Employee onboarding: Five things you’re forgetting

It’s not a surprise that having the best talent is key to achieving your business goals. That’s why companies on average spend about $4,000 to identify and hire each new employee. After a new employee is brought into the organization, the investment continues with employee onboarding.

Onboarding is critical to a new employee’s success. It should be an inspiring time to connect with new colleagues and engage in a new culture. But for many employees, onboarding is a days-long series of clicks through unengaging PowerPoint slides or facilitators that drone on about org charts, fire procedures, and purchase orders. These are all important things to know, but none drive value for the organization or lay groundwork for employee success. Good onboarding can make the difference between an employee who is engaged and willing to go the extra mile and one who is disenchanted and skeptical.

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So what is the key to successful employee onboarding?

Hint: It’s not knowing the correct way to submit purchase orders. Here are five strategies that can help your organization improve your new employee onboarding experience.


1. Treat your employees as you would your customers.

This isn’t a new theory when it comes to change management initiatives, but it often gets lost when it comes to bringing a new employee up to speed. This idea gets expressed in a few ways:


Focus on engagement

You wouldn’t sell your offering to potential customers or investors by sending them a six-hour PowerPoint to read through. So why would you do that with a new employee? After all, onboarding is still a part of the recruiting “sales” process: New employees still need to be persuaded that your company was the right choice for them and that they have a place in the organization.

Focusing on engagement also means delivering the right information, in the right setting, at the right time. For example, if your employees are mostly remote, consider bringing a cohort together for in-person onboarding to help the group build bonds and experience your culture firsthand when they might otherwise not have the opportunity. Use concepts like gamification, storytelling, and knowledge checks to maintain your audience’s attention and help them retain all the information you’re sharing. Help new employees see themselves in the messages that you are expressing. Last but definitely not least, apply your company’s style guidelines and create a polished product that reflects the value you see in new employees.


Translate internal language

Many organizations forget about filling this gap. Just as any organization has its own culture, it also has its own internal language. You wouldn’t expect a customer to understand your internal jargon, so you shouldn’t expect new employees to understand the history or nuance behind an internal acronym or suite of systems either. Set the scene for new employees by defining critical internal terms and explaining how the internal terms are relevant to success within the organization. Interested in learning more about why jargon is bad for business? Check out Marisa Boevers’ article on ThoughtForm’s Formulations Blog.


2. Present the big picture

Whether you are a Fortune 100 company or a small nonprofit, new employees need guideposts to understand how their work will impact the rest of the organization. Giving them the big picture is all about breaking down silos and helping them understand how their responsibilities impact the inputs and outputs of others’ work. How best to present the big picture? Start by grounding your organization’s story in your mission. Then provide different types of context—historic, user, system, cultural, and market—and tie them to your mission. Doing this exercise will help your new employees start on the right foot and have the information they need to engage quickly in organizational goals and be productive from the start.


3. Integrate role-based onboarding with cultural onboarding

Many employee onboarding programs are about the cultural aspects of an organization. For example: explaining history, mission, vision, and values. Presenters might get into a few tactical ideas like org structure and performance metrics but rarely do they blend cultural aspects with role-based details. If culture is how groups collectively work together, then why wouldn’t you go into detail about the actual work? This is an excellent opportunity to tie the importance of a new employee’s work to your organizational mission and set expectations.

The integration of these topics drives better engagement, but there is a challenge: You must ensure that your onboarding materials are up-to-date when role-based changes occur. This requires the teams who develop and present onboarding materials to maintain close ties with each area of the business. That means more effort, but maintaining this relationship leads to improved employee value.


4. Follow up with the new employee after onboarding

As mentioned earlier, it’s important to have onboarding at the right time and place, using the right amount of information. One element of the “right time” that organizations overlook is the post onboarding period. Often, employees receive onboarding education in their first weeks of employment, and then they never hear about it again.

At ThoughtForm, we don’t advocate for a specific length of time for onboarding, but we do recommend that organizations consider their employee journey in order to make a thoughtful choice about how long to continue it. For some organizations, that might be a few months. For others, it could span an entire year. It depends on the organization’s industry, culture, employee tenure, and what resources they have in place to support their employees. Of course, spreading onboarding over a longer period doesn’t mean an organization should withhold important information. Any information that is essential to a new employee’s role should be provided early. But regular check-ins and supplemental learning should be part of a longer onboarding plan. This leads us to our final point…


5. Assign mentors

Mentors for new employees don’t have to be people who do the same work as the employee. That kind of mentor relationship is helpful after the employee has been on the job for longer. A mentor for a new employee just needs to be someone who has been at the company long enough to accurately translate the culture and processes. Regular check-ins with assigned mentors ensure that onboarding is a collaborative, iterative process. New employees can provide feedback about culture and ask questions, and the mentor can help fill any learning gaps. Mentor relationships ensure that onboarding is an ongoing activity and prevent it from being a one-way street. By giving employees the opportunity to shape some of their onboarding experience, they become more engaged in an organization’s culture and its processes.


As you see, new employee onboarding is a critical step in building an engaged and capable workforce. Companies that onboard effectively help shape employees who are more productive, more effective, and can make an impact from the start. Employees who receive strong, continuing onboarding are also more likely to turn into organizational advocates as time goes on. Onboarding gives employees their first impression of the organization. And to paraphrase the old adage, you rarely get a second chance to set up new employees for success.

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