Online Onboarding Plan

TL;DR: The onboarding and training guides (multiple PDFs) mirrored the multi-layered organizational structure, which of course, new staff would not know yet, slowing down onboarding and creating a poor user experience for new hires. Using Confluence, I created one consolidated list and made use of sequenced sections with expandable boxes (e.g. if you are a supervisor, take this training) for a comprehensive yet navigation-friendly list for new employees and their managers.

Challenge | Approach | Results | Tools + Methods


Development and Alumni Relations is a department that cuts across Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, which, in addition to being a very large organization, has many layers—central, institutional (University, Medicine), campus/office location, and school or division levels. Thus, learning & development, system access, and other onboarding procedures often had many layers as well.


When new Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) staff started, as I did in September 2016, there were often multiple, partially overlapping PDF checklists for onboarding and new hire training. Some teams created their own checklists to attempt to make this easier, while many others spent a lot of time answering questions or simply directed new hires to contact the trainer (me) or Customer Support. There was no single available list that detailed systems and how to access them, whether through request or through training.

As the technical trainer responsible for training new staff on using systems used specifically within the department, and as the subject matter expert to whom Customer Support referred when questions about training-dependent system access arose, I frequently observed the confusion and frustration of new staff (and even their managers) who did not know what they needed nor what they should have. Staff would attend training (for which system access was required) without realizing an account had never been created or activated for them. A really proactive manager might reach out to me ahead of time and I would walk through the multiple lists with them one-on-one.

As a recent hire myself, I also personally experienced the constant sense that I was forgetting something on one of the multiple checklists and employee manuals I’d received—from the central HR office, from the DAR Learning & Development Team, from my manager, and from the University. In addition, since I served new DAR staff in Medicine as well, I also requested access to their intranet and their onboarding materials.


Early attempts to address the challenge: At first, I answered many questions. Then, I tried to include some discussion of system access and where to learn more during my classroom trainings.

That wasn’t early enough. Then, I tried to e-mail new hires in response to staff announcement e-mails—before I realized they were not sent for every new staff member and this was largely dependent on whether the hiring manager thought it was important to send them. In the meantime, I began building out a knowledge base of self-help reference articles on systems available to DAR staff, so I developed articles to provide the answers to these common questions.

Feedback loop: Still, Customer Support and I were getting too many of the same questions repeatedly, and people were still showing up to training fairly lost about what was needed or asking how to get access to and training for a wide range of systems (not only the ones within the scope of my role).

Then I realized that I needed to start earlier in the process, at least with the parts I had some influence on in my role. How can people ask about what they don’t know? New hires had no way of knowing how to ask about system access or what type of training is required or available for it if they don’t even know the system exists, that there are different permissions levels, or that it is relevant to their job.

So I thought about user needs some more:

  • New hires need to know what’s available so they can review with their managers the appropriate level of system access needed for their job – they needed some prompt to support both hiring managers and new hires in having this conversation
  • Reduce cognitive load for the manager – some were new themselves and didn’t know, some had been with the organization for a very long time and forgotten all the little pieces, and some were unfamiliar with what administrative staff would need as opposed to fundraisers; however, they would have been able to recognize a system name or read a description and recognize if it were needed
  • From the perspective of a new hire, new hire training and onboarding are all part of the same process, so they should not be separate lists with separate timelines
  • A single list would be more usable than multiple PDFs, but because of the multitude of differences depending on the office they were in, the list would need a way to hide what was unnecessary for all but allow users to see onboarding requirements relevant to them
  • Of course, the guide also needed to be worded for new hires who were not familiar with the organizational structure, systems, abbreviations or other lingo, and in some cases they might also have been brand new to the field of fundraising and alumni relations
  • The list should also provide one-click access to other resources, such as to register for a specific training, or to contact Customer Support to have an account created – it needed to at least get people to the point of being able to see what they might need and get to it

We were using Confluence for the online self-help knowledge base that I was building out, and it would be a good medium for meeting these needs since we could essentially create a web page and link to related articles.

The other portion of this was that I needed to come up with an information architecture to help new hires navigate it. Which started with gathering as many onboarding or training lists as I could find by navigating internal staff websites or by asking contacts in offices across the department.

However, I was the technical trainer in the IT & Prospect Strategy Team. The onboarding plan for the department was owned by the department’s Talent Management & HR team.

I created a working prototype in Confluence with some partial content and presented this to the DAR Talent Management & HR Team. We had some good discussion. One person brought up that they had wanted to have a parallel list, one for the manager and one for the new employee, so that employees could know what to expect from their managers with regard to onboarding. The Executive Director for the team gave me the green light to continuing working on it, and the team provided me with the most recent approved onboarding checklist for managers of new employees.


I ended up with this online plan in Confluence, fully functioning and ready to share but not yet public. I finished it and turned it over to the DAR Talent Management & HR team with some documentation and training on how to make edits and whom to contact in order to make it viewable to all staff when ready to implement.

This onboarding and training plan was a single web page and was double-columned to show the manager’s tasks and new employee’s tasks side by side. It was organized by recommended timeframes (first day, first week, etc.) based on feedback from staff at all levels that people were not sure what they needed to do when and knowing that sequencing was often critical for system access. Within each timeframe, there were items required for all DAR staff, or access that all staff should have upon start, then recommended resources. Following those were expand/collapse boxes based on job functions, such as being a supervisor or gift processor, as well as division or location, such as working in Medicine or at a partner hospital—anything that did not apply to everyone. Additionally, expand/collapse boxes were used to provide additional information when there were no negative implications (e.g. delays in system access) if users did not see it, but it was a common question new hires asked. Where resources existed, we provided links to more detailed information.

Here is what the onboarding plan would look like when first navigating to the page.

Each section expanded to give new employees their next steps, whether it was an onboarding task, HR form, or training–and each item was linked to the appropriate resource.

Tools + Methods

  • Confluence
  • Information architecture