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10 Onboarding Best Practices

An effective employee onboarding program is the key to more productive employees and reduced turnover. Yet, many companies neglect or ignore this important aspect of organizational responsibility. Here are a few onboarding best practices that can help.

1. Make Onboarding Part of the Recruitment Process

Research by the Aberdeen Group has identified that to achieve best-in-class performance, companies must integrate onboarding with other key talent management elements. Begin by integrating management onboarding into the recruitment process.

2. Link Design to Culture

For new leaders to be successful, they need to connect quickly with the values and culture of the organization. Consider how you can effectively integrate new leaders into your culture.

  • What upcoming events or activities are at the core of living your culture, and what roles could your new leader play? Let your new employe man the barbeque at the summer picnic, congratulate employees recognized at the monthly town hall, or participate in the quarterly inventory process. 
  • Offer a frontline culture experience: Schedule a shift or two on the factory floor, in the store, or answering customer concerns in the call center.

3. Design a Process, Not an Event

This is essential to onboarding. In addition to designing a process for the employee’s first few weeks and months, this should also be done for key business milestones along the way. For example, assign an expert to partner with the manager during the first annual budgeting cycle.

4. Make It Timely

Help your new team members hit the ground running by bringing them up to date on current and upcoming projects and initiatives.

  • Is there a conference or regional meeting being held when the new leader begins? Even if the audience is in a different division, inviting the manager to attend provides a timely introduction to the culture and current business issues.

  • Dealing with an urgent media or customer issue at the time the new leader begins? Have the manager shadow the individual steering the damage control.

  • Have a new technology coming down the pipeline? Set up an information session with the project manager.

5. Make It Fresh

Here’s where keeping current is important. Don’t create content based on current reality; rather, create a process that points to inclusion of current strategy, business plan, budget, and project updates.

6. Design Something Memorable


Your onboarding will be memorable if it is thorough, diverse, and highly relevant. Consider more than the employee’s department or immediate working group: Identify stakeholders that would be valuable for the person to meet. Has there been a marketing or employee survey that would provide insight to the leader’s business line or team? Set up a briefing meeting. 

7. Create a Good First Impression

Creating a good first impression is achieved through preparation. This is more than an office, some pencils, and a schedule of appointments for the first day. Something as simple as not knowing the photocopier code or mapping a printer can stall early efforts.

  • Having all the essential tools in place—computer, phone, company directory, long distance codes, stationery, and so on—can clear the way for the leader to get down to work.
  • Assign support for the new employee, even temporarily, to someone on the team who thinks ahead, knows the organization, and is responsive.

8. Get Executives, Human Resources, and Hiring Managers Involved

A variety of people play a role in orienting a new leader to the organization. Consider various stakeholders and clearly define responsibilities.

  • If they did not meet during the recruitment process, the new leader needs to meet his or her boss’s manager or director.

  • If an employee-level orientation session is being held, be sure to include the new employee in the invitations.

  • Make sure employees meet and know who their human resources representative is.

  • A simple meet and greet with key stakeholders can help new employees begin to make connections. Remember to share some personal information versus being all business only.

9. Design to Be Inclusive

Onboarding can reach beyond externally hired candidates new to the organization. Consider these other internal transitions: 

  • new leaders in their first management position 
  • leaders managing employees who were formerly their peers 
  • promotions up the corporate ladder to roles with greater responsibility 
  • leaders moving from a role of authority to one of influence 
  • moves to new divisions, especially people making global moves.

Design your onboarding program to be inclusive of individuals in all transitions. While the design may vary—in fact it should vary—the goal remains the same: facilitating successful transition of a someone into a new role.

10. Use a Blended Approach

Think beyond the in-person aspects of bringing a new leader on board, and identify what online or other tools would be valuable. Below are some suggestions for using such an approach.

  • Schedule phone meetings or conference calls for introductions to colleagues and key stakeholders in other offices. Sometimes the people who are most remotely located can be the best contacts for the new manager. Do not overlook them. If video conferencing technologies are available in your organization, use them both to connect the leader with others, and to ensure that the manager is aware of the capabilities. 

  • Use webinars and other synchronous technologies to introduce the new leader to virtual teams. These technologies allow colleagues to “see” one another (if only through pictures) and allow for demonstrations, sharing of resources, and collaboration. 

  • Asynchronous communication tools, such as discussion boards, wikis, or other forums, can help your new employee connect with different parts of the organization. Make sure new employees know these tools exist, their purpose, where to find them, and how to get online.
About the Author
Roberta Westwood is a learning and development consultant who specializes in customized corporate training. Through workshops, online resources, and more than 20 articles, Westwood has helped hundreds of human resource and training professionals design their own orientation programs.
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