How to Build the Perfect Onboarding Plan


HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Friday, December 1, 2017

The fight is on for companies not only to land talented employees, but to keep them.

Infographic 4 Minutes
How to Build the Perfect Onboarding Plan

Week in, week out, thousands of smartly dressed, impressively punctual individuals are turning up for their first day, ready to soak up new skills and sync with the forward-thinking ethos of their new company.

The pressure is on HR departments to do justice to this enthusiasm, but turning new hires into productive, happy workers requires a plan. As figures published by the Society for Human Resources Management show, bottom lines as well as reputations are at stake.

IFP how to build the perfect onboarding plan for new hire

Share this Image On Your Site

Almost a quarter of the US workforce goes through a career transition each year. Turnover is highly expensive, a pitfall that can be avoided if employees are given the comprehensive onboarding plan that they deserve.

In the early stages of assimilating new hires into an organization, all resources and tools must be used to maximize engagement into the corporate culture. This will enable employees to nurture a productive mentality, which in turn will boost their value while facilitating integration into the workforce.

Read on to find out about:

  • Why onboarding is important
  • Standards of a robust onboarding plan
  • Key considerations when developing an onboarding plan

Why is onboarding important?

An onboarding process should comprise one or two years’ sustained communication, feedback and performance measurement, to maximize the employee’s loyalty and longevity in their new role.

The practice can boost retention and improve employee performance. Furthermore, employees who participate in a structured onboarding program are 69% more likely to stay with an organization for three years. On the other hand, 15% of employers cite a lack of an effective onboarding program as a contributing factor behind the decision to quit.

Onboarding is critical to e-commerce firm, Zappos, which places new workers on three weeks of orientation prior to starting in their new roles. They even agree to pay new hires $3000 if they decide to move on from the company after the orientation. It goes to show at how good Zappos is at spotting the best candidates during its initial interview process.

It is critical, therefore, and in all parties’ interests that a new hire be brought onto the employing company’s wavelength; they need to understand brand values, orientate themselves within the company cultural and be made clear of performance expectations.

Done correctly, a comprehensive onboarding ticks all the boxes, saving time, money and improving business across the board.

Onboarding standards

Traditionally, onboarding begins with the paperwork. This is known as orientation; it allows you to collect all relevant human resources, payroll and benefits forms. Formal aspects may also include distribution of written documentation, courses and presentations from HR managers, meetings with internal stakeholders, training periods and ongoing mentorship.

However, one size does not fit all. Further to the standard elements, employees’ further integration depends on a host of factors, including:

  • a new hire’s cultural background
  • explanations of how the employee’s new function fits into the firm’s strategy
  • an initial layout of goal expectations
  • department processes
  • colleagues’ roles and who to turn to for help
  • individualized development map and key objectives.

Concerns for both new hires and hiring managers can be addressed by an onboarding process, while the ‘Four Cs’ lend more concrete steps to sound onboarding:

Firstly, Compliance involves basic legal and policy related concerns; Clarification refers to employees understanding their role; Culture pertains to communicating organizational norms, and Connection highlights the relationships employees need to allow them to work effectively.

Establishing a clear, formal onboarding process over the first six months is essential to help set each new employee up for success by helping them navigate the corporate environment and understanding what it takes to succeed in their new position.

Key considerations when developing your onboarding:

Employer branding

A predominant view of onboarding sees the process as beginning on an employee’s first day, but evidence proves this an antiquated concept.

The onboarding pathway can be traced back to that first idea an employee has of your company. Brands need to realize how much influence they have over this inception, and how much their success hinges upon it.

When interrogated about the meaning of employer branding, consider what you want your candidates to feel or visualize when they hear your brand’s name or see its logo. This is an issue Mark Kern, founder of a video game company based in Aliso Viejo, California, had to address.

After struggling to attract the kind of talent he needed to get his company off the ground, Kern contacted 100 individuals that he most wanted to have on his staff, then sent each one an elaborately packaged iPod containing a personal message outlining the artistic vision of Red 5 and reasons to join the workforce.

Kern was creating an employer brand and it was no less than a leap out of the box. Of the 100 prospects contacted, more than 90 logged onto his site. Today he estimates that 16 of the 21 people he’s hired since the campaign found out about his company as a result of the initiative.

In a subsequent Wall Street Journal article, Kern states that the creative talent comes on board initially because they buy into the vision your firm projects.

Employer brand is as critical for larger corporations as it is for start-ups like Red 5. Back in 2004, Google displayed maths problems on billboards across cities in the US. It’s no surprise that its crop of subsequent résumés came from maths nerds of the tech giant’s desired caliber. The initiative suitability tested applicants and accrued considerable press coverage.

Automated onboarding

Automated onboarding programs (AOPs) exist in larger companies as a streamliner of the talent acquisition process. Further benefits include lower costs, improved turnover, faster delivery processes and happier, more productive employees.

AOPs can use an onboarding portal which holds all the relevant documentation. This enables departments to dove-tail operations as new hires are integrated, while individual employees can view e-papers they want, when they want in a secure, confidential environment.

When Nathan Walls started at Thoughbot, he received a welcome packet in his inbox two weeks before his start date, which empowered him to get started on necessary paperwork. Simple, but highly effective, Nathan’s first day was freed up so that productivity could begin at technical setup instead of paperwork.

Tools such as RightSignature can be used to check, send and sign electronic versions of paper forms, and Namely deals with direct deposit establishment and other employee information.

Automating the onboarding process takes pressure off HR departments by reducing the amount of time associated with basic administrative processes during onboarding. Managers and HR reps have the ability to focus on higher-impact activities instead.


Notwithstanding employees’ individual needs, a sound onboarding plan should include as little improvisation as possible. Ensure you have prioritized what information to share so that new hires are productive from the start. This is not the time to overwhelm a new team member.

While managers and departments should strive to establish a set onboarding program, the process should be extendable if necessary; a one-week or one-day program, which more than 30% of employers use, is considerably less effective than a term of a month or more.

Fresh employees will be more receptive to briefings if there is a staff member to welcome and mentor through the first few days or weeks. Also, allow plenty of opportunity for questions to be asked.

Assessment and evaluation

As with all processes, tracking effectiveness is key to making improvements. Alarmingly, just 20% of employers have defined ROI expectations for their training programs but practices would be much improved if managers had ways to measure how effective their policies are.

Kellogg Company founder, W.K Kellogg famously pledged to invest money in people, a tenet to which the ubiquitous breakfast firm holds true today. Drawing on the power of their workforce, internal surveys suggested Kellogg needed to improve their onboarding process, and the company acted accordingly.

Today, Kellogg rely on employee onboarding training, new manager assimilations, employee resource groups and a 30-60-90-day checklist. They revitalize onboarding by allowing employees to review their own onboarding progression using an onboarding track record tool. The tool assesses strengths and weaknesses of previous activities, enabling the firm to identify problem areas and address these accordingly.

Such analytics can form the backbone to accurate program assessment, and can help to create new surveys and track the adoption of the use of company tools. As a result, managers can see which aspects of a job new hires are performing well at, and where more training may be required.


The truth that talent management depends on a successful onboarding strategy is brought into sharper focus when one considers the high cost of recruiting the right candidates for a big company’s future.

Even so, research finds that while 64% of firms plan to increase hiring over the next year, just 32% have a formal onboarding program in place. ICIMS find explanation in many firms focusing too much on pushing paper around instead of working on what really matters: getting staff learning, while feeling involved and valued as quickly as possible.

To harness the potential of onboarding, HR departments must use all means at their disposal, engaging stakeholders and bringing in employees, to round off a well-managed, sustainable program.

A multifaceted approach will maximize the chances of new employees becoming productive and engaged members of the workforce, in the swiftest and most economical way possible. 

HR Insights for Professionals

Insights for Professionals provide free access to the latest thought leadership from global brands. We deliver subscriber value by creating and gathering specialist content for senior professionals.


Join the conversation...