What is an Effective Employee Onboarding Process?

A friend of mine recently started a new job. It's not going well.

She was gung-ho at first. The new gig represented a step up from her previous position, the work seemed challenging, and she felt the new company had a lot to offer.

Then reality set in. The company's onboarding process was disjointed, and left my friend without the support and training she needed to fit in. She spent her first week just trying to get her office phone working.

Within a few weeks, my friend started wondering if she had made the right decision. Shortly after that, she started looking for a new job.

Experiences like this are all too common. That's why re-vamping employee onboarding is a top challenge I hear from training and human resources professionals. 

So what exactly is onboarding, and how do you do it right?

A bored employee plays with post-it notes at her desk.

What is employee onboarding?

Employee onboarding is a process that starts the moment a job offer is accepted and ends once an employee is fully trained to independently do their job at a minimally competent level.

There are various elements that are typically included:

  • New hire paperwork

  • Provisioning tools, resources, and equipment

  • Mandatory compliance training

  • Job-specific training

  • An introduction to the company and culture

The ultimate goal of a good onboarding program is to engage employees by creating a sense of belonging and securing their commitment to make a positive contribution.

Why is onboarding important?

There are a few benefits provided by an effective onboarding program:

  • Increased engagement

  • Increased productivity

  • Lower turnover

My friend is an example of what happens when onboarding goes poorly. She's already disengaged, meaning she's not sure how she can help the company succeed. Her productivity is lower than it should be because she doesn't have the right resources. And she's a turnover risk since she's already looking for a new job.

This two minute video follows two employee onboarding programs to highlight the stark differences between effective and ineffective approaches.

How can you build an effective onboarding program?

A strong program consists of five stages.

  1. Pre-Hire

  2. First Day

  3. Orientation

  4. Training

  5. Performance

Pre-Hire: This stages starts when a job offer is accepted and goes until the employees first day. It's an opportunity to prepare new hires for their new job, and to make sure you're prepared for their arrival. For example, it's a best practice to share new hire paperwork ahead of time. It's also important to make sure all the necessary tools, resources, and equipment (i.e. computers, phones, uniforms, etc.) are ready for the employee's first day.

First Day: A new hire's first day forms a critical first impression. You want new employees to feel like they made a great decision to join your organization. I advise my clients to include a social element on day one, such as a lunch or a meet and greet, so new hires can start making friends with their colleagues. Another best practice is to give employees a small project on their first day so they can immediately make a contribution.

Orientation: This is where new employees learn about the company, including its history, mission, and culture. Be careful--there's a real danger of sharing too much information during orientation. Employees are bombarded with so much information during their first few days that they're likely to forget most of it, so try to give new hires information on a just-in-time basis.

Training: Every employee needs adequate training to learn to do their job. Frontline employees in many organizations are under-trained, and leaders often get even less development. In my book, Getting Service Right, I describe how a lack of training contributed to my very first customer service encounter ending in failure.

Performance: New hires often need extra coaching and feedback from their boss during the first days, weeks, and months on the job. This can mean the difference between quickly performing at a high level, or struggling to meet even minimum performance standards.

You can get step-by-step instructions for building your own program from my Running Company Onboarding course on LinkedIn Learning.

3 Ways Effective Employee Onboarding Can Boost Customer Service

Onboarding new hires can feel like a small miracle.

They start without many of the skills they need to serve your customers. Then, in a relatively short period of time, they transform into customer service superstars.

At least, that's how it's supposed to go.

The reality can be a bit different. Managers don't always devote enough time. Employees can get lost on the learning curve. Customer service often suffers.

This post explores three ways that effective onboarding can boost customer service.

To start, check out this short video that highlights the importance of onboarding by tracking two new hires who have very different experiences.

Increased Engagement

Poor employee onboarding can negatively impact employee job satisfaction, which is a key indicator of engagement. Here's a scary statistic from Benchmark Portal's 2013 Agent Voices report:

It just so happens that the average contact center takes about three months to fully onboard it's new hires.

There are two ways to look at this. One, is onboarding is so great that the actual job pales in comparison.

This might be true. But, the other way to look at this is onboarding is so disconnected from the day-to-day realities that employees are in for a rude awakening as they transition into their new job.

A good onboarding program prepares new hires for success. It helps them become engaged with the company's culture. They become committed to helping the company succeed and feel they can make a difference.

And, it helps ensure their satisfaction rises once they've graduated from training.


Customer Impact

It's awkward to be served by an obviously new person.

A new employee was recently learning the ropes at my local coffee shop. The line continued to grow as each transaction took longer than average. He smiled awkwardly as he tried to swipe my credit card several times before realizing he was doing it the wrong way.

Other customers asked him questions he couldn't answer. He repeatedly had to ask another co-worker for assistance, which made it hard for this employee to connect with customers on his own.

This situation wasn't his fault. He hadn't yet been trained. He didn't yet have the skills to serve customers quickly.

It was also an unfortunate choice train him on the register during a busy morning. Every customer that day paid a small price for this employee's learning curve.

Good onboarding programs avoid this problem. They use careful timing and smart design to train employees on important skills while minimally impacting service quality.


Wait Time

You hire more people because you need more people to keep up with demand.

The problem is those new people take time to fully onboard and train. Customers have to continue waiting longer until that happens. 

It's not just in my local coffee shop. Think hold times in contact centers, longer lines in stores, or slower service in restaurants. Short-staffed usually equals slow service.

A good onboarding program can help fix this. It ensures new hires are trained faster and better, so short-staffed periods are kept to a minimum.


Design Your Own Onboarding Program

There's a new training video that will show you how to create your own employee onboarding program.

You can watch a short preview, but you'll need a Lynda.com account to watch the full course. Don't worry - you can get a 10-day trial just be dropping my name.