The Onboarding Loop: Plan, Implement & Improve Onboarding Process

In 2021, onboarding is one of the most important parts of the employee experience. No wonder companies are paying more attention (and actual dollars) towards onboarding their new joiners, now more than ever. 

And wherever businesses choose to increase investment, it’s important to make sure that they’re investing the right way.  The integration of onboarding practices is supposed to improve efficiency and engagement within the workplace. 

Still, a whopping 69% of managers find onboarding painstakingly time-consuming, and nearly half of them describe the process as frustrating.

We work to make onboarding more engaging and accessible for everyone. So we designed a framework that understands the onboarding experience through the lens of HR managers as much as new joiners.

The Onboarding Loop Framework can be broken up into four main stages, which we break down in steps and explain in more detail throughout this article.

Onboarding Loop Framework Stages

  1. Planning the Onboarding Experience

  2. Onboarding the New Joiner

  3. Reviewing the Onboarding Experience

  4. Improving the Onboarding Experience

STAGE 1: Planning the Onboarding Experience

a. Defining Expectations
b. Structuring the Format 
c. Using a Template
d. Personalizing the Onboarding Experience

As with most things, the first step of the Onboarding Loop is the preparation stage. As we’ve previously seen in 4 Essential Onboarding Checklists for New Joiners, a fundamental element of planning any type of onboarding—no matter the position a new joiner takes on—is defining expectations before anything else. In other words, the HR manager must define the role and responsibilities the new joiner will be expected to take on, along with the scope of the job with expected performance or delivery milestones. 

Before you begin mapping out the actual onboarding experience, ask yourself: What are the objectives here? What are the targeted results we want to get out of this particular onboarding experience?

One thing to keep in mind is the duration of the onboarding. As they say, everybody runs at their own pace, and if you scour the internet (or various HR-related literatures) you’ll notice that there is no clear consensus on what the onboarding experience timeline should be—which, depending on the source, can vary between three and 12 months. 

At Softstart, we consider onboarding as a spectrum adapted through various stages spanning over the first year of a new joiner’s new role, recommending onboarding activities for the first three months, with recurrent monthly touch points after that up until the 12-month mark. 

Once expectations have been established, the next step is to structure the onboarding experience. It’s important to have a good mix of onboarding activities—relating to the new role itself, to the company’s spirit and values, and to social connections.

Balance is key. So including onboarding activities that foster colleague relationships within the workplace promotes a healthy and happy work environment. And happy means more productive! Read more about it here.

We’re here to help you create an onboarding experience structure the right way, which can be segmented in the following categories:

– Pre-boarding 

– Onboarding for the First Day/Week/Month

– Access to Tools & Materials

– Introductions

Again, for a detailed breakdown of what an onboarding experience looks like, check out 4 Essential Onboarding Checklists for New Employees—we highly recommend you read this article after this one!

Of course, activities can be personalized—especially when it comes to activities revolving around the role of the new joiner. However, many onboarding activities, such as contract signing, activating the new joiner’s email, or meeting the team, are fundamental to-dos that generally apply to any and all onboarding experiences no matter who the new joiner is. That’s why we recommend building templates to reuse, standardizing the process to a certain degree but personalizing each onboarding experience accordingly just the right amount.

STAGE 2: Onboarding the New Joiner

a. Engaging the New Joiner
b. Asking for Feedback
c. Gathering Insights

We’re now at the stage where both you and your new joiner can finally reap all of the fruits of your planning labour: let the onboarding experience begin! 

From pre-boarding activities starting at the time of hire, to the onboarding activities that begin on the new joiner’s first day at work (and onwards), remember that the onboarding experience plays a key role within the employee life cycle

As we previously covered in Numbers Don’t Lie: Why Investing in Onboarding Matters, the onboarding experience will help set the stage for your new joiners’ short and long-term performance, engagement and retention within your organization. As studies have shown, the better the onboarding experience, the more likely new joiners will perform well, show higher engagement and stay longer working for your company.  

Throughout the onboarding experience, remember to collect feedback too!

From beginning to end—especially throughout the first three-month of onboarding activities—reserve several moments where you can touch base with your new joiner to get a feel of how their experience is going. Measure their engagement and how well they are hitting the objectives and milestones set-out in the plan, but also ask them directly on how they feel about their onboarding experience and whether or not they feel certain activities could use improvement. There are many ways to collect feedback on the onboarding experience, including one-on-one meetings and surveys

Remember, Softstart is a platform that helps you collect feedback from all parties involved in onboarding activities (including new joiners, collaborators, and managers) as well as help execute these crucial one-on-one meetings flawlessly!  

Inviting new joiners to give their feedback on how they are experiencing the company’s onboarding gives you insights to help you identify gaps in your plan… which brings us to the next step in the Onboarding Loop:

STAGE 3: Reviewing the Onboarding Experience

a. Analyzing The Insights
b. Generating New Ideas

Insights collected on the onboarding experience from new joiners—via direct feedback and measured engagement—have the purpose to help you optimize the process, allowing you to improve onboarding accordingly. This benefits just as much any current new joiners’ onboarding experiences, as it does any future new joiners and their own onboarding experiences. 

There are several ways to leverage insights collected. Granted, some are more straightforward than others. But nothing stops you from thinking outside the box—for example, organizing brainstorm sessions or co-creation workshops can help generate new ideas to improve the onboarding experience.  

Don’t forget that the time invested in identifying opportunities to improve onboarding now will lead to better onboarding outcomes later. In fact, new joiners that are given a structured onboarding experience are 58% more likely to stay with a company for at least three years.

STAGE 4: Improving the Onboarding Experience

a. Applying Your Learnings
b. Improving Existing Activities
c. Creating New Activities

The last step of the Onboarding Loop—and what brings us back full circle—is about taking all those learnings from the previous step and applying them into current and upcoming onboarding experiences. 

It’s important to improve existing activities just as much as add new ones to the mix. As long as they improve the onboarding experience (and overall employment experience) for the new joiner. 

Process improvement is an ongoing process. Regardless of how good your current business practices are, all companies evolve over time and their practices need to evolve accordingly. Keeping up-to-date best practices reflects the value you have to offer to new joiners and says a lot about your company overall.

It’s important to remember that no matter how successful we are now, we have to remain open and flexible to the necessary adaptations of the world. Take a look at the new reality of many companies around the world today, having needed to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote work has increased by 10 times the rate, and remote hiring has increased threefold. This means that a lot of companies have had to—or will inevitably need to—adapt their onboarding experiences to meet the new realities of doing everything remotely.

No matter how you look at it, it’s important for any organization to identify its blind spots and keep up with best practices in order to deliver an effective onboarding experience to new joiners that is as thoughtful as it is memorable.
Now go ahead and finish that loop (to start a new one)! Not sure where to start? Try Softstart.

Your new hires onboarding experience starts here.