New employees want to understand the culture, tools, and systems of the organization they have joined. This may also be true for temporary employees and contractors who are brought on board for specific projects.

Onboarding is intended to help new people adjust to change, to integrate them into the culture and operations of the organization, and to reduce the time they need to become productive. The sooner a new employee achieves these goals, the sooner the new employee becomes engaged in the organization.

Plan the onboarding process

Although a number of different groups may be involved in onboarding, the individual employee's manager is the key to success. Onboarding is not about filling out forms and going over the employee handbook.

  • There are several key elements to include in the plan, but productive conversations are the most important part.
  • New employees should know the performance milestones (often at 30-, 60-, 90-, and 120-days from hire) and the expected performance measures.
  • Each manager should track performance to create a baseline and provide an objective way to evaluate progress.
  • There should also be a way to assess a new employee’s integration into the group culture.
  • All of these items need to be related to the actual jobs and periodically adjusted as KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and details evolve.
  • Ideally, after the 120-day point, the manager should continue periodic contact and performance discussions for the rest of the first year of the employment.
  • Microlearning and experiential learning are important supports for onboarding training during the first year.

Tailor onboarding to job groups and organization levels, leverage social networking

The onboarding program will be different for employees in different job groups and different levels such as sales, engineering, staff functions, and management and executive levels. In addition, onboarding in large organizations offers the possibility of different types of activities that leverage social networking in ways that will not be possible in smaller companies. However, in organizations of any size, even those that are very small, the social focus is important to develop and maintain a vibrant organizational culture. When possible, even monthly “virtual happy hours” using Zoom or other technology involving new hires and company leadership are a valuable part of the onboarding process, even when the number of participants is limited. “Buddy systems”, assigned mentors, and even “virtual scavenger hunt” activities can be devised and adapted to facilitate connections between employees in any organization.


Speaking of organizational culture, DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) are increasingly important to new hires. DEI initiatives are a recent and growing trend, and in many companies corporate leadership is only beginning to understand the positive impact of DEI inside an organization and in the marketplace. If possible, find ways to show the results of company DEI initiatives through thoughtful introductions and exposure to a range of employees during onboarding, rather than simply tell about the initiatives. No initiatives or no results yet? Talk to your HR department and to senior executives to stay informed and to adjust the onboarding as progress is made.

Tools (and software)

Another important element of onboarding is training on the use of software and equipment important to job functions, as well as the job functions themselves. Training, including statutory compliance requirements, should be scheduled appropriately. Part of the process needs to include identification of the new employee’s actual skills and any gaps to be addressed in training. L&D can do much of this and save the manager valuable time. Your LMS is an important part of onboarding training.

Government job competencies

For jobs in the US government, the Office of Personnel Management has identified the critical competencies and tasks employees need to perform successfully in nearly 200 federal occupations, as well as for leadership positions. There may be similar resources for government employees in other nations.

Help from software

You can also find software that is designed to help organize and maintain your onboarding program. Check Capterra, Software Advice, TrustRadius, and SourceForge for reviews.

Other helpful articles

Learning Solutions has published many articles dealing with onboarding, and these three contain key elements to consider as you plan your approach.

Case study, strategy