First impressions are important, especially during the recruiting process. New hires use their first few days on the job to decide whether they’ll stay with your organization for the long haul.

That’s why a quality onboarding program is so pivotal. How can you make sure your program meets employee needs and promotes retention? Start by adopting these five best practices:

1. Use Candidate Personas to Guide Your Process

Many organizations develop candidate personas to help them recruit the right talent, but few realize these personas have wider applications beyond hiring. For example, candidate personas can be used to construct customized onboarding processes that are more likely to meet new hires’ needs.

For example, say you made a hire based on the persona of a candidate who is self-motivated, innovative, and interested in process development. The corresponding onboarding process should take this into account, perhaps by focusing on how the employee can bring new ideas to the right people and how those ideas can be implemented. This way, the new hire sees the company is meeting their needs, and they are prepared to hit the ground running.

2. Incorporate Culture

While culture is often associated with perks and benefits, those elements are only a small portion of the equation. Company culture is directly connected to how work is accomplished and the values that your organization holds. It is important that new hires get a clear picture of your company’s culture and how they can fit in and thrive. This ensures a strong alignment between the new hire and the culture, making turnover less likely.

There are a number of ways that organizations can bring culture into the onboarding process. Here are just a few examples:

- Create an elevator pitch for your company that outlines organizational values and employee relations. Deliver this during the onboarding process.

- Include an extensive office tour as part of the onboarding process. This well help new hires start to feel more comfortable moving around the space. Don’t forget to point out the bathrooms and break rooms!

- Introduce new hires to coworkers and managers so that they can start building relationships right away.

- Get the new hire involved in department and company meetings as soon as possible. Be sure to invite the employee to share their ideas, as this will show the new hire you already view them as a skilled contributor.

3. Create a Survival Guide

No matter how hard you try, it’s going to be difficult to see your organization from an outsider’s point of view. Instead of trying to guess what your new hire is thinking, communicate with them directly. As new hires get acclimated, ask them to describe the things they wish they knew before they started at your company. Collect this information into a handy survival guide that can be shared with each further new hire.

Get long-term employees involved, too. Ask them to share tips on company culture, etiquette, unspoken rules, and other not-so-obvious aspects of life at your company.

The new employee survival guide should be updated continuously as each new hire joins the company, so it’s best to maintain the document digitally. Be sure the survival guide’s tone aligns with the company’s brand, and share it with new hires before their first day, so they have time to study it.

If possible, you may also want to include pictures and contact info for colleagues and managers featured in the guide. That way, new hires will know where they can turn for help when they need it.

4. Go Paperless

The digital age has made many company processes greener, more efficient, and more responsive, and onboarding is no different.

A paperless onboarding process fosters better communication between new hires and employers before they start. New hires can also get paperwork out of the way before their first day on the job, which creates a more seamless and strategic onboarding experience.

Begin your paperless transition by digitizing guidelines, the aforementioned survival guide, and your compliance paperwork. That way, your new hire can access the information immediately, rather than waiting for their first day in the office. Invite the new hire to your company intranet and chat tools before the first day so they can begin interacting with colleagues.

5. Plan for Each Day

Chances are you already have a plan for the new hire’s first day — but the onboarding process extends beyond that. You have to plan for the new hire’s entire acclimation period.

For example, you probably have expectations for how productive your new hire should be after a few weeks on the job. Have you clearly communicated these expectations with the employee?

Draft a day-by-day plan to keep yourself and your new hire on track to meet expectations. Clearly identify goals and key performance indicators for which the new hire will be responsible, and build in one-on-one meetings between the employee and manager so that they can touch base on progress, challenges, successes, etc.

If your onboarding program is only a few days long, consider the benefits of expanding. Employees gain full proficiency 34 percent faster when their organizations have longer onboarding programs. This is because a longer onboarding program helps new hires understand what they need to do and gives them the resources they need to do it.

Onboarding is the first step in introducing your organization to a new hire, and how you approach this introduction can have wide-reaching consequences for good and ill. Be sure to follow the best practices outlined above in order to get new hires off to a good start.

A version of this article originally appeared on the ClearCompany blog.

Sara Pollock is head of the marketing department at ClearCompany.

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