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6 Onboarding Best Practices that Set Your Company Apart

Six onboarding practices stand out from tried-and-true best practices to create strong connections that cause new hires to stick around.

Onboarding Best Practices

Offering a compelling onboarding program is not a new concept. I remember developing and leading an onboarding program for Capital One's auto finance division two decades ago. As I think back to the priorities of the program at the time, it's the same goals that we endeavor to fill new hires up with today. Our processes are more savvy (well, I hope they are) and our techniques are more modern (are they?), but the guts are the same.

There are tried and true onboarding process practices to include in a new hire program. Luckily there are plenty of articles available that outline these best practices. You can't go wrong including the ideas in these articles in an onboarding checklist:

The other thing to nail for onboarding programs - automate as much paperwork and process as possible. Take care of the administrative bits so that you can spend time on the learning moments that help new hires get up-to-speed quickly and develop early connections with the company.

Oh, and length; let's talk about the length of a solid onboarding program. I'm advocating for 12 months with touchpoints from the HR, Talent Acquisition and Employee Experience Teams early in the program with managers taking the lead and ownership of the onboarding experience for their new people over the course of the year. What have you found works best?

Onboarding best practices; a stand-up meeting

The Power of Creating Connection in New Hire Onboarding

What I'd really like to spend time exploring and discussing are the onboarding practices that set companies apart and mitigate early attrition. I'm noting that organizations that create a strong connection with new hires in pre-hire and new hire experiences see less attrition in the first year and 2-3 years following. By "connection" I mean a couple of things:

  • Cognitive knowledge of the company, industry and how the company goes to market - How does the company make money and how can I, as an employee, support company success? I want to know where I fit in to the success model.

  • Emotional connection to the culture of the organization and an opportunity to align personal values to organizational values - Can I see myself adding value here today and in the future?

  • Personal connection with others at the organization - Can I see myself developing friendships here and enjoy who I work with day-to-day?

  • Career connection for my longer term work goal - Do I see clear career options for me, and is this a place where I can invest myself?

That's connection on a lot of fronts. It's so much more than "Welcome to _____ Company. We're glad you're here. Make sure you sign up for benefits."

How do we do that? What kinds of experiences create deep connection early and often?

6 Employee Onboarding Practices that Create Connections & Set Your Company Apart

Ok hang on… let's set expectations about these practices that create deep connection. These six onboarding practices we're about to review are not new. I've been on the lookout for new "wow" thinking, new examples, new leading practices in the onboarding space. I've not found that. I've found tried and true practices that go above-and-beyond to focus on personalized connections. They are effective and important in creating an experience that can be a differentiator for your company.

1. Introduce the company values and revisit them often

Create experiences for employees to roll around in the values and create points of connection to their personal values. Create opportunities to see themselves in the company values. We’re not looking for one-to-one value matches, but points of similarity and mutual value. Use employee stories and company history to bring the values to life and demonstrate how they play out in the day-to-day. Further, reward new hires for demonstrating the values in the first year as part of the new hire journey.

2. Build a deep understanding about the company, the industry and how the new hire's role supports success

We all need to understand how we fit into the bigger corporate picture, and not just at the point of onboarding. We need reminders all along our employee journey. Onboarding, however, is a time to nail it and ensure that all new employees have a good grasp of the industry and business environment. I've seen this take the form of shadow experiences, side-by-sides, support of front-line positions, role-playing scenarios. I'm sure you have plenty of ideas. Once new hires have a good feel for the big picture, make the connection to the job they do. Make the connection clear on how they impact business success.

3. Set-up managers with tools and expectations to support new hire success throughout the first year

Yes, the HR department needs to provide a consistent onboarding experience. However, it's the manager that makes the biggest impact in an employee's work life. Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans share in their classic, Love 'Em or Lose 'Em, that "Managers who think engagement and retention are somebody else's job need to think again" (p 14). No relationship is more critical to an employee than the one with the boss. Set up a hiring manager with a handy checklist - better yet, automate it in your HRIS with helpful (annoying) reminders to set-up 1:1s, send an introductory note, check in at 3/6/9 months, etc. I forget sometimes that many hiring managers don't hire often. Unless they are intentional they forget their own new hire journey and how they wanted to be supported. Help them out with tools and a reminder on the critical role they play in connection… and ultimately, retention of their new hire.

4. Rock the pre-hire experience with some swag

It may sound trivial to make this one of the six critical onboarding practices, but… we all love receiving swag. A current leading practice is focusing on the pre-hire experience, and swag is a way of providing a warm welcome that creates goodwill and excitement before day one. Do it up right with a personalized note. Connection and enthusiasm - BAM.

5. Connect each new hire with an buddy

When I say buddy, I mean "new hire mentor" or "culture buddy." I'm sure you have a term for that. A buddy is an employee who has worked with the company for a while, is a good model of the culture and knows the unspoken rules within it. A buddy provides a safe space for awkward newbie questions and another place to reinforce an understanding of the company and industry. I like to choose onboarding buddies that are outside of the new hire's department to support networking and the bigger picture. Choose someone at or close to the same level as the new hire. Onboarding buddies are a great way to personalize the new hire experience and create early connection. It's also a neat way to invest in employees that you rely on everyday to keep the business running. Most of us enjoy the privilege of helping another employee get settled in.

6. Show them a career path from day 1

Gallup shares that "Employees who strongly agree they have a clear plan for their professional development are 3.5 times more likely to strongly agree that their onboarding process was exceptional."

Today's employees are not typically ok with the message, "you'll have to put in your time before you can be considered for that role." They are eager to hear how they can improve their skills and grow a career. They'll either do that at your organization or move along to a new one if they don't see a clear path for the future. Make time in the new hire journey for employees to explore available learning opportunities, building in options during the new hire journey outside of required compliance-related training. You might ask them to complete a career profile and talk with their manager about future career aspirations. We tend to get antsy when employees want to talk about their next role on day 1, but it's ok, they are dreaming big on what their future may hold.

Bonus Ideas

Two other tips that I picked up from recent HR conferences that I thought were winning ideas:

  • Bring new hires to a local headquarters within their first six months for a one to two-day session to strengthen connections with the organization, meet executives, reinforce values, build networks and have fun. Add some swag. BAM.

  • Take it to the next level and ask a high potential mid-level leader to champion the session or any new hire cohort (whether you bring them physically together or not). I love this idea as a way to develop leaders, invest in potential, introduce new hires to an up-and-comer and show them active career development.

Your Turn to Weigh-in - Onboarding Leading Practices

I know I'm not the only one thinking about effective onboarding strategies. What's something you've tried in onboarding that creates strong connections and sets-up new hires for success?

PS - I have a Talent Mentoring Circle to discuss Onboarding that I host periodically. You can learn about Mentoring Circles here and check the calendar for an upcoming Onboarding Mentoring Circle here.


Kaye, Beverly and Sharon Jordan-Evans. Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay, 5th edition. Berrett-Koehler Publisher, Inc. 2014.

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