Many firms have updated their employee orientation and onboarding processes these past couple years, and rightly so. It’s not just the move to remote that is driving this trend. In this time of the Great Talent Migration, leaders know how crucial an employee’s initial experience is in their first few months with your firm, or during their onboarding process.

In a recent Society for Human Resource Management article, Kate Rockwood explains, “For some organizations, onboarding and orientation are one and the same. But orientation is meant to be a one-time event, while onboarding is a process that should last at least 90 days.” And Gallup would argue that an effective onboarding program should last up to a year, which is likely what it takes for someone to be fully indoctrinated into their new role and organization.

Because the new team member has a (temporary) empty desk, they can own their onboarding plan and schedule meetings, check off actions or assignments, and coordinate additional learning or shadowing assigned to them. The onboarding activities range from receiving a high-level overview of the company to granular items such as best practices and resources for creating an email signature line. The onboarding plan can and should be created in advance of each new person’s start date, so it is ready to go when they arrive. Someone involved in the hiring process usually creates the onboarding plan, often someone in HR, with input from the hiring manager or direct supervisor. Over time, you will ideally create a template onboarding plan with unique items by service line or department that could be customized and included with each hire.

So, what does a good onboarding process consist of? An effective 90-day onboarding plan consists of the following elements, tailored for your firm:

1. First-Day Orientation – the first day or two will entail getting appropriate paperwork signed, payroll set up, review of the employee handbook, computer access and logins, key card/ID, etc. It is also a good idea to scheduled lunch for the new team member with a combination of peers, partners, and others, which can be done remote via Zoom or Teams if needed. Some firms assign a “buddy” during orientation that can be available for quick questions. The buddy should think about “did you knows” to share with the new team member – such as we have donut day on Fridays, softball sign ups are on April 1st and the team positions fill up fast, or we wear sweats or shorts if we come in on the weekend.

2. Culture and Firm Overview – schedule time with your new team member and various partners or other key leaders to share specific topics or tell aspects of your firm’s story. Teach new team members about your firm’s mission, vision, and values and expected (and not accepted) behaviors. Each person who shares the culture should have a unique perspective to convey with your new person and the personal nature will draw them in. Make sure your cultural aspects are spelled out in your employee handbook, too. Also schedule time with managers and/or partners in other service lines or industry segments, so your new team member can learn about all the services your firm offers and get exposure to others in the firm that they may not directly interact with on a regular basis.

3. Technology – after the initial computer setup and access to Outlook email, Teams, and other common collaboration tools, schedule time for training on the various software applications the new person will be using. Be careful not to overwhelm the individual with technology training all at once that they won’t use for a while, so probably won’t retain. The new person may already feel like they’re drinking from a fire hose during their first few days, so schedule technology training to occur over time if you can, schedule it to happen as close to when they’ll use the software or technology tools as possible. Many firms record the technology training in bite-size segments especially in a multi-office, remote or hybrid environment. That way, each new person can view the recording at their leisure and schedule time with an appointed person to ask questions about it. You can schedule other team members to then follow up on the learning and answer questions your new hire may have from watching the recording and show them how it applies in a real-life example.

4. Expectation Setting – take time to go over each new person’s role and establish expectations for job performance. Provide your new person with a detailed job description and then help set realistic goals for the first 90 days. Break expectations down into bite size pieces and cover them through combination of discussion about the expectations, teaching how your firm does things, shadowing, and other experiential learning to transfer skill and knowledge. Don’t step over this or make assumptions for experienced hires based on their title. The abilities and expectations of a manager in your firm may be different from their prior manager role outside your firm. It is also important to share the expectations of other levels in your firm, too, so your new hire can see how their role fits with other team members.

5. Check ins and Feedback – create a sense of belonging to ensure each team member’s long-term engagement and success. Schedule regular check ins or “huddles” between your new team member and their direct supervisor and anyone with whom they are working closely on engagements or other projects. Use these meetings to answer questions and provide feedback to your new hire. Find ways to include your new team member in committees or special projects, so they can meet other team members and find additional ways to contribute meaningfully to the team, firm, and clients. Be sure that whoever owns the onboarding plan checks in regularly, too, to assess progress, help navigate any roadblocks, and answer questions. This will help ensure the new team member is on track and truly feels part of the firm. And, schedule a 90-day review, so your new team member receives feedback for where they are doing well (or even exceeding) coming up to speed, anything they should change or improve that may not be consistent with the culture or expectations for their role, and what’s next.

A compelling onboarding program will reinforce that your new team member made the right choice when they joined your team! For more ideas, check out Renee’s blog, All Aboard! 15 Principles for Getting Remote Hires Up to Speed. What onboarding success strategies do you have to share?