Looking to maximize employee engagement? What does day one look like for new hires? Onboarding lays the foundation for sustained employee engagement.

It’s a common saying and a truism: You only have one chance to make a first impression. That’s as true for hiring organizations as it is for new hires. If you want productive employees and sustained employee engagement, the process starts on day one.

Think back to your first few days in a new organization. Most of us can remember at least a few jobs that started out as a time of stress, confusion and awkwardness. As a new hire, you don’t know what to expect, you don’t know the company’s culture, you don’t know what your job will actually entail and you don’t know any of the people you’re working with. Even some of the day-to-day mechanics are a challenge: what to wear, where to park, when or where you’ll get to eat.

In days of yore, unless a job required specific training or orientation, many of us simply signed a few forms at HR, spent a few minutes with a a manager, walked around and met new people and then were pretty much left on our own to figure things out. There’s no shortage of horror stories on the web about horrible first days or embarrassing mistakes made on day one.

How-to HR, Workforce’s new monthly video series, takes a look at the do’s and don’ts of onboarding new employees, showing just how it can feel to be a new hire.

Today, most HR departments and hiring managers have a more enlightened approach to the process of onboarding, which is a good thing. The critical mission of the day is employee engagement, and that starts with what you do to kick off your relationship with the new hire on the first day of the new job. But an ideal onboarding process doesn’t wait until the new hire’s first day – it often starts with a welcome letter and an online welcome kit to explain the company mission and values, and to address common questions a new hire might have. And to be convenient to younger generations, many of the old-style paper handbooks are now delivered via online kits or smartphone apps.

Checklists can help keep onboarding on track

If you are building or revamping your onboarding process, a checklist approach can help. Here’s a sampling of checklists to get your new hire up and running:

Google takes a little bit different approach to checklists – they keep it simple and use a just-in-time approach, which they say has helped them get new hires up to speed 25% faster.

Rather than a long process mailed to everyone, Google issues just-in-time reminders to managers when they are hiring a new employee. The communication is for a simple 5-step checklist that serves as a reminder. The 5 steps are:

  • Have a role and responsibilities discussion.
  • Match your new hire with a peer buddy.
  • Help your new hire build a social network.
  • Set up onboarding check-ins once a month for your new hire’s first six months.
  • Encourage open dialogue

Here’s why Google adopted a checklist approach:

As noted earlier, busy managers often resist reading even a small amount of narrative material. However, they do like checklists because they are effective, simple to understand, and easy to follow. And if the checklist is reasonably short (in the Google case there are only five recommended items) and it is received just in time, the probability that the target will use the checklist and act appropriately increase dramatically.

Here are a few other good onboarding resources that go beyond the first few days:

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