The sooner recent hires complete onboarding, the sooner they’ll feel like part of the team. That logic might be true in some cases, but this isn’t the reality across the board. Some new employees may need longer than their allotted onboarding period to learn your processes, adapt to your culture, and reach their full potential in the new role.
If you rush new team members through the onboarding process, you might push them to overwork, burn out, and perhaps even walk away before their training is complete.
That’s why you need a well-structured onboarding flow that slowly ramps up over a longer period, giving new employees plenty of time to learn, practice, develop, and get integrated.
In this onboarding guide, we dig into the following:
- The questions human resources professionals should ask themselves when designing an onboarding process workflow
- The five phases of onboarding
- A detailed onboarding timeline you can adapt for your organization
What is an onboarding process flow?
An onboarding process flow is a set of steps that every new hire has to complete during their first few months with a company. In the beginning stages, onboarding involves tasks as straightforward as “set up your email account” or “book a meeting with your manager.” But as new team members progress, tasks become more high-level, requiring them to gain confidence with all the responsibilities of their new role.
HR teams and managers typically own this process and play an integral role in overseeing onboarding from beginning to end. Throughout the 6 - 12 month period, their goal is to collaborate with the new employee and help them set achievable goals that lay the groundwork for a successful career with the organization.
5 questions to reflect on while designing your onboarding workflow
Understanding the perspective of your new hires can help HR teams to create an onboarding workflow that engages, motivates, and prevents employees from feeling overwhelmed. To that end, here’s a quick list of questions to ask yourself when designing the employee onboarding process:
- What do you wish you had known on your first day? Basic information about internal expectations and processes might feel like second nature to you now, but it won’t be for new team members. You don’t want them to feel confused or flustered on their first day.
- What feedback have recent hires shared about the onboarding process? The most recent additions to your team have onboarding fresh in their memory, making their input invaluable.
- Do we have onboarding feedback from exit interviews to consider? People who are offboarding may feel free to speak more candidly and offer input that they wouldn’t have shared while they were still an employee. These insights might be surprising or tough to hear, but they will ultimately help you to improve your internal processes and provide better support for your people.
- Do we need to rethink our onboarding time frame? While a ninety-day process is standard, some people may require more time. That’s especially true for those entering senior roles or more technical positions.
- How will we track new hire progress? With a learning management system (LMS) or people enablement platform like Leapsome, managers can monitor the progress and performance of new team members during the onboarding process. This better positions them to provide timely guidance and feedback.
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The onboarding process flow in 5 steps
Depending on your company and the new hire’s role, the onboarding process can last from three months up to a year. The average onboarding program consists of five major stages:
1. Onboarding preparation
At this stage, HR may work with the new hire to get as much paperwork out of the way as possible, including tax forms and benefits information. In addition, operations might ask new team members to set up their accounts for any HR, task management, or communication software the company uses. Managers may also arrange a virtual meeting with the new employee and walk them through any expectations for the first few days.
2. Welcoming the new team member
Some organizations refer to this step as “orientation”, and it can last anywhere from a couple of days to a whole week, depending on the situation. This stage is about making the new employee feel welcome and introducing them to the following:
- The company and its values
- Internal policies and procedures
- Their role
- Their team
The goal here is balance — you want to equip the new hire with all the information they need without causing them to feel overwhelmed, so regular 1:1 check-ins with HR and managers are important. Take time to answer their questions and prepare them for the next steps of the onboarding process.
3. Training & mentorship
At the training stage, your new employee needs mentorship and managerial support as they become more integrated into the team and get acquainted with their role. Managers should introduce them to as many relevant cross-departmental colleagues as possible so they can better understand how they’ll contribute to the organization as a whole. Weekly or biweekly 1:1s with their manager or any direct reports are also a vital opportunity to offer praise and feedback, as well as coaching.
Many companies approach this stage as a trial period — not to intimidate the new hire but to encourage them to be transparent if they feel the role isn’t what they expected.
4. Feedback & growth
After the three initial months of onboarding, your new team members will have grown in confidence and feel ready to tackle their day-to-day responsibilities more autonomously.
At some point during this stage, managers may want to conduct an initial performance review where they work together with the new employee to determine a set of target metrics and goals to meet over the next quarter. They could be as simple as “become more confident in my role” or “receive positive feedback in my 6-month performance review,” but they give the new hire something to work toward as they continue to get settled.
5. Ongoing development
After the first 6-12 months, your new hire will be an essential part of your team and no longer be considered new. At this point, they’ll feel comfortable working independently and even provide guidance and mentorship to their peers and colleagues.
However, the learning opportunities are still ongoing. In fact, it’s time to start talking about:
- Their long-term goals with the company
- The training opportunities they’re interested in
- How they can make meaningful progress with their career progression framework
🛣️ Want more effective team members down the road?
Leapsome integrates learning paths with development frameworks so you can create the custom courses new hires need.
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The employee onboarding timeline
Providing your new hires with a well-thought-out onboarding experience ensures that nobody falls through the cracks as they adapt to your internal processes and company culture. As part of this, it’s important that every stage of the onboarding workflow has distinct goals and priorities.
The pre-arrival phase is the period between signing an employment contract or offer letter and a new hire’s first day. Depending on when the new team member can start, it may last between one week to several months.
HR teams and managers may prefer to use this time to send new employees paperwork and ask them to fill it out before their first day, meaning they can spend more focused time on the onboarding process when they start work. Operations teams may also send new hires the company handbook to review ahead of time and set them up with account log-ins and equipment if they’re working from home.
But this stage isn’t all about practical concerns — it’s also about making the new team member feel welcome and at ease. That’s why people-centered HR leaders take the time to meet with new team members and explain how the onboarding process will work face-to-face.
Typical tasks during the pre-arrival phase include:
- Signing tax forms
- Reading benefits information
- Reviewing company policies and procedures
- Setting up meetings with HR, people ops, and the new hire’s manager
- Getting their technical setup in order
Someone’s first day isn’t just about providing them with orientation. It’s also about introducing them to the onboarding process, which can be overwhelming. To make the experience stress-free, HR should create a detailed itinerary for new employees to ensure they use their time effectively. Organizing the first few working days in this manner is especially important for remote team members who may feel unsure how to spend their time without in-person guidance.
An employee's first day is also a crucial opportunity to make a welcoming first impression, so be sure to introduce them to everyone they’ll interact with during orientation, such as the head of IT, people ops managers, and teammates from their department.
Start with a morning meeting and explain how the day will look. Other essential onboarding tasks include:
- Making sure new hires have access to all the apps and software they need and double-checking everything works
- Reviewing the company mission and values
- Discussing their role and responsibilities
- Providing an office tour, where applicable
- Introducing them to teammates and relevant department leaders
- Going over policies and procedures for time off requests and sick leave
- Explaining how they can enroll for company benefits
- Finishing up any paperwork-related tasks
- Assigning training modules
- Arranging a 1:1 meeting with their manager for later in the week
Your new hire should spend the first week of onboarding gaining in-depth knowledge about your company’s policies and procedures, completing learning modules, and engaging with onboarding materials.
But the new employee’s team lead should help them balance all that structured learning time with more high-level exposure to what they’ll do at the company.
To accomplish that, managers should facilitate introductions to the people the new employee will work closely with, whether within the team or in other departments. And if your company size allows, the first week is also an ideal time to arrange a meeting with the CEO, who’s best positioned to give the recent hire unique insight into the company culture and plans for the future.
At this point, new team members should work on:
- Completing training modules and engaging with onboarding materials
- Meeting teammates and cross-departmental stakeholders
- Setting up a coffee chat with the CEO
- Scheduling a check-in with their team lead to discuss their first week
As they approach the end of their first month, new employees should focus on transitioning away from administrative tasks like paperwork and start to focus on the business-critical aspects of their role. Any training at this point should directly relate to the day-to-day tasks they’ll be responsible for.
In most cases, HR will become less involved at this stage but should still be available for regular check-ins. They can also ask recent hires to complete an onboarding survey to learn from their experiences.
Managers will continue to be active participants in the onboarding process, offering asynchronous feedback and in-person coaching throughout the workweek. At this point, a team leader’s priorities should be empowering their new report and preparing them for the first performance review.
With this in mind, new hires and managers should focus on the following during the first month:
- Getting acquainted with work-specific tasks
- Completing the first few assignments
- Exchanging instant feedback
- Preparing for the first performance review
- Continuing to make connections with department leaders and teammates
“Feedback is essential during the onboarding process because HR can understand what’s going well and what’s going badly. Having open conversations with new hires is important because you’re showing interest in their experiences and needs. For example, I like to send out an onboarding survey to new team members after the first month and have a 1:1 call or coffee after the second month.”
— Carolina Braig, HR Manager at Ignion
First 90 days
After the first month, managers and their new direct reports should set up an initial performance review to discuss the importance of objectives and key results (OKRs) and collaborate on onboarding goals.
Explain to your new team member that the OKRs framework is designed for goal-setting, and that effective OKRs have one objective with three to five relevant key results.
Here’s a new hire onboarding OKR example:
Objective | Become proficient with my new role and actively contribute to team projects
Key result 1 | Achieve meets expectations for at least three categories in my next performance review
Key result 2 | Meet with three department heads during my first 90 days
Key result 3 | Identify a cross-functional initiative to contribute to after attending a cross-departmental team meeting
First 6 months
It’s time for managers to initiate a career development talk with the new employee. This is a great opportunity to discuss their short and long-term professional goals and come up with strategies for achieving them.
It can take a full year for recent hires to feel completely comfortable in their roles. Regardless, at six months, they should already feel at ease with your team’s processes and workflows and be making valuable contributions to your team.
At this point, new employees should focus on:
- Setting goals related to work rather than onboarding
- Attending conferences and role-related training workshops
- Taking a lead role in an upcoming project
- Mentoring and supporting a recent, more junior hire
- Identifying ways to improve team processes and workflows
🔎 Delivering constructive feedback is an essential skill for leadership, long-term employees, and recent hires — but it doesn’t always come naturally. That’s why you should check out our in-depth guide to giving feedback, which includes 27 meaningful examples.
Tips for a streamlined onboarding workflow
A well-organized onboarding workflow prevents new hires from getting frustrated and burnt out and it helps create confident team members. But there’s always room for improvement, which is where these best practices come in:
- Assign an owner to each stage of the onboarding process — HR typically takes the lead with onboarding, but managers and stakeholders from other departments also have vital roles to play. Confirm everyone knows what’s required of them ahead of time to avoid any bottlenecks or confusion.
- Communicate intentionally before a new hire’s first day — Even if they’ve signed an offer letter, you could still lose a new employee to other companies. That’s why it’s important to make them feel welcome and excited about their new opportunity and take the time to connect with them virtually or in person. Answer any questions they have and explain how their first day will go.
- Think of your onboarding process as a first impression — The interview may have been your new team member’s first exposure to the company, but they’ll still assess your organization during onboarding. They’ll be curious about how you live out your cultural values and will look to managers to give them the tools to carry out their roles successfully.
- Keep your onboarding process up to date — Make a habit of optimizing the onboarding process based on employee feedback. Some individuals may enjoy the automation of a learning management system (LMS), while others might prefer 1:1 meetings and in-person guidance. Consider different learning styles and look for ways to improve current standard operating procedures (SOPs).
- Don’t forget about recent hires once they’ve completed their training. New team members that have grown used to more supervision, guidance, and positive feedback may be concerned that there’s been a drop in their performance if input from their manager becomes less consistent. That’s why it’s vital for team leads to maintain a routine of weekly or monthly check-ins with their direct reports.
Onboard new hires with Leapsome
Despite how complicated it may seem, building a comprehensive, well-planned onboarding process will save you time and energy. In the long run, you’ll spend fewer hours addressing learning gaps in your workforce and replacing dissatisfied employees.
Leapsome’s Onboarding features make it easy for HR and people ops teams to design an intentional onboarding program. Our platform lets you create customized, dynamic training paths with quizzes, reflection tasks, and videos for various learning styles.
And best of all, managers have granular visibility over new hire progress, so they can make training more personal and impactful by giving instant feedback.
👋 Personalize the onboarding experience
Use Leapsome’s Onboarding features to monitor new hire progress and offer instant feedback when they’re stuck or need encouragement.
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