Creating an Onboarding Plan

There have been some very good posts written on the subject of onboarding.  You can check them out here, here, here, and here.  Some people think of orientation and onboarding as the same thing.  I view onboarding as a longer process which includes orientation.

Unfortunately, in many companies, orientation has become that half-day event where employees sign paperwork and review the employee handbook.  That’s sad, because employees need and deserve more.  (Note to self – write a post about orientation someday.)

But onboarding to me is really about the pre- and post- hire process that helps an employee become acclimated to their new working environment.  This is the period in time when organizations have the opportunity to make a great first impression or leave employees totally frustrated.

It’s about setting the employee up for success.

Remember, your organization hired this person because they’re smart, productive and have experience.  That doesn’t mean you should take advantage by making them learn everything by osmosis.  Even if you don’t want to create a formal onboarding program, there are a few small things you can do to make learning about your company easier:

Prior to an employee’s first day, reach out to them.  They are excited about starting work with you.  Let them know little details like what time to be there, where to park, what to wear, how lunch will be handled, etc.  I know you might be saying to yourself…this is basic stuff.  But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen new employees arrive with no clue what would happen on their very first day.  Because their manager didn’t tell them.  It’s even better when you can tell them what the first week will look like.

If orientation doesn’t happen on the first day, let employees know when it will take place and what information is covered.  Again, if that’s when they get the payroll forms and benefit info…they’re waiting for it…tell them when to expect it.  That puts their mind at ease to focus on other stuff.  Let me repeat that . . they can focus on other stuff (like job responsibilities) if they aren’t busy wondering when they get paid. Get the picture?

Make sure you have some kind of plan for employees to learn their jobs.  Whether it’s via classroom training or on-the-job, employees want to hear that they are going to learn what they need to know.  Even if it’s in phases.  People just want to know there’s a plan.

Lastly, be sure to follow-up with employees to see how things are going.  Even the best plans have hiccups, so make sure the employee feels comfortable with the pace and doesn’t have any questions that have been left unanswered.

Let’s face it, the easier you make it for employees to learn the ropes…the faster they can get to work.  That’s why having an onboarding plan is important.


  1. says

    Onboarding is so important! Think “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Employees will make a decision whether on not to stay at a company within the first six months (or less!). A good onboarding program can increase day one readiness and retention. It’s worth the time to implement a well thought out process that will go beyond the first day, week or even month.

    Aberdeen Group’s onboarding benchmark reports have some really useful information in them. They publish one every year – this the the 2009 report – and the 2010 (which you currently would have to “register” for to download) They are a bit lengthy, but full of good information!

  2. says

    @Ginger – thanks for sharing the Aberdeen Group reports. I’ll have to check them out!

    @Alison – totally agree. As the face of work changes, so does the the on-boarding process. Thanks for the comment!

  3. says

    Onboarding is an absolutely critical ingredient to assimilating your new employees to the companies culture. Do this well and it will save you years of frustration in the future.

  4. says

    Good points. Think about backing up even further. The most effective onboarding programs start even before the first contact between company and candidate. It’s useful to think in terms of aligning key stakeholders around the role and responsibilities before working through new employee acquisition, accommodation, assimilation and then acceleration.

    George Bradt, author of “Onboarding – How to Get Your New Employees Up to Speed in Half the Time” (Wiley, 2009)

  5. says

    Onboarding is also the right time to start introducing your wellness programs to your employees as a way to show that your company cares about their health and well being

  6. says

    Amen, Sharlyn! I think the uppermost goal of any onboarding program is to communicate to the new employee, “You made a good decision by coming to work here.” Every aspect of the program — not just the content, but the pace and manner in which it’s presented — needs to be filtered through this lens, yes?

    I love your distinction between onboarding and “orientation.” I have been to those perfunctory half-day sessions you mentioned, and I can attest to their draining the life force from even the most excited new employee.

    Feel free to check out my white paper, “7 Keys to Better Employee Orientations” (just launched a brand new site this week — wanted to make that available to you as well). Thanks for the thoughtful post. I’m enjoying following you on Twitter!

  7. says

    @Kathleen – True, any program that shows employees how much they are valued shouldn’t be hidden. Having a wellness program is a great thing to emphasize during the recruitment process. Thanks for the comment!

    @Gina – Thanks for sharing your white paper. I look forward to checking it out.

  8. says

    We have found a way to onboard new starters that improves their productivity by 60% and their engagement by 85%. Have a look at and you’ll see it starts with the job offer! It send the new starter a complete web site based on their job and manages all of the back office support and paperwork. It even starts to test them on their engagement. I like that you can have multiples of templates at no additional cost, all tailored by me, the end-user. The feedback from new starters has been fantastic.

  9. says

    You make such good points.. Especially the one about pre-boarding. Here’s a great example. My HR Intern, the fabulous Stephen Palmer, was hired as a recruiter 4 months before his graduation this May. The company has him come to work 1 day per month (paid) while he is still in college to have lunch, bond, learn the ATS and make some calls. They also stay in touch in between. He’s already acculturated and has formed relationships with peers and management. Maybe it’s an exaggerated example because of the long time from hire to start but it’s also a shining one.

    P.S. Sharlyn.. thanks for pointing to my post as an example =)

  10. says

    @Simon – Thanks for sharing. Very interesting resource. I look forward to exploring it more.

    @Karla – Love the example! Keep writing great stuff for me to reference. 😉

  11. LDaniel says

    If anyone has a post hire follow up process in place, would you be willing to share? I’m looking for 30-60-90 day process. Thank you!!

  12. says

    Years ago, I heard Harvard business professor Michael Watkins speak on “The First 90 Days”, based upon his book by the same name. He talked about things about organizations and individuals can do to make the first 90 days valuable.

  13. Scott says

    Excellent article! I am currently a student studying HR and these articles are helping me very much. These give great advice about the HR world today instead of something out of a text book that is a few years behind. I look forward to your future posts and tips.