Welcome! Now What?  Onboarding for Success

A group of people sitting down at a table in an office, while two individuals greet each other with a handshake.

Welcome! Now What?  Onboarding for Success

Considerable research and effort are put into the hiring process to ensure the right people find the right jobs, and perhaps equally as much energy is spent on performance management to ensure the right people stay, grow, develop, and flourish in their jobs. It’s critically important to find, hire, and develop employees – both for the employee looking for a great match and opportunity and for the employer looking for a reliable, effective team member to steer the organization toward success. However, one part of this journey is often overlooked: onboarding. Entering a new organization, and from the employer’s perspective, having a new person enter the team, is a key step in the employee’s journey, and success at this stage can predict success and retention later on1.

New hires need to learn about life in their new organization through two key facets: content and context. How can companies best support new hires?

Onboarding to the Content of a Job

Qualified candidates get hired for their expertise or aptitude to contribute meaningfully in terms of content (the work itself). While their work history or educational background prepares them for the tasks, learning the content often relies on considerable on-the-job training2. Training can take many forms; some companies may provide formal lecture-style training periods, perhaps in a classroom setting, while others provide informal training opportunities, such as job shadowing with a more senior employee. Training for new hires should include task-specific instruction, along with information about proper processes, workflow, and operating procedures2. Additionally, information about content may include organizational performance criteria to clarify duties and expectations in the role3.

Onboarding to the Context of the Job

On the other hand, learning about the context of the new organization is also key to an employee’s success, especially when it comes to feeling adjusted and perceived job-fit. The process of training someone new about context is socialization, and tactics for socialization are defined as “the ways in which the experiences of individuals in transition from one role to another are structured for them by others in the organization.”4 Socialization to the role, the team, and the organizational culture should not be an afterthought. Employees who are effectively socialized have a lower turnover risk and reduced job ambiguity, and in turn, they show higher job satisfaction, job commitment, and perceived job-fit1,4.

Providing onboarding about the context helps orient a newcomer to understand their role in the team and organization. Two main strategies emerge in research1,4: one approach prioritizes teaching the new hire about the institution, explaining pre-existing roles they can fill, whereas the other approach encourages new hires to assert their individuality and carve out new roles not yet defined in the organizational culture. Tactics aimed at socializing the new hire have been found to predict how well and how quickly employees adjusted to the role4.

What are some onboarding tactics?

  • Use the Buddy System: A buddy serving as a trusted insider during onboarding can make all the difference3. In fact, the more, the merrier. Buddies can support the newcomer by providing insight about people and processes, basic information about operations, and generally being a sympathetic ear when challenges arise. It is good practice to assign a buddy within the team who will be familiar with the work content and dynamics, as well as a buddy who is external (i.e., on another team within the organization) to provide a different perspective when needed. Managers may also want to consider choosing a more tenured buddy to provide wisdom and guidance from their own wealth of experiences, as well as a buddy who is relatively new, so the new hires can scaffold each other’s learning (e.g., deciphering company-specific acronyms) and better relate to one another’s current circumstance.
  • Find a Role Model: Include the new hire in meetings and decision-making activities, where possible, so they can observe how others tend to give and receive information, feedback, and recommendations4. It’s difficult to define the norms of every working group, especially when many of the standard practices are implicit and not documented, so exposing the new hire to a positive role model is a helpful way to let them observe those implicit and explicit norms in action. This tactic can also be accomplished with strategic job shadowing—the role model can continue doing their work as normal, and the new hire can watch and learn from their actions5.
  • Foster Belonging: It’s important for managers and team members to cultivate a sense of belonging for the new hire into the new team and organization, demonstrating to the new hire that they are a valued addition. Take time to express interest in them as a whole person and what they can contribute to the team. Make a concerted effort to welcome them into the fold; depending on the organization’s culture, that could mean going out for lunch to socialize informally or perhaps a structured team-building activity together.
  • Check In Often: For the manager and the HR professional, it’s advised to get feedback throughout the onboarding process. What’s working, and what’s confusing? Where could the onboarding experience be improved so it’s an even better transition for all involved? Solicit this feedback periodically during the early stages of the employee’s onboarding for real-time insights instead of asking for recall after the fact.

Is the onboarding process one-size-fits-all?

No single approach will suit all employees in all organizations. In fact, it would be rather unwelcoming if it were an impersonal standardized experience. Instead, employers should consider a few factors to help guide the tactics they choose to use4,6.

How do job settings differ?

Whether the job is in-person, remote, or hybrid, it can influence your chosen tactics. In-person roles typically come with the natural opportunity for informal conversation (e.g., shared lunchroom, watercooler), whereas remote roles may find greater opportunity for computer-based training and flexible, accessible tactics5. Some studies have found that performance and proficiency in a role do not meaningfully differ depending on whether orientation was delivered via computer-based training or in-person5, lending support to the notion that an array of tactics can be effective but ought to be chosen to suit the role and the individual.

Taking tenure or experience into account

Some of these socialization tactics have been found to be more effective for employees who are recent graduates and new to a workplace1. Employees with limited prior experience seem to benefit more strongly from onboarding strategies that provide information about content and context, as compared to employees with more professional experience4. Seasoned employees may be more aware of workplace norms and what is expected of them, and they may not require the same degree of onboarding as a more junior individual. An individual’s work history may guide which tactics, or how many, to utilize.

Alternatively, some employees with substantial experience may require more socialization to effectively unlearn norms, practices, and policies from previous roles. Their work history could interfere or conflict with the culture and standards of a new organization, and additional effort may be needed to overwrite their prior knowledge and educate them on what is needed for the new role1,4.

Identifying Individual Differences using Assessments

It pays to learn about the employee and customize the onboarding tactics accordingly5. Understanding their preferences when it comes to communication, recognition, change management, collaboration, and information processing can facilitate and accelerate adjustment1,6. Additionally, the employee’s personality, competencies, and needs (especially regarding accessibility) should be considered when designing an onboarding process.

You may want to use assessments to help gather this information, as it provides the new hire with the opportunity to reflect and then the opportunity to discuss results and debrief about areas for growth and strategies for working together. Some examples are provided below:

  • The Change Style Indicator® helps employees and employers learn about an individual’s preference and attitude toward change. Their style can show up in small, day-to-day situations, such as adjusting to new software, or big organizational scenarios, such as a change in leadership. Insights about their style can build self-awareness in the employee, providing language to express their reactions and needs, as well as providing their manager with insight into how best to communicate and navigate change with this individual.
  • To learn how an individual might approach decision-making, Pearman Personality Integrator® sheds light on the employee’s natural tendencies (and, in contrast, their typical behavior, since those are not necessarily aligned). One of the dimensions measured by this tool is whether an individual makes decisions based on promoting group harmony (“Feeling”) and cooperation or by prioritizing justice, logic, and rules (“Thinking”). When a new employee joins a team, it may be of utmost importance to ascertain how their style will interact with others on the team and what strategies could be used to foster psychological safety, even if team members have different and strong personalities. Pearman also measures key competencies, such as “Proactivity,” which can show up in the onboarding process as the extent to which an employee seeks to control their environment and seek information6.
  • The Emotional Quotient-Inventory 2.0® (EQ-i 2.0®) can help show how well an employee recognizes and regulates their own emotions and the emotions of others. Competencies measured in this assessment include emotional expression, reality testing, and empathy, which are important skills for teamwork and collaboration.

Making a good first impression

Onboarding is an opportunity to make a strong first impression, both for the new hire and for the employer. It’s a critical period to get it right and ensure the new hire feels welcome and has the skills and information they need to succeed, and that the adjustment period is a positive experience. Some efforts toward socialization even begin as early as recruitment: offering candidates a realistic job preview, job shadowing, or the opportunity to meet team members can help foster a sense of belonging and support6. Onboarding should mirror the experience the employee can expect during their organizational tenure; the first impression they get shouldn’t show a false front, tricking them into expectations that aren’t realistic that might ultimately lead to job-seeking behavior and turnover.

Tactics for onboarding related to the content, such as formal stages of training, are most closely tied to outcomes such as role clarity3. Tactics related to context predict the success of the new employee’s adjustment in various ways; when it comes to context-setting regarding process and workflow, effective onboarding leads to an increase of self-efficacy and a sense of mastery for the new hire3. For context-setting in terms of socialization, effective onboarding can lead to social acceptance and a shorter adjustment period3. Overall, a positive onboarding experience increases the likelihood a new hire will stay in the role3,5 and have higher job satisfaction, commitment, and performance throughout their tenure1,5.

Have questions or want to learn more about any of the assessments mentioned in this blog? Get in touch with our team.


1. Fossi, E. (2023). “How to be a “cozy” organization: Which socialization tactics to use, why and for whom.” Science for Work. https://scienceforwork.com/blog/socialization-tactics/

2. Ahadi, S., & Jacobs, R. L. (2017). A review of the literature on structured on-the-job training and directions for future research. Human Resource Development Review, 16(4), 323–349. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534484317725945

3. Bauer, T. N., Bodner, T., Erdogan, B., Truxillo, D. M., & Tucker, J. S. (2007). Newcomer adjustment during organizational socialization: A meta-analytic review of antecedents, outcomes, and methods. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(3), 707–721. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.92.3.707

4. Saks, A. M., Uggerslev, K. L., & Fassina, N. E. (2007). Socialization tactics and newcomer adjustment: A meta-analytic review and test of a model. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 70(3), 413–446.

5. Ritz, E., Donisi, F., Elshan, E., & Rietsche, R. (2023). “Artificial socialization? How artificial intelligence applications can shape a new era of employee onboarding practices.” Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS); Maui, Hawaii.

6. Elset, J. I. (2018). Organizational socialization in remote-working companies: Enhancing company onboarding through gamification (Doctoral dissertation, ISCTE-Instituto Universitario de Lisboa [Portugal]). https://repositorio.iscte-iul.pt/bitstream/10071/18803/1/master_john_iver_elset.pdf

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