ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

A fresh start: why onboarding matters

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 17 Aug 2022

First impressions count in a candidate-driven market, so from the moment a new recruit signs on the dotted line, the job of welcoming them aboard – and keeping them on board – begins.

Whatever level you’re recruiting at for your accountancy firm or finance team, it pays to make the onboarding experience as smooth and efficient as possible, both to help your new team member get up and running as soon as possible, and to make them feel wanted, and therefore want to stay, from the beginning.

Kevin Ashley, CEO and Founder of learning management system myAko, believes the process should begin from the moment the position has been accepted, not from the first day in post. “You’ve spent a lot of time, and possibly money, recruiting a talented individual; why wait until the first day of their job to start the onboarding process?” 

Forward-thinking organisations start the onboarding process either before or immediately after the job offer is accepted, he believes. While you don’t want to overload a new team member, especially as they may be working their notice, there’s no harm in welcoming them to their new team and giving them more information about their new company. 

Zoe Moore, Recruitment Operations Leader at PwC, says: “We’ve developed a strategy to manage the balance between ‘keeping in touch’ and some of the more compliance-related tasks we need completing. It’s important we communicate but don’t overwhelm.” 

Kate Garvie, Head of HR at Simmons Gainsford LLP, says: “We want new team members to know how important they are to us, so we do everything possible to get to know one another before their first day. If there’s a planned social event a few weeks before they’re due to join, we’ll make sure they’re invited.”

PwC’s onboarding process includes a firm-wide welcome event. This serves a dual purpose – to begin a brand new network of relationships across the firm and to impart useful and consistent information to new joiners. In addition, every new joiner is also given a buddy from the part of the business they’re joining “to be a friendly face, show them the office spaces we have, introduce them to others in the team and be on hand to answer any questions”, says Moore. 

A buddy system is also used at Simmons Gainsford, someone to be “by their side – in person and remotely”, says Garvie. “We think it’s a fallacy that the best candidate can rock up to their new organisation and hit the ground running. It takes time to get to know new people and new processes.”

The pandemic undoubtedly brought challenges to the onboarding process, with those companies that were still recruiting looking for more dynamic ways of onboarding and welcoming new employees, including virtual onboarding sessions. Some of these have continued. Ashley says: “I think personal touches, like a virtual tour of the office, can really make a difference in ensuring the new employee doesn’t feel like a stranger when first joining.”

Technology has played a major part in facilitating this, as Moore explains. “During the pandemic, we were able to quickly pivot to a virtual induction experience, supported by fantastic content, to make sure new employees felt a part of PwC, even if they couldn’t physically be with us.” 

A great onboarding process can motivate the new team member to not just achieve, but exceed, their objectives. However, a poor or non-existent onboarding process reflects poorly on senior management and the HR team and, says Ashley, can often lead to the new employee leaving the organisation within their first year and lessen their ability to achieve their optimum performance. Moore agrees: “A seamless onboarding experience motivates people into wanting to be their best at PwC.” 

And with websites like Glassdoor, prospective employees can quickly find out how good an organisation is and how they treat their employees, which can have a serious impact on a business’s ability to recruit the best talent.

It’s important to remember that onboarding isn’t just an HR job. “The best onboarding I’ve experienced is where everyone takes responsibility: directors, HR, management, supervisors, team members and key colleagues,” says Ashley. Left to HR, it can become more of a ‘sheep dip’ process, more focused on general policies and procedures and not specific to the role. 

While HR plays a critical role in protecting employee welfare and well-being, ensuring the onboarding process is consistent across the organisation, they can also obtain independent feedback from the new employee on the onboarding process, without it affecting their relationship with their new line manager.

Says Moore: “We survey all our new joiners and consistently score 90%+ for our survey topics: pre-arrival, people and teams, culture, development, onboarding, performance and ability. We frequently hear comments about how welcoming and engaging their new joiner experience has been.”

Kevin Ashley’s 10 steps to a successful onboarding process

Clarity is key: Ensure the job offer is clear and accurate, explaining the person’s role, line manager, salaries and benefits. 

Be responsive: Answer any queries or concerns quickly and accurately. Giving the potential new employee a call can often alleviate stress and miscommunication.

Communicate well: Acknowledge receipt of the acceptance letter, and perhaps give a call to show you value them joining the team. 

Agree timeframes for prep: If you wish the new employee to complete any pre-reading, learning or other tasks, agree this prior to the offer letter so it’s not a surprise and you can negotiate a sensible timescale for these to be completed. 

Create a welcome and onboarding pack: Understanding simple things like dress code and parking on your first day can make a positive difference. Ensure everything is organised prior to the new employee’s first day, including computers, telephones, email address and security pass.

Build in flexibility: While a new employee needs structure, they also need time for reflection and to get to know their new colleagues. Onboarding processes often involve a lot of ‘show and tell’, with very little two-way communication. 

Encourage dialogue: Allow regular, open and honest feedback. Remember, it’s about sharing progress and identifying improvement opportunities. 

Ensure onboarding is current: Regularly review the induction programme. It’s frustrating and reflects poorly on the company when out-of-date information is presented.

Make introductions: Where someone will be working across functions, ensure they have an opportunity to spend time with everyone they will be working with in their new role. 

Don’t set new employees up to fail: My first day in one new role, I was expected to run a workshop I knew nothing about and had not prepared for. Why place anyone in that situation?

Recommended content

Podcast icon
Insights Podcast

Hear a panel of guests dissect the latest headlines and provide expert analysis on the top stories from across the world of business, finance and accountancy.

Find out more
A megaphone
Stay up to date

You can receive email update from ICAEW insights either daily, weekly or monthly, subscribe to whichever works for you.

Sign up
Daily summaries
Three yellow pins planted into a surface in a row
News in brief

Read ICAEW's daily summary of accountancy news from across the mainstream media and broader financing sector.

See more