Onboarding - What is Onboarding?

Onboarding - What is Onboarding?


Picture this, it’s the first day of your new job. You worked your tail off to land a new gig, and you’re so excited and happy to be there. Nerves aside, you can’t wait to jump in, meet your teammates, and learn all about your role.

Unfortunately, most onboarding programs (or lack thereof) can leave you feeling like you’re drinking from a firehouse or off floating in space by yourself and quickly make that new job excitement disappear.

Let’s step back and start with the basics - what is the onboarding process?

What is the Onboarding Process?

According to SHRM, “‘Onboarding’ refers to the processes in which new hires are integrated into the organization. It includes activities that allow new employees to complete an initial new-hire orientation process. For some organizations, the onboarding process consists of one or two days days of activities; for other organizations, this process may involve a series of activities spanning one or many months.”

The purpose of onboarding is to give new employees an overview of your company, mission, values, business goals, etc and to equip new hires with the tools and knowledge to help set them up for success in their new role.

Whether it’s happening IRL or virtually, onboarding is an integral part of the new hire experience. When creating an onboarding plan, It’s important to focus on how to onboard a new employee in the best way that will teach them about their role while ingraining them into the company culture.

The onboarding process can be broken up into various phases to slowly integrate these people into the fabric of your organization. The ideal process should be a structured, consistent experience across new hire classes. To help aid the onboarding process and to set expectations of the experience, employers should present an onboarding deck during the first collective onboarding meeting to outline the experience and potential deliverables. This will allow new employees to proactively prepare for the various sessions.

Presenters and facilitators should come to their sessions prepared with interesting and relevant content to share and leave space for questions and areas of exploration. Example sessions could include opportunities to meet and greet various teams or to walk through the employee handbook, internal policies, and benefits plan. We also recommend a mini tech bootcamp to help new hires set up their technology.

Consider how to make the information that you share as engaging as possible. Your new hires are excited to learn and connect, however (especially if you are a remote first org) it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and experience zoom fatigue. We suggest sprinkling in activities, break out sessions, and other forms of engagement to make sure they are digesting the necessary information. We cannot stress the importance of structure enough, this is your only opportunity to make a first impression and you need your new hires to understand how you value them and their future contributions.

Why is Onboarding Important?

Why is onboarding so valuable? From simplifying the application process to making interviews as comfortable as possible, HR professionals spend endless hours trying to perfect the candidate experience; however they seem to forget that the candidate experience doesn’t end after the new hire signs their offer letter. Funny enough, the most important step of the hiring process is actually employee onboarding.

HR folks, to better understand what’s at stake, “If a new hire doesn’t have a positive onboarding experience, they are twice as likely to search for other job opportunities and leave the company.” Let’s face it, it’s no longer taboo to leave a job that you just started.

The purpose of onboarding is to set up your new employee for success and to kick off your new relationship on a positive note that will hopefully set the tone for the duration of their employment. This is a great time for new employees to form key relationships across the organization - sometimes with other new hires. It’s also a great time to keep them excited about the fun company culture they just joined and remind old employees why they love working at your organization. Onboarding in HR is also key because it helps square away all of the housekeeping activities by providing information and sessions on benefits and standard company procedures.

As an employer, during the onboarding process, it’s also important to help relieve any new job stress that employees might be feeling by setting clear expectations and goals. Down the line this will lead to improved job performance and increased employee satisfaction.

To recap, the employee onboarding experience serves as the new hires first impression of the organization, and remember, a successful onboarding experience has a high correlation with a positive employee retention rate - you better make it count.

Difference Between Onboarding and Orientation

Onboarding vs orientation? To think about it simply, the difference between onboarding and orientation can be thought about as such: orientation is like the first date whereas onboarding is the beginning of the “honeymoon phase” of a longer term relationship.

During orientation you get to know the basics: learning how to navigate the office (or Slack spaces), meeting colleagues, exploring company policies, and signing paperwork for tax and payroll purposes. In short, you’re skimming that surface and getting a feel for each other while getting the important logistics out of the way. We’ll share more about the importance and nitty gritty of orientation later.

On the other hand, onboarding new employees is a longer-term play where the relationship really starts to develop. This can take place over weeks, months, or even an entire year. During this slow, but very important process, you’re helping your new team member integrate into the fabric of the organization. You want them to take on their role with confidence while providing them with ongoing education, accessible resources, and a support system to help accelerate their success.

What are the 4 Phases of Onboarding?

Even though the onboarding process looks different at every company, it’s typically broken down into four stages.

So what are the four phases of onboarding? Let’s take a look.


As soon as candidates sign their offer letters, they enter the first phase of the onboarding process: pre-onboarding or pre-boarding. This stage involves shipping new hires company laptops and other work equipment, sending them your employee handbook, and collecting their personal information. By using paperless online HR software, companies can have new hires electronically fill out and sign important employee onboarding paperwork. Through an Learning Management System (LMS), new hires can complete training sessions and courses. Doing all of this before their first day enables HR teams to focus on culture, benefits, and other critical topics during actual onboarding sessions.


Once a new hire’s first day rolls around, it’s time for orientation. The first onboarding day introduces them to their new company and its culture, including its core values, mission and vision statements, and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). To give them insight into how the company is structured, new hires are introduced to their executive team and other leaders across the organization as well.

In addition to giving this high-level overview, orientation is when new hires sign any remaining employee onboarding paperwork and learn about their benefits options. If they don’t enroll in benefits during orientation, they have 30 days to do so. This second phase of the onboarding process is also when new hires gain access to their company email and HR platform.

Role-Specific & Team-Focused Training

After orientation, it’s time for new hires to start training for their role and learn about their team members’ responsibilities. Since meeting a lot of people at once can be overwhelming—especially virtually—this phase of the onboarding process is perfect for setting up one-on-ones for new hires to chat with each member of their team. During these meetings, employees can walk new hires through their career journey at your company, what their day-to-day looks like, and how the two of their roles will overlap.

This third phase of the onboarding process is also when 30-60-90 day plans come into play. The first 3 months can either make or break an employee’s experience at an organization—which is why incorporating these plans in the onboarding process is so critical. Broken into 3 parts, these plans clearly outline new hires’ tasks and priorities, along with any training they will go through.

Ongoing Development

Once new hires get a good grasp of their role and responsibilities, it’s time to enter the final phase of the onboarding process: ongoing development. This stage helps ease new hires into their roles even more by focusing on in-depth training, mentoring, and performance tracking.

During this final phase of the onboarding process, managers should check in with their new hires at the 30-, 60-, and 90-day marks to go over the plans created in the previous stage. This gives new hires the opportunity to discuss their progress towards goals and any roadblocks they may be encountering. Having these check-ins will help keep them motivated and set them up for success—increasing the chances of retaining them in the long-run.

How Long Does Onboarding Take?

Now that we’ve covered the typical framework, how long does onboarding take?

Since pre-onboarding takes place in between candidates signing their offer letters and their first day on the job, the first phase of the onboarding process can take anywhere from 2 weeks to over a month. The rest of an effective onboarding process typically lasts about 3 months—aligning perfectly with new hires’ 30-60-90 day plans.

Since the goal of orientation is simply to welcome new hires and give them a high-level introduction to your company, the second phase of the onboarding process usually only lasts a few days maximum. After that, role-specific and team-focused training can last about one to two months depending on the position. Then to wrap up the onboarding process, ongoing development lasts for the remainder of a new hire’s 90 days. Once those 90 days are over, new hires are officially onboarded.

What Happens During Onboarding?

Starting a new job can be intimidating and overwhelming—especially if it’s remote. Luckily, the goal of successful employee onboarding is to help ease the transition for new hires and start them off on the right foot.

So from a new hire perspective, what happens during onboarding?

After they sign their offer letters, new hires are sent important employee onboarding paperwork and any necessary work equipment they need before their first day. If they will be working remotely, they might receive a WFH stipend to spend on new monitors, desks, keyboards, chairs, or even WiFi for their home office. During pre-onboarding, new hires may also receive company swag or welcome packages.

Once their first day rolls around, new hires sign any remaining employee onboarding paperwork, gain access to their company email, and learn about and enroll in benefits. Since culture plays a huge role in orientation, successful employee onboarding introduces new hires to the ins and outs of their company. Who is on their executive team? What ERGs and company-wide initiatives can they get involved with? Do they have access to any resources or perks, like EAPs, mental health services, or fitness memberships? Learning about these during orientation enables new hires to get involved and take advantage of everything their company has to offer right off the bat.

During the last two phases of a successful employee onboarding program, new hires begin diving into their role and responsibilities. This training may start at a high-level, focusing on their company’s offerings, industry, and competitors. To learn more about their teammates, new hires may meet with them to walk through their career journeys at the company, what their day-to-day looks like, and how the two of their roles will overlap. If they will be working cross-functionally, new hires may also meet with employees in different departments.

The final two phases of the onboarding process also rely heavily on new hires’ 30-60-90 day plans. After meeting one-on-one with their managers to walk through their priorities, goals, and training, new hires learn what the rest of their initial 90 days will look like. Following this plan helps keep them organized and sets them up for success going forward.

What Does HR Do for Onboarding?

We’ve taken a look at this process from the new hire perspective, but what does HR do for onboarding?

Since HR teams run recruitment, they kick off the employee onboarding process as soon as a candidate signs their offer letter. During the pre-onboarding phase, HR teams send new hires their employee handbook, necessary work equipment, and maybe company swag if it’s part of their process. To help them feel welcomed before they even start, HR teams may also encourage managers and their direct reports to reach out to new hires via email. This is especially helpful if they are onboarding virtually and won’t be meeting their teams in person on their first day.

Once a new hire begins, HR is in charge of running the next phase of the employee onboarding process. During orientation, HR teams walk new hires through their organization’s policies, core values, benefits offerings, and company culture. These onboarding sessions are interactive and encourage new hires to ask any questions they may have.

Since the rest of the employee onboarding process is focused on new hires’ roles and teams, their managers will take it from there. However, HR teams will check in with new hires throughout onboarding and afterwards to see how they’re doing.

How to Onboard a New Employee

Whether it’s in person or virtual, it’s really important to strategically onboard new employees so they feel confident in their new responsibilities and great foundational knowledge of the organization. We’ve found that the best employee onboarding programs seem to have similar goals and outcomes in mind. According to Gallup, the objectives for an onboarding program should be twofold: to fulfill the promises made during the hiring process and to lay the foundation for long-term engagement and performance.

Keeping this in mind, Gallup thinks that all new hire should graduate from their employee onboarding plan with a clear answer to the following questions:

  • “What do we believe in around here?”
  • “What are my strengths?”
  • “What is my role?”
  • “Who are my partners?”
  • “What does my future here look like?”

When your team is brainstorming the best way to create a comprehensive onboarding program, be sure to work backwards from your onboarding goals and objectives to maximize the program’s effectiveness.

What Does an Onboarding Specialist Do?

Depending on the size of your HR team, you may have an onboarding specialist.

So what does an onboarding specialist do? They organize and run the entire employee onboarding process from start to finish. As soon as someone signs an offer letter, the onboarding specialist kicks off pre-onboarding by transitioning the candidate to a “new hire” in their HR platform, sending them a congratulatory welcome letter or email, and choosing their start date. If the company is hiring several new hires around the same time, the onboarding specialist will try to have them start on the same day so that they can all be part of an onboarding class.

Before new hires begin, the onboarding specialist will send them the proper employee onboarding paperwork and work equipment. During this time, the onboarding specialist may send new hires welcome packages or pamphlets, giving them a glimpse into the company and its culture.

Once a new hire’s start date rolls around, it’s time for the onboarding specialist to begin orientation. From walking through the onboarding handbook and company policies to helping new hires enroll in benefits and introducing them to leaders across the organization, the onboarding specialist runs every orientation session.

After orientation, the onboarding specialist will direct new hires to their managers and teams to start training for their roles. To make sure new hires are properly supported during this time, the onboarding specialist will continue to check in with them and their managers about their 30-60-90 day plans. Once new hires are officially onboarded, the onboarding specialist may send out a survey or ask for feedback on how they can improve their processes going forward.

Sample Onboarding Plan for New Employees

An effective employee onboarding plan is typically broken down into the four phases: pre-onboarding, orientation, role-specific and team-focused training, and ongoing development.

Since pre-onboarding starts after candidates sign their offer letters, they may receive a copy of their onboarding plan before their first day. If not, they will receive it at the beginning of orientation. Since new hires’ 30-60-90 day plans align with the remaining phases of the employee onboarding process, they are usually part of the onboarding guide.

So when building an effective employee onboarding plan, where do you even start?

Here are some employee onboarding best practices:

  • In the beginning of an onboarding plan, include the new hire’s job description. This way, they can easily refer back to their role and the expectations that come along with it.
  • Dive into their role expectations further by setting clear goals and KPIs. Simply writing down goals makes employees 42 percent more likely to achieve them. These goals should be SMART—specific, relevant, measurable, attainable, and time-based—and assigned to the different phases of the employee onboarding process.
  • Include an org chart to help them become familiar with who is on their team. Consider adding each teammate’s headshot, title, and role description. If new hires will be working cross-functionally, you can also include employees from other departments.
  • Link to resources that will help them kick off their training and get to know your company better. For example, if you sell software, consider including links to slide decks or one-pagers to help them learn about the different parts of your platform and your customer service model.
  • Clearly list out new hires’ training plans. Include what training sessions they will be attending, who will be running them, and when they will be. If one of your team members owns a specific channel or is proficient in using a certain tech stack, have that person walk the new hire through them. You should also set up one-on-ones throughout new hires’ first 90 days for each team member to introduce themselves and give the new hire an overview of their role. Listing out these trainings in a new hire’s onboarding plan will help them prepare and stay organized throughout their first 90 days.

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