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Best Practices for Employee Onboarding

Imagine it’s your first day at a new job. You arrive at an office where no one seems to be expecting you. After locating your workstation, you realize that no one has shown you how to log into your computer or get an outside line on your phone. You do not have a clear idea of what you are expected to do first in your new job. Your supervisor is nowhere to be found, and you are starting to question your decision to accept this position.

As the above scenario suggests, an organization never gets a second chance to make a first impression with its new hires. Investing in employee on-boarding ensures that an organization is prepared for and committed to positioning its new hires for success in their roles.

Effective employee on-boarding serves three interrelated purposes. First, it ensures that the new hire feels welcomed, comfortable, prepared, and supported. In turn, this leads to the new hire’s ability to make an impact within the organization, both immediately and over time. Finally, employee success leads to satisfaction and retention, which allows the organization to continue to meet its mission.

In order to position a new hire for success, it is important that an organization prepares in advance and continues to support a new hire throughout the first several months (and beyond). This article explores some established best practices for employee on-boarding procedures.

Before the First Day

Preparing for a new hire’s start date is the first step in ensuring effective on-boarding. Start by completing an agenda for the first week on the job. As part of the agenda, schedule times for the new hire to meet with key staff members.

Provide staff members with the new employee’s resume and job description, and advise them to follow a meeting format that includes sharing a description of their own position, how their role interacts with that of the new hire, and how they might expect to work together in the future.

This is also a good time to assign a mentor or buddy to the new hire as an immediate resource for any questions, help them build a network, educate them on resources, and give key information about organizational culture and goals.

Next, create a comfortable workstation for the new hire. Stock his or her workstation with the tools needed to hit the ground running, such as paper, pens, computer, phone, keys, and business cards. Make sure that voicemail and email accounts are set up. Leave a copy of an organization chart, staff list and phone directory on the new hire’s desk. If your organization has an employee handbook, leave this on the desk as well, along with all administrative forms such as employment, direct deposit, and benefits so that they will be ready to be completed on day one.

To really impress new hires on their first day, add any branded collateral that you can spare such as a logo backpack, hat, pen, tee-shirt or mug to your new hire’s new desk.

Finally, make sure to communicate with your new hire before the first day to confirm logistics such as driving directions, parking, public transportation, expected arrival time, dress code, plans for lunch on the first day, person to ask for on arrival, etc.

The First Day

The first day of a new job can rattle the nerves of even the most experienced professional. The better prepared you are to welcome the new hire on his or her first day, the easier this transition will be for everyone.

Schedule a particular staff member to be available to greet the new employee and give an office tour. During the office tour, introduce the new hire to all staff members as well as pointing out the copy machine, mail room, employee mailboxes, lunch room, and restrooms. Remember that new hires are asked to absorb a lot of information in a short amount of time, so encourage them to take notes and expect that they will have questions about these things later.

Balance the first day schedule between orientation, meetings, and less formal gatherings. If possible, arrange for the new hire to be treated to lunch on the first day by a group of staff members.

Schedule a meeting with the employee’s supervisor for the first afternoon. During this meeting, the supervisor should review the responsibilities of the position and give an overview of what the first 30-90 days in the position will look like.

The First Week

While the first day entails presenting basic information to the new hire, the first week focuses on setting expectations and developing relationships with staff, particularly the supervisor of and any direct reports to the new hire.

During the first week, the supervisor and new hire should meet to discuss desired management style and information about typical processes, such as how decisions are made. This is also the time to begin the most important aspect of on-boarding, which is setting expectations about deliverables, timelines and performance metrics. It is essential that such plans and goals be clearly communicated at the outset of the relationship in order to position a new hire for success in his or her role. The two most common errors when on-boarding new employees are: (1) expecting higher performance and faster learning curves than is reasonable, and (2) leaving employees to wonder what they should be doing and what is expected of them by their new managers.

If the hire is in a supervisory role, also ensure that he or she meets with any direct reports one-on-one and as a group within the first week. These meetings will help build the new team and allow the new hire to get a sense of the work style of each team member.

It is also important for the new hire to interact with other staff members who may not be on his or her immediate team. Schedule at least one meeting per day with different staff members. This gives the new hire time to learn about the whole organization from many different perspectives and to create new relationships with key staff members.

In addition to interacting with internal staff, if it is appropriate for their role, ensure that the new hire is scheduled to meet in person with any necessary partners, funders, Board members or other constituents within the first month. Encourage new hires to notify their personal and professional contacts of their new role, thereby providing a marketing opportunity for your organization.

The First Three Months and Beyond

The output expectation for the first week should be nominal so that the time can be most effectively used for learning and settling in. During the first month, it is traditional to expect modest deliverables in which the new hire can learn by doing and be positioned for success and confidence building. By the end of the first three months, the new employee should be getting up to speed and should be expected to be evaluated on a normal workload.

After 90 days, have the supervisor provide formal feedback on the new hire’s performance, while also soliciting feedback from the employee. Depending on the organizational culture and policies, this meeting could involve a representative of the human resources department. During this meeting, any issues should be addressed and all parties should be confident that the new hire is poised for success in their role.

Remember to build opportunities for feedback into the on-boarding process. Encourage the new hire to note any ideas that they have for improving the operations, strategy, or culture of the organization. The new hire may or may not feel comfortable sharing these immediately, but it is important that the organization be open to the impressions of someone with fresh eyes.

Throughout the first three months, stay mindful of opportunities to integrate new hires into their work groups and into the organization as a whole.


Although all of these steps require an investment of time and resources, it is an investment whose cost / benefit analysis is clear. The potential downsides of failing to effectively on-board an employee include that individual’s failure in the role, potential embarrassment to the organization, resignation or termination, and a new hiring process with an estimated total expense to the organization of three times the position’s annual salary. On the positive side, implementing these suggestions will increase employee satisfaction, speed of getting to full performance levels, quality of ultimate performance, and long-term retention in the role. Effective on-boarding is also a fantastic way to show all of your employees that you value their happiness and want them to succeed.

This article was written by Commongood Careers and is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

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