High-performing organizations invest in strong onboarding plans for good reason.
Employee retention drops if new hires feel disengaged in their first 45 days. In a job market with 5 times more job postings than job seekers, the last thing any employer wants to do is lose out on productivity and recruiting investments thanks to a lackluster onboarding experience.
More than one-third of companies don’t have a structured onboarding process. Not only does this create more chaos on your HR team, but it also reduces employee confidence in your organization.
HR teams spend significant time and energy getting talent through the front door. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) ensure your efforts don’t go to waste. In this blog, we’ll walk you through the importance of creating onboarding SOPs and what you can do today to get them going.
What is an SOP for onboarding?
To implement a successful onboarding program, HR teams need a plan.
SOPs for onboarding provide a company-wide standard that managers and employees can refer to during the first few days, weeks, and months of new hire onboarding. Rather than guidelines, SOPs are a clear set of instructions that walk new hires through tasks and responsibilities they’ll need to complete to kick off their journey with your company. This includes general processes like company-specific policies for security, learning and development, and benefits, or job-specific functions like working with a new technology stack and quality assurance efforts.
Why do you need SOPs for onboarding
The employee onboarding process is complex and detail-oriented, often involving over 50 activities to be completed and multiple stakeholders to communicate with across departments and teams. Beyond time-sensitive paperwork, HR teams also have to think about the pre-boarding experience, preparing office equipment, creating orientation schedules, and more. Not to mention that all this needs to be done while ensuring new hires feel supported and are able to communicate comfortably with managers and team members throughout the process.
Without the consistency SOPs bring to the organization, companies miss out on:
Creating consistent standards and expectations for welcoming new hires
Employees should be able to expect a high-quality onboarding experience regardless of what department they’re in, their level of seniority, or when they join the company. Onboarding SOPs set the record straight for everyone involved in ramping up new hires. Whether that’s a direct manager, team member, or executive, you want the company at large to deliver on the expectations promised during the recruiting and interviewing process. Inconsistent onboarding doesn’t just make your organization look unprepared and unprofessional, it also creates room for unwanted bias, poor work etiquette, and a weak first impression.
Preventing delays or errors when processing employee paperwork
Onboarding isn’t just about processes and paperwork.
But you can’t make room for the fun stuff if you’re falling behind on documents new hires need to get out of the way before they start work. With SOPs, it’s easier for employees to get started on their paperwork before even coming in for their first day. A clear checklist or set of instructions for locating and verifying documents — like employment agreements, background checks, payroll information, and benefits summaries — saves time for both HR teams and new hires. When employees know exactly what they need to do next and when they need to complete a task, there’s less of a reason to put responsibilities off until the very last second or miss out on it altogether.
Helping new hires ramp up faster
A structured onboarding process helps employees hit desired productivity levels 50% faster. Creating SOPs reduces time spent getting up to speed with new tools and procedures. HR teams can work together with direct managers to coordinate and create SOPs that best support goals in a new hire’s 30/60/90-day plan.
For example, if a new recruiter’s first project is scheduling interviews with qualified candidates in a company’s Applicant Tracking System (ATS), SOPs for working with and maintaining ATS databases will increase short-term efficiency and instill long-term familiarity with the ATS right from the start. Job-specific processes like creating reports in Salesforce or managing jobs on LinkedIn can easily be documented so employees can refer to them at any point without having to wait on managers or team members for instructions.
Ensuring HR efficiency during high-volume hiring cycles
Hiring cycles are unpredictable and more often than not, overwhelming. Companies may be onboarding multiple new hires a quarter during high-volume recruitment periods, which will leave HR teams little bandwidth to recreate processes from scratch without a guiding framework. With SOPs ready to go, companies can ensure operational efficiency at all times when onboarding new hires across different roles and departments. It also gives HR and direct managers room to edit and improve on standardized procedures for maximum productivity as teams scale.
When to use SOPs for onboarding
New hire onboarding doesn’t just start on the first day and end on the first week. Experts say the ideal onboarding process should last at least one year to facilitate a smooth transition to long-term success within the company. Ben Peterson, CEO of BambooHR, tells SHRM that only 15% of companies keep onboarding after six months. With 90% of employees deciding whether to leave or stay at a company in their first six months, a structured onboarding process helps companies plan and execute efforts for continuous development throughout the four phases of onboarding.
Phase 1: Preboarding
HR teams can create a standardized and repeatable template for communicating tasks to be completed before the first day of employment during "preboarding." Transitioning to a new role can be a busy and emotionally draining phase for many new hires — there are new daily routines to adjust to, new people to meet, and perhaps some recuperating to do from prior burnout or job dissatisfaction. Streamlining the following processes can help reduce the stress and anxiety of adjusting to a new role and learning about different policies, benefits, and workplace environments.
- Onboarding paperwork
- Office equipment checklist
- Creating the employee handbook
Phase 2: New-hire orientation
After pre-boarding tasks are complete, HR teams can focus on making sure new hires have everything they need to navigate their first few days and weeks on the job. These SOPs should help employees familiarize themselves with all basic protocols for company-wide communication and submitting requests to HR and managers. Your new hires should also be able to clearly point out where documents are located, how to work effectively with office equipment and technology systems, and what to expect as soon as they walk in or log on.
- Introducing company policies like requesting PTO, submitting reimbursements, and reviewing company perks
- Security and compliance training
- IT overview
- Orientation schedules
Phase 3: Ramping-up
This stage of onboarding is just as important as first-day paperwork and team introductions. Without defining processes for the ramp-up period, it’s difficult to assess and measure the employee experience and how they’re progressing toward desired outcomes for their role. HR teams should work with managers on SOPs to improve new hire performance, efficiency, and problem-solving skills every step of the way.
- Aligning goals and expectations
- Job-specific training
- Walking through project management tools and department tech stacks
Phase 4: Transitioning into success
This final phase of onboarding focuses on helping managers create a structured approach toward guiding employees toward the next step in their career ladder or reaching broader professional goals. Managers often have to split their workload between developing team members and working toward larger company goals. With SOPs, it becomes easier to deliver on core business responsibilities without compromising the quality of support given to direct reports. It also ensures the level of support is consistent across all managers in the organization, especially if some managers have more experience than others.
- How to help team members become more productive at work
- Conducting effective 1:1s
- Quality assurance processes when implementing projects
- How to conduct successful performance reviews
How to create your onboarding SOPs (with examples)
Onboarding activities encompass a wide range of activities with varying levels of complexity. From filling out pages of employee verification documents to acknowledging company policies, completing training programs, and easing into long-term performance expectations, HR teams will find more success using different types of SOP formats to break down different types of tasks and processes.
By breaking down procedures into flowcharts, HR teams can simplify and centralize instructions that are either shared among multiple categories or can result in multiple outcomes. For example, HR teams can have managers aid new sales reps through the lead qualification process using a flowchart to depict a series of questions that need to be asked. A follow-up action might differ depending on how a lead responds. The flowchart below describes specific actions that need to be taken at a particular stage of the onboarding process. In this example created on LucidChart, HR and direct managers know they need to organize a welcoming activity during the first day and onboarding training sometime in the first week.
To communicate a large volume of action items effectively, you need to be organized. Ideally, you want to condense and relay your new hire’s to-dos in a format that’s easy to understand and act on. A simple checklist goes a long way in keeping new hires caught up with onboarding action items. You can group tasks by type — like paperwork, IT, and job-specific training — or by onboarding phases — like before the first day, on the first day, or during the first week. Using tools like Asana, you can customize new hire checklists to include fields like due dates, assignees, priority levels, and progress while also including relevant links and resources right within a task description. New hires can easily visualize how much needs to be done and when tasks need to be completed, giving them less of a reason to put things off to the very last minute. Plus, they get to enjoy the satisfaction of crossing something off a long checklist!
Some onboarding tasks require detailed explanations that are hard to communicate effectively through text. Processes like working with a company’s technology stack and databases are easier to remember with visual guidance, especially when employees are working remotely. But you don’t want to create dependencies and siloes that draw out a new hire’s learning curve. With a visual step-by-step guide, HR teams and managers can supplement written instructions with images of application screens or browser actions. HR managers can use tools like Scribe to automatically generate step-by-step SOP guides while a task is in progress. From there, recordings are converted into customizable documents that can be shared, updated, and stored forever.
Company wikis or databases
You can also group onboarding SOPs into a company-wide database that new hires can turn to at all times, whether it’s their first day or their first year. A centralized hub for important documents and procedures is a great way to prevent both new hires and HR teams from losing productivity to repeat questions, errors, and miscommunication. It also gives you an opportunity to leave a strong first impression. Your company wiki page doesn’t have to just hold SOPs of different formats, but it can also include a mission and vision, team directories, employee handbooks, company highlights and achievements, and more.
Staying accountable for onboarding SOP success
Regardless of how comprehensive your SOPs are at the very beginning, the success of your onboarding program falls on how documentation is maintained and if it’s improved the quality of work for both new hires and their managers. You can do this in a few ways:
- Centralize tools in easy-to-use software: We’ve described a few ways technology makes SOP creation more efficient and consistent at scale. Select tools that best fit how your employees like to work, what your company defines as success, and the ROI you can expect to see in the long run.
- Schedule regular check-ins: Author of ‘The One Minute Manager,’ Ken Blanchard, often says that “feedback is the breakfast of champions.” Create a culture of transparency around your SOPs and operations at large to ensure your processes are always improving. The longer you leave bad processes unchecked, the more resources you’ll spend later fixing a weak foundation.
- Train managers on how to use and update SOPs: HR teams can implement SOPs successfully on their own. The final phases of onboarding are going to be largely influenced by how active managers are in keeping their team’s morale and productivity high. Work closely with managers on the delivery of your SOP program and provide avenues for training on how to maximize structured processes.
With a firm grasp on the benefits, use cases, implementation methods, and sustainability of your onboarding SOPs, you can expect to see compounding returns on recruitment retention efforts.