The three phases of onboarding

October 8, 2019
Updated Jun 21, 2022

When it comes to onboarding a new employee, where a company spends most of its time says a lot about what it values in its onboarding and as a company.

When people teams talk about onboarding they use it to mean just about everything that happens after a new hire signs an offer letter to get them started in their role.

Typically, all those different things fall into three overlapping phases: admin, orientation, and enablement.

In this walkthrough of the onboarding workflow, let's take a look at each phase of onboarding, as well as the tasks that typically fall under it.

Here's a quick outline of what we'll look at.

■  Background Check
■  Create work email account
■  Add to employee database
■  Verify I-9 Employment Eligibility
■  Technology preferences survey
■  Prepare employee keycard

■  Congratulations email
■  Fun facts survey
■  “Before your first day” email
■  Set up desk
■  Meet them at the door
■  Office tour
■  Team lunch
■  Company history with the founder
■  One-week check-in
■  Post-orientation survey

■  Assign mentor
■  Create 30/60/90 day plan
■  30/60/90 day check-ins

The admin phase

At some companies, onboarding is just admin. It's all about filling out the paperwork that needs to be filed for a new hire to start work: benefits, payroll, NDAs.

This phase is mostly about compliance and data collection. Forms are signed, data is input into the different tools in the HR stack, and the company is ready for the new hire to arrive.

■ Background Check

Background checks on new hires can check for criminal history, validate SSN, verify employment and education history, and perform personal and professional reference checks.


■ Create work email account

The sooner you get your new hire on a company email, the fewer work emails you have to send to their personal account, and the sooner you can begin provisioning internal tools, which typically require a company email to login.

■ Add to employee database

Up until this point, data about the new hire probably only exists in your applicant tracking system. Now, with the offer letter signed and email account provisioned, you can transfer that information into your employee database.

By creating integrations with an applicant tracking system like Greenhouse and a human resources information system like Bamboo HR, Sora is working to allow you to map and import data from one to the other, so you can avoid all the monotonous and error-prone data entry.

■ Verify I-9 Employment Eligibility

All U.S. employers are required to have a completed I-9 form for each U.S. employee.


■ Technology preferences survey

There’s nothing quite like just having your new hire’s desk set-up and ready for them on their first day. But to do that, you’re probably going to need some information from them or their manager. Will they need a MacBook Pro or Air? Standing or sitting desk? Keyboards? Trackpads? Collect all those answers ahead of time to give your IT team the time and information it needs to have the new hire’s equipment ready for them on day one.

■ Prepare employee keycard

It can take some time to get keys or an access card ready for your new hire. And it’s hard for them to feel like they belong when they need someone else to let them in for the first week. Have their keys or access card for them on day one to avoid any awkwardness.

The orientation phase

For too many companies, that's where onboarding ends. HR checks the boxes and then hands off the new hire to their manager. Which results in some pretty lackluster new hire experiences.

Most companies at least have some version of an orientation phase where they help the new hire find their place and purpose at the company.

This might start with a "Before your first-day" email, letting them know when and where they should go and what they'll do when they show up for that very important first day. And from there it could include things like an office tour, a team lunch, and a company culture presentation.

Maybe orientation is one day, or maybe it's a week. At small companies, it might be a single new hire, in which case the process might be a bit more informal and organic. While at large companies it could be an entire class of new hires going through the process together.

■ Congratulations email

The orientation phase should begin with a friendly congratulatory email. The interview process can be long and stressful for both the applicant and the hiring manager. Take the time to celebrate it, let them know how excited you are to have them on the team, and kickoff the orientation process.


■ Fun facts survey

Let everyone at the company know a few fun things about the new person that’s joining the team. A couple of fun questions like, “Would you rather be a dragon or own a dragon?” or “What’s your favorite food?” can go a long way in introducing the new team member, and maybe give them something to strike up a conversation about when they run into each other in the lunchroom.


■ “Before your first day” email

Remember how excited and stressed you were the day before you started your job? Help put your new hire’s mind at ease by letting them know when they should show up, where they’ll need to go, what, if anything, they need to bring, and what they can expect to do on their first day.

■ Set up desk

With so many things happening at once, in a completely new environment, give your new hire one place that can immediately feel like their own: their desk. Have their laptop and any desk equipment ready for them, maybe a company shirt or some other swag, and a welcome card from their new teammates.

■ Meet them at the door

Every new hire should have a point of contact for their first day. Maybe that’s someone on the people team, maybe that’s their manager. It could even be a mentor or buddy. But make sure someone is ready to greet the new hire so their first experience on their first day isn’t wandering around or awkwardly waiting on a couch.

■ Office tour

Your office is bigger and more complicated than you appreciate. At some point on the first day, give the new hire a tour. Show them where the bathrooms are, and the cafe; show them where different departments sit and introduce them to some people from different teams; but also show them your favorite spot in the office, whether it’s that chair that gets great sun in the afternoon or a quiet out-of-the-way nook.

■ Team lunch

Nothing brings you back to middle school than looking out over a sea of tables and trying to figure out where to sit. Make sure your new hire has a group to eat with, whether that’s their team taking them out for lunch, or just a few friendly faces from around the office.

■ Company history with the founder

It probably won’t scale to have this one-by-one with new hires, but either by grouping new hires into a class or by just having a monthly meeting, take the time for a founder or CEO to give an informal retelling of the story of the company. It helps new hires understand where things came from and where they’re going.

■ One-week check-in

After a new hire starts, don’t just hand them off to their manager. Keep the lines of communication open. Schedule a short one-week check-in to see how things are going and to address anything that may have slipped through the cracks of a hectic first week.

■ Post-orientation survey

Don’t let your orientation phase be just about checking boxes. Make sure that all the work you and your team are putting your orientation is paying off. Once new hires are through orientation, but before it’s been too long that it’s no longer fresh in their minds, send them a survey to get feedback that you can put right back into making the process better.


The enablement phase

Just incorporating orientation into your onboarding experience goes a long way to help new hires feel like they belong. And that's great, but that doesn't get you to the end goal of setting up the new hire to be successful at the company. That's why the best companies invest heavily in the enablement phase of onboarding.

But it's not easy. Enablement can't happen in a bubble, it's a company-wide responsibility. It's hard for a people team to be successfully onboard a new hire without getting buy-in from execs and managers, but in the admin and orientation phase, the people team can just brute force it. They can put it all on themselves. It's hard, but it's possible. But when it comes to employee enablement, it takes the entire company.

Helping enable an employee to be productive and successful in their role could start with assigning them a mentor to meet with. It could include creating a 30/60/90 day plan, and check-ins at each stage in the plan to understand the issues they're encountering as they undertake their job responsibilities.

While orientation might point the new hire in the right direction, enablement helps them deal with the obstacles that they encounter as they set off on their path.

■ Assign mentor

As your new hire starts their journey at the company, it’s valuable for them to have someone to go to that isn’t their manager, that isn’t HR. A mentor doesn’t necessarily need to have been in the same role or even the same department, but they should know how the organization works. A good mentor will be able to help the new hire navigate the new organization to work outside of their direct team to be productive.


■ Create 30/60/90 day plan

The overall goal of employee onboarding is for the employee to find their place, their purpose, and to become productive. Full productivity could take as long as a year, but with a 30/60/90 day plan the new hire and their manager can align on expectations of how they can be productive, and layout a three-month plan with milestones along the way to get them there.


■ 30/60/90 day check-ins

A plan is no good unless you hold yourself to it. The new hire and their manager should have check-ins along the way to make sure things are moving in the right direction, milestones are being hit, and the new hire is making progress towards being a productive member of the team.

When does onboarding end?

It’s a good question. It’s easy to know when the admin phase is over because all of the paperwork has been filed. And while the orientation phase is a little more squishy, it shouldn’t take too long for the new hire to find their footing. But enablement, when does that end?

A good breaking point for onboarding is six months. By this point, the employee should be integrated into the organization and be productive.

At this point, your focus should evolve from employee onboarding to employee retention. You’ve laid the foundation of a good employee experience with a good onboarding experience, and you can begin nurturing it and growing it.

That's a lot. We know.

It is a lot. And you probably have other crucial onboarding tasks that we didn't even cover here. Employee onboarding isn't easy, but it's important. And more and more companies are appreciating that. As employee retention becomes an increasingly important, crafting excellent employee experiences is a top priority for HR and people teams. And that all starts with onboarding.

So then, how do you do it all? Right now, you're probably doing a lot of it manually. Maybe you have a complicated google spreadsheet with your onboarding process. And then you spend a lot of time copying and pasting emails, nagging coworkers to see where some task is at, and hoping nothing falls through the cracks.

That's why Sora works to make that process more automated. With Sora, you can create your onboarding workflow, automatically assign tasks, and craft email templates, so onboarding is more of a process that can be refined and improved to create the best employee experience, and less of a pile of tedious manual tasks.

Marketing at Sora

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