Onboarding

How to Build a Successful Onboarding Plan for New Hires

Learn how to build an effective plan for onboarding new hires into your company. Set your newest employees up for success from the start.

Introduction

Here’s the hard truth: you haven’t secured your new hires just because that offer letter is signed.

The job market has been in a frenzy since the pandemic began, and HR teams are still trying to make sense of it — the Great Resignation, the Great Reshuffle, what’s next? 

Regardless of what we call it in the next six months, one fact remains. Companies cannot ignore that over a fifth of the workforce today has voluntarily resigned. That’s a loss of talent, time and money. 

Replacing one employee costs between 16 to 20 percent of that person’s pay. Mass resignations have sent HR leaders and executives flocking to improve the employee experience. Companies have finally decided to increase salary caps, embrace remote work and double down on diversity and inclusion. 

Still, an employee could decide to leave as soon as they walk through the door. 

A poor onboarding experience accounts for 25 percent of employee turnover within the first year of employment. By tracing these concerns back to the source, HR teams can empower themselves to increase retention and new employee satisfaction. To do this, you need an onboarding plan

What is an onboarding plan? 

An onboarding plan equips new hires with the tools and resources to confidently perform early responsibilities and achieve goals. Your plan should outline employee milestones and supportive measures the company will take throughout their journey. 

A successful employee onboarding plan helps businesses achieve the not-so-secret formula to workforce productivity: higher retention, lower turnover, and longer tenure. But if companies don’t allocate time to build a formalized onboarding plan, they make common mistakes:

  • Lack of alignment with the recruiting process.
  • Stakeholders are brought in late or not at all. 
  • Heavy emphasis on standardization and not building relationships. 
  • The onboarding program is too short. 
  • Plans aren’t repeatable or scalable. 

We’re here to help you avoid those common errors. 

At Scribe, we’ve helped HR teams of all sizes create documentation to support great onboarding plans.  We’ve learned consistency and accountability are essential at every phase of a new hire’s learning curve. 

To make an onboarding plan that sets employees up for success, here are some things you need to know.

Onboarding starts before day one

“Yes, it’s all about the experience you’re building for your talent, but that experience doesn’t just start on the first day — it starts before that,” Monique Davis, talent strategist (interviewed by author)

Monique Davis, talent strategist, believes that preboarding is a critical phase to include in your onboarding plan. Why? Because the window of time to build a good first impression is surprisingly short. 

The first 45 days of employment make up 20 percent of employee turnover, with new hire enthusiasm dwindling even more after that period passes. This is why the world’s best companies invest heavily in a preboarding experience that builds on the momentum gained during the initial hire. 

“Sometimes you have new hires come in thinking ‘Oh, I’m going to get a nice orientation and some cool treats’ just because they’ve been sold a world-class expectation by recruiters. But when these new hires get there, they don’t know where to go, and information is all over the place,” said Davis. “That’s where a well-thought-out onboarding plan will really help you understand what you need to communicate and when.”

Let new hires know what to expect

Your onboarding plan has to clearly define how you’ll prepare new hires for their first day. 

In the weeks or days leading up to their start date, create a cadence of email interactions to show new hires what their employee experience will look like.

Your pre-onboarding checklist should inform new hires of what to expect and what you expect of them. Here are a few steps to add to that list that build trust and excitement in both remote and in-person settings: 

  1. Send over a welcome kit through direct mail.
  2. Invite existing employees to connect with them on LinkedIn and congratulate them on the offer. 
  3. Have direct managers and executives send out a welcome email. 
  4. Create a checklist of workplace equipment they’ll need for the first day. 
  5. Build an onboarding packet with login details and instructions to access HR tools, company portals and internal communication channels.

How to build a people-driven onboarding plan 

The first few days at a new job can be nerve-wracking, intimidating and (let’s face it) boring. For many, an onboarding plan helps get the paperwork out of the way so you can build connections. 

From benefits to taxes, direct deposits, NDAs and employee handbooks, HR teams have a long list of onboarding documents to sort through. It’s tempting to equate a good plan with one that gets through this list the fastest. 

But remember — your best shot at impressing employees comes at the start of their journey. So instead of being buried head deep filling out forms, their first days are better spent getting a holistic feel for what it means to work for your company. 

There are a few ways you can reduce time on paperwork for your new hire’s first day: 

Send over paperwork before day one

For example, employment agreements and tax forms can be completed by new hires beforehand using tools like Hellosign

Digitize your process as much as possible

Save time spent searching through files and emails by centralizing documents in an HR tool that employees can easily access and navigate. 

Provide clear instructions every step of the way

New hires can spend an unnecessarily long time figuring out where and how to complete onboarding paperwork. Walk employees through these procedures with automatic documentation using tools like Scribe

Social media software, Buffer, kicks off onboarding with a sequence of emails to collect important information. This series gives them time to set up an onboarding buddy program, which connects employees with three stakeholders who guide them through their initial weeks — the hiring manager, a culture buddy and a role buddy. 

Here are a few other ideas to incorporate early mentorship and value alignment.  

Schedule meetings with managers and team members  

Pre-scheduled meetings remove the responsibility of initiating first contact. Be proactive in blocking off time in your new hire’s calendar and send invites in advance to department heads and team members. Meetings can take the form of team lunches, department introductions or casual watercooler chats throughout the week. If you’re in a virtual environment, programs like Donut are great ways to connect. 

Everyone tackles the first few days of a new role differently. Like Buffer, your onboarding plan should give each new hire an equal opportunity to meet their managers and team. 

Develop a program around your company’s founding story and values

At Square, an employee’s first onboarding phase focuses on helping new hires understand their vision, products and services. Netflix also uses this time to hone in on their company’s definition of a “dream team.”

It’s not on new hires to make sense of the unique qualities that separate their workplace from others. Your onboarding plan should actively familiarize them with your company’s values while showing how to be a culture-add. A company of any size could do this in a few ways:  

  • Schedule time for new hires to meet with the leadership team to walk through the company’s mission and vision.
  • Build a company wiki document outlining team achievements, milestones, notable events and overviews of core products and services. 
  • Create a folder of pictures taken around the office, at events, holiday parties and conferences.  

Clearly outline early projects and responsibilities

You can instill a sense of belonging by giving new hires an early purpose in their role.

New employees at Zapier tackle small assignments by week two. In week three, they’re ready to collaborate on cross-functional projects. Communicating this timeline in advance builds an early sense of ownership over their work. 

Work with direct managers to build out a plan of key responsibilities and outcomes for new hires to achieve in the first few weeks. This plan should act as a blueprint for finding their footing. 

It’s a long game: five ways to make onboarding success last 

The first few weeks of introducing a new role have many moving parts, but a good onboarding plan focuses beyond that timeframe. It can take new hires an average of 8 months to move at the same pace as existing employees.  

As workloads increase, employees might lose sight of the goals and expectations communicated within those first few days. 

So how can you build a systematic way for HR teams to keep these employees on track to becoming good hires? Build a 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day plan and incorporate these tips along the way: 

1. Schedule regular check-ins

A series of scheduled chats throughout the first few months can make a big difference in helping employees feel supported and valued — this is especially important in a remote setting. The person in charge of onboarding may want to conduct weekly HR check-ins before tapering off to monthly or quarterly frequency.

However, your plan should also establish a formalized handoff process for these check-ins to become 1:1s with managers. Help managers hold successful 1:1s with a template of questions. 

Here are a few examples: 

  • What work are you most proud of so far? 
  • How do you like to receive recognition?
  • What motivates you at work? 
  • What is your preferred approach to learning? 
  • What makes 1:1s valuable to you?

2. Plan social events 

The time spent emphasizing team culture in the first few weeks means nothing without ongoing effort. Here are a few ways to regularly facilitate bonding between different teams and departments: 

  • Hosting quarterly bonding events.  
  • Allocating a monthly budget for departments to plan events unrelated to work.
  • Create a template of team-building questions and activities that managers can work into existing structures and schedules.

3. Encourage continuous self-learning 

Even with an onstream of projects and tasks, productivity plummets without individual growth. HR teams can encourage a mindset of continuous development and self-learning by: 

  • Introducing a learning and development stipend. 
  • Sending out invites to networking events and opportunities related to your company’s field of work.
  • Providing opportunities to meet with other department heads and team leaders. 
  • Hosting skill-building events and workshops. 
  • Setting up regular office hours with HR and managers to discuss career ladders and expectations. 

4. Collect feedback

Fuel your onboarding plan with consistent feedback. Get the honest opinions of all stakeholders in the hiring and onboarding process with monthly surveys and introduce a formal note-taking process during HR and manager check-ins. Then, document your findings in a knowledge base that the HR team can easily access and update.

5. Optimize and customize

Put your feedback into action! An onboarding plan shouldn’t be static. Instead, it has a flexible framework designed for growth and improvement. 

There are many opportunities to optimize onboarding by removing unnecessary steps, addressing operational and technical bottlenecks, and identifying duplicate efforts. 

Specialize your onboarding process across different teams and experience levels to administer professional development and mentorship more effectively. 

Five tools to support an onboarding plan that scales

Today, more than one in six employees plan to leave their current jobs in the next six months. It’s safe to say that most companies expect to see an increased talent pool in the coming year. 

But as your organization grows, so will the intricacies of your onboarding plan. You may need to account for new tools, team structures and approval processes. 

Top tech can help you balance people, paperwork and procedures at scale. 

European campervan company, Roadsurfer, saw a headcount growth of over 1000 percent in two years. As processes continued to branch out at a company and team level, their onboarding plan called for a digital process led by their HR onboarding software. 

Here are other supporting tools you need to take your HR technology stack to maximum efficiency: 

Appcues Flow Builder

This chrome extension helps you easily create modals, tooltips and checklists to target your onboarding flows.

Matter

Automate touchpoints for feedback collection and employee recognition.

Scribe

Turn complex walkthroughs into ready to share step-by-step guides without the hassle of screen recordings and manual document-building. HR managers use Scribe to quickly capture standard operating procedures for stakeholders to hit the ground running.

ClickUp

Build templates for new hire onboarding to-do’s, reminders, and checklists.

Lessonly

Create attractive lesson plans on your company culture, communication style and product offerings for new hires to reference at any time. 

Successful onboarding plans make new hires shine

Onboarding can fall wayside if companies don’t know how to measure success. Let’s take a step back — you can’t set KPIs and metrics without first setting clear goals. 

With a structured plan in place, you’ll find it easier to define productivity, gauge satisfaction and ultimately, see a clear correlation between employee engagement during onboarding and employee retention. 

The trick to getting it right? Put yourself in your new hire's shoes, and make the experience about them.