Onboarding Best Practices: 7 lessons from previous editions of Onboard Amsterdam

Appical Team
Jessica Heijmans
September 28, 2022
min read
Table of Contents
In 2017, we hosted our first edition of Onboard Amsterdam. In five years time, we welcomed many speakers on our stage. Companies like Rituals, Booking.com, Leiden University, Bynder, Microsoft, and HP shared their stories, tips and best practices with us. And we learned a lot from them!

Before we kick off our newest edition of Onboard (packed with inspirational speakers), let's summarize some of our favourite learnings through the years. Here we go!

1. Make good use of the time before day 1 

Microsoft and Appical

What do you have in store for your new hires between the moment they say ‘yes!’ and their first day on the job? If your answer is ‘nothing’, this could (and should) be the first thing you change in your onboarding program! The preboarding phase is the best moment to start promoting connections with and between employees

Henk Ritmeester of Microsoft visited the Onboard Week in 2020. He shared how his peers at Microsoft connected with him before starting at the company. “I was assigned a buddy the moment I was hired. I was told that I could always go to this colleague if I had any questions. But that wasn't even necessary. Even before I made contact, my buddy was already doing that, and this buddy still checks in weekly to see how things are going!” 

What to cover in the preboarding phase?

But there’s more to cover in the preboarding phase. Our very own Peter Straatsma mentioned three important topics: 

  1. Keep the engagement high by sharing things that excite your new hires (and that they want to share with family and friends)
  2. Share practical information: what is the dress code, and how can I find my office? 
  3. Give job clarity: how can your new hire add value to the company in their specific role?

What you really shouldn't do? Don’t overwhelm your new hires with the information they don’t need yet (like the long-term strategy of the company). You'll have plenty of time to share this information later.

2. Relationships at the workplace matter

HP and Leiden University

Creating and nurturing relationships in the workplace is essential for employee satisfaction, engagement and commitment. After analyzing interviews and surveys, HP realized that new hires were feeling lonely. They concluded that their onboarding process needed a human touch and social connection to create a feeling of togetherness. 

HP is not alone in emphasizing the importance of relationships. Relationships are key to retaining your talents. Bonds based on (mutual) trust and emotional involvement are much less replaceable and more likely to last, explained Max van Duijn (assistant professor at Leiden University). 

But social bonds must be constantly maintained. For example through a good conversation. Or by laughing, singing, dancing, or sporting together. Singing ‘Oops, I did it again’ together with the whole audience during one of our onboard events was a great example of this.

3. Onboarding should be fun

New10 and Radboudumc

Of course, the content of your onboarding program should be good. But what about the fun factor? Especially when it comes to preboarding, your new hires spent a lot of their (own) time getting to know the company. Make sure the new employee wants to participate in your onboarding program and is confirmed in their choice of your company!

A couple of examples to make onboarding fun:

  • New10 plays Onboarding Bingo with their new hires. They share a bingo card full of assignments like ‘Have your first nerf gun fight’ and ‘Attend the onboarding knowledge meetings’. When the bingo card is complete, the new hire puts it on the wall in the office and is fully integrated within New10.
  • Radboudumc hosts a talk show to introduce its new employees to the company (based on the former Dutch talk show "De Wereld Draait Door"). They ask one of the new employees to be the co-host and invite guests, like board members. An original way to make “boring” material interactive.

4. Strong culture is important

Rabobank and HelloFresh

Both Rabobank and HelloFresh pointed out during Onboard Week (our digital edition of Onboard Amsterdam) that a strong culture is an important factor in being successful as a company. But what makes a culture strong?

 “If the people that work in the organization are able to connect their personal values and purpose with the values and purpose of that organization, then you know your culture is robust”, says Jan Arnoud Ruiter from Rabobank. 

Although it is not easy to transfer culture to your new hires, there are a number of things you can do. Some examples include:

  • Talk about your culture, explain to people what behaviors go with the culture (and what not) and give the right example. 
  • Get to know each other: arrange 1-1’s between team members and ask your new hire to join team activities. 
  • Connect your culture (and product) to those activities: A lot of activities at Hellofresh revolve around food (eating together and cooking together). For example, every onboarding session finishes with a cooking session.

5. Listen to your employees

Eurofins and Visma

The best onboarding programs are built with the needs of the new hires in mind. If you understand the journey that new employees go through in your organization, you can figure out what information and tools they need in every moment of their journey.

Jennifer van Valkenhoef (Eurofins) shared at Onboard Amsterdam 2021 that when she started at a new laboratory of Eurofins, there was no introduction process for new hires. The newcomers therefore not only had to onboard themselves but also put together the onboarding program for those after them. Of course, they knew exactly what new hires needed.

> Read all about Eurofins’ onboarding process

If you already have an onboarding program in place, involve your colleagues in order to find out what gaps you have in your employee journey. Or as Sander Houtveen of Visma calls it: “your people journey”. Involve people in the design, piloting, and implementing phase. 

6. Add a personal touch

Rituals, Euler Hermes, Bynder, Deutsche Telekom

‘‘Focus on people in this digital era. If you don’t have a people-centric approach you will fail.” We couldn’t have said it better than Serhat Kakci of Euler Hermes. Because even if you are onboarding a lot of new hires every month, and therefore need to automize your onboarding program, it doesn't mean you have to lose the personal touch.

You can - for example - personalize on a role, department, or location level. Bynder has an online training center where new hires can find specific training videos for their role. Deutsche Telekom localizes content to take into account the cultural differences between the countries they are located in. And at Appical we share department-specific information in the app (for example personal information about the team members). 

Rituals gave us another great example of treating employees as individuals (or in their words: as your best customers). As a welcome present, new hires receive two gifts: one for themselves and one to give away. And every special moment for an employee, such as a birthday, move or birth, is celebrated with a gift, a personal card or some extra attention.

7. Evaluate and improve

Heineken and Booking.com

Your onboarding program is probably never finished. The needs of people change and new technologies arrive at a high pace. Herman Rolfers of Heineken made a strong case for being highly adaptive to change, also in large-scale organizations. He pointed out that the key to success for him is being in touch with your people all the time and quickly test and implement the latest technologies and ideas. Fail fast, learn quickly and move on.

To measure the success of its onboarding approach, Booking.com has established clear KPIs specifically for new employees. The results are monitored via live dashboards. If there are any discrepancies, they delve deeper into the data and can find out exactly what went wrong during the onboarding process. The process is constantly adjusted to ensure it fits both the company and the new hire better. 

We’re excited to learn from even more companies about their onboarding and other HR challenges. Join the conversation on November 9th at Onboard Amsterdam 2023. Check out this year’s edition.

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