4 steps to create the ultimate onboarding process

Caeleigh MacNeil contributor headshotCaeleigh MacNeilNovember 11th, 202110 min read
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Summary

An onboarding process is a structured approach to welcome new hires and set them up for success. When done right, onboarding helps you build great company culture, prevent impostor syndrome, and empower new team members to learn and grow in their roles. Learn about the benefits of great onboarding and how to achieve them, plus create your own onboarding process with four simple steps.

Your mother was right—first impressions really do count. This is especially true when a new hire joins your team. You’ve invested time and resources to find a great candidate—now it’s time to make them feel welcome, empowered to succeed, and glad to be a part of your team.  

Employee onboarding is more than just a training period for a new job—when done right, it’s a chance to build your company culture, stop impostor syndrome before it starts, and provide time for new hires to learn the skills they need. And with a structured onboarding process, you can set every new team member up for success.  

What is an employee onboarding process?

An employee onboarding process is a structured approach to welcome new hires to your team and get them up to speed. During onboarding, employees learn about your organization and its culture, get to know their teammates, meet cross-functional partners, and learn the tools and information they need for their role. 

A structured onboarding process lays out the steps required for every new hire, so you can ensure all new employees get the right information at the right time. It provides a standardized experience for new hires, a repository of information for their onboarding, and a timeline for introductions and trainings so new hires know what to expect during their first weeks and months.

Free employee onboarding template

The benefits of effective onboarding 

An effective onboarding process helps new team members feel welcome and empowered to learn. It also boosts productivity and encourages great talent to stay at your company longer. In fact, research by Glassdoor showed that organizations with a strong onboarding process can improve employee retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%. 

Here’s how effective onboarding can help your team: 

Build a positive culture

Organizational culture is made up of all the norms, best practices, ideals, and shared values within your company. Investing in great culture benefits everyone—not only does it help team members feel supported, but it also encourages them to engage, grow, and produce their best work.  

How employee onboarding builds culture: 

Great culture starts with a good first impression. Here’s how to use your onboarding plan to build a positive work environment: 

  • Take time to communicate your core company values. Values describe how team members can expect to be treated and provide guidelines for employees to collaborate with mutual respect. For example, some of Asana’s values include being real, giving and taking responsibility, and practicing mindfulness.  

  • Set the standard for diversity, inclusion, and belonging.  You want team members to feel like they belong. For example, you could include a DI&B learning session in the onboarding process for all new employees to learn about your company standards and employee resource groups. Additionally, let new hires know about any special events where team members can candidly discuss their experiences with identity and workplace challenges.  

  • Build trust with feedback. Effective feedback is essential for workplace communication and employee engagement because it helps people grow and improve. Soliciting feedback from new hires encourages them to ask for what they need and demonstrates that you value their input. Conversely, giving feedback helps new team members learn and feel safe in their role, because they can trust that you’ll tell them if they’re doing something wrong.  

Read: How team morale affects employee performance

Combat impostor syndrome

Impostor syndrome is a feeling of self-doubt about your abilities, like thinking you don’t deserve your job or that you’re not as accomplished as your co-workers think you are. It’s hard to cope with and can lead to burnout, low self-esteem, and a disconnect with coworkers. Impostor syndrome is also startlingly common among new hires—according to our research, nearly eight out of every ten new hires experienced impostor syndrome in 2020. 

How effective onboarding prevents impostor syndrome: 

As a manager, you can help prevent impostor syndrome right away by building these components into your onboarding program: 

  • Use goals to set clear expectations. With impostor syndrome, it’s important to focus on the facts. Setting goals gives team members a clear definition of success and metrics to measure their progress. For example, you could set goals for what the new hire should accomplish within their first 30, 60, and 90 days. These can be smaller short-term goals to start, like trainings they should complete in their first few weeks. Later, you can work with the new hire to set measurable long-term goals. Make sure each objective you set is SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. 

  • Assign a mentor for your new hire. A mentor meets regularly with your new hire and is typically a peer on their team—in other words, a mentor is someone the new hire can talk to other than their manager, so they have a space to bring up issues in a low-pressure environment. Assigning a mentor during onboarding can also encourage people to stay with your team longer. According to a study by Deloitte, employees intending to stay with their organization for more than five years were twice as likely to have a mentor than those who planned to leave sooner. 

  • Be specific about how your team communicates. This is especially important for virtual teams, because it’s harder for new hires to ask questions when they’re not physically at the office. Create and share a communication plan that outlines who to talk to for specific issues, which communication tools to use for what, how often team members should communicate status updates and project details, and what requires a face-to-face (or virtual) meeting rather than asynchronous communication. It’s also helpful to set expectations around instant messaging apps like Slack—for example, you could emphasize that team members don’t need to respond to messages immediately. 

Provide time to learn

There’s a lot to take in when starting a new job. New hires need to learn new skills, explore company processes, understand their job responsibilities, and figure out how to collaborate with cross-functional partners. A structured onboarding experience gives time to absorb all this new information so they’re set up for success when work ramps up.

How onboarding provides learning opportunities: 

Here’s how you can prioritize learning during onboarding: 

  • Make your onboarding process at least three months long. Hiring managers and HR professionals often spend less than a month onboarding new employees. But that leaves scant time for new hires to become confident in their roles. Ideally, onboarding should last from three to six months to allow new hires to ramp up gradually. And you may want to extend it even longer—research suggests that employee retention improves when onboarding lasts throughout the first year, especially since most new hires decide whether to stay or go within their first six months. This isn’t to say that new employees won’t contribute to the team during that entire time—it just means you continue to look for and provide learning opportunities, so your new hire can deepen their understanding of your company and team. 

  • Give new hires unstructured time. Instead of packing in back-to-back training sessions, leave plenty of room for new team members to read through information and explore on their own. This is especially important in the first few weeks, when employees are unfamiliar with company processes. With this, it’s helpful to estimate the time it will take for your new hire to read through all the materials you give them—then add on some additional buffer time so they can take breaks and absorb information. 

  • Make information easily accessible. Since new hires have extra time during onboarding to read through project materials and documentation, information should be easy for them to find. But it’s time-consuming to share individual files for your team member to read, and near-impossible to put together a comprehensive list of resources. That’s where a project management program like Asana can help. When you share a project in Asana, team members can see all of the relevant tasks, documentation, and contributors—plus explore other related projects they might be interested in. So instead of trying to put together a comprehensive list, you can just add them to relevant projects and let them explore at their own pace.

Try project management with Asana

4 steps to create an effective onboarding process

Creating a great onboarding process may seem daunting at first. Luckily, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Whether you’re building off of existing company processes or using an employee onboarding template to jumpstart the process, check out these four steps to effectively onboard team members. Here’s what to do: 

1. Determine what new hires need to know

At its heart, onboarding is about learning. That means it’s important to determine what new hires need to know for their role so you can make sure they get the information and training they need. Think beyond just hard skills—this can also include details like your company culture and values, how your team is structured, and how employees give and receive feedback

Try to separate key information into two buckets—details that all new hires should know, and things that are specific to a new hire’s role. For example, all new employees should learn about your company culture, but only engineers need to learn about your company’s development stack. 

Not sure where to start? Here are some examples to get you started. 

For all new employees

  • Company culture and values, such as how new hires can expect to be treated and what your organization does to create a good employee experience where everyone feels welcome. 

  • Company policies and processes, like how annual review cycles are done and how employees should request time off. 

  • Team processes, like how your team communicates with each other and the purpose of different team meetings. 

  • Team structure and responsibilities, so new hires know who to reach out to for specific problems or questions. 

For specific roles

  • Job skills. For example, a designer may need to understand the look and feel of your company website. 

  • Tools. For example, an account manager may need to learn how to manage leads in Salesforce. 

  • Role-specific processes. For example, an IT manager should learn how to put in an order for replacement computers.  

  • Individual responsibilities and expectations. For example, the responsibilities and expectations for a team lead differ from those of an entry-level individual contributor. 

Read: Process documentation: The ultimate how-to with examples

2. Outline logistical requirements

Next up, you need to determine the logistical tasks that need to be taken care of when your new hire starts. This is usually a combination of tasks for you, the new hire, human resources, and IT. For example, this might include: 

  • Tech setup. For example, requesting and setting up a computer for the new hire. 

  • Office access, like creating a new employee access badge. 

  • Setting up a physical workspace. This could mean setting aside an office, desk space, or providing a benefit so new hires can purchase home office equipment. 

  • HR tasks, like setting up benefits and direct deposit. 

  • Access to tools. For example, you may need to create accounts so the new hire can access online tools and team software. 

  • Required security and privacy trainings. 

Keep in mind that your company may already have processes in place for some or all of these requirements. As a first step, check with your IT and HR departments to see what’s automatically taken care of for new hires, and what you have to drive. 

3. Determine who new hires should meet

Part of the onboarding process for new hires is meeting team members and cross-functional partners they’ll be working with on a regular basis. As a manager, you can help your new hire make the right connections during onboarding so they’re clear who they should be working with on which projects. Make a list of everyone your new hire should meet during their first weeks on the job—later, you can use this information to schedule introduction meetings.

If you’ve opted to assign a mentor for the new employee, now is the time to specify who that person will be. Your new hire’s mentor should be one of the first people they meet with regularly. Their mentor may also have suggestions of people they should meet during their first few weeks.

And most importantly, make sure your new hire has dedicated time to meet their fellow team members. This can include group events like a team lunch on their first day, plus 1:1 time with each new teammate. 

Read: 45 team building games to improve communication and camaraderie

4. Create an onboarding timeline

Now it’s time to put it all together and create an onboarding timeline. An onboarding timeline lays out when each step of the new employee onboarding process should happen, so your new hire has a clear path to follow from day one onward. Your timeline should address the following questions: 

  • When will the onboarding process start? You may want to start the logistical aspects of onboarding before an employee’s first day—like getting their direct deposit and tax information, setting up their equipment, and sending a personal welcome message from your team. 

  • How long will the onboarding process last? Since you’ve already laid out all of the information and skills your new hire needs to know, you should have a general sense of how long it will take for them to get up to speed. Remember to build in plenty of buffer time so they can take breaks and process all the new information. It’s also important to communicate the length of your onboarding process to new hires, so they know how much time they should spend on each task. Keep in mind that this isn’t set in stone—you can always adjust the pace of onboarding depending on how fast your new hire is learning. 

  • When should you schedule training sessions to pass along key information? For example, you might want to schedule high-level sessions on company processes the first week, and skills training during the second and third weeks. 

  • When does your new hire need to learn and start using specific skills? Try to time skills training sessions close to when the new employee will actually put those skills into practice. That way, they have an opportunity to solidify their understanding and ask questions that weren’t addressed during training. 

  • Who should your new hire meet with, when? For example, they might check in with their mentor every day during their first week, and meet cross-functional stakeholders during their second or third week. 

  • What goals should your new hire achieve by the first day, week, month, and so on? These should be clear expectations for what the new employee should accomplish by when. For example, a new recruiter on your team may have a goal to shadow a hiring process with one of their peers during their first month. Keep in mind that goals are a starting point—you can still work with your new hire to adjust objectives as needed. 

  • When will you meet with the new employee to give and receive feedback? This can include informal check-ins to see how things are going and what can be improved, plus more structured feedback sessions at the end of the new hire’s first month or 100 days. 

Read: 3 guiding concepts for successfully managing a newly remote team

Example new hire checklist

An onboarding checklist is a useful tool to ensure your onboarding process includes all the steps necessary to set new hires up for success. This can be a version of your onboarding timeline, with individual tasks grouped in sections for your new hire’s first day, week, month, and so on. 

Using project management software like Asana can help make your onboarding checklist actionable. For example, you can create tasks with links to relevant information and specific due dates, then assign them to yourself, IT and HR team, or your new hire to complete. That way your checklist isn’t just a static document—it’s a living resource you and your new hire can work from and complete together.  

List View – New employee onboarding project in Asana, spreadsheet-style list viewFree new hire checklist template

Make your first impression count

With these steps, you can onboard new team members with confidence. Taking the time to create a structured onboarding process not only helps employees succeed in their new role—it also makes your company great from the inside out, with a positive culture that encourages talented employees to stick around. 

Free employee onboarding template

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