How to Create an Effective Onboarding Strategy for New Employees

How to Create an Effective Onboarding Strategy for New Employees

A new employee’s first day sets the tone for what the rest of their experience at your company is going to be like. If they’re assigned a desk and expected to figure everything out on their own, there’s a good chance they won’t be at your company for very long. According to a survey of nearly 1,000 employees cited by the SHRM, one-third of respondents had quit a job within six months of starting, with 16-17 percent leaving within the first 3 months.

Some of the reasons for leaving include the day-to-day job not meeting expectations, company culture and a bad experience during their first few weeks. Sometimes hiring is to blame, but more often than not it’s the lack of a well-thought out onboarding process.

The importance of a structured onboarding program

When you create a structured onboarding plan, it’s easier to manage expectations, teach people about your culture and reduce the chances of a new employee feeling disengaged.

Talya N. Bauer, Professor of Management at Portland State University, has identified four aspects of effective onboarding. Each of them has been proven to lead to higher levels of job satisfaction, organisational commitment and employee retention.

Role clarity

When a new employee has a clear understanding of their role and what’s expected of them, it helps to alleviate doubt and uncertainty. Imagine sitting at your desk after a few weeks of working at a new organisation and still being unsure of your responsibilities. This can create unnecessary stress and lead to someone questioning the value of their contribution.


Self-efficacy, which is the belief in our ability to complete tasks and succeed in specific situations, is an important contributor to employee engagement. It’s equally important during onboarding. When someone feels confident in their ability to do a job, it leads to higher levels of job satisfaction and allows a new employee to start contributing much sooner.

Social acceptance

Acceptance is a fundamental human need. It makes us feel secure, which is an essential part of building effective teams and taking interpersonal risks, such as suggesting new ideas, voicing concerns and asking questions. Social acceptance is also an important way for new employees to glean information that might not be available through formal channels.

Employees Eating Lunch Together

Cultural understanding

Most organisations are an interconnected web of communities that share common values, goals and even language. Social acceptance can help people to get a sense of the language and behaviours of your organisation, but they also need an introduction to your company’s backstory, how your values were formed and what it means to be part of the family.

Onboarding strategies that work for any organisation

Now that we understand the requirements of an effective onboarding plan, let’s look at some specific tactics that you can use to get new employees up to speed. Many of them are universal, which means you can spend less time on planning, and more on implementation.

Make sure everything is ready on the first day

Nothing will ruin the excitement of someone’s first day faster than having to request access to IT systems. A survey of Microsoft employees found that it’s the little things that make a big difference – like a working computer and immediate access to the building, email, and intranet. Create a list of everything a new employee will need on their first day and coordinate with other departments to make sure everything is set up before someone starts.

Set up a one-to-one in the first week

Managers form an essential part of the onboarding process. One study that followed 409 graduates through their first two years on the job found that the degree of supervisor support impacted key outcomes such as role clarity and job satisfaction.

A one-to-one gives new employees an opportunity to ask questions and understand more about their role. It’s also the perfect time to for managers to explain the company’s culture and values, as well as how someone’s job fits into the overall strategy of the business.

Outline a plan for the first 90 days

The 30/60/90 day plan is a tried and tested way of easing someone into a new job, which outlines the goals a new employee for the first 30, 60 and 90 days. This gives new starters more clarity about what’s expected of them and helps to reinforce their self-efficacy.

Keep in mind that a 30/60/90 day plan isn’t about measuring performance. The first 30 days might be focused on learning more about the company culture and forming relationships with coworkers. The best plans are collaborative, which allows managers to share their priorities, and gives employees a chance to share where they feel they can have the biggest impact.

60% of companies report that they do not set short-term goals for new hires, which can leave new starters unsure about their role and undermine their confidence. A 30/60/90 day plan is one of the best ways to manage expectations and easy people into their new role.

Assign new employees a buddy

It’s easy to feel like an insider when you first join a company. Being assigned a buddy can help to break down social barriers and provide additional support. They can help to set up informal interactions, like lunch or coffee with colleagues, and answers questions related to the organisation that might not be covered during other onboarding activities.

Being assigned a buddy has been highlighted as one of the most effective strategies for integrating new employees into an organisation’s social fabric. Companies like Salesforce have had great success with buddies, which can help people navigate office politics, build cross-departmental relationships and develop friendships that last beyond onboarding,

Ask for feedback about the onboarding experience

Onboarding requires trial and error to get right, which is why you need to ask for feedback from new employees. Ideally, this will happen at the end of someone’s first week and at regular intervals during their first 90 days. You can ask questions related to the four aspects of effective onboarding mentioned above to see where improvements need to be made.

One-to-ones are the ideal scenario to develop trust and show people that you value feedback. New starters might be hesitant to share their feedback, so start the conversation early and highlight that it will help to improve the process for others joining the company.


Some of the most common reasons for employees leaving a job within the first six months include the day-to-day job not meeting expectations, company culture and a bad experience during their first few weeks.

The four aspects of an effective onboarding experience are:

  • Role clarity
  • Self-efficacy
  • Social acceptance
  • Cultural understanding

Onboarding tactics that you can use to reduce turnover include:

  • Making sure everything is ready for someone’s first day
  • Setting up a manager one-to-one for new employees in the first week
  • Outlining a plan for the first 90 days
  • Assigning new employees with a buddy
  • Collecting feedback about the current onboarding experience

It’s important to address the different aspects of onboarding mentioned above, but don’t be afraid to put a more personal touch on the experience either. Take new employee’s out for coffee on their first day, schedule a team lunch or take the time to decorate their desk.

To learn more about onboarding and how it relates to other aspects of engagement, download our guide, The Four Phases of Employee Experience.