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Starting a business

What is an onboarding process? A step-by-step onboarding guide

Bringing a new hire into your small business is nerve-wracking. You need your new employee to understand your products and processes. You want them to treat your customers or clients with the same consideration that you do. You’re hopeful that they’ll respect and commit to the business you’ve worked so hard to build. There’s no doubt that onboarding is a daunting task, but you can make it happen.

What is the onboarding process?

Your employee onboarding process is the systematic flow of activities that your new hires will go through. There’s a lot you need to take care of during an employee’s earliest days with your company. You have to give them login information and familiarize them with the basics of your business. Your onboarding process organizes all of those tasks into a structured, repeatable set of steps.

The goal of your onboarding process is to get your new hires up to speed quickly. But the right process can also empower them with the information they need to be productive, successful team members. With a refined onboarding process, you can do that in a way that’s organized and manageable.

How to build an employee onboarding process

An onboarding process is essential for the success of your employees and your business. Yet only 50% of small businesses have a structured onboarding process. If you’re among those business owners who take a haphazard approach to onboarding, consider ironing out a new process.

Start by reflecting on previous times when you’ve trained new hires. Are there things that you forgot to do? Aspects you think could have been smoother? Jot those down so you can make sure you cover them in your new onboarding process.

With those improvements in mind, let’s dig into the onboarding activities you should include.

Step 1: Cover the nuts and bolts ahead of time

You only get one chance to make a first impression, and your new employee’s first day may leave a lasting one.

You’ll want to show your new hires that you’re prepared for their arrival. Handling some administrative tasks before their start date is a great way to prepare.

  • Set up their computer logins and other technical requirements.
  • Send essential paperwork (various forms, emergency contacts…etc), or have them ready for the employee’s first day.
  • Designate their workspace and set up their equipment.
  • Copy any keys or issue any badges they’ll need to access the workplace.

If you scramble for those elements at the last minute, you risk stressing yourself out. And you may make your new hire feel like an afterthought or even a burden rather than a valuable new team member.

Step 2: Conduct a new employee orientation

Your new employee orientation should be a standard step in your onboarding process. In orientation, you’ll lay the groundwork and cover the basics of your business. The basics might include your history, your mission, the types of customers you serve, and the products or services you offer.

You should also conduct a tour of your office or facility so that your new employees know where to find what they need. Your goal with this orientation isn’t to dig into the specifics of their position (that comes next). Instead, familiarize them with the general information they need to know about your business.

Step 3: Familiarize them with their role

The basics are the foundation of your onboarding process, but they’re only the start. New employees will want to sink their teeth into job-specific training right away.

A BambooHR survey found that 76% of workers say on-the-job training is the most important element of their first week. Workers surveyed put job training ahead of onboarding activities like reviewing company policies and taking office tours.

If you employ a larger staff, match up your new hires with someone who can walk them through their main responsibilities. If your new hire is the first to fill their position, you or another manager will need to help them understand their role.

It’s normal for employees to have a lot of questions during this step in the process. Encourage them to bring up questions or confusion proactively. The earlier you can address those sticking points, the more effective your new hire will be.

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Step 4: Set up a warm welcome

There’s a lot to accomplish when you’re onboarding employees. But a process that’s nothing but paperwork, formal training, and administrative headaches will frustrate you and your new hire.

Make sure that you incorporate some fun elements as well. Part of your onboarding process might be a team lunch, happy hour, social outing, or icebreaker activity.

A warm welcome can help relieve first-day anxiety. And it can give your new hire a chance to learn about your company culture and bond with your team. A BetterUp survey of full-time workers found those with a strong sense of belonging experienced a 56% increase in job performance.

Step 5: Schedule check-ins

If you think the onboarding period only lasts for a week or two, think again. A thorough onboarding process should extend at least through the first 90 days of your employee’s tenure.

Make sure that you don’t fall off their radar after that first week. Schedule frequent check-ins—around 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days—to catch up with your employee. Ask if they have any questions and if they’ve experienced any challenges. Checking in shows your employee that you’re invested in their success.

Jobvite survey asked professionals who left a job within 90 days why they jumped ship. 43% said their day-to-day role wasn’t what they expected. 34% said a bad incident sent them running. 32% said the culture wasn’t a good match. More frequent communication empowers you to fix those types of problems right away.

Benefits of employee onboarding

We know that refining your onboarding process is another thing on your ever-growing to-do list. But there are a few reasons it’s worth the time and effort.

  • It can improve employee retention.The last thing you want is to find and train a great employee and then see them hit the road. Fortunately, your onboarding experience has a direct impact on your employee retention.
  • It makes for more productive employees.A solid onboarding process means you can efficiently turn your new hires into valuable, contributing employees. Research has found that businesses with strong onboarding improve employee productivity by 70%.
  • It can increase job satisfaction.Happy employees lead to a thriving business. When you onboard effectively, your employees better understand the expectations of their role and how they can be successful. The same BambooHR survey found employees who receive effective onboarding are 30 times more likely to have high job satisfaction.

FAQs about employee onboarding

1. How long does the onboarding process take?

Your onboarding process—or the steps you take to fill out paperwork and handle new hire tasks and training—may only take a few days.

However, your new employee’s onboarding period may last much longer than that. It should last at least 90 days. Some HR experts assert that it should extend through your employee’s entire first year with your business.

2. Who should lead your onboarding process?

Who leads your onboarding process depends on the size of your business. For example, if you have a large team, the employee’s direct supervisor and your HR personnel will handle a lot of elements. If your team is still lean, you’ll likely handle a lot of the onboarding activities.

3. What is an onboarding checklist?

An onboarding checklist is a document that spells out all of the different steps and tasks involved in your onboarding process.

Having this document can help ensure you don’t forget any part of your process. It makes it easy for other members of your team to step in and help with onboarding. And it brings some structure to your process.

Reap the benefits of a top-notch employee onboarding process

As a small business owner, it’s never easy to bring a new employee into the fold. You’ve invested a lot in your business, and delegating responsibilities to other people requires a high degree of trust.

Fortunately, a top-notch onboarding process can help you bring employees up to speed quickly. And it can empower them to represent your business in a way that makes you proud. That peace of mind is well worth the effort.

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