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6 Tips for Creating and Scaling a Successful Onboarding Program: A Founder's Perspective

We all know that onboarding matters, but we don’t necessarily know how to plan or execute it effectively. Here are my top tips for building and scaling an onboarding program that saves time, increases engagement, and hopefully spares a few headaches. 

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Jan 17, 2024
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Last updated on Mar 27, 2023

First impressions don’t just matter — they’re crucial indicators of future success. And what is the onboarding process, if not a series of first impressions? 

As a former VC and current start-up founder, I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with countless employees across enterprise, mid-sized and small businesses. In that time, I’ve noticed a trend: we all know that onboarding matters, but we don’t necessarily know how to plan or execute it effectively. 

It’s no one’s fault. Inherently, onboarding is a tough nut to crack. You need people, processes and technology (likely several of each) to create a successful onboarding plan.

So we tend to avoid it. Instead of defining and reiterating our onboarding processes, we spend our time, and often our dollars, on ad hoc efforts that might work. 

But with voluntary resignations at an all-time high, we simply can’t afford to operate on inadequate training and mismanaged documentation. 

After some reflection, I’ve put together my top tips for building and scaling an onboarding program that saves time, increases engagement, and hopefully spares a few headaches. 

The onboarding process 

I view onboarding as a continuum rather than one massive effort. Each phase is just as important as the last and likely comes with its own players. This usually includes some variation of the following tasks: 

  • Pre-onboarding
  • Orientation
  • Training
  • Transition
  • 90-day review

You do all this with the hope that you’ll have a fully integrated employee at the end of it all. It’s very possible. When done correctly, onboarding can increase productivity by 70% and chances of retention by a whopping 82%

There’s no one-size-fits-all here. Successful onboarding is a thoughtful process tailored to organization and employees' needs. 

Still, I’d like to share some recommendations to keep in mind when you’re building your own plan. 

6 Tips for creating & scaling your onboarding process

Look at the big picture

Before you set out to build your process, define your goals. And I don’t just mean “Onboard X person by X date.” Think about what you want each new hire to know at the end of their onboarding journey. Then consider where and when that knowledge should live. 

For example, at Scribe, we reinforce why, who and how:

  • Why a job matters, and its impact on the organization. 
  • Who a new hire should go to for information at any given time.
  • How to do their job — both tactically and holistically. 

What are those high-level priorities for you? Once you know them, you can shape each phase of the process to help you get closer to your goals. 

Build process documentation 

This is a two-fold effort. Standard operating procedures can support your internal HR team, while onboarding guides can familiarize your new hire with their everyday tasks. 

Internally, this ensures that every team member follows best practices — and nothing falls apart when your SME finally goes on a well-deserved vacation. Creating, sharing and updating SOPs is the best way to operate at scale. 

On the other side of the coin, job aids and step-by-step guides help new hires get up to speed quickly and effectively.

Take advantage of tools like Scribe to create powerful process documentation — fast — by auto-generating your how-tos. Here’s an example of an onboarding guide made with Scribe and Scribe Pages. 

Link to the template here

Iterate on your training 

As you bring on new team members, you'll start to notice what works and what doesn't in your training program. 

Perhaps you rely too heavily on pre-recorded training videos or have yet to update your binder full of outdated instructions. Maybe certain sections are confusing or too lengthy, or some training modules aren’t necessary. 

By regularly reviewing and adjusting your training materials, you can refine your process to ensure that new hires receive the most useful and relevant information. Since expectations are ever-evolving, don’t be afraid to adapt as you go. 

Pace your progress

We want to give new employees all the vital, meaty information they need to do their jobs well. Our employees are often just as excited to learn, but if we overwhelm them with too much information too quickly, that enthusiasm quickly devolves into burnout. 

Help employees access the information they need when they need it.

 It doesn’t matter whether it’s training materials, company policies or directions to the restroom. Space out your training and offer ongoing access to resources, like manuals or online tutorials. This helps new hires learn at their own pace, wildly increasing their chances of retaining what you’ve taught.

You’ll ensure employees feel more comfortable and confident in their roles and increase the likelihood of their long-term success with your company. 

Lean into tribal knowledge

At Scribe, we often say, “Everyone’s an expert at something.” We’re able to tap into that by fully embracing our tribal knowledge.

Tribal knowledge refers to the unwritten or informal knowledge passed down within a company, whether in an offhand comment on the morning All Hands or a Slack exchange. We unlock the potential of tribal knowledge by building a culture of curiosity and enabling learning. 

This knowledge can be particularly valuable in helping new hires understand those things that are harder to document, like how to communicate with a testy customer effectively.  By unlocking this type of knowledge early, new hires can confidently perform their duties to expectations, and they’ll likely feel much closer to their team.

A great way to introduce tribal knowledge into your onboarding process is to assign an onboarding buddy, mentor or coach. 

Facilitate communication 

We’re living in a remote and hybrid world. It’s harder than ever to get everyone on your team in the same room, let alone on the same page. 

Take advantage of channels like Zoom (virtual meetings), Slack (instant messenger), Asana (project management) and Range (check-ins and goal setting) to create an ecosystem for formal and informal communication. The tool you use doesn’t matter so much as the function: how do you want your team to communicate, and how can you use that format to integrate your new hire into the fold? 

Also, keep in mind that your new hire might be hesitant to reach out and ask coworkers for guidance — and it might also be difficult for seasoned employees to disrupt their workflow and respond. You can combat this by setting up “shadowing” sessions for new hires and designated experts and using Scribe to make it easy for your go-to people to document processes without interrupting the flow of work. 

Effective onboarding = effective knowledge share

When done right, your onboarding program can significantly impact new hires and company-wide success. It sets the tone for ongoing productivity, education and retention. 

At its core, much of the onboarding process centers around how and when you share information. Define these crucial exchange points to align with your goals, then start thinking about the tools, channels and formats to get you there.

Lean on tools like Scribe to make it easier than ever to create, store and share documentation on even the most complex onboarding processes. 

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