a sense of one’s relative position in a physical place or an organization. The trick is to not overwhelm the new employee with a bunch of chores, even though there might be much to accomplish. Make the first day memorable for good reasons. You might, for example, start with a greeting over pastries and coffee where the new hire begins to meet the team.
Many companies assign an onboarding buddy, who is a trusted employee. The buddy establishes rapport with the new hire, helps them navigate the workplace, and introduces them to key team members. The buddy system minimizes the chances of the new employee feeling isolated.
Examples of what might await a new employee during the orientation phase are:
- Review an agenda of the location, duration, and details of the orientation process.
- Meet new coworkers.
- Tour the workplace.
- Have lunch with the team leader, buddy, or entire team.
- Be introduced to safety regulations, security protocols and workplace policies.
- Learn more about the company culture, core values, and mission.
- Complete new employee paperwork.
- Receive onboarding learning materials, the employee handbook, and a list of contacts within HR, IT, and other relevant departments.
- Accept company equipment (cell phone, access card, parking pass, tablet, laptop, etc).
At this stage, much of the responsibility of managers is to carry out the script for these first crucial days. They might also:
- Set up meetings over the next few weeks with key team leaders and personnel throughout the company.
- Add the new hire to the company calendar for the appropriate meetings and events.
- Make sure the employee has access to email and communication software like iTeams or Slack.
- Send a new hire survey.
One way to approach this phase is to allow a day or so for people-focused orientation. This is a somewhat “warm and fuzzy” time to converse with coworkers, get acclimated to the work environment, and receive necessities like laptop and parking pass.
Then comes a day or so to meet with HR or those in charge of their onboarding process to make sure all the paperwork is done. It’s also a good time to review essential safety and security measures. Employees might have lots of questions to ask, too. Many see this as the breather before the real work begins.
Depending on the work done by a company, these short-term and long-term training needs might be addressed at different stages:
- Safety and security training. In some positions, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements must be met. In other companies, more priority will be placed on online security safeguards.
- Sexual harassment training. Sexual harassment is a big issue in the workplace and needs to be addressed early. Employees who are not trained properly in the employee onboarding process may inadvertently get themselves into hot water with a joke or snide comment. Be sure to present sexual harassment as a zero-tolerance policy and set the highest standard of expectations.
- Job training and employee handbook discussion. New team members need adequate time to review the employee handbook — while they’re on the job. This resource contains vital information, but will likely go unread if the employee is expected to read during off hours. Some companies require a new hire to sign a handbook acknowledgment form.
As new hires are ready to get something accomplished and show their value, it’s a good time to review performance expectations, goals, and how success will be measured.
3. Team-focused training
Onboarding shifts from a broad company view to the new employee’s team and job duties. Depending on the company and the job, this phase could last a few days or a couple of months. Employees learn the “meat” of their roles during this targeted training period — things like using the tools required for the new job, communicating with team members, and understanding job expectations. The employee begins to enjoy being part of a unit and developing team spirit.
Managers might want to set up weekly one-on-one meetings with the new employee. The need for this will depend in part on how much daily contact the manager has with the new employee. The individual attention can help the new hires hone their skills, learn faster, and get clarity on expectations and opportunities for growth.
Ways to approach training include:
- Teach 1 task at a time.
- Start with easy tasks and progressively build on them.
- Host onboarding seminars.
- Use training videos (especially good for new remote employees).
- Offer interactive courses.
- If a new hire buddy wasn’t assigned earlier, this could be a good time for it. Or, a different buddy could be named because of specific training needs.
4. Settling into the role
This is the transition period from “trainee” to “employee.” Employers lay out clear expectations and can anticipate the new employee’s ability to understand and complete their job responsibilities. Even so, employees might still have questions and need assistance with fine details and procedures at times.
Employees will have had time to digest the flood of the information that first came their way. They now can review the onboarding checklist they received to see if they have missed anything.
It’s now time for managers or the HR department to send out a post-training survey, to get feedback on the training process.
5. Ongoing development phase
The final phase of a structured onboarding program is ongoing employee development. Employees should be able to meet the goals set for them, feel like they’re part of the company culture, and understand what’s expected. Elements of this phase may include check-ins with the HR team for feedback on performance and progress. The employer may set up self-paced learning and other opportunities for the employee to continue expanding their professional development.
The new employees might still receive extra oversight from their manager during this period, along with frequent feedback on the employee’s performance.
About 3 months from the start date, the company should ask for employee feedback on the onboarding process. Besides asking new hires for this feedback, companies should survey their coworkers, managers, and perhaps even select customers or clients. Collection methods can include an onboarding survey, frequent check-ins, video chats, and real-time workplace conversations.
Your new employees may have suggestions for improving your onboarding program for the next generation. And the input from others can tell you things about not only your onboarding process but also your new employee’s performance.
Properly planned and structured onboarding helps new hires establish relationships, understand expectations, and get involved with the company culture. These elements build a better employee experience and a more engaged, motivated team member.