Introducing an employee to your organization can be deceptively straightforward. It looks like a series of simple steps from making an offer and filling out paperwork to explaining policies and arranging for a desk, chair and computer. But this process brings with it a crucial opportunity to pave the way for influencing that employee’s future performance, success in their role, and overall satisfaction with their job.

Applying best practices to onboarding pays off in the long term, but the number of boxes to tick for each employee can be daunting. Fortunately, there are ways to simplify the process so that you can make a great impression every step of the way.

In this article we’ll quickly go over the importance of well-thought-out onboarding, summarize onboarding best practices, and then explore how Myndbend Process Manager for Zendesk can automate the most tedious and time consuming aspects of a successful onboarding process.

Why well-planned onboarding processes are important

Just as you may be looking for ways to justify bringing in the latest member of your team, your new employee will be looking for evidence that he or she made the right choice in saying yes to your offer. Making a good impression is key to putting the employee at ease, which helps them demonstrate their worth early on.

According to Talya N. Bauer in her PDF SHRM’s Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success, “Research and conventional wisdom both suggest that employees get about 90 days to prove themselves in a new job. The faster new hires feel welcome and prepared for their jobs, the faster they will be able to successfully contribute to the firm’s mission.”

Bauer cites the following statistics in her report: Every year in the US, more than 25 percent of the population that is working experiences a career transition. Approximately 500,000 managers are hired in Fortune 500 companies, and in general, managers begin new roles after two to four years. This frequency is partly due to the fact that half of all hourly employees give up on new jobs within the first four months, and half of outside hires at the senior level fail within 18 months.


Mynbend Process Manager in-depth onboarding best practices checklist and comparison grid


Onboarding is one of the greatest challenges to an organization’s ability to be forward thinking, collaborative between departments, insightful and efficient -- and clearly not enough companies are doing all they can to turn the challenge into an opportunity.

How not to handle HR onboarding

Clara was hired by a rapidly growing new media company in Boulder, CO in 1998, shortly before the Internet crash in 2000. She was discovered on a message board by the head of IT who was looking for another programmer to be ready for several big projects that were looming on the horizon. Though he didn’t really need her right then, he figured he’d plan ahead and get her up and running by the time the projects came through. As he said to Clara in her interview, “When I see someone with such underutilized talent and skill, I want them on my team instead of someone else’s.”  

He sent her an offer letter, and she brought it with her on her first day of work. When she got there, though, the head of HR met her in the lobby. The head of IT, she explained, had been let go that morning. Although it wasn’t said out loud, it was clear to Clara that his decision to hire her had probably been the last straw.

After a tour of the company, Clara sat by herself in an a group of empty cubicles in HR (not a great omen) for four hours, filling out paperwork and reading the company HR manual until the HR manager, once again being apologetic and seeming to feel sorry for her, offered her a couple gift cards from a local restaurant to go buy herself lunch.

That afternoon, Clara was escorted to her desk, and placed under the care of the programmer sitting next to her, who did the same kind of work. He was clearly resentful that she was there to take potential work from him, since it was hard to come by already. The other programmers’  attitudes weren’t much better. For the most part, the training she received was negative feedback after she did something wrong.

Over the next six months, Clara worked hard to find projects in her department, then other departments, and managed to catch a few opportunities to prove her value… and did. She caught the eye of the manager of another department, who was extremely pleased to have discovered her and enthusiastically began moving her to his department… until suddenly he wasn’t. Apparently, acquiring new talent in any way was being discouraged.

Clara was pretty sure at this point they were just doing her a favor keeping her on, and had been actively looking for work since her first week at the new company, without much luck. Eventually, frustrated with no work, low morale and a long commute, she worked up the courage to ask her boss (the new head of IT, with whom she had met twice in 5 months) if it was possible to request to be laid off -- on the same day he had been told he was going to have to lay off her and a handful of others.

The company gave her a nice outplacement package, and that was the end of that. She left with few connections to carry with her, and the best thing the company ever gave her -- an impressive job title on her resume. The crash happened within 3 months, and soon she was a small fish in a huge ocean of technology professionals looking for work.

HR onboarding the right way

When they’re doing it right, companies customize their formal onboarding process to reflect their unique culture and processes. It is important, however, that as they plan and document the step-by-step process that all new employees go through, all companies incorporate onboarding best practices based on “The Four Cs”:

Compliance -- This is considered Level One, or the minimum requirement for onboarding, and involves teaching new employees the basics about rules, policies, regulations and other legal aspects of working for your company.

Common HR tasks associated with compliance include acquiring a new employee’s sign off that they have received and read the employee manual and documents that explain policies on sexual harassment, illegal drug use, etc.

Clarification -- Companies at Level Two make sure that beginning employees are clear about what their job is, how their performance will assessed and successes defined, and expectations.

At this level, HR will need to obtain paperwork regarding each employee’s job description, evaluation forms, etc.

Culture -- Level Three onboarding processes not only incorporate the first two levels, but introduce employees to both formal and informal cultural norms that capture the heart of the company, its mission, and the way things truly get done. According to Bauer’s report, only about 20% of companies get to this level.

Tasks associated with enculturation include taking the new employee on a tour of appropriate areas and the company network / intranet, making sure they get introduced to the right people, and reading corporate literature about the brand, history and mission. This is also an important time to demonstrate that your organization has its act together by having all the necessary workspace, network and security permissions, email accounts, and equipment ordered ahead of time.

Connection -- The best kinds of onboarding systems include all of the above, plus an emphasis on key interpersonal relationships and groups.

Tasks at this level can include scheduling introductory meetings with other direct and indirect reports and peers, arranging assignments to groups, committees and task forces, introductions to vendors and consultants, the department arranging a time to take the new employee to lunch, etc.

Making sure that your onboarding process covers these four levels will: 

  • reduce turnover
  • avoid costly miscommunications
  • prevent gaps in compliance
  • reduce stress for the new employee and your team
  • give employees the clear steps and confidence to succeed (and know when they are doing so)
  • assist employees in hitting the ground running and performing at their best

 and most importantly, help them feel welcome and already valued.

Just how powerful can a well-implemented onboarding process be? Bauer’s report cites survey results from a longitudinal study published in the 2001 Journal of Applied Psychology: “The role of personal work goals in newcomers’ job satisfaction and organizational commitment: A longitudinal analysis.” by Maier, G., & Brunstein, J.C. Surveyed organizations saw a 52% increase in retention rates, 60% improvement in productivity, and 53% rise in customer satisfaction.

Next we’ll review how Zendesk can make covering The Four Cs easier and more efficient. 

Using Zendesk for HR Onboarding

When considering any onboarding system, it’s important to first know what is needed, what it’s capable of, and what it won’t do.  

Zendesk is first and foremost a ticket management system, and therefore is quite useful in meeting the fundamental needs of most onboarding systems, such as ordering equipment, arranging workspace, or making sure compliance documents are signed.

What Zendesk can’t do, without a lot of adaptation (or a third party plugin like Myndbend Process Manager), is:

  • make approvals and multiple sign-offs easy
  • handle repetitive tasks in bulk
  • note progress through the onboarding process
  • track compliance
  • manage forms and whether they’re signed

The power that comes with group onboarding and automated procurement alone makes adding Myndbend Process Manager worth the modest expense and easy setup.

For a helpful onboarding checklist and comparison grid showing how Myndbend Process Manager can automate and facilitate the details and decisions, see our in-depth onboarding best practices checklist.

The ultimate failure of onboarding is the withdrawal of potentially good employees. Losing an employee who is a poor fit or not performing well may be a fine outcome, but losing employees because they are confused, feel alienated or lack confidence indicates inadequate onboarding.

Share your onboarding experiences (painful and pleasant) in our comments below...