How do you handle the onboarding of new employees?

When a new employee joins your organization, you want them to be able to perform independently and feel at home within the organization as quickly as possible. It's important that you align expectations throughout this process. But what does a successful onboarding program for new employees look like?

How do you handle the onboarding of new employees?

If onboarding goes well, it can have a strong motivating effect, so employees are then proud of their choice of job and organization.

Five main goals of the onboarding process

Onboarding has five main goals:

  • To motivate and support employees to perform independently quickly
  • To align mutual expectations
  • To clarify how employees can contribute to organizational goals
  • To help employees to connect with colleagues and the organization
  • To innovate from within the organization based on feedback from newcomers

1. Motivate and support new employees to perform independently quickly

If new employees are to get started quickly and enjoy their work, they need the right resources and plenty of room to make their own decisions. "One prerequisite to feel motivated in your work is autonomy," says onboarding expert Ardiënne Verhoeven of Workwonders. "That automatically means that managers must give new team members sufficient responsibility from onboarding onwards, so employees quickly feel that they can use their own competencies and really make a contribution. This not only improves performance, but also increases enthusiasm."

Don't forget that you can start introducing new employees before they actually start work: "During the period before employees start their new job, they are particularly open to anything linked to their new role and organization. If you don't use this period for 'preboarding', you really are missing an opportunity. You can maintain regular contact with employees, for example, by sending them introductory material in advance or inviting them to team or organizational meetings."

Verhoeven also maintains that it's important during the introductory period to make sure newcomers are clear about their personal responsibility for getting to know their jobs and for their personal development. "As an organization, don't hold their hands but do make sure they have good support." Coaching can take all kinds of forms, from a personal trainer or coach to feedback on the work floor from team members.

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2. Align mutual expectations during the onboarding of your new employees

"Onboarding is about more than just the needs of an organization; it's also about the needs of new employees," says Verhoeven. "They have a certain future in mind, so onboarding is a mutual process. All in all, it's about finding a good way of working together, within the team and the organization." That's why it's wise to check regularly whether these expectations still match up with each other. Verhoeven: "Ask them questions like: 'How do you think things are going? Do the job and organization meet your expectations? Are we delivering what we promised? And if not, what can we do about it?’"

If new employees are promising, the organization can direct them toward opportunities for internal career progression at an early stage. In addition, the organization will need to evaluate all new employees after a few weeks to check whether they are making sufficient progress. Verhoeven: "Joining the annual review cycle really is too late for many newcomers."

3. Clarify how employees can contribute to organizational goals

Effective onboarding of new employees means that they are well informed about the organizational goals and clear on how they can contribute to them. As well as having a practical purpose, this will also help to motivate them.

How to use purpose as a compass for your organization

Employees like to be of value; not only for their employer, but also for society as a whole. Good employers set a course that appeals to employees; for example, because of a high degree of social relevance. If organizations are transparent about figures such as revenue, profitability and customer satisfaction, this also gives new and existing employees a clear framework for improving themselves and the organization.

4. Help new employees to build their own network and to connect with colleagues

Effective onboarding means new employees can familiarize themselves properly with the organizational culture, develop a relationship with colleagues, build their own network within the organization and feel that they are part of things. So, how do you achieve that?

"Good connections are important if new employees are to succeed, so involve team members in the selection process; for example, by organizing an informal get-together after the formal meeting," says Verhoeven. You can also put new employees in touch with the colleague who will handle their onboarding, after they sign their contracts and before their first working day. Verhoeven: "And if there happens to be a company social event, even if it's just bowling, put prospective employees on the guest list."

You can also start highlighting the organization's core values during the preboarding process. "I know of a care institution that created a series of videos to prepare district nurses for ethical issues that they may encounter in their work. For example, if someone asks if you can look after their jewelry, what should you do? Can you ask if you can smoke on the balcony? This video series was a kind of mini training course to prepare prospective employees for work."

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You should also make sure that existing employees are clear about what the newcomer is going to do, how roles will be allocated and who is responsible for what. Verhoeven: "This prevents existing employees from being afraid that the new person will take over their role And it's also nice for newcomers to get clarity about their role."

It's also important not to be too formal during onboarding. "Informal discussions are very relevant for newcomers to get an idea of how things operate within the organization and to get to know the job. Genuine interest is important, especially from mentors or colleagues involved in the onboarding process."

5. Innovate from within the organization based on feedback from newcomers

Onboarding is a great opportunity for employers to innovate from within by listening to feedback from new employees, so it's important to create an atmosphere where social innovation is actually possible. Verhoeven: "After a few weeks, ask them: 'what would you change, based on your professional background?' This is a quick way to make someone feel that they are standing on their own two feet and it will give the organization a better opportunity to really benefit from the new employee's knowledge and experience."

If organizations want to innovate, then social innovation is a quick win. Your own employees know best where things can be smarter, more efficient and cheaper, so asking them is the fastest way to get to know innovative ideas. And you'll also show that you value their expertise.

Ardiënne Verhoeven

Ardiënne Verhoeven founded Workwonders in 2000 as a consultancy company specializing in onboarding and recruitment. She has written two books about onboarding, including Onboarding: het managen van verwachtingen (Onboarding: managing expectations). Ardiënne Verhoeven studied law and business administration at the University of Groningen (RUG). She then spent eight years as HR manager at KPN and Unilever, where she gained experience in areas including recruitment, selection, coaching and developing management talent.