How to setup onboarding like a 3-tiered layer cake

Onboarding is a layer cake. It must be built up upon a strong foundation!

 min. read
July 26, 2021
Your onboarding can look this delicious. Let's get baking.

Onboarding is a layer cake. You can have several layers, but without a solid bottom layer, things get dicey. The more ambitious you are, the more beautiful of a layer cake you may sculpt. Every good layer cake must have a bottom layer, let's start there.

Step 1: Bottom Layer

Your first, most important, step is to create your foundational layer. This may arguably be the most time consuming and hardest to do. If you can at least build the bottom layer, then you at least have a cake (which you can call onboarding). Need a little convincing? Fact time!

"Organizations with a standardized onboarding process experience 62% greater new hire productivity, along with 50% greater new hire retention."
- Ron Carcucci, Harvard Business Review, To Retain New Hires, Spend More Time Onboarding The

Alright, so what is the bottom layer? Well, you have to ask yourself, what is your company? How are you going to help new employees answer crucial questions about where they work and generally made to feel comfortable and knowledgeable? Here are some basic Q&A:

  • Who works there? Solved with an org chart, presentations from each department, a "tour" of the (virtual?) office.
  • What do you do? Solved with a product demo, sales materials, presentation on the company history.
  • Why should someone work for your company? Solved with company values, benefits the employee can expect, career paths / progression.
  • Where do you work? Solved with a global snapshot of employees, customers, market or sales data, office locations, etc.
  • Does your company have a diversity, equality, and inclusiveness program or materials? What better time to introduce it to employees than early on in their tenure?!

A lot to process I know, but you would be surprised how effective even a single presentation, highlighting these aspects can be. Most importantly, in firming up the bottom foundation is interpersonal interactions and team communication. People want to meet people, so prescribe who, how, and even when your new employees will meet each other.

Step 2: Middle Layer

The middle layer(s) is where you can really start to explore your organization more creatively. Where are the unique teams or unique work areas? Do you have specific offices that may operate a little differently?

The middle layers are all about starting to build in more tailored experiences depending on the company. This all stands on the bottom layer of a firm foundation, i.e. the "corporate onboarding" we spoke about in Step 1. The middle layer can ensure that an engineer joining the engineering departments get a more unique or specific experience that a new marketing manager over in marketing! A few quick thoughts to get started on the middle:

  • Are there specific technical or training materials a department already has? Create a branch from your bottom layer just for that team and materials.
  • Are there any hiring or department managers who seem interested or eager to provide a more unique experience for their team? Get them involved in the planning process and make some additions to your bottom layer for their team.
  • Do you have offices in different geographies? Tailor the onboarding to each, trying to identify what makes each office or geography unique.

With a strong bottom in place, your middle layers can be creative, fun, and exciting. With the bottom and middles in place, you can take your onboarding one step further... with some exciting toppings.

Step 3: Toppings

In keeping with the creative and more focused approach to our middle layer, the toppings are where you add some specific sprinkles. Maybe you start to build onboarding materials for a specific role, seniority level, or even just subject matter. A few ideas:

  • What are the roles you hire for most often? Can you create an even more tailored, unique experience for those individuals?
  • How complex is your organizational structure? If you can see distinct seniority levels, i.e. Managers, Directors, Vice Presidents, etc., a tailored onboarding experience to these levels will ensure these high impact employees are brought on while respecting their existing experience level.

The toppings is where you can make smaller modules or ideas that can be woven on top of your bottom and middle (layers). Once combined, each new employee should be looking at their own layer cake. The onboarding layer cake from one new employee to the next can look somewhat different, with a few consistent and familiar elements. Now get out there and bake up some good onboarding!

Like some of this thinking? We'd love to connect and learn more about your onboarding woes and help!