The competition for talent is intense right now. And with more companies than ever offering full-time remote opportunities, the competition is not going away.
So how do you retain that new talent that you worked so hard to recruit? It starts with your onboarding process. In fact, research from Glassdoor tells us that a strong onboarding process improves new hire retention by 82%! The bad news is that only 12% of employees strongly agree that their organizations are doing a great job of onboarding new employees (source: Gallup).
We have work to do, folks.
How about—instead of focusing purely on paperwork and process—we focus on building connection during the onboarding journey? I believe it comes in three main forms:
- Connection to work: a strong sense of purpose and impact
- Connection to the team: a strong sense of belonging and genuine care
- Connection to self: a strong sense that their unique talents and ideas are welcomed, valued, and needed
Today I’m sharing eleven of my best strategies for building this kind of connection in your employee onboarding experience.
#1: Communicate early and often.
Before their first day, your goal should be to overcommunicate—to fill any possible gaps of uncertainty with assurance. Don’t assume they know anything. Here are a few specifics that often get neglected:
– The basics: typical work attire, expected work hours, what exactly will happen on Day 1 (provide a detailed agenda!), where to park, etc.
– Early team introductions: provide links to LinkedIn profiles or, better yet, a team introduction package so they can start matching faces with names and learning about their future teammates
#2: Personalize the welcome.
We are typically focused on promoting our company brand and value during orientation, but research shows that flipping the script to focus on elevating the new hire’s identity drives better retention and performance. Loudly communicate early on that you value them, and that their unique strengths and interests are wanted here. Here are two ideas:
– Show them that you were listening during the hiring process and welcome them in customized way. This could include a gift card to their favorite local restaurant, a jersey for their favorite sports team, their favorite coffee beverage sitting on their desk on Day 1, or a printed sign with their alma mater’s logo hanging in their cubicle.
– Ask the new employee to share their story during a staff meeting with photos showcasing their personal interests, background, and talents. Be sure the team is ready to demonstrate genuine interest and ask thoughtful questions.
#3: Use checklists.
You’re busy. Your team is busy. Everyone is busy! To ensure you offer a consistent, robust onboarding experience, create checklists for those involved to ensure nothing is missed in the hustle and bustle. Not sure where to start? Ask a few newer employees to take a cut at the first draft of the employee checklist—no doubt they’ll think of things you might miss. Then, to create a manager checklist, hold a quick meeting with a few managers to capture a brain dump of all the steps they take when integrating a new employee, then organize the ideas into a clean checklist. Check, check!
#4: Create a new employee cheat sheet.
Your new employees certainly don’t want to have to ask for help on everything, so give them a helpful resource guide covering the essential who, what, when, and where details. Here are a few examples of things you might include:
– Org charts, plus corresponding roles and responsibilities
– Department descriptions
– Recurring meeting schedules
– Key locations: physical (bathrooms, break rooms, nearby restaurants, etc.) and digital (server mappings, URLs, etc.)
#5: Hold regular manager-employee check-ins.
Nothing can substitute the important time spent between an employee and supervisor. How frequent should you hold these check-ins? I’m so glad you asked.
– During the first several weeks, I recommend scheduling more frequent 1:1s to build trust, comfort, and natural bi-directional learning. Surprisingly enough, this extra time spent actually drives efficiency. If a new employee knows they will get 15 minutes of dedicated time with their boss each day during their first few weeks, they will save their questions for that time and be prepared for rapid fire Q&A. This also means that they may actually find the answer or solve the issue on their own before that meeting (versus swinging by your office every time a question surfaces).
– After they are settled into the role, continue with weekly or bi-weekly 1:1s. This is one of the most important, yet underutilized management practices. Note: recurring 1:1s should be held with all employees at all levels, not just the newbies.
#6: Assign a buddy.
Why do we abandon the buddy system after early preschool? According to the Human Capital Institute, 87% of organizations that use an ambassador or buddy program during the onboarding process say it dramatically speeds up new hire productivity; yet fewer than half of all organizations implement such a program. Providing a buddy to a new hire gives them safety, belonging, and an easily accessible resource. It also boosts ownership and a sense of importance in your current employees who serve as buddies. Bonus: it’s free. Seems like a no-brainer here. Be sure to assign a single point of contact—general statements like “ask anyone for help anytime” feel much more daunting than knowing you have one person you can rely on who is committed to your success.
#7: Design a balanced first week: robust, yet bite-sized.
Don’t leave new employees twiddling their thumbs or wondering what to do, but also don’t overwhelm them. Here are a few ideas to consider:
– Have them start on a Wednesday or Thursday to make it a short first week.
– Provide them with a detailed first week schedule that loosely guides every hour of every day—while this would feel like micromanagement to an experienced employee, it provides comfort and direction for a new team member.
– Deliver training and information in small increments to promote absorption and retention of the material.
– Invite them to plenty of ride-alongs: meetings they can attend as a fly on the wall.
#8: Schedule 1:1s with each team member.
This one is inspired by one of my clients. They have every new employee schedule a 30-minute introductory meeting with each team member across the agency. Both new and old employees truly value the practice. It builds connection, belonging, and knowledge quickly. Obviously, depending on the size of your organization, you may not ask them to meet with every single employee, but I would encourage you to have them meet with more than just their direct team members.
#9: Provide customer exposure.
As illustrated in this Two-Minute Tip several months ago, one of the best ways to connect employees with the purpose of their work is to allow them to see the impact it has on the end user. Don’t wait to expose new employees to customer stories; let them experience and see the impact early in their journey.
#10: Ask for their input.
Just because there is a learning curve with any new job doesn’t mean new employees can’t start adding value right away. They don’t want to feel like dead weight, and you should be taking advantage of their fresh perspectives. Here are a few easy ways to solicit their insights without it feeling too intimidating:
– Invite them to attend a meeting and share their observations in a post-meeting private setting.
– Assign them to review a process and take note of steps that seem unclear, potential gaps, or fresh ideas on productive shifts in the design.
– Ask them to provide feedback on the onboarding process.
– Allow them to teach a mini-lesson to the team on any particular areas of expertise.
#11: Extend the process.
News flash: onboarding should not end after the first week. Designing and framing your onboarding program as a 90-day process tells new employees that they are not expected to have it all together after a few weeks—they have time to learn and grow. This extended timeframe enables them to feel a sense of safety in which they aren’t afraid to ask the ‘stupid questions’ or admit mistakes. Be sure to schedule specific milestones within the process, like formal 30-day check-ins where candid feedback is provided on both sides—it feels less intimidating to discuss honest feedback when part of a formal step in the process.
No doubt you have other ideas and best practices to share. What are they? Would you please put them in the comments so we can learn together?
Here’s to designing human-centered onboarding processes that build meaningful connection in our workplaces.