Onboarding Process: Tips and Best Practices From Dr. John Sullivan
Onboarding Process: Tips and Best Practices From Dr. John Sullivan

Onboarding Process: Tips and Best Practices From Dr. John Sullivan

Getting your new hires up to full productivity as fast as possible brings many advantages: be in touch with your new employees, help them overcome their fears and concerns, and show them the right directions to move in, and they will succeed in your company.

Dr. John Sullivan offers practical insights and recommendations on how to build an amazing onboarding process for your company.  

Many thanks to HR Daily Advisor and Citrix RightSignature for organizing and sponsoring the webinar.

John Sullivan onboarding process

“When the new hires physically come to work on the first day, they feel frustrated; they have a lot of concerns and questions that have to be addressed. But in some companies, the onboarding process is far down the priority list, or hiring managers make errors and do not understand how positive things impact the productivity of the new hires,” says Dr. Sullivan. “The time period for onboarding extends from day 1 up to 6 months. So, one of the key features is to reduce the ‘time to productivity.”

Read more about your future happy new hires: Six Levels of Onboarding Process in Pictures >>

Onboarding process goals

Every single hiring manager has to remember the goals and success measures of the employee onboarding. Here they are:

  1. Rapidly get new hires up to minimum productivity.
  2. Reduce the likelihood of early turnover.
  3. Provide the necessary training.
  4. Provide an opportunity to begin building networks and relationships with the new team.
  5. Help team members to get to know the new hire.
  6. Provide key information on the firm.
  7. Help new hires understand the manager’s expectations.
  8. Answer all questions.
  9. Complete new hire sign-ups.
  10. Make new hires aware of common problems they might face.

The top 13 onboarding process errors

employee onboarding process

“Hiring managers make a lot of mistakes that they definitely need to avoid. I’ve made a list of the most common ones”:

  1. Not measuring time to productivity. You can end up paying people for a long time while they are not being productive.
  2. The job doesn’t match what was promised.
  3. The onboarding plan is not personalized.
  4. The process is run by benefits (managers don’t control it). This is not good for productivity. It should be run by recruiters or manager.
  5. The onboarding process is too short.
  6. Information overload and “death by form”.
  7. The start of employee onboarding or training is delayed.
  8. The hiring manager is not present on the first day. It can be a disaster!
  9. One-way communications. When you speak, and new hire has no way to speak respond.
  10. The new hire has no control/input. Yes, individuals do not want to be controlled, but they have to obey corporate rules.
  11. Decisions aren’t based on metrics, data, or past errors.
  12. New hires are kept from starting their work.
  13. No competitive advantage for their firm.

Information overload

“If too much information is crammed into the first day, your new hires will be frustrated and get a ‘brain-ache,’” says Dr. Sullivan. “So, you should decide what information they really need on their first day.”


Some steps to help your new employees not become overloaded:

  1. Use data to prioritize essential information.
  2. Track the information that others forget. Ask people what they remember from their first day.
  3. Limit “information providing time” to 2 to 3 hours per day (only information they must remember).
  4. Limit “death by form” or “benefit description reading waterboarding”. Who wants to read hundreds of pages on their first day?
  5. Give them a bullet point summary of the important information.
  6. Stretch benefits and sign-ups out over several days.
  7. The best new hires want to actually begin work. So make sure they begin their job quickly.

“I suppose that every hiring manager faces a common problem: new hires don’t remember policies. Surveys reveal new hires don’t know most policies at the end of week one. So, help them. Prioritize the “must know” policies for the first day or for the first 3 days. For each policy, you must make it clear why they must know it and when it will be useful. One more trick — tell them they will be tested on them, and consider a reward for knowing policies. And, yes, test them — it increases their ability to remember,” says Dr. Sullivan.

5 time phases of onboarding process

Millennials onboarding process

You do not have to cram everything that you are planning to do into one day!  Stretch onboarding process out overthese «5 phases».

  1. Pre-boarding phase (before the new hire begins work).
  2. Start day (first day “corporate” activities).
  3. First week (team/local level activities providing what that they need to be productive).
  4. First 6 months (continuous onboarding and feedback for improved retention and performance).
  5. At 6 months (conduct new-hire assessment and no-fault separation determination. It is also possible to have a 1-year phase).

An example of extended employee onboarding is Rackspace, a 4-day onboarding program. It’s called the Rackspace immersion and rookie orientation program. They join a team and work on projects together.

Zappos has a 4-week onboarding program. The first 2 weeks are spent in the call center — as a result employees can work as fill-ins during busy periods (rather than temps with no commitment). At the end, all are offered $3,000 to quit (up to 3% take it). The act of rejecting the bonus has the effect of strengthening their commitment to the firm.

Radio Flyer has a 12-week onboarding program. New hires are also required to take 13 different classes over the next 9 months (most are face-to-face). They now have a 6% first-year turnover rate.

L’Oreal USA has a 2-year program that is designed to fully integrate new hires. It includes training, roundtable discussions, individual mentoring, field visits, and shadowing programs.

Six levels of onboarding process (Try it in pictures)

employee onboarding process

“It is a mistake to provide all onboarding activities at just one level (the corporate). Many of the things that new hires need to be productive … are facility, job and team specific. Offer onboarding at many “organizational levels”, advises Dr. Sullivan.

  1. Organizational/HQ level (much of this can be done with technology):

– A mobile phone app for onboarding.

– “Sign-ups” — benefits, security, payroll, etc.

– Corporate culture (with real examples), values, and the current focus of the business.

– Introduction to corporate knowledge databases.

– “How to improve recruiting” questionnaire (what worked and what didn’t during recruiting).

“Be careful of 100% administrative solutions. The secret to success is the transfer of knowledge and faster time to productivity … not administrative efficiency. And one more thing: most tech solutions do not measure the transfer of knowledge or their impact on productivity.”

  1. Location/facility level onboarding elements:

– Country or region specific information.

– The plant/facility’s strategic objectives, organizational chart, policies, rules and info/help sources.

– Lunch/workout/childcare in the neighborhood.

– Information on schools in the community.

– For relocated new hires, assign “coaches” for the family to speed up adjustment.

– Offer an on-line “anonymous question site”.

  1. Department level onboarding elements:

– The department’s strategic objectives, organizational chart, policies, rules and info/help sources.

– A department acronym dictionary.

– Pictures of key people (“Rogues’ Gallery”).

– A permission to ask “silly questions” card.

  1. Team level elements (it has the biggest impact):

– The team’s strategic objectives, policies, rules, metrics and info/help sources.

– A list of formal and informal team leaders.

– A copy of the performance appraisal process.

– Assign a mentor or peer buddy.

– FAQs and answers for departmental new hires.

Examples of team level features


Team level features to build relationships quickly:

– No-cancel meetings scheduled with the manager.

– Team member profiles on an internal website.

– “Take a team member to lunch” coupons, paid for by the company.

– “Baseball cards” of all team members. It engages people.

– “Scavenger hunt” to learn locations.

– Ask them, “Who do you need to meet to be productive?” and schedule those meetings.

Profile of «how I typically manage» my employees.

– Management style—examples by-the-book, direct observation, empowerment, micro-management, etc.

– I really like—innovation, quality work and honesty.

– I really dislike—surprises, being kept in the dark.

– How I communicate—I prefer e-mail and text messages.

– I expect reports from you—verbally each week and in writing each quarter.

– I reward these things—bottom line results and a good attitude.

Productivity actions at the team/job level

“There are several actions that can help a hiring manager and the new hires. For instance, one-on-one scheduled problem-solving meetings — set three to five no-cancel meetings with their manager to discuss and eliminate problems and issues. I advise that new hires have a role / responsibility in the discussion as well-meets and has a Q&A covering their role and responsibilities — so everyone knows what they should be doing,”  says Dr. Sullivan.

“Aid them in building their network — provide a list of the employee-favored internal social networks and encourage employees to connect with new hires. Provide them with performance metrics — outline goals, KPIs and reward criteria. Work with them to develop a personalized learning and rotation plan.”

New hires appreciate it when training classes are available — first assess training needs and offer the needed development opportunities within 2 weeks of their hire date.

  1. Job level onboarding elements:

– A copy of their job description.

– How their job contributes to team objectives.

– A list and contact information for others that are in their job or job family. Who can new hires call if they need help.

– A list of evaluation and bonus criteria.

– Provide new hires with job-related tools.

– List common errors for new hires in this job.

  1. Individual-level onboarding elements:

– The manager should ask, “Why did you quit your last job?” You ask this question because you don’t want this employee to quit for the same reason.

– List your non-monetary and monetary motivations/frustrations.

– “What do you need to be productive?” questionnaire.

– A plan for fixing weaknesses that were identified during hiring through training and correction. We know what you are good at, but we do not know your weaknesses. We fix them by providing trainers.

– Their quarterly KPIs.

– What is your “the best way to manage you” profile.

An example on how onboarding reduces turnover

employee onboarding process

The Wynhurst Group found that a structured onboarding process improves retention.

“They found that the cost of losing an employee in the first year is estimated to be at least three times salary. But new employees who went through a structured onboarding program were 58% more likely to be with the organization after 3 years. 22% of staff turnover occurs in the first 45 days of employment,” says Dr. Sullivan.

Wipro shifted to employee-focused onboarding to improve retention. It created an employee-focused onboarding process that emphasized the individual strengths of the new hires. After 6 months, the participating new hires were as much as 32% less likely to quit than those who had participated in the traditional company-focused onboarding.

Onboarding remote employees

Long distance onboarding includes:

– Stretch out onboarding over a longer time.

– Utilize technology (web cams, meetups, Skype).

– Ask other recent remote new-hires what they wished they would have known.

– Members contact new hires helps to make them feel part of the team.

– A fast response to questions makes them feel appreciated.

Onboarding success measures

  1. Reached minimum productivity level on time.
  2. Below 10% new-hire turnover over 6 months.
  3. At least three qualified referrals from the new hire.
  4. There is a customized onboarding plan with dates.
  5. They remember critical information after 1 week.
  6. The new hire is very satisfied 75% of the time.
  7. Hiring managers are very satisfied 75% of the time.
  8. 100% of their tools/equipment on the first day.
  9. The required training is available within 1 month.
  10. The onboarding starts on the first day (with a manager).

Read more:

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

The Marching Band that blew Sia’s mind about their onboarding process>>>

Dr. Sullivan about Preboarding: Tips on How to Improve Your Business >>>

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