The 8 Stages of Onboarding New Employees for Long-Term Success

stages of onboarding new employees

It’s a myth that long-term success for new hires will be accomplished during onboarding. The goal for onboarding — as it relates to long-term success — should instead be about establishing a solid foundation. This includes developing relationships, providing resources, and coaching around skills.

New hires should be provided the context that what they’re learning in their first few weeks is important for their future success.

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Read ahead for tips on how to build a solid foundation while onboarding new employees and to help them achieve long-term success in your organization.


1. Reinforce the decisions that new hires have made about their future.

When a person chooses to join a new organization, they're making a decision that will affect their personal and professional future. Throughout the selection process, your new employees have been shaping expectations about a future in your organization. In order to start their journey off on the right foot, it is important to understand what those expectations are.

During your new hires’ first week, ask them about their expectations. Now is the time to get on the same page. Determine how aligned your new hires’ perceptions are about their specific role and the organization as a whole. Failing to address the expectations of a new employee can be a precursor for their contemplating a future that better aligns with the expectations they desire.

Question to consider: Did your new hires’ initial expectations match what they’ve experienced in the first week?


2. Clarify what will be done in the first week.

Setting a clear goal for what long-term success looks like is a vital part toward achieving that success. The problem with long-term success goals is that there is a lot of ambiguity about what needs to be done tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. The first step in helping new hires achieve long-term success should include setting them up to achieve short-term success. This is why the first week of onboarding should be mapped out.

When mapping out activities for the first week, consider what new hires will be able to realistically accomplish. Now, consider what is absolutely critical to being successful in the job they are going to do. Is it building relationships with team members, understanding chain-of-command, diving into systems and technologies, living company values, or learning certain skills?

All of these likely contribute to being successful in your organization. However, you likely can’t address each of them adequately within the first week. Remember that you have about 35-40 hours of time the first week. You need to prioritize.

After you’ve created a plan for the first week, test whether you’ve hit the mark. Ask for feedback from someone who has recently gone through onboarding at your organization. Ultimately, your plan should be simple. Your new hires should understand what needs to be done and feel confident in their ability to complete what’s being asked of them.

Question to consider: Do your new hires have a clear understanding as to what needs to be accomplished in their onboarding?


3. Connect skills to successful performers in the same role.

New hires will be learning a lot about their new role in the first few weeks in your organization. As they’re learning, make sure they have something to measure their progress against. This will be key to removing any ambiguity as to how they’re expected to be performing. One of the first steps you can take is to identify habits and behaviors of employees already performing the role successfully. Use those behaviors and habits as the example they should pursue.

After you’ve defined those core skills, behaviors, and habits needed for the role, make it clear to new hires what they are. Don’t assume that they are understood.

Next, construct an environment where new hires are allowed to showcase what they’re learning. This will likely involve some role playing or on-the-job training. The key to maximize the value of these activities is to make sure new hires are taking away actionable lessons on their development. In other words, ongoing feedback on their performance and development is critical.

Question to consider: Would your top performers agree that the skills being emphasized toward new hires are the ones that make them successful in their role?


4. Emphasize relationships as a foundation for success.

Success is often associated with individual accomplishments or performance. However, most successful people will tell you that the people they are surrounded by have had a tremendous influence on their success. With this in mind, your newest team members need to be building an intimate understanding of their immediate support system.

New employees should understand not just what their role is, but how it fits into the broader picture. After all, that newest team member is likely just one piece of the puzzle. They will consistently need to rely on others in order to perform at their highest level.

Organizations that struggle with this aspect of onboarding are probably relying too much on a map of their organizational hierarchy to explain context. Building strong relationships with team members will go much further in getting your new hires the proper context for how they perform their duties. Although relationships take time, effort, and dedication to develop properly, they are an irreplaceable piece of the puzzle when considering long-term success.

Question to consider: If your new hires perform their job well or poorly, do they know how it will affect other people on their team?


5. Keep new hires focused.

As new hires begin to understand how work gets done, they will also bring a fresh perspective on how things could be done differently or better. It is important that you give them the opportunity to provide this feedback to leaders and peers. However, you must also coach them to remain focused on the objective at hand. Help keep them on the right path by having regular one-on-one meetings.

When you have consistent one-on-one conversations with new hires, you can optimize their performance (and engagement) as it relates to accomplishing short-term goals that are already laid out. Once they begin to master their current responsibilities, you can begin to carve out time for them to pursue other projects.

Question to consider: Are your new hires focused on mastering the right things so they can pursue other challenges in the future?


6. Take control in defining what the future looks like for your team and organization.

By this time, new employees should have a good idea of what they need to do in their role to be successful. As a new hire’s role within their team becomes clearer, the organizational context in which they perform their duties should become clearer as well. This means opening a more detailed dialog about the plans for the future of the team and organization. Are there changes within the organization that will dictate that their team will need to evolve the way they do things?

Providing broader context as to how individuals fit within larger entities (teams and organization) will help them to understand how their future will be shaped. When this context and dialog is absent, you increase the potential for your new hires to begin planning their futures without all of the necessary information. Play a part in sculpting their future by initiating this conversation.

Question to consider: What does the future hold for your team and organization, and how might that affect your new hires’ perceptions of their fit within the future?


7. Begin planting seeds for the future.

The career arch for each person on your team is going to be unique. At the same time, the majority of success stories begin with mastering the task at hand. So while you are beginning to help shape the future of your new hires, do so in a way that balances current responsibilities and future aspirations. Begin by emphasizing that mastery of the work they’re currently doing will open opportunities in their future. Then, begin exploring conversations about that future.

There are many ways you can promote development among your newest employees. Yet one thing will remain true: the people surrounding your newest employees need to be equipped to deliver on that value. Managers should be up to speed on the most effective methods to deliver training and development. The people surrounding your new employees need to be properly positioned to deliver peer feedback and coaching. And of course, your new hires themselves need to be aware of what they do best. 

Question to consider: Which skills and talents do our new hires excel at or wish to master that can be of value to this team and organization in the future?


8. Re-assess everything.

By the time your new hires have six months of experience at your organization, they — along with managers and teammates — should know whether long-term success is likely for them in their position. Six months likely isn’t enough time to build a new hire into your top performer.

However, you should know exactly what needs to be developed in order to get them there. Do relationships need to evolve? Are there flaws in your team’s processes that cause conflict? Can you coach them to be faster at what they need to do?

If you think you have identified a conflict that can’t be resolved within your team (e.g., the skills they want to use have no place in the role they’re in), it’s important to address that conflict directly. Lay out all options and dedicate time to finding a mutually acceptable solution.

Whether it’s within your team or in another department in your organization, re-assigning a new employee may be the best option. After all, a lot of time and effort has been dedicated to establishing a foundation for mutual long-term success. Discarding the value created from all of these efforts without trying to repurpose them is a waste of time, energy, and trust. That said, in the interest of both the new employee and the organization, there will be times where parting ways is necessary to achieving long-term success mutually.

Question to consider: Is long-term success likely to materialize for this employee?



Curious how other organizations onboard employees? Download the research report below to dive into effective recruiting and onboarding trends.

Recruiting and Onboarding Trends: HR Strategies for Talent Acquisition and Management


Published July 13, 2017 | Written By Spencer Goracke