The Ultimate Employee Onboarding Guide

for SaaS Owners (2023 Edition)

Employee onboarding is the foundation of how you communicate with and welcome new hires into your company, and it's an essential part of employee retention and engagement.

Developing a solid onboarding process is about creating a smooth transition for your new hires and making them feel comfortable and confident in their new roles.

The trick to keeping your employee onboarding process efficient and organized is to plan. By clearly understanding what needs to be done, you can avoid last-minute scrambling and ensure that your new hire has a great first day (first week, month, and year). 

A structured and documented onboarding process can help you retain up to 69% of your new hires.

Today, we'll walk you through everything you should know about employee onboarding for small businesses. We'll cover the basics, why it's essential, and how to create a process that works for your company.

Table of Contents

  • An introduction to employee onboarding
  • The fundamentals of a solid employee onboarding process
  • Best practices for employee onboarding
  • A simple checklist for onboarding new hires
  • How to choose the right employee onboarding software

What Is Employee Onboarding?

Employee onboarding is the process of orienting and acclimating new hires to their roles within a company. The goal of employee onboarding is to help new hires feel comfortable and confident in their new positions, setting them up for success in the long term.

A successful employee onboarding process will cover everything from the basics, like where the restroom is located, to more complex topics, like how to use the company's CRM.

Some other key elements of new hire onboarding include:

  • Familiarizing new hires with the company's history, culture, and values.
  • Teaching them about the company's products and services.
  • Providing an overview of the company's organizational structure.
  • Outlining their roles and responsibilities.
  • Helping them to set goals and objectives.

Of course, every company is different, so the specifics of your employee onboarding process will be unique to your business. The only way to determine what to include in your approach is to sit down and map it out.

Why Is Employee Onboarding Crucial?

Many business owners think that employee onboarding is only relevant to large companies. In reality, employee onboarding is just as crucial for small businesses.

The first six months of a new hire's tenure are critical to their long-term success. 9 out of 10 employees decide whether to stay with a company within this time frame.

To reduce employee turnover and retain top talent, ensure that your employees have a positive experience from their first day on the job.

Employee onboarding also directly impacts revenue—roughly 80% of companies with solid onboarding report revenue increases. Still, 35% of business owners don't invest in employee onboarding at all.

If you neglect employee onboarding, you'll miss out on a significant opportunity to improve your business.

When done right, employee onboarding can:

  • Improve employee satisfaction: 7 out of 10 employees who go through an effective onboarding process rate their jobs as “the best they've ever had.”
  • Reduce confusion and frustration: By orienting new hires to their roles and responsibilities, you can avoid the wasted time and frustration that comes with trial and error.
  • Help employees hit the ground running: The average new hire takes 12 months to become fully productive. An effective employee onboarding process can shorten this timeline and see results faster.

The current business environment is hyper-competitive. Employees have more options than ever before, and they're not afraid to switch jobs if they're not happy. To attract and retain top talent, you must ensure that your employee onboarding process is up to par.

Otherwise, you risk losing your best employees to the competition.

What Does Effective Employee Onboarding Look Like?

To create an effective employee onboarding process, you must first understand what makes for a positive onboarding experience. Here are a few key elements:

A clear and concise job description

Clarity leads to confidence.

When new hires understand what's expected of them, they're more likely to feel comfortable in their role and be successful in their new job.

Imagine you're a new employee who's just been given your job description. It's two pages long and filled with industry jargon. 

You have no idea what half of it means. 

Worse yet, it's unclear how your role fits into the bigger picture. You're feeling lost, frustrated, and confused.

Your boss demands that you complete a project by the end of the week, but you have no idea where to start.

It would be nearly impossible to do your job effectively under these circumstances.

Let's flip the script.

On your first day, you're given a clear and concise job description that:

  • Outlines your specific responsibilities
  • Explains how your role fits into the company's overall mission
  • Lists the skills and experience needed
  • Walks you through the company's culture and values

Now you know exactly what's expected of you. You understand how your role contributes to the company's success and have the tools and information you need to do your job well.

You feel confident, empowered, and excited to get started.

That's the power of a clear and concise job description.

A thorough orientation

Not everyone is familiar with the ins and outs of your business.

Orientation is your chance to bring new hires up to speed on your company's history, products and services, and culture and values.

A good orientation will give new hires the necessary information to hit the ground running. It will also help them understand how their role contributes to the company's success.

When we say “orientation,” we're not talking about a half-day training session followed by a tour of the office.

A thorough orientation should last at least a week and include:

  • A welcome from the CEO or another senior leader
  • A tour of the office
  • An introduction to the company's products and services
  • A review of the company's history, culture, and values
  • A meeting with the team
  • A discussion of the company's goals and objectives
  • An overview of the new hire's role and responsibilities
  • A review of the company's policies and procedures

This process might vary slightly from company to company, but the goal is always to provide new hires with the information they need when they need it.

Employee orientation can also be virtual or hybrid.

With the rise of remote work, many companies offer virtual orientations to their new hires. Asynchronous orientations, which are delivered through a mix of video, audio, and written content, are also becoming more popular.

Orientation is your chance to make an excellent first impression. Ensure that your orientation program is thorough, engaging, and informative.

A clear career path

Your employees want to know that your company has room for growth. They want to know their hard work will be rewarded with promotions and raises.

A clear career path gives employees a roadmap for their future with your company. It outlines the steps they must take to reach their goals and achieve their full potential.

A clear career path:

  • Provides a sense of direction and purpose
  • Motivates employees to do their best work
  • Helps retain top talent
  • Builds a pipeline of future leaders

A few key components make a clear career path:

    1. Employees must know what's expected of them. They should clearly understand their role and how it contributes to the company's success.
  • Employees need access to the resources and training necessary to perform their duties.
    1. Employees must have regular feedback on their performance. This feedback should be specific, objective, and actionable.
    2. Employees should know what opportunities are available to them within the company. What roles can they move into? What are the requirements for these roles?
  • Employees need a mentor or coach who can help them navigate their careers.

A clear career path gives employees a sense of direction and purpose. It motivates them to do their best work and helps retain top talent.

A focus on development

Your employees want to know that you're invested in their development. They want to know that you're committed to helping them grow and advance in their career.

Development opportunities show your employees that you value their skills and experience. They also give employees the chance to build new skills.

Common development opportunities include:

  • Training programs
  • Mentorship programs
  • Leadership development programs
  • Cross-training opportunities

You can offer these development opportunities in-person, online, or a mix of both. The key is to provide options that fit your employees' needs and schedules.

Employee development is an investment in your company's future. By investing in your employees' development, you're ensuring that your company has the talent it needs to be successful.

Clear team dynamics

Your employees must understand how their roles will fit into the larger team. They must know who they'll be working with and how their work will contribute to other players' success.

Precise team dynamics help employees feel like they're part of something larger. They also help prevent misunderstandings and conflict.

There are a few key components to clear team dynamics:

  • A clear understanding of each team member's role and responsibilities
  • A clear understanding of each team member's strengths and weaknesses
  • How team members like to work
  • The team's goals and objectives

A rule of thumb for creating clear team dynamics is the “4 Cs”:

  • Communication: Employees must be able to communicate with each other. They should understand each other's communication styles and preferences.
  • Collaboration: Employees should understand each other's strengths and weaknesses and how they can best work together.
  • Consistency: Employees should know what to expect from each other. There should be clear expectations for how team members will work together.
  • Commitment: Employees should be committed to working together as a team. They should be willing to put the team's success above their own.

Clear team dynamics are essential for a successful team. They help employees understand their roles, how they fit into the team, and what's expected of them.

What Are the Four Phases of Onboarding?

Employee onboarding generally follows these four phases:

  1. Pre-boarding
  2. Orientation
  3. Assimilation
  4. Engagement

Each of these phases has its own goals and objectives.

Let's take a closer look at each stage.


Pre-boarding is the process of getting new employees prepared for their first day. This phase ensures new employees have the information they need to succeed in their roles.

During pre-boarding, you should:

  • Send new employees information about the company, team, and role. You can send this information via email or an onboarding portal.
  • Schedule a meeting with the new employee's manager. You can use this meeting to discuss expectations, answer questions, and review the onboarding strategy.
  • Complete any necessary paperwork. This includes forms for benefits, payroll, and taxes. If your company relies on e-docs, you may be able to send these forms electronically.

Pre-boarding is a crucial part of the onboarding process. By taking the time to prepare new employees for their first day, you're setting them up for success from the start.

2. Orientation

New hire orientation is the process of getting new employees acclimated to their new roles and workplace. We've already discussed some things you can do during orientation, like employee training and development.

However, orientation is much more than just those things. It's also a time for new hires to get to know their colleagues, learn the company culture, and understand the company's expectations.

The goal of orientation is to help new employees feel comfortable and confident in their new roles. Depending on the size of your company, orientation can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

3. Assimilation

After orientation, it's time for assimilation. This is the process of helping new employees transition into their new roles.

During assimilation, new employees will be working on their own and starting to take on more responsibility. This is also an excellent time to check in with new employees and see how they're doing.

The goal of assimilation is to help new employees feel like they're part of the team and that they can do their jobs well.

4. Engagement

The final phase of onboarding is engagement. This is the process of helping new employees feel connected to their work and the company.

Employee engagement is vital for retention, productivity, and overall satisfaction.

Studies suggest that keeping employees engaged is more complex than hiring them. Making engagement a priority early on will help keep your best employees around for the long haul.

There are a few things you can do to engage new employees:

  • Encourage them to participate in company events and activities. Make sure they feel like they're part of the team by including them in team-building activities.
  • Provide opportunities for professional development. Help them set goals and create a plan for their career at the company.
  • Make sure their voice is heard. Encourage them to provide feedback and share their ideas.

The onboarding strategy doesn't end once a new employee starts working. Engagement is an ongoing process that should continue throughout an employee's time at the company.

Great Onboarding Is Crucial For Your Business

Taking the time to onboard new employees properly can set them up for success and keep them engaged in their work.

Remember, onboarding aims to help new employees feel comfortable and confident in their new job. Focus on orientation, assimilation, and engagement to do this.

If you're starting from scratch, be sure to track the progress of new employees and use the data to improve your onboarding process. 

By following these tips, you can create a successful onboarding process to help your business thrive.


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