Spring is here! This season feels like a new beginning, and many people will do some spring cleaning on their careers by seeking new jobs. Are you ready to dazzle them with your stellar onboarding process?

Onboarding is a crucial piece of both talent acquisition and employee retention, yet is often overlooked. An employee’s first 6-12 months in a new role is a critical time, when that employee assesses whether or not to stay with the organization and how fully to engage in the work. Research indicates that employees who participate in structured orientation programs are 69% more likely to be with the organization three years later than employees who do not.i]

No matter where you’re starting from today, you can make small changes that will improve the onboarding experience for your new hires. I’ll never forget when IT informed me they didn’t have a computer for my new hire starting in 3 days. I hadn’t given them enough notice, and they didn’t have any extra machines. That was the day I decided to ensure nothing would ever fall through the cracks again.

There are all kinds of sophisticated tools out there to help you manage the onboarding process, but most of us have limited resources. Fortunately, we can get pretty far with a good checklist. Let’s start with the simple stuff. 

Be prepared 

Organize yourself: First and foremost, you can’t manage an effective onboarding process without being organized. A comprehensive checklist is a great way to ensure that you never miss a step. All you need is a word processing program, like Microsoft Word, with a table function. Once you set up the checklist, you can add to it each time you think of something else you don’t want to forget. 

The next step is to establish the systems and procedures that make the checklist work. What is the trigger that prompts you to use the checklist? Do you create a separate checklist for hiring managers—and put an item on your own checklist reminding you to send that to them? You need both the checklist and the reminders to use the checklist. 

Appear prepared: The purpose of being organized is to ensure a consistent, positive experience for all new hires. As an employee, nothing is worse than showing up for your first day on a new job, all excited and nervous, only to feel like no one knows—or cares—who you are. 

Avoid major sins like not having the new hire’s work space set up, not having a computer for them (oops!), having them start on a day their supervisor is out, or not making plans for their first lunch. Try to put yourself in their shoes: what would be a turn-off? Come up with that list, and make sure you don’t make those mistakes. 

Cover the basics – immediately 

As quickly as possible, show the new hire how to navigate the physical, social, and cultural spaces of your organization. This crucial orientation will give the new hire a solid base from which to understand the job-specific tasks they will learn over the following months and years. 

Physical space: You’ll want to make sure the new hire knows basic information about how to navigate the workspace, such as where they sit, how to get to the restrooms and kitchen, and where to park. They also need to know where the first aid kit and fire extinguisher are, and what to do in case of an emergency. Don’t forget to point out other important locations such as meeting rooms, office supplies, HR, and the hiring manager’s office. 

Social space: It’s critical to ensure the new hire feels comfortable navigating the social space. Introduce the new hire to their colleagues and workspace neighbors as soon as possible. If feasible, arrange to take out the new hire for lunch on their first day; at minimum, the hiring manager can eat with them in the kitchen. Do what you can to make them feel welcome, and avoid them feeling out-of-place or forgotten. 

Cultural space: To be effective in their new role, the new hire must know how things are done in your organization. This is an area that often gets overlooked because organizational culture is like water to the fish—so obvious that you don’t think to point it out. 

How information is shared, how work gets done, how people address one another, how meetings are handled, how people dress—these are all subtle elements of culture. This area also includes items such as organizational mission, vision, and values; team goals, challenges, and timelines; and individual goals and performance expectations. The hiring manager should be clear about their expectations, including how they like to communicate. 

It’s worth noting that the cultural information takes a long time to fully convey, and should be spread out over a longer period of time so as not to overwhelm the new hire. Information on how to navigate the physical and social spaces should be immediate, but for the cultural space it should be gradual. Think of it as a slow drip rather than a deluge. 

Look past the first few weeks 

Most people think of “onboarding” as the first week or two, but it takes months for someone to become oriented and comfortable in their new role. A common gap is planning a structured onboarding program for the first few weeks but having nothing planned after that. 

A simple way to extend the onboarding experience is to schedule check-ins for later in the year. These conversations could be conducted by HR, the hiring manager, or even the department VP; the important thing is that someone cares enough to ask how things are going and listen to the responses. You could also include check-ins as part of your performance management process. 

Once the new employee has been there a few months, the challenge is no longer to orient them to the basics of working there—it’s to engage their energies as fully as possible, motivate them to do their best work, and retain them. The challenge shifts from effective onboarding to effective employee engagement. 

Summary 

To properly onboard a new hire and lay the groundwork for an engaged employee: 

  1. Use simple tools such as a checklist in order to be organized and prepared for the new hire’s arrival, and to ensure a consistent experience for all employees.
  2. Once they arrive, provide critical information as quickly as possible. Include information on navigating the physical, social, and cultural spaces.
  3. Finally, plan ways to engage them beyond the first weeks

Follow these guidelines to make sure your new employees know that not only are you prepared for their arrival, but the whole organization is super excited to have them there.

Elisabeth G. Waltz is an employee engagement expert who specializes in creating win-win HR solutions: building company cultures where employees are empowered to do their best work, while developing employees who produce amazing results for the organization. Still a New Englander at heart, you can find her sampling all the cheese and cider available in her new home, San Diego. Say hi on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/elisabethgwaltz.

[i] Robinson, Amy Hirsh, “New Hire Onboarding: Guidelines for Boosting Employee Performance & Retention,” 2012.