Best Practices for Achieving Talent Success Maturity

Step-by-step Guide to a Great, Repeatable New-hire Process

  • Who it’s for: 
    HR managers, hiring managers, and recruiters
  • What you’ll get: 
    Best practices and sets of critical to-do items to get new hires off to a good start
  • Why you need it: 
    To build a consistent and repeatable process to improve the onboarding process
  • When it applies in the talent success process: 
    From acceptance through 90 days on the job

Nearly 33 percent of new hires look for a new job within their first six months on the job, and the percentage is even higher among millennials. These numbers indicate a lack of engagement from the onboarding process onward. Your organization needs a consistent new-hire process that fosters engagement from an employee’s first day on the job. This article explains how to do that in a repeatable way for every new hire.

The New-hire Process: From Zero to Success in 90 Days

“Many employers are so consumed with their recruiting process that they often think once they have hired the best talent, they don’t need to invest in the onboarding process. Wrong,” writes Inc. magazine author Peter Vanden Bos. “To set new hires — and the organization itself — up for success, the focus has to be on the recruiting process and onboarding, as they can make or break the rest of an employee’s life cycle.”

Research supports Vanden Bos’ thinking.


Turnover among all new employees within a year. Source: 2012 Allied Workforce Mobility Study

If a great onboarding experience starts when the offer is accepted, it doesn’t stop on their first day on the job. Behavioral science has taught us that people need time to acclimate and adapt to change. The way people are introduced to a new situation is critical in determining not only if they survive, but if and how they grow and flourish. The same is true in the workplace: First impressions matter.

“Research and conventional wisdom both suggest that employees get about 90 days to prove themselves in a new job,” writes Talya N. Bauer, Ph.D., in “Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success,” published by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “The faster new hires feel welcome and prepared for their jobs, the faster they will be able to successfully contribute to the firm’s mission.”

Finally, whether you are doing it manually or through an automated solution, a well-organized onboarding process is crucial to improving job satisfaction, increasing performance, and preventing turnover.

The Power of a Formal Onboarding Process

Onboarding can be informal or formal. Research shows that formal onboarding processes help companies retain more A-players and get them productive sooner. Here’s a look at the differences — and why they matter.

Informal vs. Formal Onboarding Processes

Informal onboarding follows loose guidelines, rules of thumb, and ad hoc procedures. It relies on the engagement and availability of the hiring manager and the new hire’s peer employees. Companies with formal onboarding have a plan and resources in place to make sure new employees get what they need, when they need it.

Seven Common Onboarding Tasks: Handled Informally, Formally, and the Advantages of a Formal Process

Onboarding Task Informal Formal Advantage
1. New-hire paperwork Spend half or more of the first day doing it Typically completed at home after signing the offer; legally, however, employment verification is only required on the first day Spend the first day meeting people, not filling out forms
2. Office, cube, or other workspace Know where they’ll sit, their workspace may be ready Cleaned and fully configured for use Shows employee you’re organized and care about them
3. PC, phone, and other tools On order from IT Installed and ready Shows employee you’re organized and care about them
4. Email account, job-specific software applications Need to ask multiple people to get what they need List of accounts provided, applications pre-installed Begin training and familiarization right away
5. Introduction to peers and company “I guess you’re the new guy?” Intro emails sent first day or before, introduced at meetings, invited to coffee or lunch with relevant peers Makes employee feel welcomed and quickly able to find out who can help them ramp up
6. Training Self-guided, mostly provided by shadowing and asking questions, no record of what was provided or completed Structured and scheduled, using a mix of written materials, recorded trainings, and complemented by face-to-face check-ins Ensures thoroughness and compliance, reduces burden on manager and peers
7. Ramp-up goals Loosely defined, ambiguous — employee has to figure it out for themselves Clear targets for what to accomplish within first 30, 60, and 90 days Helps employee prioritize and focus, provides reassurance they’re on track to succeed

Formalized processes don’t just save time and money, they also give the new hire a completely different — and vastly better — first impression of your company. Formal processes show that you care about making new employees productive fast, and are invested in their success.

New hires are more engaged, reach higher performance faster, and stay with the company longer when the employer has implemented repeatable and well-structured step-by-step programs that clearly teach new employees what their roles are, what the norms of the company are, and what they need to do to succeed.

Research by Talya Bauer, mentioned earlier in this article, found that a best-practice onboarding needs to touch what she calls the Four C’s of Onboarding©:

  • Compliance. This is the lowest level of formal onboarding and includes teaching employees basic legal and policy-related rules and regulations. See more in our article, “Hiring Reporting and Record Keeping: What You Need to Know.
  • Clarification. Here, you ensure that employees understand their new jobs and all of the related expectations.
  • Culture. This includes giving employees a sense of organizational norms — both formal and informal.
  • Connection. This refers to the vital interpersonal relationships and information networks that new employees must establish within the organization.

To-do List: Upon Acceptance of the Offer

Onboarding starts the moment you receive notice that the candidate has accepted your offer. That’s when they progress from being a candidate to a new hire.

Onboarding Checklist: When the Offer Is Accepted

Welcome Letter

The welcome letter should be personalized, inviting, and written on company letterhead. Besides the basic details, adding these items will help to build engagement:

  • The company’s mission, vision, and strategic goals
  • The role the new hire will play in achieving that mission and those goals
  • The name of their manager and a brief bio or their LinkedIn profile — the more involved the manager is in this process, the better
  • The name and contact number of a member of your HR team if they have any questions or need guidance during the first critical few months on the job.

Notice of New-hire Orientation

The new-hire orientation notice lets the new employee know where they’ll need to be, when, and why during their orientation schedule. It also provides contact information if they have questions or concerns.

After you have sent the welcome letter and before the new hire’s first day on the job, you need to make sure you meet the core compliance standards for onboarding every new employee. You’ll find the information you need in our article, A New-hire Compliance Checklist.

Day One and the First Week: Mission-critical for Successful Onboarding

The first day on the job is critical for the new hire and deserves special attention from an onboarding perspective. The next time frame to focus on is the first week. Impressions will be made and the new hire’s attitudes and beliefs about the job and the company will become even more set.


New hires who say training during the first week on the job is most important to them (BambooHR survey, 2014)

Onboarding Checklist: The First Day on the Job

Provide a written onboarding plan

This is a road map with a timeline, goals, responsibilities, and support available to new hires; this helps them succeed because it spells out what they should do and what assistance they can expect during onboarding and ramping up.

Informally introduce them to their internal team

Introduce your new employee to everyone they’ll need to work with to be successful. Set up onboarding conversations to acclimate the employee and make in-person introductions rather than just sharing names and emails.

Involve them in job activities

Involve new hires in activities that show them the details of the job they’ll do; if you’re in customer service, get them on the phone with a customer.

Debrief at the end of the day

Schedule a debriefing with the new hire’s manager. Consider giving the new hire a take-home package, the content of which depends on your organization’s culture. Sometimes this is helpful for a new hire to talk with their friends and family about your company’s mission.

Onboarding Checklist: The First Week

Establish goals

From the first day on the job, start setting short- and long-term goals and sharing them with your new hires. These can include professional goals (actual projects the new hire will be working on) and personal ones (regarding familiarization with the organization, contacts made, etc.).

Provide realistic job previews (RJPs)

Often used in the recruiting process but also valuable during onboarding, RJPs gives a new hire the opportunity to see exactly what their job will be like — both the good and the bad. RJPs can be offered in various formats (videos, simulation, shadowing employees).

“Ninja Hunt”

This is a process used at Facebook and other tech companies. Because the hunt for engineering talent can be so competitive, some companies bake a referral process into Week 1. Essentially, the new hire opens their email or LinkedIn and clicks through people they’ve enjoyed working with (or would want to work with again). This list now becomes a series of targets for the recruiters at the company. While this doesn’t work in every industry, it’s a strong opportunity to bolster your hiring and recruiting pipelines each week as new hires onboard.

Define the employee’s role and the company structure

It’s a good idea to have a formal method for presenting how the employee’s job and responsibilities align with the company’s goals and structure. Topics include:

  • The important aspects of their job
  • Company culture and values
  • Company goals and history
  • Company’s structure and hierarchy

Get social

A great onboarding process will have written steps to make sure a new hire feels welcome and comfortable. To-do items include:

  • Campus or facility tour
  • Introduction to co-workers
  • Stakeholder meetings — one-on-one time with HR, training leaders or managers, mentors or coaches, line-of-business leaders, and others as appropriate to give new hires the information they need and a full sense of how they fit into the organization

Week one assessment

After a week on the job, the employee should:

  • Begin to feel comfortable with their responsibilities
  • Have met at least one new business contact each day
  • Be familiar with team members (inside and outside their department)
  • Be able to walk into your office with any questions

The First 90 Days: Key Onboarding Targets

Best-performing companies know the value of continuing a well-planned onboarding process for at least the first 90 days of a new hire’s time with the company. It takes about 45 days to get the new employee fully acclimated and acquainted with a job. At 90 days, you should start seeing serious results from a new employee.

Onboarding Highlights: Week Two Through 90 Days

15-day Follow-up

The new hire’s manager should check on the employee’s progress toward the goals that were discussed on the first day. This gives the manager the opportunity to help the employee identify and resolve any issues or challenges.

30-day Check-in

The most important thing in the first 30 days is to familiarize the new employee with the company through recruiting and introductions. You shouldn’t expect the new hire to make extreme strides from a business perspective during this time.

45-day Benchmark

This is a great time to sit down with the new hire not only to assess their familiarity with the organization and their role, but also to see how happy they are. You can assess their performance up to this point on some of the shorter projects that have been assigned, and also determine what they’re thinking about bigger-picture projects.

90-day Review

By this time, the new hire should have a thorough understanding of what will need to be done to be successful in their role and be well on their way to producing quality work.

Sample New-hire Checklist

With a new-hire checklist, you’re able to build a consistent and repeatable process for improving the onboarding process, engaging new employees from the start, and making employees more productive faster.

The checklist below may be more detailed than you need. It may also not include some items that are part of your process. Use it to create your own checklist, modifying accordingly for your needs.

Before the Employee’s Start Date

Desired outcomes: The new employee feels we have a welcoming work environment with informed colleagues and a fully equipped workspace, and the new employee feels “settled in” on their first day.

Schedule and Job Duties


Work Environment

Technology Access

Training and Development

First Day on the Job

Desired outcomes: The employee feels welcomed and prepared to start working. They should begin to understand the position and performance expectations.

Schedule, Job Duties, and Expectations


Work Environment

Technology Access

First Week on the Job

Desire outcomes: New employee builds knowledge of internal processes and performance expectations, and feels settled into the new work environment.

Schedule, Job Duties, and Expectations


Technology Access

First Month on the Job

Desired outcomes: Employee is cognizant of their performance relative to the position and expectations. They are continuing to develop, learn about the organization, and build relationships.

Schedule, Job Duties, and Expectations


Training and Development

First Three Months on the Job

Desired outcomes: Employee is becoming fully aware of their role and responsibilities, beginning to work independently, and produce meaningful work. The employee continues to feel acclimated to the environment, both functionally and socially.

Schedule, Job Duties, and Expectations


Training and Development