Designing a new onboarding experience

The challenge and objectives

In the summer of 2013, an international law firm approached Habanero with a project to create a workflow to facilitate the onboarding of lawyers, students, and internal staff. The client looked at several workflow products and eventually settled on using Nintex Workflow and Forms on SharePoint 2013. Once we knew which technology we were going to use, we interviewed key stakeholders on what we were trying to achieve through creating an onboarding workflow.

We came up with the following desired outcomes that we would keep top of mind throughout the project:

  1. Increase visibility and transparency into the onboarding process
  2. Less follow-ups, rekeying information, and errors
  3. Keep the onboarding process smooth from the new hires perspective
  4. Streamline the process so that every hire has a great, consistent onboarding experience.

This project was actually a bit scary for our team. There was nothing wrong with the current onboarding process. As far as a new hire was concerned, everything was hunky-dory. But the new hire couldn't see all the hustling going on in background that made it a seamless hiring and onboarding experience. The last thing we wanted was to apply technology to a people problem and introduce gaps for the people doing the work.

Mapping the onboarding process

We tackled the daunting task of mapping out the onboarding process for the law firm as our next step. This was more intimidating than it sounds!

Much of the process was inside people heads. They just knew what they were supposed to do when a new hire joined the firm. What about when people were sick? Or if they retired? In many cases the process wasn’t documented. There was also the issue of people emailing each other back and forth, checking in on each other to see how the process was coming along.

Another problem was all the rekeying of information. Most of the forms were paper-based and as I'm sure you can imagine, there are a ton of forms to fill out when a new lawyer is hired. Between lawyers, students, and staff, this particular law firm was hiring up to 180 people each year–and every one of the new additions were hired and onboarded with care and attention.

A digital workflow was needed. But how do you go about applying technology to a people problem without losing focus on the new hires?

We set up a workshop to get all 25 stakeholders across 10 departments in a boardroom together. That's how many people were needed to hire one person–up to 25 people. We played a game where everyone had to put green sticky notes on the wall to show what was working with the current process and red stickies to show what was not. The idea was to get the group to see each other's pain points and successes. It was amazing how many times we heard things like, "I didn't know you were doing that. I do that too!"

Through mapping it out, we actually discovered more than a few places where people were duplicating tasks. At the end of the workshop, I shamelessly promoted all the merits of creating digital workflows and forms. I can get pretty passionate about business processes and I thought I might have come across a bit strong for a traditional law firm. I was pleasantly surprised when I called an end to the two-hour workshop and groups of people remained huddled together around the table excitedly discussing how to make the process better. We were off to a good start!

Designing the onboarding experience

As we were going through this process, our designers went to work coming up with a look and feel for the forms, always focusing on the experience. The client was very good at working with us to create a workflow that makes sense for every department and guides employees through tasks with the information they need to complete their responsibilities—all with minimal training on how to use the solution. The goal was to consider how each person and department would interact with the solution and then design a workflow that facilitates a great experience for everyone involved in the process.

We also wanted to make sure that the forms were intuitive to use and easy on the eyes. It's simple to say, "well, it's just a form, who cares how it looks?" But it definitely makes a difference in terms of applying shading, icons to make fields obvious, spacing, and branding.

We wanted to create a solution that people want to use, not just have to use; to take some pain and frustration out of their day and maybe even add some enjoyment.

We were a bit limited to what could be done in Nintex Forms versus custom code, but the product does a good job of making it easy to apply JavaScript on the forms, so we were able to do quite a bit in terms of branding and look-and-feel.

Building the onboarding workflow

Once we had the process hashed out, we began building out the solution. We knew the workflow was going to be huge and long running, so we took quite a bit of care to ensure we could fire off the workflow at any stage. Nintex doesn't support this out-of-the-box.

We created a parent workflow that kicked off departmental workflows as needed. It also made it easier for us to make changes down the road when tasks needed to be added or removed. Business processes change all the time and we wanted an in-flight onboarding process to follow the new departmental workflows if changes had to be made.


We launched the new and improved business process in August of 2015, meeting all four objectives. None of this would have been possible without the amazing support of the client. Throughout the process, every stakeholder was open to suggestions and forthcoming with what their jobs entailed. Key to this success was one woman in particular who made it her mission to guide everyone through the challenging change management phase.

Six months after launch, we made adjustments to the workflow from gathered feedback and just recently I helped out with a few minor changes. Many new hires have gone through the new system since launch and it's definitely a made a difference in the daily lives of those 25 stakeholders.

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