Laptop and a mug

What Onboarding Is and Is Not

Onboarding is a set of processes that encompass pre-boarding activities, orientation, training workshops, and ongoing feedback sessions that work together to make new hires feel connected to the structure, culture, vision, and values of an organization.

However, many companies fail to view onboarding through such a comprehensive lens, which often results in a fragmented definition and poor execution of onboarding goals and initiatives.

Onboarding is not training.

At their core, training and onboarding are both working towards the same goal: to engage employees in their work and organization from day one. However, there is a general misconception about the fundamental difference between the two. The result? Often the two words are used interchangeably - a mistake that can cause confusion as to what a successful onboarding experience entails. This is already problematic, but viewing the two as conceptually one-in-the-same is even worse. In fact, onboarding usually takes place before the hire even begins with a set of pre-boarding activities and continues well after they have finished their first project through a set of follow-up check-ins. This takes considerable planning and resources, which is why viewing onboarding as a once-and-done training is detrimental. It not only underestimates its scope in terms of your own time and resource commitment, but it also fails to set the new hire up for success in their new role from a cultural and mission-oriented perspective. The result? They will know exactly how to access their email and execute their first project, but they may lack context as to how their work contributes to the bigger picture or how they fit into the company culture.

Two female coworkers at the board

Onboarding is Twofold.

Since onboarding cannot be reduced to a mere training program, what exactly are onboarding goals? The goal of any great onboarding program is twofold. On the one hand, it is about equipping your new hire with the tactical tools and knowledge needed to perform their tasks. On the other hand, it is about cultivating the inclusive experience required to integrate into and embrace your company’s culture. While preparing employees with the tactical tools needed to do their job can be covered throughout training sessions, tackling the second component of onboarding is often underestimated or neglected entirely. The reason being is that equipping your employees with the soft skills needed to make them feel included, comfortable, and connected to their work is an ongoing process that cannot be communicated through slides and training videos. Instead, it requires a framework that stretches over months and often begins before their start date. To help you prepare, spend some time reflecting on your own employer brand and unique company culture and how this will be communicated to your new employees in a way that resonates with them.

Onboarding is not the responsibility of a single employee.

Do you know who “owns” your current onboarding process? Is it your HR manager? Is it the new hires’ direct supervisor? Someone else? A group of people?

Often, the responsibility for onboarding a new employee may fall on the shoulders of a single employee. Since we have now discussed the resource and time commitment that a proper onboarding process can take, offloading these responsibilities to a single person may be overwhelming. After all, it is unlikely that one person can put their projects on hold for days at a time fulfill a new hire's entire onboarding needs. While giving a new hire your undivided attention for the first several days or weeks is an ideal scenario, it is unlikely that you can afford to put your workload on hold for every new hire - especially if your company is growing quickly. Additionally, you will likely need the knowledge and support from several departments in order to get an employee set up successfully in their new role. So, it is not only a question of time management but also a question of knowledge and resources.

Group 0f three looking into laptop

The first few weeks on the job set the tone for how the employee’s role will take shape within the company. This means that your onboarding processes will help shape your company culture and vice versa. So, whether it is relying on IT to get their equipment set up, or asking current employees to block off time for a welcome coffee, make sure that your new hire has exposure to others within the organization early on. Not only will this help them gain a better understanding of the company culture and feel included, but it will also ease cross-functional collaboration moving forward. Additionally, pulling on others in the department helps the new hire connect with the company’s mission, vision, and values from different perspectives, making their first few weeks even more engaging and comprehensive. As mentioned earlier, it also eases the workload of any one employee and helps the new member of your team establish a degree of autonomy within the organization.

Onboarding is dynamic.

Now that we have established that onboarding is a rather extensive process that encompasses both soft and hard organizational knowledge, how do you know if you are focusing on the right things? How do you know if your new hires are happy and feel prepared to tackle their projects? Is there more you should have focused on? How do you know if there are areas you focused too much on? Ask your employees.

Coffee shop

As with almost anything within an organization, onboarding is a two-way street. This means that you will need to gather ongoing feedback from new hires during the process and after their onboarding process is complete in order for it to be successful. Even more important is your ability to take this feedback and implement it accordingly for future hires.

While there are a few ways to collect feedback, it is probably best to implement a combination of quantitative one-on-one meetings and quantitative surveys as each provides unique insight into the strengths and weaknesses of your program. For example, a set of survey questions can standardize the process and objectively identify areas of improvement based on several employees. Conversely, a one-on-one meeting uncovers the unique situation of a particular employee, which can drive the conversation towards latent topics that are difficult to capture via a set of standardized survey questions. That’s why employing a combination of the two paints the clearest picture of how the processes went and where it should be going in the future - both for this employee and the next.

If you want to learn more about onboarding, download our free e-book Onboarding 101.

Author profile Meagan Leber

Growth Marketing Manager at Amby, who loves writing about the tech, venture capital, and people space.