How Your Onboarding Program Can Serve Your Employees

In some shape or form, we’ve all heard the company tagline “our employees are our greatest resource” but what I often don’t see are the actions to reinforce that statement. I think a majority of leaders genuinely believe in that sentiment, but the distractions of revenue growth, shareholder expectations, and keeping up with competition often come into conflict.

I’d like to change that. I think organizations can achieve many of their initiatives and goals through centering their thoughts and actions around their employees. The phrase “take care of your employees and they will take care of your business” holds a lot of weight. I think employees would respond well if a few areas were reconsidered with the “our greatest resource is our employees” statement truly forefront.

One area that could use substantial improvement for most companies is their onboarding program. This is roughly the first 45-90 days on the job (sometimes even up to 6-12 months). Onboarding processes are typically designed with efficiency and profitability in mind–with little thought of the employee experience. But with a little more intentionality, a company’s onboarding program could really set the tone for their experience.

In order to effectively create this kind of program, it will take time, energy and commitment, though this will eventually pay off for the employee and organization both as an improved program will save a company thousands of dollars and countless hours of time in the future. If meaningful connections aren’t created initially, companies risk losing employees, and replacing an employee is costly and a drag on other resources.

So how do we actually create onboarding programs worth bragging about? Start by asking yourself this question: What impression and impact do I want to cultivate on a new employee’s first day?

This is a great place to begin. Do you remember the emotions you felt whenever you started a new job? There are a mix of feelings, including nerves, excitement, and being overwhelmed. The first day should set the tone, be memorable and be worth bragging about at the dinner table that night. Is a day filled with paperwork, handbook reviews and an overview of the software systems really worth bragging about? I know it’s a necessity that needs to be taken care of, but does this all need to be done on the first day or in the same conventional manner?

Instead, be bold and original. Some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Surprise the employee with a warm greeting that could include decorating their desk, making a huge welcome sign or something that’s over the top and illustrates your excitement about them joining the team.
  • Have a scavenger hunt that sends the new employee all around the building to meet different people they will be working with and understand the important areas of the office.
  • Amp up the first day lunch with a fun ice breaker game.
  • Send them home with a thoughtful first day gift. Make it personalized.

The goal of the first day shouldn’t be to finish all of the legal paperwork. The goal of the first day should be to reinforce to the employee that they made the right decision to come work for your company.

Next ask yourself: How can I help create alignment with the employee’s responsibilities and the mission, culture, and values of the organization?

Spend time articulating these things. Worry about over communicating these messages, not under communicating. Helping a new employee understand these critical areas should be the next focus of the onboarding program.

Some thoughts to consider:

  • Empower your most passionate employees to play a part in the onboarding process. They don’t need to be in HR to have a substantial part in every new employee’s program.
  • Be intentional about designing ways for the manager, the department head, and team members to have at least one personal conversation to get to know the new employee.
  • Create an orientation buddy/mentor program. Critically vet who you include in this program and have continuous conversations with participants to improve the program.
  • Make it clear that you’re also there to help them achieve their personal and career objectives. Be able to align their goals with the company’s goals.

To measure the success of this exercise, have the employee articulate the mission, culture, values and their responsibilities back to you by the end of the program.

And the final question: How can I improve the onboarding program for future new hires?

Someone needs to take ownership of the onboarding program. This isn’t just the execution of the program, but also the continuous improvement of it. Companies don’t have to have an all-star program right away, but each one should be working toward that ultimate goal.

Places you could start:

  • Plan reviews with every new employee at the 1-week, 30-day and 90-day mark. Have them document their thoughts about the program throughout and review their notes with them. Encourage honesty through effective, active listening.
  • Create a survival guide that each new employee contributes to. Along with important workflows, include things such as handy office tips, useful websites, accessible tools and even the go-to places to eat nearby.
  • Conclude the onboarding program with a process improvement project. Have each employee present a short idea to improve the process moving forward.

Make seeking, looking for and reviewing feedback a vital part of your onboarding program moving forward. It’s time for your organization to look at your onboarding program as an asset. It shouldn’t be viewed as just a checkbox during the employee experience. Review some of the thoughts above, organize a planning committee and start wowing your new hires with your onboarding program.

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Want to connect further about personal coaching, speaking opportunities or other engagements you think I could help you with? Connect with me or send me an email at As always, thanks to my editor and partner Gaby Deimeke.

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