Much attention has been paid to recruitment and hiring strategies in the current job market, and more companies are ensuring that they’re positioned as competitive employers that candidates want to work for. But after all that effort, you’d be surprised how many companies spend little time on the first step to the employee lifecycle: onboarding. It’s the first real connection new talent has with your business, and it’s a critical component to setting up recent hires for success.

Onboarding is no small task, and it’s made even more complex due to current workplace trends. An increasing number of people are working remotely, which means onboarding and training have followed suit. This has posed a new challenge for many employers. A 2020 Workable survey found that remote onboarding and training were two of the biggest challenges in filling positions during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still true for many businesses today.

This isn’t to say companies were hitting it out of the park before the virtual shift. In 2019, just 12% of employees thought their organizations did a good job with onboarding, and one-third of employees said their onboarding was informal, reactive or inconsistent.

Also, companies often underestimate the time it takes for new hires to become proficient in their responsibilities. On average, onboarding programs last about 90 days — a far cry from Gallup’s findings that indicate it takes upward of 12 months for new hires to reach their full performance potential.

Building a Stronger Onboarding Process

To begin, group onboarding materials into three main categories: “need-to-know,” “nice-to-know,” and “where-to-go.”

“Need-to-know” information is what new hires need to know for the new role. “Nice-to-know” information is precisely what it sounds like: details that would benefit a new hire but aren’t essential to the job on day one. “Where-to-go” refers to resources where new hires can access information independently, such as a knowledge base or resource library.

A new hire should demonstrate that they’ve learned and retained all the “need-to-know” information when graduating from onboarding. You can include both testing and live practice before new hires leave the “classroom.” If a new hire is struggling with testing or live practice, have a trainer work one on one with that individual until they feel confident to start the daily functions of their role on their own.

And remember, onboarding doesn’t stop after training. For example, once a new hire goes live here at Abstrakt, they’re assigned a “partner” that works with them for their first two months. We think of it as “human training wheels.” At the same time, we provide precise metrics to new hires, so they understand their performance levels and where there might be room for improvement. These metrics also give trainers a greater perspective of the individual and what topics need to be a focus for each unique hire.

Incorporating the Right Components Into Onboarding

The materials involved with onboarding will vary from one company to the next. And it’s important to personalize training for each individual new hire to meet their specific training needs. Once you’ve ironed out those details, you can incorporate these three strategies into onboarding:

  1. Create a classroom trainer guide.

If you’re unfamiliar, a trainer guide is a handbook often used in tandem with a training manual to document employee training and development. The handbook ensures new hires never miss critical information and creates consistency during onboarding. Take the time to build a very detailed, day-by-day instructional guidebook that outlines what is to be said and done in every hour of onboarding. For example, our trainer guide is more than 60 pages long for the first two weeks of training, and we’re consistently updating and making tweaks to the program to improve the process.

  1. Focus on mindset and soft skills.

New hires need more than just technical skills and information to do the job successfully. They also need training on communication, teamwork, problem-solving and other soft skills. Soft skills development can help new hires start thinking critically and improve their productivity, collaboration and satisfaction in the workplace, among a host of other benefits. You might also want to look for ways to integrate new hires into the company culture and connect them with senior leadership to enhance their commitment to the company.

  1. Balance learning and doing.

Although learning the ins and outs of a new job is essential, a time will come when new hires will no longer be in the classroom and must be able to perform the role’s duties — which is best done prior to post training. Incorporate simulations, mock calls and other opportunities that mimic work-related situations into onboarding. That way, the transition from the classroom to the job is smooth. It can also serve as a confidence boost for hires new to the industry, whatever that industry might be.

Should you find some new hires not doing as well as others, the program might require some tweaks. The same can be said if you see a dip in your retention numbers. But as long as you set clear expectations on day one, monitor their progress and incorporate some practical applications of the skills learned, you’re moving in the right direction — and that’s an excellent place to start.