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Advice for Employers and Recruiters

Ideas for designing a meaningful onboarding process

Anna Peters
Contributing writer Ted Bauer (Guest Author)
May 8, 2017


An onboarding process is a crucial element of any hiring strategy. Even though the actual hiring is now complete, the transition into the organization – both before the first day on the job, and within the first few weeks are crucial to ensure a new hire gets off to a good start. According to a Harvard Business Review survey, 33% of new hires look for a job within the first six months of starting.

Now consider this, also from Harvard Business Review:

Harvard Business Review explains onboarding

The survey also pointed out that nearly 1 in 4 companies don’t even have a formal onboarding process, and half have one, but only view it as “somewhat successful.”

There’s likely a very strong correlation between a lack of dedication to a company wide onboarding process and how quickly new hires may feel disengaged and already searching for a different opportunity.

Studies show that a dedicated onboarding process is important for employee retention. So how can an employer improve their onboarding process? Start by following industry best practices.  

The 35,000-Foot View: Change the question structure

At Wipro, an IT Consulting firm, the Human Resources department made one small change to the onboarding process. In addition to the normal paperwork and introductions of Day/Week 1, both HR and the direct manager of a new hire asked them one simple question:

“Who are you when you’re at your very best?”

This allowed new hires to reflect on their strengths and uniqueness and how those characteristics could apply to this new role. As a result, rather than feeling alienated or anxious about this life change, employees felt more confident and empowered — which ultimately led to higher retention numbers (a metric Wipro tracks) and better performance as measured through customer satisfaction. This was literally a minor change to their overall onboarding process; they simply added one question to how Day 1-2 unfolds and saw a marked increase in performance (at least in part) as a result.

Facebook shows how to make an onboarding process meaningful

Antonio Garcia-Martinez was a startup founder and eventual Facebook product manager. He wrote a book called Chaos Monkeys about Silicon Valley culture, and conducted an interview with UPenn’s Wharton business school to promote it. He discussed Facebook’s onboarding process:

Your first day at Facebook, you’ll have two emails in your inbox. One is a sort of generic, “Welcome to Facebook.” And the second one is, “Here’s a list of software bugs to fix.” On your first day, you’ll pull a version of Facebook’s code to your personal machine that’s your version of Facebook. You’re encouraged to go ahead and make changes, upgrades, improvements, whatever, from day one. You’re actually entrusted with that much authority. Facebook is literally a quarter of the internet everywhere in the world, except China. Here, some 22-year-old engineering graduate has a version of it on his machine and he’s going to push a change to it today.

Think about that. Facebook is one of the biggest sites on the Internet — over 1 billion active users — and on Day One, a new hire can make changes and upgrades to the code. That’s markedly different from “fill out this paperwork, watch this HR video, and walk around saying hi to managers in the doorway of their office.” If you’re entrusted with real responsibility and meaning from day one, it would stand to reason that you’ll feel a long-term connection back to the organization.

Buffer’s three-buddy system

Buffer, a social automation platform with a large percentage of remote workers, uses a three buddy system in their onboarding process. The three buddies are:

  1. A “leader” buddy: This is an experienced member of the team the new hire will enter; this type of buddy is trained on having tough conversations around work elements and culture fit. It’s similar to a conventional mentor.
  2. A “role” buddy: This is someone who understands, or has previously held, the direct role that the new hire will play. They work with the new hire to understand the specific role and how to maximize performance in it within the first 45 days.
  3. A “culture” buddy: This buddy helps the new hire learn the unique aspects of Buffer’s internal culture, and helps them navigate to spots where they can fit in or even propose team events.

A new hire is introduced to the buddies prior to official Day One, which speaks to an important element of any onboarding process: There needs to be activity between a signed offer letter and the first day on the job. That can be as simple as giving the hire access to a portal where they can complete forms, (lessening day one paperwork), or it can involve the introduction of work buddies or other team members.

Realize employees have “fresh eyes” and an outside perspective

Companies can get disrupted when leaders spendt so much time together that “groupthink,” or homophily, resultst. It makes it very hard for leaders to see new ideas if a “that’s how we’ve always done it” mentality begins to be normative.

A new hire, by definition, is a fresh set of eyes. At Joie de Vivre Hotels, for example, they are encouraged to point out potential customer pain points and new approaches on day one. This again speaks to trust and responsibility. You just completed a hiring process with this person and decided they were the right candidate for your job opening. That implies you will trust them to do their job, so why not give them a voice from day one? We can all use the outside perspective.

Make your onboarding process fun!

Onboarding should be fun

Photo credit to Bloomberg

That’s the message from the onboarding process at Rackspace, which includes music, games, food, a limbo bar, and more. This might seem juvenile to some — aren’t workplaces supposed to be professional at all times? But as noted business consultant and thinker Robert Poynton (among others) have argued, letting adults embrace the idea of “play” (often left behind in your teens) is a great motivator and incentive to want to come to work and do your best there. Rackspace (and other companies) build these elements of fun right into the onboarding process. Imagine coming home to your significant other after a day like the above photo versus a day of filling out HR forms. Which job are you more excited about? Which one can you already see yourself still at in six to 12  months?

Use your onboarding process to beat back silos

Percolate, a marketing software company, has multiple departments present to a new hire between Monday and Friday of their first week (this happens for every new hire), including:

  • People Operations/HR
  • IT
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Design
  • Product Management

Noah Brier, Percolate co-founder, discussed what happens in the product management session, stating:

In this session, PMs explain the structure of the product team and Percolate’s approach to developing software. “Even if the new hire doesn’t need to know the technology stack that we use, we want all employees to be exposed to our technology,” says Brier. “In this meeting, we introduce the concept of the manager’s versus the maker’s schedule to educate every new hire on how to work with engineers. We get granular: don’t interrupt engineers, especially if they have headphones on.”

Percolate doesn’t do these deep dives simply so that each new hire knows what all the teams do. Brier says it’s about “understanding the philosophy of each team” and how they all “fit into the broader mission.”

One of the bigger complaints in most offices is silos, or poor communication between two departments. This aspect of an onboarding process certainly seems like a good way to address that problem from the very beginning of a hire’s tenure.

Onboarding process: The bottom line

Certainly, any effective onboarding process needs to begin with shared responsibility, caring about the program, and believing that an investment in people will pay off. Then, the processes themselves need to be formalized relative to your specific company culture. These examples could work for you. These examples can work for employers of all sizes, if implemented correctly. Even if they aren’t an exact fit, taking small steps, from successful onboarding processes from other employers can help make the onboarding process meaningful and engaging, as opposed to transactional and form-driven. That’s a win for the employer, and new hire. 

Keep informed of recruiting best practices by staying connected with College Recruiter on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and YouTube. Hiring soon? Would it make sense to have a brief conversation about your hiring needs? Consider College Recruiter’s advertising solutions, or email

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