Top 5 Onboarding Strategies for 2016 from Former VP of Talent at LinkedIn
Top 5 Onboarding Strategies for 2016 from Former VP of Talent at LinkedIn

Top 5 Onboarding Strategies for 2016 from Former VP of Talent at LinkedIn

Getting your new hires productive quickly is a competitive advantage in today’s fast-paced world, where time and productivity matter more than ever.

Steve Cadigan, Talent Venture & Former VP of Talent at LinkedIn, offered practical insights and recommendations on how to build an awesome onboarding experience for your organization. He also answered questions on how to quickly align new employees with your mission, vision and values, and how to help them learn to succeed in your organization, no matter where they work.

None of us would disagree that an onboarding experience is an important thing, but what has happened over time? It is falling down the priority list because so many other things are going on. You’re trying to recruit, you’re trying to grow your organization, and you’ve got all these conflicting priorities. But if you look at this differently, you say: if we create a great experience here, that starts from when we first connect with the employee, we have the chance for them to really digest and understand what it takes to be successful. Then they can be productive quicker,” Steve says.

steve_cadigan onboarding process

Five Strategies

1. Structured, Consistent Experience

– First impressions matter; onboarding is the organization’s first impression.

First impressions matter so much in an onboarding experience! We have a big opportunity here for this to be either: “Hey, please fill out your paperwork, you know, prove you have the right to work in this country, and I’ll show you where the snack bar is,” followed by a thumbs up and a pat on the back; or it can be something creates an impression, that gives you your first taste of what this organization’s culture is about: “Let’s take a moment. Your first day here will show you why you’re going to love being here and why we are so excited that you’re a part of this experience. We want to help you to create a situation that is really dynamic for you and for us, and to help you get started.”


– Map out a general onboarding plan and share with senior leaders.

The good news for all of us is that most people have had really crappy onboarding experiences elsewhere. So their expectations are usually something along the lines of waiting for the HR torture to commence. But if you say: “Hey, this is the beginning of our relationship, and we’re going to build something really incredible together, and we’re so excited to have you here on this journey,” and then present your executives, interesting topics and speakers, then you’re going to overturn all of those expectations.

– Set the expectation that onboarding process is a project, requiring people’s attention for 30 days.

Ideally every single person that comes to the organization should have a very similar experience. In a way this experience brands new hires, so everyone has the same understanding of the organization. But this is really hard to achieve, especially as you grow to multiple offices, each one with a different micro-culture, different nuances and dynamics. But we really need to strive to frame the new experience as consistently as possible. When I say “consistent,” I’m not talking about seeing the same PowerPoint slides while sitting in the same office, but what is it you want them feeling and thinking when they walk out on their first day and when they’ve completed their first 30, 60 or 90 days? What’s the aspiration? How do you want them to think about their career? What things do you want them to be equipped with? Try to keep that in mind as much as possible.

– Streamline paperwork through automation.

– Send new hire agreements before the start date, with an ability to ask questions and to sign electronically.

– Easy, automated workflow to read, understand and retain copies of confidentially, EE handbook, benefits information, etc.

The core element of success here is to try as much as possible to take the energy-draining paperwork out of the first few days of the experience. Leverage your online resources to do these things in advance where possible. We try to do this at LinkedIn: the only thing you have to in terms of paperwork in your first few days is a staff tutorial required by the government.

steve cadigan employee onboarding

2. Sharing Mission and Values

– New hires need to hear the mission and values before they dive in and start working.

That’s how we really build the culture. The best way to do this is to see that you’re sharing your mission and values. If your senior leaders talk about having an open-door culture, but the executives’ doors are always closed, you’ve shot yourself in the foot. If you have a closed-door culture, that’s okay. Just be honest about it, and explain why it works for you.

– It needs to come from a CEO or an Exec Leader. It cannot come from middle management or HR.

Executives that can speak from the heart and talk about why the newcomers are there, how they fit into the organization, and what they should be excited about will achieve much more than a frontline HR person or, in some organizations, an office manager who has to do orientation because no one else will.


– Sharing the mission helps sell the new hire on the purpose of the enterprise and build a connection to the CEO and the mission.

– If it’s not practical for an Exec Leader to connect in person, make a video and show it online.

– The goal is for the new hire to feel like he or she has a personal affinity with the leader and buys in to the company’s mission.

I was at CISCO during the period of hyper growth; we bought about 50 companies in about 3 years. CEO John Chambers said at that time: “I want to go out there and welcome all these people, I want to make them feel included.” At that point there were 10 thousand people in some of those acquisitions, and we said: “John, can we make a video of you? You will welcome the people, talk about your advice to someone new and what they should be excited about.”

John is very charismatic; he is a great speaker. The video worked and gave a great impression of who this guy is; it established a connection to the leadership. People generally want to be guided by strong leaders and we were able to represent that.

– Talent Org should control the code of conduct and help recruit people into an ethical culture from day 1.

– Talent can address ethics from a personal/cultural perspective rather than a legal/rule-based perspective.

– Talent can influence ethics more effectively than lawyers.

I think what you want is a culture where people are working and talking, where people feel that the staff really matter. I worked in organizations where almost the entire sales conference would focus on discussing what the values mean, what our cultural significance is, and how can we convey that. This is your brand, every employee is a public relations machine who has the ability to tweet, status update, Facebook post, or go to Glassdoor and speak positively, neutrally or negatively.

3. Creating Manager Templates & Processes

Regardless of job function, new hires need to learn about the business: the products or services sold and the systems and processes used to get work done. Having a methodology makes it easier, because managers are overworked just like you are, and the more you can give them these tools and templates the less painful the process becomes.

– Description of products and services should be uniform. Everyone should have the same learning experience and understanding of products across the organization.

– Uniformity is produced by Talent Management.

– New hires may need to learn 3-5 new systems, relating to enterprise (shared files, communication, documents) and the department (marketing system, CRM, project management, engineering, etc.).

– Establish a consistent process for new hires to learn systems, e.g., enterprise through videos, and department through a designated teammate each week, etc.

As you know, everyone has a different learning style: some like detailed templates, some people like lectures, others prefer to read the material. You’ve got to get a sense of this and help your hiring manager to figure out the style for your new hire and deliver it.

But also recognize that the material needs to be cascaded, because it can be overwhelming if it’s all thrown at them at once. But if the delivery is consistent, and you keep making it better and smarter based on new hires’ experiences of what works and what doesn’t, you’re going to make people more productive faster.

4. Use Learning Ecosystem

– Identify which mediums are best for which topics and messages.

– There are many different mediums to convey information:

– Videos
– Articles
– Podcasts
– Live training
– Online courses
– On the job with teammate

– Thinking of the best way to teach the employee.

5. Getting Productive Quickly

Without a 30, 60, 90-day plan, new hires can easily flounder while acquiring new product information and trying to figure out how to use the various systems/tools of the job.

– Creating a plan for new hires to get them productive quickly.

You want someone to come out of blocks running, you don’t want someone who is going to stand still. I don’t know if you can remember starting a new job, but it’s not just business processes, new culture and workflows – this apparently simple stuff is overwhelming. And I think we lose sight of that because we’re so wrapped up in own deliverables, our own stresses. From my point of view, when I have someone coming out from a 30, 60, or 90-day onboarding process, I want them to know I’ve got their back. This is a place where they’re going to thrive; they’re going to feel great. That’s just my point of view.

But you should have your own point of view, and your executive team should have theirs too. And keep in mind that this not about an orientation, but about your retention; this is about recruitment. You know, companies with a great employee onboarding process are the best recruiters! So, that’s why this is important.


– Create a 30-day general plan that each team can tailor to meet their specific needs.

– Plan includes weekly assignments and a designated teammate each week to assist in learning, integration into the team and relationship building.

30, 60, and 90-day plans should include:

  • Learning goals for products/software services, systems.
  • Practice sessions to show mastery.
  • Explanation of core job functions.
  • Explanation of how job advances, and of team and corporate goals.
  • Quarterly objectives, goals, incentives – need to be signed off.
  • Check-in on meeting goals within first month.
  • Hiring manager check-in.
  • Senior leader check-in.

 I think more is better. Combining relationships building with knowledge acquisition, recognizing different learning styles, trying to make it simple for your hiring managers and your leaders are the best possible steps to take. I know, we talk about this all the time in HR, but senior leader engagement is also really important – this is not about orientation; this is about branding and about recruiting; this is about our culture. If we really are an inclusive culture, get your butt out there, senior executive, and let’s make it happen.

Аnd remember, the extension of the employee onboarding experience offers a huge competitive advantage.

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