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How to build a People function: effective onboarding

Updated: 3 days ago


With thanks to the following people for their thoughts and guidance:


  • Jessica Djeziri, Chief People Officer at Ornikar

  • Nathaniel Phillippe, Founder and CEO at HeyTeam

  • Andrew Maddox, Head of Operations at Komi

  • Amy Holdsworth, Talent Acquisition at Zen Educate


Why is onboarding so important?


Onboarding is about setting the tone, culturally, practically and with regards to role specifics.

Just as we are all said to develop impressions of one another within seconds of meeting, employees can develop perceptions of a company, team and culture extremely quickly. Research shows that implementing an effective onboarding process can have a significant positive impact on company outcomes and long-term employee engagement. Cisco suggests that 86% of employees decide whether they plan to stay somewhere longer-term within their first 6 months in the business.

Each company’s onboarding process will look different and should be tailored to the culture of the organisation and also the role of the new joiner, but there are many parts of onboarding that are transferrable and should be included in approaches regardless of the business sector or product. As you might expect, in this article, we consider some specific Edtech nuances where appropriate.

Like most aspects of organisational management, there are a range of technology solutions designed to improve the way that teams work together, throughout the employment lifecycle, from job offers to off-boarding. Most focus on improving human interactions, via automation of admin, nudges to shape behaviours where appropriate and the creation of employment ‘moments’. As such, the solutions focus on improving relationships and cultures whilst delivering a more personalised experience, particularly important in our new hybrid world in which most of us have colleagues working both remotely and in-person. HeyTeam and CharlieHR offer great solutions.

Some of the benefits of an effective employee onboarding model include:

  • Boosting retention and loyalty

  • Strengthening company culture

  • Fostering belonging and inclusion

  • Maximising productivity

  • Attracting top talent

The principles of an effective onboarding process include:

  • Focus on making the new team members feel welcome and introduce the culture

  • Ensure that you're teaching the new team members the basics of the role and organisation

  • Develop an approach that’s replicable and tailorable to different roles in the business

  • Ensure the process is replicable for both remote and in-person colleagues, with as many shared aspects as possible

  • Build in visibility of the senior leadership team


To meet these principles, you should bear the following points in mind (in no particular order):

  1. Control the process- create a flow of information that signals to the joiner that you are in control

  2. Be prepared- it’s difficult to do ‘too much’ onboarding

  3. Provide resources- new joiners need reference points, a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous content, which can evolve as the company scales

  4. Have a clear purpose- new joiners should understand how the process helps them and also see how core values and principles translate into recognisable actions

  5. Minimise surprises- the process should be as predictable as possible

  6. Exercise patience- new joiners need time to feel comfortable and make an impact

  7. Set a reasonable pace- be realistic with the workflow during the first weeks

  8. Build in flexibility- minimise pressure during the onboarding process

  9. Consider tools- HRIS/ onboarding tools (examples listed at the bottom) can help reduce friction and smoothen the onboarding process via automation where suitable

  10. Evaluate- evaluate the success of the onboarding process via KPIs on task time, completion and reviewing experiences, as well as longer-term retention and turnover metrics

We have outlined a sample onboarding process, from the point of accepted job offer:

Before the joiner(s) arrives...

1. Promptly present your new hire with an employment contract

This should include details on title, job description, compensation and benefits, start date and working hours, IP and NDAs and termination and severance details. Top tip: Share the contract within one week of provisional offer acceptance and ensure there is a period in which employees can raise queries.

2. Welcome the new hire with a call and email

Once the agreement is signed, it is worth following up immediately with the new hire via either phone or via a video call. This call should primarily focus on welcoming the new member as well as orienting them on what to expect between the call and their first day, including some of the points set out below. This might include the new joiner attending a cross-team call, meeting or social, so that they're able to informally meet their new team, to feel at home and to understand business priorities!

3. Send a new hire welcome package

This should include a handwritten card, company merchandise, benefits details, and any additional required paperwork.

Top tip: It’s better to have fewer, better-quality perks and bits of merchandise than lots of low-quality merchandise as it’s more likely new joiners and team members will want to wear/use the perks and merchandise. You can enable new joiners to pick between higher quality pieces, such as backpacks or hoodies. Further, to avoid waste, you can opt for recycled/ reusable products, such as water bottles, or notebooks.

4. Send a new hire orientation email

This should be sent around two weeks prior to the first day and include high-level details on what the new joiner should expect in their first day and first week (assuming no confidentiality or cybersecurity issues). Details might include/ reiterate: start time and location, key contacts, dress code, outline first week agenda, team member information, office map, key policies and processes and could include an employee handbook. Structure this communication extremely clearly. Consider including a short welcome video introducing key members of both the central and relevant team. This is a suitable point at which to ensure the new joiner has signed relevant documentation, including payroll and tax details, general employee information, etc.. This could be a suitable moment to leverage onboarding solutions. Many HRIS software providers (examples included below) provide automated, integrated onboarding solutions that eliminate data entry, reduce the use of paper-based forms, and streamline the overall process on both the hire's side and the company's side.

Top tip: The employee handbook should contain an introduction, company and culture overview (vision statement, history and timeline, mission statement, core values, organisation structure), orientation information referenced above (office, team, dress, training, tools and resources, contacts), company policies (diversity and inclusion, workplace safety, harassment, remote work, social media, leave and types), personal and career development (performance management, internal jobs, internal training, education and training assistance), rewards, benefits and perks (philosophy, compensation elements, reviews, benefits programs, perks), general workplace information. An effective handbook requires buy-in from senior leadership, clear purpose, quality content, a considered structure, publication, pride(!) and regular maintenance.

5. Prepare the new hire’s work tools and resources

This should be done around a week before the first day and include preparing the new joiner’s workstation, computer equipment, communications, network access, software access, office access, and travel resources, among others. Top tip: Create the joiner’s email account as early as possible so they can be included in email chains in advance of their first day. They will arrive with an inbox full of helpful insights on projects in which they are likely to be involved. It also gives them something useful to read if they find themselves with some time in their first few days!

In time for the first day...

6. Prepare the orientation program agenda


Having shared the high level details in the orientation email, the agenda might include 1-1 meetings with the manager and relevant team members, office tour (including refreshments and possible leisure equipment), reviewing work tools and resources (how to store documents, email style, etc.), reviewing the employee handbook, decision-making processes, a welcome lunch or after-work activity, completing outstanding paperwork, reiterating and discussing roles and responsibilities, involving the joiner in social chats and other communications channels, and considering training and development opportunities as appropriate.


Top tip 1: While some aspects of onboarding vary according to roles, there can be considerable crossover. It can therefore make sense to form cohorts of new joiners where appropriate, to avoid duplication. Cohorts can streamline some aspects of the process, such as meetings with senior leaders, but also create networks for the joiners across different business functions.


Top tip 2: It's important to track new joiners' progress through the orientation agenda, particularly where there is purpose-built training and reading material that helps them to make a productive start in the role. This could be managed via Googleforms or Typeform. The onus should be on both the joiner and their manager to make sure they complete relevant orientation- it can be helpful for a member of the HR team to also have oversight. It is easy for new joiners to be sucked into their role from their early days without a chance to complete relevant orientation and training.

In the first month…

7. Create a training and development plan

As referenced above, you might want to consider forming a training and development plan early into the new joiner’s time at the business, so they can foresee and plan their own progress within the company. This should involve the following processes: assessing the learner’s development needs, identifying objectives, designing a training outline, building a program, optimising engagement and establishing how you will evaluate the success of the program.

Top tip: Take time to consider progression pathways and have a number of relevant courses and providers for the new joiner to consider as future training options. They should be able to select alternative training, too, but providing options is a helpful way to demonstrate commitment to their training and also give ballpark figures on duration and cost, if externally provided.

8. Involve senior leaders in new hire orientation

A member of the senior leadership team should engage in some way with all new joiners, perhaps via a company presentation, or a more informal coffee meeting during which the new joiner can ask questions that have emerged in their opening days. The discussion should cover company values, guiding principles, culture and help the new joiner find a sense of belonging in the organisation. Leaders could:

- Deliver a company presentation; - Give a tour of the building or facility; - Present a specific training topic; and/or - Take the new team member out for coffee or lunch.

Top tip: Some engagement with leadership should be live and in person and other parts can be recorded and used as appropriate, particularly if providing relatively generic joining information.

9. Provide opportunities to meet, greet, and learn

We have covered that new team members should be introduced to incumbent members and have scheduled opportunities to get to know each other on both a personal and professional level. This should include both members in the joiner’s own team as well as members of central teams such as finance, legal, HR, etc. where appropriate.


In particular, it can be helpful for the new joiner to have a meeting scheduled with the HR team around a month into their time with the company. This enables the HR team to gain perspectives on how the onboarding has progressed, and provides the new joiner with an opportunity to ask questions about the company and their role that they may not have asked someone in their team. If helpful, these conversations can occur at a regular cadence. If appropriate, the HR team may take this chance to ask the new joiner to write a Glassdoor review of their application and onboarding experience, to encourage other applications.

Top tip: It is worth considering putting in place a developed ‘buddy’ system for the new joiner’s first month. Best practice would include having a leader buddy (member of senior leadership), role buddy (direct team member) and culture buddy (member of another team). Being a ‘buddy’ can be quite intense if covering all three areas, so it makes sense to designate roles as appropriate within your team. It also gives new joiners more than one person to go to with relevant questions!

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10. Conduct employee engagement surveys continually and “offboarding” to understand why people leave

One of the goals of an effective onboarding process is to maximise employee retention and loyalty. A helpful way to continually boost retention and loyalty (and improve aspects of the onboarding approach) is to conduct frequent, anonymous employee engagement surveys, particularly for employees within their first year with the company.


When an employee does leave, it’s important to understand why, and what could have been improved in the onboarding process to prevent them from leaving, particularly if they leave within a year of joining.

Offboarding consists of a number of activities, many of which focus on understanding the employee experience. This is typically done by gathering feedback through mechanisms like exit interviews.


Resources that you might find helpful: Reasons why onboarding is important for retention: - Harvard Business Review article on the importance of taking time during the onboarding process: https://hbr.org/2018/12/to-retain-new-hires-spend-more-time-onboarding-them - Harvard Business Review’s 7 ways to set up a new hire for success: https://hbr.org/2019/05/7-ways-to-set-up-a-new-hire-for-success - Harvard Business Review’s How to re-onboard employees that joined remotely: https://hbr.org/2019/05/7-ways-to-set-up-a-new-hire-for-success - Gallup’s Why Onboarding is key for retention: https://hbr.org/2019/05/7-ways-to-set-up-a-new-hire-for-success

Guides on best practice: - Platypus’ best practice guidance on remote onboarding: https://video.platypus.io/lets-talk-culture-and-onboarding/join - Charlie HR’s best practice checklist: https://bit.ly/3vtOzEZ - Reed’s best practice: https://www.reed.com/articles/onboarding-best-practices - Sapling HR’s guidance on best practice: https://www.reed.com/articles/onboarding-best-practices - Indeed’s best practice guidance: https://www.indeed.com/hire/c/info/onboarding-best-practices

Solutions that are worth considering:

Items to consider throughout the onboarding process: