How to Build an Onboarding Strategy That Drives Employee Engagement and Connection

Posted in Talent & Onboarding

In many of our articles and posts, we talk about how important it is to follow a comprehensive employee onboarding strategy to ensure employee engagement. This is great if you have one, but what if you don’t have one? “We’d love to follow a great onboarding strategy, Enboarder,” you might be saying: “But how do we get one??!”

It’s true, great employee onboarding strategies take a little work. They have to be fit to your culture and capabilities. But there are some basic components and best practices you can follow to put one together fairly easily.

That’s what this post is all about. We’ll run you through the elements of a great onboarding strategy, how you design one for your company, and what software assists you need to support one. Then we’ll give you a couple of examples you can look at — of great onboarding strategies in the wild.

What’s an Onboarding Strategy?

An onboarding strategy is the master plan that ensures new employees don’t just land smoothly into your company but truly soar from day one. This strategic blueprint is designed to weave new hires into the fabric of your organization, immersing them in the 4Cs of onboarding: company culture, clarifying their roles and responsibilities, connecting them, and speeding up their journey to becoming rockstar contributors. With a robust onboarding strategy, you’re not just filling seats; you’re boosting retention and job satisfaction — and sparking a productivity bonanza.

Why do you need an Onboarding Strategy? 

Imagine throwing a new swimmer into the deep end without a lifejacket and expecting them to do the breaststroke. That’s your business without a robust onboarding strategy: lots of people floating aimlessly — or sinking to the bottom. (Check out some of the nightmare stories we’ve heard.) Not the best look, right? 

In addition to the high cost of poor onboarding, you’re also missing out on the opportunity to make an incredible impact on the employee lifecycle. Great onboarding strategies have the power to:

  • Boost Employer Brand: If your new hires are giving you the cold shoulder, it might be because they feel like outsiders. Gallup’s research shows only 12% of employees think their companies nailed the onboarding process. An onboarding strategy ensures every newcomer feels like part of the tribe from day one, not just another cog in the machine.
  • Kick-start Employee Engagement: According to Paychex, 35% of HR leaders believe a solid onboarding process that gets employees engaged quickly is a secret sauce for boosting overall workplace mojo. And hey, who doesn’t want that?
  • Supercharge Performance and eNPS: Our own customer data shows how automating your onboarding with savvy software (ours) can produce up to a 65% increase in new hire productivity, a 50% increase in eNPS scores, and a 77% decrease in <3 month turnover. 

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What are the Components of an Onboarding Strategy?

Here are the must-have components of a killer onboarding strategy:

  • Pre-boarding: Don’t make the mistake of thinking an onboarding strategy starts on Day 1. Kick off the excitement as soon as they say ‘yes’ (if not before)! From sending teaser emails with company fun facts to getting their digital workspace ready, pre-boarding is the onboarding opening act that lets employees know how happy you are to have them. This can include sending them essential and engaging company information, getting paperwork out of the way, setting up their equipment and access, and providing them with an itinerary for their first day or week.
  • Orientation: Roll out the red carpet with your first day and week orientation sessions. These first meetings introduce new hires to the company’s mission, values, and key policies. They often include real or virtual tours of the facilities, introductions to team members, and essential administrative tasks. Introduce them to the company’s mission with stories, not slides. Help them feel comfortable in their new work-home, and make those admin tasks as fun as humanly possible.
  • Training and Informational Supports: Whether you’re implementing a scavenger hunt to learn the products or a simulation game for service protocols, make training an adventure that they’ll actually want to embark on. These structured learning opportunities help new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to perform their jobs effectively. They can range from job-specific training to more general professional development.
  • Mentors and Buddies: Pair your newbie with a seasoned pro, someone who’s not just a guide but a cheerleader. This is especially helpful in a multigenerational workforce. Having a mentor means there’s always someone to high-five or hash out challenges with.
  • Feedback and Check-ins: Regular check-ins? Pulse surveys? Absolutely. But let’s make them more fiesta, less formal. Keep the feedback coming so they always know how they’re doing and how they can sparkle even brighter.
  • Human Connections: Don’t bother having an onboarding strategy at all if you’re not putting people at the center of it. Foster employee connection that goes beyond work tasks. Connect people to one another on a human level, helping them to find common ground and ensuring new starters know where to go for answers and support
  • Culture Sharing: This part of your strategy is probably the most difficult to quantify, but one of the most important. These are the “Wow!” moments we talk about so often. This is cultural immersion through living your values, and can include things like gifts, surprises, a whole-team welcome at the front door, gatherings, storytelling sessions, and demonstrations of purpose and mission. The aim is to deeply integrate new hires into the company’s values and culture through real-life examples and active discussion and make them feel a sense of belonging and connectedness to the organization and your purpose.
  • Measurement and Data: One part of a strategy that can get overlooked is measuring its effectiveness! An effective onboarding strategy uses specific metrics like time to productivity, employee satisfaction scores, and early turnover rates to measure its success. Regular surveys and data analysis help in continuously improving the process by identifying strengths and areas for improvement, ensuring alignment with industry standards and organizational goals.
     
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Considerations Before Creating an Onboarding Strategy

When creating an onboarding strategy, you’ll want to design a program that aligns with your unique culture, capabilities, needs, and the expected employee experience. That means paying close attention to all four of the 4Cs of onboarding: Connection, Culture, Clarification, and Compliance. 

What are those? Here’s a quick run-down:

Connection:

Human connection is the most important ingredient in any company’s success. In fact, in our research on the 4C’s, Connection was the C that had the biggest impact on all success measures. And of course, at the end of the day, onboarding is about people. The fundamental aim of onboarding should be to foster human connections. This might involve buddy systems, team introductions, or social events that help new hires feel welcomed and part of the team. By sparking conversations, nurturing relationships, and building a community you provide new starters with the resources they need to grow and excel. Consider how you can use tools to help new employees build meaningful relationships with their colleagues, managers, and the broader company from day one. Use tools like our Enboarder Connection Cards and team introductions to transform new hires into integral team members swiftly and smoothly.

Culture:

Every company has its heartbeat—its culture and values. You want to recognize and lean into what makes your workplace tick.  Weave these cultural threads into every communication, ensuring that your onboarding process isn’t just informative but a true reflection of your company’s soul. As you design onboarding, keep that unique culture top of mind —so you can  imbue those core values and the essence of your workplace across the new starter experience. And by the way, that’s more than just sharing a handbook; it’s immersive experiences where new hires can actually live your culture — like interactive activities, storytelling, and real-life examples of your values in action.

Clarification:

Clear communication about roles and expectations is critical in onboarding. Each employee should understand their responsibilities, the performance metrics by which they’ll be evaluated, and how their role contributes to the organization’s goals. The right message at the right time can make all the difference. Smart workflows and timely nudges (like Enboarder offers) help you break through the noise and make it clear what matters most. Super clear, targeted communications also keep new hires engaged and informed, reducing the overwhelm and boosting their confidence and capability. Customized training sessions and clear documentation can help in clarifying roles and expectations effectively.  

Compliance:

Compliance is table stakes for onboarding. Be sure all legal and procedural i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed efficiently and respectfully. This includes everything from signing contracts to being sure new employees understand workplace policies. Automated systems like Enboarder can streamline these processes, making sure that compliance is met without overwhelming the new hire or sacrificing the human touch, and keeping your teams more compliant, safe and secure.

And here’s one bonus C for you, meant specifically for building strategy, that combines all of the above:

Capability:

Take stock of your technological and human resources. Understand who your stakeholders are (in addition to new hires) and what they need and want out of an onboarding program. Define clearly what you want to achieve and be sure you’ve got the tools in place to do it. Be sure your onboarding technology seamlessly integrates into your existing HR systems, enhancing them with capabilities to automate mundane tasks and focus on what truly matters—people.

12 Steps to Creating an Employee Onboarding Strategy

  1. Set Clear Objectives and Goals: Establish specific, measurable goals for the onboarding process to ensure it meets both organizational needs and employee expectations. This includes defining what a new hire needs to know about their role, the company culture, and the performance metrics they are expected to achieve by the end of the onboarding period.
  2. Personalize the Onboarding Experience: Tailor the onboarding process to fit the individual needs and backgrounds of new hires. This could involve customizing training materials, adjusting the pace of learning, and providing role-specific orientations that cater to their specific skills and career experiences.
  3. Integrate Technology and Tools: Leverage modern technology, employee onboarding software, and digital tools to streamline the onboarding process. This can include the use of e-learning platforms for training modules, digital forms for administrative tasks, and communication tools that facilitate interactions with team members and managers.  
  4. Foster Connections and Company Culture: Help new employees build relationships and feel part of the team from day one. This involves organizing team-building activities, introducing them to key team members, and immersing them in the company culture through various interactive and engaging experiences.
  5. Check in for Ongoing Support and Feedback: Ensure continuous support is available through regular check-ins and feedback sessions. This helps to address any concerns or challenges new hires may face and allows them to adjust their learning and development path accordingly.
  6. Measure Success and Make Improvements: Regularly assess the effectiveness of the onboarding process using specific metrics like employee retention rates, time to productivity, and satisfaction levels. Analyze these data points to identify areas for improvement and continuously refine the onboarding experience.
  7. Develop a Structured Timeline: Design a clear and detailed timeline for the onboarding process that spans from the pre-boarding phase to the post-onboarding phase. This timeline should outline key activities and milestones that the new hire will go through, ensuring there are no gaps in the process and that the pace is manageable for the employee.
  8. Utilize Interactive Communication Channels: Implement tools like Enboarder, which facilitates interactive communication between new hires, their managers, and HR. These platforms can be used to deliver personalized content, gather feedback, and keep new employees engaged through various forms of media, reminders, and social interactions.
  9. Conduct an Official Welcome and Introduction: Organize an official welcome session that not only covers the formal introduction of new employees to the team but also integrates them into the company with welcome packages, team lunches, or meet-and-greets. Meet your new employees at the door for a whole-team hello, have everyone prepare a special video greeting, or shout out the new employee in a first-day all-hands. This helps in building a personal connection with the team and the organization.
  10. Legal and Administrative Setup: Ensure that all legal and administrative tasks are completed efficiently. This includes signing employment contracts, setting up payroll details, and fulfilling any compliance requirements. Making this process as smooth as possible can significantly enhance the employee’s initial impression and experience.
  11. Role-Specific Training and Resources: Provide new hires with tailored training sessions that are specific to their roles and responsibilities within the company. Additionally, ensure they have access to all the necessary resources, such as manuals, protocols, and tools, to perform their job effectively from the start.
  12. Assign a Buddy or Mentor: Pair new employees with a buddy or mentor who can guide them through the initial weeks or months. This person can act as a go-to resource for day-to-day questions and helps the new hire navigate the company culture and work environment more smoothly.

Examples of Successful Employee Onboarding Strategies

We promised some examples of companies who are killing it with their amazing onboarding strategies. Here are three: click through and read their stories. Plus, you can find even more in our recent eBook, 8 Secrets to the World’s Best People Programs!

T-Mobile

T-Mobile’s onboarding strategy focuses on bridging the gap between job acceptance and the first work day, ensuring new hires feel welcomed and valued from the start. This approach includes three distinct onboarding journeys for enterprise employees, leaders, and interns, leveraging the Enboarder platform to enhance interaction. Their strategy has led to a 12% increase in new leader engagement and a remarkable 90% engagement rate for preboarding communications, highlighting the effectiveness of their tailored, interactive onboarding processes.

Arden University

Arden University, a private UK-based university known for its blended and remote learning programs, has taken a dynamic approach to onboarding by using the Enboarder platform to create a personalized and engaging experience. Head of People Experience, Kevin Cunningham, spearheaded efforts to transform their basic workflow into an award-winning onboarding process. By integrating thoughtful touches like personalized snacks and care packages, and ensuring early access to resources, Arden has achieved a 96%+ engagement rate in onboarding, significantly improved Glassdoor ratings, and enhanced preparedness and excitement among new hires.

Wyndham 

Wyndham, a global leader in the hotel and travel industry, has optimized its onboarding strategy by integrating, streamlining, and personalizing the new hire journey. By keeping new hires engaged from contract signing to start date and beyond, and empowering managers with tools to track and support their progress, Wyndham has seen substantial improvements in employee experience. This strategic focus has resulted in higher retention rates, lower turnover, and a better NPS rating for employee experience, demonstrating the profound impact of a well-orchestrated onboarding process on organizational success.

Boost your Onboarding Strategy with Enboarder

To turn your onboarding from mundane to magical, consistency and automation are your best allies. Enboarder empowers you to craft an onboarding experience that’s not only efficient but also deeply engaging. Through intelligent automation, Enboarder ensures that every step of your onboarding process is consistent, eliminating the risks of human error and oversight. This consistency is crucial not just for compliance, but for ensuring every new hire feels equally welcomed and valued.

And remember, an effective onboarding strategy is never set in stone. It evolves as your organization and workforce change. For example, if your organization is remote or hybrid, you might find yourself leaning into a remote employee onboarding checklist.  

Enboarder’s ability to automate routine tasks and meet every employee where they are  liberates your HR team to focus on what really matters — building relationships. From scheduling personalized welcome messages, to connecting people on a human level, to triggering essential tasks at just the right time, our platform ensures that you’re not just onboarding employees, but you’re creating lasting engagements from the get-go.

Whether you’re looking to enhance employee retention, improve productivity, or foster a positive company culture, Enboarder’s suite of tools and templates provides everything you need to create an exceptional onboarding experience tailored to your unique organizational needs. Let’s make every onboarding experience a standout chapter in your employees’ career stories.

Looking for more help creating a world-class onboarding strategy? Reach out to our team. We love helping with this kind of project, and our software is full of incredible templates to help you get started. 

Also, be sure to check out the 8 Secrets to the World’s Best People Programs ebook for loads of hands-on examples and inspiration.

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