"Most companies look at new employee onboarding as orientation. How do we get you set up? What compliance pieces do we need to hit?" says Pattie Tran, People Operations Lead at Notion. She's onboarded thousands of employees, helping take Yelp from a team of 1,000 to a team of 5,500.
"You need to think long-term," she says. "It takes a lot longer to set someone up for success."
Employee orientation is a one time event, where information is relayed to an employee through paperwork or presentations. It's a series of checkboxes. Sign here. Initial there. It's a one-way street from employer to employee that doesn't necessarily establish a relationship between the two.
Don't orient. Onboard.
Think about your own onboarding. Can it be a better, more immersive process that truly sets your new teammates up for longterm success?
Probably. Here, we'll teach you how to create an effective employee onboarding process that fits your company specifically by thinking about it in three stages: what happens before, what happens in the near term, and what happens in the longterm. If you're ready to get started, use this template and customize it to your team or company's needs.
The hallmarks of shortsighted onboarding
Onboarding doesn't just impact someone's first 90 days — it sets the tenor for how they succeed for much longer, the way their relationships in the copy operate, and whether they feel like they belong or not.
Here's where most companies miss this opportunity:
There's no longterm onboarding strategy — don't think of onboarding as a process that stops after the new hire's first day or first week. Check-in's at month one, three or six help human resources teams improve the onboarding process. But they also help realign the employee's expectations or goals as the nature of their work shifts. Without touch points, you're tossing new hires into the deep end and hoping they can swim.
Onboarding isn't customized to the employee — a boilerplate approach to onboarding every new teammate shows you don't value their specific needs or experience. Sure, you can and should use a template for the basics, like turning on company email or benefits info. But every team and every role have unique requirements that need to be addressed in the onboarding process. The specificity of this approach helps show you're invested in that new employee's success.
Important materials or knowledge gets lost in the shuffle — new employees are flooded with information and training materials. There's only so much their brain can hold. If there's no place for them to access important info later (like a company wiki), you're actually creating disorientation. They're either digging around listlessly or anxiously asking HR teams, valuable time (on all sides) that could be spent doing something more productive.
Without a formal onboarding structure, onboarding then becomes informal. Loosely-organized shadowing. Tribal knowledge that isn't documented or shared. Expectations or goals that aren't clearly communicated. This can even lead to higher employee turnover — and that's not on the employee, it's on the process.
Of course, there are business costs here. Your team is wasting time, effort and resources.
But think about it on the personal level, too. Culture dilutes, morale dips, employee engagement in onboarding wanes, existing employees might not feel comfortable referring their most talented friends to join you.
Instead, create an onboarding process that tells new employees who you are — both with content and how that content is organized.
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1. Before the employee starts
You should have a new onboarding program in place the moment your job description is posted.
"Given the amount of individuals that are involved in onboarding, there's a lot of orchestration," says Pattie. "So ahead of time, you need systems in place to get new employees everything they need."
This is arguably the most important thing you and your team can do.
Hold candid meetings with team leads or hiring managers this new hire will report to. Look at the company's goals. Look at that specific department's goals. Now look at the work the employee will tackle — and establish actions that feed into those of the company and department.
It's beneficial to think about both micro and macro goals.
First week — keep these simple, like getting coffee with teammates or reading through the entire help center to get a better idea of the product. Ground these goals in getting to know your company better.
First month — these will get a bit more tactical. Start thinking about quantifiable outputs. Whether it's the number of assets they're producing, leads they're generating, or projects they'll take on, goals for the first month focus more on the work at hand.
First 90 days — think about the new hire's company-wide and department-specific impact here. Set goals that roll directly up into those. This could be larger projects. It could be creating something completely new for your team.
First 6 months — it takes most employees at least six months to completely onboard. Come up with a list of things they should've accomplished up to this point. But more importantly, think about their future at your company and set big goals related to their growth.
Write them down, share them with the employee, and be prepared to work with them on these goals during their first week. Pattie suggests "setting really clear expectations about their output in particular."
Gather all the resources they'll need
Some materials are standard for every new employee joining your team. But the most important resources will be specific to the new hire.
Writers at the MIT Sloan Management Review suggest to, "Shape the onboarding process around the individual." This makes them more likely to stay.
Create a custom page that's just for them — it'll have all the information they need to get up and running. As one example, Blinkist, the company that summarizes nonfiction books into bite-sized audio, uses Notion to create individualized pages for the hiring and onboarding process.
Here are a few things you can include on this kind of page:
Your company's mission and values
An employee handbook
Passwords, tech, tools
Any process documents they'll need to follow
Some fun stuff — like your team's favorite restaurants around the office
"We have templates for new hires in each department," says Pattie. "They set a baseline consistency across teams, but also allows them to tailor it to the individual."
Gather all these ahead of time so you aren't scrambling to collect them on the employee's first day (often where things get lost or missed).
2. The first day & first week
When anyone starts a new job, it's information overload — in terms of work, people, and environment.
Provide them with the resources they'll need, while also making them feel as welcome as possible with a warm first impression. Focus on getting their feet wet with introductions (to your team and your company), while working with them on goals.
Create an orientation schedule
The day one orientation should complete some of the necessary new hire paperwork, while leaving enough time for your new teammate to simply meet their co-workers and find their footing.
Desk & tech setup — everything the employee needs should already be at their desk. Laptop, company swag, etc. Give them a few minutes first thing to get settled in and test that shiny new equipment.
Tour the digital ecosystem — most companies have a litany of tools they use to work. In your onboarding document, provide your new teammate with an overview of all the tech at your company they'll be using.
Orientation — then cover all that compliance paperwork, from rules and regulations to office keys and the wifi password.
Meetings, meetings, meetings — some of these will be orientation focused, like company policies. Others will be with teammates or managers. Leave a 10-minute buffer between these meetings to give the new hire a few moments to catch their breath (and use the bathroom).
Team lunch — as a more casual introduction, team lunches give co-workers a chance to get to know each other on a more personal level. Sharing food is a great way to build a connection. After half a day of running around, your new hire is probably hungry.
End of day check-in — it's likely been an overwhelming day for your new team member. How're they doing? How was everything? Anything you can do to help? Follow up before they take off.
Having someone's first day neatly structured showcases your thoughtfulness in their onboarding experience.
Introduction to the company and its teams
The first week is one of introductions, both at the personal and company-wide levels.
Even at a small company, meeting everyone (and remembering names!) is a lot to take in. It'll take even more time to fully grasp how the organization works, but we've found that introductions to what each team does helps someone get there quicker.
"At Notion, our first week is dedicated to learning each team's function," says Pattie. "New hires get a day in the life of different departments, gaining an understanding of how they work toward company objectives."
Here are a few tips for making introductions more valuable.
Make a company-wide announcement — Blinkist created a new hire newsletter in Notion as a way to introduce teammates broadly. Using Notion's sharing settings, they copy the link and share it via Slack or email. Now, everyone can put a face to the name.
Assign them an onboarding buddy — anyone new will likely have a lot of questions. And sometimes, they won't feel comfortable asking a manager. An onboarding buddy is someone that's available to the new hire to guide them through some of the less-obvious things about your company.
Tour the departments — a company is like an engine that needs many parts to function. Understanding those parts puts the new hire's work into perspective.
Toward the end of the week, new hires can start dipping their toes into the work at hand.
Going over goals and responsibilities (again)
Both the employee and their manager should have a really clear idea about their new role, including goals and responsibilities — especially if these were established and communicated earlier in the hiring process.
But it's worth opening it up to the new hire for discussion. This establishes a rapport, and fosters a two-way relationship between employee and manager.
"Managers need to work with new hires to establish short and longterm goals," says Pattie. "New hires need that autonomy to have input on their path moving forward."
Best practice is to document these goals. If you used software to create a custom page for your new hire, feel free to include goals here and open up the written dialogue to cement them.
3. Looking months ahead
Setting employees up for success means having touch points outside the first week. You want to create cycles for feedback and reviews that consistently assess employee performance based on their goals.
Get feedback on your hiring process
At the end of the first month, getting feedback from all your new hires is key. This sets you up to improve and iterate on your hiring process to make it even better for the next candidate.
"One of the most important parts of the onboarding process is collecting feedback consistently," says Pattie. "A lot of companies don't evaluate their own performance, so it doesn't improve."
With Notion, you can create onboarding checklist templates that all new employees use (and that eventually get customized). Update those templates every time you learn something about your process that could be improved and that way, your HR team will take those learnings forward.
Establish longterm reviews
Here's where those plans for longterm onboarding success come to life.
Establish several check-in's over the course of the employee's first year. These help gauge a growing performer — as their responsibilities change and their goals shift, these reviews will help calibrate their work and expectations.
Schedule reviews for 30 days, 90 days, 6 months and 1 year. Each will have its own purpose based on the employee's work.
Share any prep materials ahead of time so everyone involved has ample time to prepare. That leads to more thoughtful reviews, so everyone enters the room with ideas already formed.
Use these reviews to revisit those initial goals — do they need to be reworked? Reprioritized? Changed altogether? By having these check-ins, you'll continue setting your new hires up for success because their goals are adapted to the work and responsibilities at hand.
Tips from Notion for effective onboarding (and a template for you to use)
At Notion, each new employee gets their own custom page. Here, they'll have everything they need from an organizational and team-wide level — like our mission statement, email setup, company culture, team process docs, function-specific tools, and more.
There's even neat little checkboxes to cross off when certain items have been completed.
Here are a few more ways we've optimized the onboarding process.
Using templates to quickly spin up new hire resources — whenever a new employee joins the team, we're not reinventing the wheel. Of course, we customize their experience based on the team they're joining. But some things don't change, like the wifi password and benefits packages. Using a template, we can quickly recreate everything needed for successful onboarding with a single click, then customize it with team-specific info.
Sharing a bit of ourselves every week — every new Notion teammate does a "life story." This used to happen on Friday afternoons but now, it happens virtually over Friday lunch. Employees give a presentation about who they are and what matters to them. This helps us get to know each other on a personal level, learn a bit about our new friends, and see some cute baby photos.
A directory of the entire team — when someone joins, they're automatically added to our team directory. But this isn't just name, number and emergency contact. Myers-Briggs and Enneagram personality types, office pets, astrological signs and languages they speak are all accounted for.