Employee onboarding is a high-stakes challenge. Engagement, new hire turnover and performance all hinge on establishing a robust employee onboarding program. Onboarding is the optimal time to set expectations for employee performance, engagement and contributions to the organization’s strategy. As learning leaders, we have an opportunity to capture all the tangible and intangible program outcomes, incorporate them into the onboarding objectives and use them to shape the new hire experience.

From the onset, new hires need clarity regarding the purpose and goals of onboarding, as well as a roadmap of how they will gain the knowledge and skills to meet expectations set around performance, productivity, collaboration and communication. It is not enough to know where we are headed: We also need to know how we will get there. When onboarding fails, it is often the result of a disconnect between its objectives, the plan outlining how those will be met and successfully communicating this to new hires. Not having well-defined program objectives can negatively impact relevancy and impair the content, as well as hinder learners’ motivation to participate.

New hires are a captive audience, optimistic and eager to forge a successful career at the organization. While communicating program details may seem inherently obvious or overly simplistic, addressing the purpose of onboarding with new hires will ensure their investment in the process. Emphasizing the professional benefits and outcomes of the onboarding program will generate engagement, participation and accountability from new hires.

Compelling onboarding objectives will define the new hire experience by focusing the program’s purpose and outcomes. These objectives will guide and inform all components of the onboarding program, ensuring relevance and cohesiveness. Well-established onboarding objectives, in turn, inform the team’s metrics to evaluate the new hire experience and guide continuous improvement efforts. The result is an impactful and engaging onboarding experience for participants.

Reaffirming the Organization as a Great Place to Work

Newly hired employees require a re-recruitment effort to reaffirm they have taken a positive step in joining the organization. We must consider that they have made a leap of faith in deciding to accept the employment offer and are now reevaluating their new employer. To successfully integrate new hires, onboarding must aim to confirm that the organization is the correct fit by showcasing all its benefits, people and positive energy. This can be accomplished by weaving the workplace culture, communities and groups and shared values throughout the onboarding program, communications, support materials and interactions with employees. Part of the effort includes training and offering support to all roles involved in executing the program to meet this challenge.

Onboarding is the ideal time for new hires to envision their career growth and professional development journey at the organization. Discussing career paths available with new hires allows them to align their professional goals and adjust their expectations for career progression at the organization. The onboarding program needs to showcase a roadmap for career growth and development opportunities to instill a vision of what employees will gain during their tenure. It is never too early to begin shaping employee career paths.

Generate Excitement Around the Work

The onboarding program must create enthusiasm around the organization’s mission and strategy. Generate excitement toward what the organization is set to achieve by sharing the long- and short-term business goals. Through onboarding, connect the new hire’s work contributions to the larger mission and business strategy. The first interactions with the onboarding team, manager and colleagues must match a new hire’s level of excitement. Celebrate organizational and team achievements and past successes and share the thrill of joining efforts with new hires.

New hires are eager to jump into work and begin performing in their role. This is the ideal time for managers to communicate team goals and help shape the new hire’s objectives for the year. Managers collaborate with their new hires to establish performance goals, check-in structure and evaluation cadence aligned with the organization’s performance and recognition process.

Ensure new hires feel supported from the onset and have opportunities to offer and receive feedback early in the onboarding process. Having a strong relationship with their manager will create role engagement and employee satisfaction. It will also offer a channel for new hires to raise flags and offer feedback that can be used to correct their onboarding experience. This may require providing managers with specific guidance, materials and support to fulfill their role in integrating new hires into their teams.

Most of the energy toward the role will be driven by the manager and the team. Some onboarding objectives should include integration into the team, capturing how the team collaborates, walking through established processes and welcoming the new member into workflows and projects. Aim to instill a sense of belonging and inclusion in the team. Offer guides and materials for teams to use during their induction efforts aimed to standardize the activities and tasks they perform.

Kick-start a Relationship Network

Onboarding offers an opportunity to strategically build a connection network for new hires. This begins the moment an employee accepts the offer. The first effort is expanding the network beyond the recruiter and hiring manager to a group of trusted advisors that can support and guide the new hire as they begin working. This group of advisors encompasses representation from critical groups such as human resources, information technology (IT), payroll and other functions involved in onboarding. Their objective is to become a resource, directing new hires to information or contacts when needed.

The next step is to grow the relationship network to include team members, collaborators and cross-collaborators. These connections guide new hires as they navigate internal workflows and best practices. The final extension of the relationship network includes opportunities for relationship-building with other new hires, employees sharing commonalities such as working in the same location, mentors and even randomly paired connections. This effort aims to engender a sense of belonging to the organization and to the team. A new hire space or community platform can be leveraged to execute this program objective.

A critical measure of success for onboarding is the ability to form connections for new hires and guide networking opportunities. These connections and relationships encourage a sense of belonging, offer support and guide the new hire’s integration into the organization.

Build Know-how

Learning organization-specific know-how can take a substantial amount of time. Address this by designing a plan to acquire critical knowledge during onboarding. This can include milestones at 30-, 60- and 90-day marks revolving around organizational, team and system learning, as well as performance expectations. Share the learning plan and milestones with new hires so they can track their progress throughout their onboarding journey.

In addition, communicating sample developmental opportunities will frame the goals new hires set out to achieve. Goals such as developing an internal relationship network with collaborators, gaining a better understanding of business units and their work and obtaining a certain credential are common among new employees. Finding a way to acknowledge or celebrate the achievement of these milestones is a powerful motivator to continue meeting these targets. The onboarding program conclusion can culminate in recognition of the new hire’s efforts and achievements and can include a certificate of completion or a gift.

A successful program guides the consumption of learning, support resources and activities for new hires to accomplish during their onboarding. To manage their intake, point new hires toward a central hub where they can access timely communications and announcements, onboarding materials such as guides and checklists and relevant learning paths. Some learning will be easier to manage and promote; however, there may exist ad hoc learning that varies by team or role. Capturing and standardizing these learning experiences will offer a more consistent new hire experience across the organization.

One of the most important goals of onboarding is to reduce the time it takes for new hires to become fully productive in their role. As a result, onboarding efforts must identify and quickly remove the roadblocks hindering new hire performance. Often, these revolve around organization-specific processes, culture and knowledge. We must leverage the onboarding connections, learning assets and resources available to guide new hires in navigating this cultural know-how and offer solutions to bypass and overcome obstacles they face.

New hires are eager to soak in all incoming information and intrinsically motivated to complete onboarding programming and activities. They want to make an impact through their contributions and showcase their value right away. Emphasizing the benefits to new hires by linking these to their success at the organization will further compel them to remain engaged, learn and participate in the onboarding process. Shaping the employee onboarding experience and creating compelling onboarding objectives will result in higher employee retention, engagement and satisfaction.