Engaging Employees Through Your Onboarding Process: Part 1

Imagine starting at a new job, full of excitement for your future. However, when you arrive, you can’t seem to find your boss, so you have a seat in the waiting area. Five minutes go by and employees hurriedly funnel into work without giving you so much as a glance. After 10 minutes of waiting and not being acknowledged, you finally stop someone to ask where new employees should report. The person says, “Oh you must be the new guy. That’s your desk.” You look over at a barren desk that doesn’t have so much as a pen on it, and think to yourself, “Did I make the right decision by coming here?”

Yes, this is an extreme example of a poor employee onboarding process, but unfortunately, variations of this are not uncommon. Oftentimes, onboarding programs consist of a checklist of forms a new employee must fill out, or hiring managers are left to their own devices to welcome and educate their newest team members on everything they need to know about the company. The problem? Most managers are neither human resource experts…or communicators.

Traditionally, improving culture and engagement has been perceived as a job for top administrators or HR; however, communicators are often the most skilled at gaining organization-wide buy-in through connections, messaging and experience. So how can we get involved in this process to ensure that the hard work we’re putting in to enhance our company’s brand externally, isn’t ruined by a poor internal culture?

Communicators are the eyes and ears of an organization. To do our jobs well, we must know what’s going on in both our internal and external environments. We are also skilled at research, planning, evaluation, relationship-building, public speaking and presenting, and we are responsible for maintaining our organization’s brand. Who better to help engage new employees?

A collaboration with your HR department is obvious. Before suggesting that you improve their process for them (because who wants to be told they aren’t doing their jobs?), determine what your desired outcome is. You should enter this partnership with the idea that by helping onboard new employees in a consistent manner, you will help not only engage staff, but your organization will have a better chance at developing brand ambassadors from day one. In the end, your combined efforts can help recruit and retain top talent and an engaged workforce.

Just as with a typical communications plan, begin with research. Gather feedback from recent hires, staff surveys and industry best practices. Consider conducting additional surveys, focus groups and one-on-one interviews, as well as a materials audit to discover the answers to the following questions, which will help in determining the gaps in your current onboarding process:

  • What do the current recruiting materials look like? Are they well-branded and consistent in their messaging and format?
  • What materials are given to prospective employees during the hiring process? What do they look like? Does the copy convey your organizational culture?
  • What materials are given to new employees to keep? Are organizational charts updated? Are your messages consistent and concise? Do you have all the appropriate contacts listed?
  • Does your onboarding packet look as professional as your marketing materials? Are the organization’s mission, vision and values clearly communicated to both prospects and employees?
  • What do current employees wish they would have learned the first week? What did they find helpful? What information was missing?
  • How are new employees being trained? One-on-one meetings or group orientations? Training videos or manuals? Are there other training methods you can utilize such as presentations, video trainings, gamification modules, interactive apps or your intranet?
  • Who schedules new employees’ first two weeks on the job? With whom should they meet? Which buildings should they tour? Who is assigned as a mentor or go-to person for each new employee? How can you empower and engage current employees by including them in the training?
  • How can you best assist new employees in getting acclimated quickly without overwhelming them with too much information?

Yes, there are a lot of questions, but as communicators, we know that the more complete our research is at the beginning of a campaign, the more targeted and impactful we can be later in the process.

Stay tuned for part 2 in this series for ideas on how to plan, conduct and evaluate an effective onboarding program.

Dr. Amanda Holdsworth, APR
Founder, CommunicatED
Assistant Professor, Cleary University

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