Onboarding new staff is a challenging process, and one that has to be done right. If you’re looking to improve your system, here is how it’s accomplished at four companies that really take it seriously:


T.N. Bauer’s case study on Zappos revealed some very interesting things about its onboarding processes, which it takes incredibly seriously; to Zappos, bringing on new employees is not just about hiring workers – it’s a holistic exercise in community-building and branding; Zappos believes that how its employees feel about the company is the best advertising it can share with the world. It holds a five-week course on company values, and invites anyone who does not feel they belong $2,000 to quit—and, reportedly, only ~1% of new hires actually take them up on this offer.


Google’s onboarding processes involve practice-based learning and cognitive apprenticeships, to foster long-term connections between employees. As many of its employees are developers working in more solitary settings, this also lessens the potential for feelings of isolation among the new hires. This not only increases morale and keeps employees connected, but also helps in their retention of new job knowledge, making them more productive sooner.


At the Mathworks orientation, all the senior VPs and co-founders speak about how the company works as a whole. This makes new employees think about the job complexities of those in other departments, which in turn makes them more attuned to their colleagues’ needs. They also tell the story of how the company evolved from a startup; employees have remarked that this makes them feel like a part of the family. Every quarter, Mathworks holds company meetings in which the CEO highlights the achievements of each department, with enough detail on projects that each employee can feel that their project is being acknowledged, as well as a video about how a customer used their products to make something; this keeps employees excited about the big picture of what they’re doing, instead of feeling like a cog in the machine.


IBM takes a very proactive approach to onboarding, and does it in three stages. First, “affirmation” begins prior to the new employee’s arrival, and involves the company preparing a work area for the employee and assigning a mentor to make the employee feel especially welcome.

Second, “beginning” is the first 30 days of work, and during this period employees are introduced to the company, their colleagues, and their responsibilities, while checking in with a program called YourIBM (a virtual
reality Second Life platform) on the company intranet.

The third stage is “connecting,” and lasts for the employee’s first year on the job. During this stage the company makes sure the employee is getting their questions answered, is connecting socially with other people, and understanding how things are done the IBM way. Especially critical to this process are the use of a coach, an appointed coworker who guides the new employee through company culture in not just the established guidelines, but also the unwritten daily aspects of IBM culture.

What best practices are you using? And which new ones will you incorporate into your onboarding process?

Photo Credit: Flickr user Robert Scoble