The Onboarding Loop: How to Plan, Implement & Improve Your Onboarding Process

In 2021, onboarding is one the most important parts of the employee experience, as Namely puts it. It’s no wonder that companies are paying more attention (and actual dollars) towards onboarding new hires, 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.

Since we work to make onboarding more engaging and accessible—we built a framework illustrating the onboarding process from an internal perspective (as in, the perspective of the HR and/or management department involved) that also considers an external perspective (taking into account the new hire’s experience) which you can easily reuse within your own organization.

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 Process
  2. Onboarding the New Hire
  3. Reviewing the Onboarding Plan
  4. Improving the Onboarding Process
onboarding process

STAGE 1: Planning the Onboarding Process

  1. Defining Expectations
  2. Structuring the Format 
  3. Using a Pre-Built Template
  4. Personalizing the Onboarding Plan

As with most things, the first step of the Onboarding Loop is the preparation stage of the onboarding process. As we’ve previously seen in New Employee Onboarding: 4 Things To Do To Onboard Like A Pro, a fundamental element of planning any type of onboarding—no matter the position a new hire takes on—is defining expectations before anything else. In other words, the HR manager must define the role and responsibilities the new employee 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 plan, ask yourself: What are the objectives? What are the targeted results we want to get out of this particular onboarding?

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 timeline should be—which, depending on the source, can vary between 3 and 12 months. 

At Softstart, we consider onboarding as a spectrum adapted through its various stages spanning over the first year of employment, recommending a strong 3-month onboarding plan with recurrent monthly touch points after that up until the 12-month mark. 

Once expectations and duration of the onboarding have been established, the next step is to create the structure of the onboarding plan. It’s important to ensure that there is a balance of onboarding activities including activities pertaining to the new role itself, activities relating to the company culture, as well as activities related to social connections (in other words, onboarding activities that help foster colleague relationships within the workplace in order to promote a healthy and productive work environment—we’ve previously covered their importance here).

We’re here to help you create an onboarding 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 (aka The Buddy System)

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

Of course, some specific activities part of each onboarding segment can be personalized—especially when it comes to activities revolving around the role of the new hire. However, many onboarding activities, such as contract signing, activating the new employee’s email, or meeting the team, are fundamental to-dos that generally apply to any and all onboardings no matter who the new hire is. That’s why we recommend building onboarding templates to reuse for the next onboardings, standardizing the process to a certain degree but personalizing each onboarding accordingly, for the most efficient way to plan effective onboardings. 

We offer free, pre-built onboarding templates to get you started on the right track. Just create your account to access our template library here.

STAGE 2: Onboarding the New Hire

  1. Engaging the New Hire
  2. Asking for Feedback
  3. Gathering Insights

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

From pre-boarding activities starting at the time of hire, to the onboarding activities that begin on the new hire’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 process (from how clear the steps are, to how smoothly it goes, to how interactive and interesting it is for the new hire) will help set the stage for your new employees’ short and long-term performance, engagement and retention within your organization. In short, and as studies have shown, the better the onboarding, the more likely new hires will perform well, show higher engagement and stay longer working for your company.  

With the onboarding plan now in full force, it’s just as important to leverage this moment to get feedback.

From beginning to end—especially throughout the first 3-month of onboarding activities—reserve several moments where you can touch base with your new hire 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 tool that helps you collect feedback from all parties involved in onboarding activities (including new hires, mentors, buddies, and managers) as well as help you execute these crucial one-on-one meetings flawlessly!  

Inviting new hires 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 bring us to the next step in the Onboarding Loop.

STAGE 3: Reviewing the Onboarding Plan

  1. Analyzing The Insights
  2. Generating New Ideas

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

There are several ways to leverage the 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 improvement opportunities for your onboarding process now will lead to better onboarding later. In fact, new hires 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 Process

  1. Applying Your Learnings
  2. Improving Existing Activities
  3. 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 plans. 

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

Process improvement is an ongoing process. Regardless of how good your current company practices are, all companies evolve over time and their practices need to evolve accordingly. Keeping up-to-date onboarding practices reflects the value you have to offer for new hires 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 processes 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 hires that is as thoughtful as it is memorable.

Now go ahead and finish that loop (to start a new one)!