Starting a job brings a mix of emotions. Your new hires likely feel a mix of excitement, optimism, stress, and anxiety. When you onboard employees, build an employee experience that minimizes the negative emotions and maximizes the positive ones. Use the following guide as a framework for designing your ideal employee onboarding experience.

Create goals, objectives, and metrics

It’s easy to fall into a place of complacency by the time a new hire starts work. Attracting the right people through purpose-focused job ads and optimizing your recruiting funnel can feel like the hardest part of onboarding new employees. However, you’re just getting started. Once you have that new hire on the hook, you need to take care of them. That is, once you’ve recruited people, you need to retain people.

Begin by stating your goal for success when onboarding employees. Typical goals for onboarding are things like being adequately trained to do their job, understanding and appreciating company culture, solidly understanding company policies, or developing connections with coworkers before being thrown into a team. Once you define your goal, define a few objectives that will help you reach your goal. Objectives are more granular or concrete. If your goal, for example, is to ensure new hires understand company policies, one objective may be to demonstrate an understanding of process for submitting paid time off (PTO) requests.

Identifying appropriate metrics for your onboarding program—or any undertaking—is important. More than any other factor, your measurement and inspection of work will drive employee behavior. “Tell me how you measure me,” Goldratt says, “and I will tell you how I will behave.” With this in mind, establishing bad metrics—those that don’t move you closer to your goal—can be more damaging than choosing no metrics at all.

How to find good metrics

Review our article on identifying good metrics for more information on how to choose the most appropriate metrics to get closer to your goal. Here are a few quick indicators of good metrics:

  1. The metric focuses on improvement, not attaining a specific number.
  2. As the metric improves, you move closer to your goal.
  3. The metric is easily understood and available to everyone who can influence the metric.
  4. There are not very many metrics to track for your goal. Maybe just two or three.

Create a schedule

Keeping your goals and objectives in mind, design a schedule for your onboarding experience. To onboard employees successfully, most companies will cover a few aspects of work at the company:

  • Historical Context: why the company exists, shared values, and the journey so far.
  • Policies: employee handbook, HR policies, non-disclosure agreements, etc.
  • Communication: org chart, reporting structure, escalation, and where to go for help.
  • Training: general job training for tasks performed across the company.

When you onboard employees, you need to ask yourself which areas you want to cover, in what structure, and in what timeframe. Some companies choose to dedicate days or weeks to onboarding before employees slip into a regular schedule. Others prefer a slower, piecemeal approach that prioritizes onboarding tasks based on what employees need to start working as quickly as possible.

Whatever approach you choose, document it in a schedule that you can use to communicate plans and priorities to your team.

Share the schedule before you onboard employees

Once you have the schedule, share it with anyone that will onboard employees. Also send the schedule to your new hires a few days before they start. This eases some anxiety about what their first days will look like. They’ll walk in on day one knowing exactly what to expect and where to go.

Have someone ready to meet them

The moment your new hire arrives at work on their first day, have an existing employee ready to guide them. They should greet the employee, make them feel comfortable, and ensure they stay on schedule during onboarding. A designated point of contact will make new hires more likely to raise questions or concerns than if they were placed in a general training program with no single contact to guide them.

Have something to give them

The new hire’s guide should also have some sort of welcome gift or care package ready at the new hire’s desk. A company t-shirt, coffee mug, stickers, or other branded swag will indicate to the new hire that they are “one of you” now.

Prepare everything they need for their job

Speaking of something to give them, ensure your new hire has all of the equipment and resources they need for their job on day one. If they show up and don’t have a clean desk to sit at—or a chair, or a computer, or whatever else they may need—they’re going to feel like an afterthought. A new employee should not have to wait for things they need to perform their core job function.

Framed another way: you’re paying for this new hire to be at work. If they don’t have what they need to do work, you’re wasting money.

Introduce them to coworkers

When you onboard employees, be sure to introduce them to existing team members. The new hire’s guide should make warm introductions to people across the company. This gives the new hire some names and faces to recognize later when their schedule is a bit more flexible. Gaining familiarity with people and roles will help them feel more comfortable in their new work environment. You can make a point to identify people who will best support the new hire and explicitly call out how each person can help them. They won’t remember everyone, but they will later recognize faces and recall them as someone willing and able to provide some assistance.

Give them opportunities to contribute quickly

While the specific content of any knowledge-sharing or training sessions during employee onboarding is up to you, there is likely some way you can give new hires to contribute to their team within their first day. While they may not be prepared to take on all of their job responsibilities on day one, they can make the company a better place.

When you onboard employees, show them your knowledge management system—where you team stores and shares things they learn—and encourage them to make contributions. Ask them to update any onboarding documentation that they find is out of date or incomplete. If they have prior experience with tools or processes utilized on their new team, ask them to review what you have and offer their recommendations.

This exercise does two things. First, it’s a quick morale boost for new hires. They will see you want their advice and expertise. By asking for their help, you demonstrate that you value their contributions and believe they are capable of improving things immediately. Second, your team will see that their new co-worker is capable of providing meaningful contributions quickly. This gives new hires some social credit when interacting with their team. New hires will be perceived as more ambitious and motivated when they quickly contribute to the team’s success.

Recognize their contributions

Be sure to reinforce new hires’ positive contributions with recognition. Depending on the type of contribution, this can range from simply thanking them individually all the way to presenting some type of award in front of the entire team. The experience you give people during their onboarding experience will be what they remember later when you ask them to onboard employees. You want to ensure that all employees recognize good work and set appropriate expectations with new hires. Ensure you get the positive behaviors and outcomes you want by demonstrating their importance to you.

Ensure they retain knowledge from training

Test the knowledge you try to impart on new hires. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to prepare a written exam. Short-answer quizzes, one-on-one conversations, simulated client experiences, and tasks designed to demonstrate knowledge are other ways to ensure new hires are retaining knowledge. You need to validate that your onboarding program is meeting the goals and objectives you outlined. If an employee can sail through your onboarding program without retaining anything, you may have an ineffective onboarding program or a bad hire. It’s best to uncover this as quickly as you can instead of letting a problem grow over weeks or months.

Measure the onboarding experience

In addition to assessing new hires’ knowledge, ask about their overall experience in your onboarding program. You will want to identify what went well, what went poorly, and what should change for next time. Ask employees about their experience while it’s still fresh on their mind. This way you’ll get the most meaningful feedback that reflects employees’ first impressions of working at your company.

Iterate and improve things for next time

Take that feedback, and incorporate it into future onboarding groups. When you onboard employees, your actions reinforce what you and the rest of the company care about most. You want to be responsive to the needs and concerns of new hires because they will expect you to live up to the company’s values. If you do not respond to feedback, they will stop giving useful feedback. If you respond to feedback and effect positive change, they will continue giving useful feedback.

Employee feedback gives you another amazing opportunity. You can solicit feedback from employees, ask them what they would do differently, and then ask them to act on it. By giving employees—even new hires who just completed onboarding—some autonomy and responsibility in improving the onboarding experience, you can develop an incredible process to onboard employees in just a few iterations.

Use the onboarding experience as an employee engagement baseline

A positive interviewing experience leads to better hiring experiences. Similarly, great onboarding experiences lead to better experiences in the months following onboarding. Determine how engaged your employees are when they begin, and complete onboarding through a standardized survey. This gives you a basis for measuring future levels of engagement. To improve employee engagement, you have to understand how engaged employees are today.

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