7 tips to create an amazing onboarding experience

Leadership, onboarding, orientation |

7 tips to create an amazing onboarding experience

confused young woman with colorful arrows, casual clothes, blond hair, photo taken in studio shot on white background.

Why employee onboarding is so important

CCCC has recently gone through a season of hiring new team members, which has got me thinking a lot about the employee onboarding experience. Transitioning to new employment can be an exciting, if not a bit of a nerve wracking time for employees. And while all of the possibilities of what ‘could be’ lay ahead, the thought of how one will fit in with colleagues and a new manager can be enough to cause anxiety for some. New employees may also wonder what the workplace culture will really be like and if they will be able to meet expectations in their new role. For all of these reasons, supporting new employees during this period of the employment relationship is extremely important. Charities that do not create a strong onboarding process will take longer to get new employees up and running and will experience unwanted turnover and lower employee engagement. All of this impacts the charity’s ability to carry out its mission.

Sink or swim

Although the old ‘sink or swim’ approach to employee onboarding was never a good idea, there was a time when it was the norm, and it still exists in some workplaces today. I’m sure many of you can remember starting a new job and simply being shown a desk and given an employee policy manual to read! I can remember my first job at a local pizza parlour. After being given a uniform and having watched a series of short videos, my training was considered complete. In my desire to earn some extra money, I had agreed to pick up a Friday night shift cutting pizzas as they came out of the oven. It turned out that Friday was an extremely busy night, and it wasn’t long before I couldn’t keep up. Pizzas weren’t cut according to specs, dining room orders were mixed up with take out orders. Needless to say it was a total disaster, and as a result the pizza parlour ended up losing a lot of money on all of the mistakes that were made that night. This could have been avoided with an effective employee onboarding process.

What is onboarding?

So what is onboarding exactly? Many of us may equate onboarding with orientation, and while the two are related, they are not the same. An orientation is much shorter in duration, and may only take a few hours or a day to complete. It might include things like the history of the charity, introduction to mission, vision, values and covering key policies and procedures. Orientations are important, but are only a component of the overall onboarding process.

When done well, onboarding assists the new employee in making sense of the charity’s culture, norms and expectations. It’s about helping new employees make critical connections by introducing them to colleagues, charity management and external stakeholders such as donors and service providers. The goal of onboarding is to integrate new employees into the organization and help them to become effective in their roles as quickly as possible.

7 tips to create an amazing onboarding experience

What follows are 7 simple tips for charities looking to create a strong onboarding process and great overall experience for their new employees. These tips can also be applied or modified when it comes to the onboarding of new volunteers and directors. Another application of an onboarding process could be to assist employees that are being reintegrated back into the workplace following a leave of absence such as maternity, parental or sick leave.

Tip #1 – be present to greet the employee on their first day

This one sounds really obvious, but unfortunately many managers don’t see this as a priority. When the manager is present to welcome the employee into the office on their first day, it sends a message that they are valued. The manager-employee relationship is closely linked to employee engagement, and this is a really easy step that all managers should take to build a positive working relationship with their staff member. As a Christian employer, this is also an excellent time to pray with your new employee!

Can’t make it to the office on the employee’s first day? Give the new employee a heads up, and assign an alternate in your absence.

Tip #2 – go out for lunch

Letting your new employee know that you will be treating them to lunch on their first day is often a great way to get to know them on a personal level, and introduce them to colleagues. It can also take the guess work out of when and where they should be taking their lunch. While some work information may be shared over lunch, it really serves as an opportunity to build relationship and rapport with the new employee and help to make them feel part of the team.

Tip #3 – create an onboarding schedule

An onboarding schedule doesn’t need to be elaborate, and can go a long way towards helping new employees navigate their first few days and weeks of employment. If there are colleagues this person will be working closely with, schedule introductory meetings to help them make those connections more quickly. The schedule could be as simple as using your office’s shared calendar or creating a schedule for them using MS Word or Excel.

Talk to some of your new employees to find out what they appreciated about their onboarding experience, and what would have made it even more helpful. The onboarding schedule is something that you will be continually refining so don’t feel it needs to be perfect before you can begin using it.

Tip #4 – throw them a life line

I used to really enjoy watching the television show ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’. When participants were stumped with a question, they could choose from one of three life lines, including one where they could call a friend for help. We all need those life lines, and this is especially true when starting a new role. Make sure you assign your new employee a colleague that can help to show them the ropes and be on hand to answer questions. This could include walking them through how to use your internal systems or even just how to use the photocopier. Not only should this person be competent, but you want to choose someone who will view this as a positive experience.

Tip #5 – check in frequently

As part of the onboarding schedule, the manager should schedule frequent check-ins with the new employee to ensure they are supported in their new role. Meeting as needed and at least on a weekly basis for the first month would not be considered too frequent. Two big questions that all new employees have are: 1) what is my job; and 2) how am I doing? With this in mind the manager should provide clarity around expectations, how the employee will be evaluated and paint a picture of what success would look like in 3 months, 6 months etc. If the employment agreement includes a probationary period, the manager should be transparent about when that review will take place and how an employee will know if they are not on track to successfully complete their probation.

Tip #6 –create a learning plan

The manager should work with the new employee to create a learning plan to ensure they continue to have the competencies needed to be successful in their role. The employee may have areas in which they would like to further develop and grow, and these should be included in the learning plan, provided that they align with the overall mission and vision of the charity. While this could include formal education, much learning can take place on the job through job shadowing, mentorship arrangements and stretch assignments. For more information, CCCC members will want to read our bulletin article called Planning for Staff Development.

Tip #7 – consider a work style or personality assessment

We all have our own preferences for the way in which we conduct our work and interact with colleagues. And while these preferences can seem perfectly intuitive to us, they can create blindspots that lead to friction in our relationships with others. Having your new team member complete a work style or personality assessment can help to create understanding of what they will need in terms of support and understanding to be successful in their new role. An example of this could be gaining insight into how the employee prefers to give and receive feedback.

At CCCC we use a tool called the Birkman, which includes a debrief session with the manager and new hire. Many other excellent tools exist such as DiSC, McQuaig and True Colours all of which can also be used in a team-building context. Some managers like to plot the styles of their employees on a grid which can help team members relate to each other in a more understanding and positive way.


Charities that are intentional about the onboarding of new staff members will be much more effective in carrying out the work of their ministries. And who doesn’t want that? Thankfully, creating an onboarding process does not need to be difficult and is something that you can easily begin working on today.

Please take a moment and post a comment to let others know what tips and tricks your charity makes use of to create an amazing onboarding experience for your employees.

Thoughts on 7 tips to create an amazing onboarding experience

  1. Heather Card

    Great post Chris. It would be interesting to consider what coaching might be needed for existing employees when on boarding a new employee.

    1. Christian MalleckChris Hall Post author

      Heather! It’s great to hear from you, thanks for your note. You make a really good point, and I think this could be a great idea for a follow up post:) One easy step all charities can take is to simply follow up with their new hires to find out what worked well (and not so well) from their onboarding experience. This will usually point to areas that need immediate attention. To start, leaders might focus on low effort, high impact changes they can make (e.g. providing all new hires a tour of the facility) and build from there.

  2. Sandra

    Thank you for sharing 7 tips. I think the orientation and on-boarding are not defined well in most cases. But it is good that you differentiate the two. Tip #4 and #6 are useful now for onboarding.

    Thank you.


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