3 Keys to Successful Onboarding

3 Keys to Successful Onboarding

Day #1 – I showed up for work, nobody knew who I was or why I was there. I brushed some paper off a table and sat down. Next up, I drove to the Apple store to pick up my computer. Day 1 complete. My first impressions of this company? I’ll leave it to you, the readers on this one…

Orientation and onboarding. Most of us have heard the saying before “You only have one shot to make a positive first impression”. Yet, stories like the one above (yes, this happened to me) are still far too common. When you go through a recruitment push, costs add up in terms of both time spent and resources exhausted. It’s crucial to retain top talent once you have invested in bringing them onto your team. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for 3 years if they experienced great onboarding. It’s clear that having a strong onboarding and orientation plan is a powerful opportunity for employers to integrate and inspire new employees. There are compelling numbers and evidence to support this. So, how can you steer your process in the right direction?


Before crafting an orientation process, organizations should determine what they want to accomplish. Orientation is oftentimes confused with training, but they each have distinct goals and should be approached differently. Training is about learning HOW to do a job. Employee onboarding and orientation are about integration with the job and the company. True integration requires employees to overcome basic anxieties and barriers to connect with their peers, as well as understand company goals and culture. This includes a high-level understanding of strategic direction and company norms but moves toward more granular details.

“How productive in your job can you be if you don’t know where the washrooms are?”

Keeping purpose in mind, here are some basic items that should be touched upon in the development of your orientation process:

  • Company story – where did the company start? Where are they going? Values and culture are intertwined.
  • Worksite tour – boardroom, break out spaces and who works where.
  • Technology tour – what apps/technology is used? When/why do people use them?
  • Team intros – who does what in the company and when would you turn to them?
  • Employee programs and perks – how does one request vacation? When are employees paid?

This list is not all-encompassing by any stretch. However, small details and basic information can go a long way to easing initial unease and barriers for a new hire, allowing them to focus on getting ramped up and ready to contribute to their role.

The best way to effectively and efficiently move an employee through this integration period is to consider employee experience.


Companies lose 25% of all new employees in the first year. First impressions are long lasting and create a lens which new employees view the rest of their experience with the company through. The investment that a company makes in cost per hire is substantial and you want to give new hires a positive initial experience. So, what can you do?

Try kicking things off with a welcome lunch joined by close team members on day 1, and make sure to do what you can to make a new employee feel truly welcomed. For a specific industry example, look at Facebook. The social media giant has a hyper-focus on the first 45 minutes of the employees first day. This involves getting devices and systems set up right – from an employee’s PC to their phones and having a workstation set up properly – and a focus on practical aspects of the job role, like how to set up a meeting or where the printer is. Whether you’re a small mom and pop shop or a global enterprise, something as simple as a tidy workstation with some company swag and a card signed off by teammates can go a long way.

Another key to making your first impression a positive one is realizing that onboarding starts before day 1, from the moment a new employee signs off on their offer, their experience as a member of your organization begins. Make sure to keep channels of communication open prior to the official start date, and when possible, allow a new hire to look through company resources if they wish to do so. I’ve worked with countless people over the years who want to dive into their work and show up highly prepared for their new role. Let newly signed employees know that you’re excited to bring them on and keep them engaged. Some companies will schedule regular check-ins before a new hire’s first day, while others will send surprise gift baskets or more. Its cliché, but you only have one chance to make a first impression.


Every organization is different. Some startups run extremely lean and have limited resources, while large enterprises might have a massive e-learning platform to help facilitate things with teams dedicated to making onboarding a success. Successfully hiring and onboarding employees at scale are no small task. Regardless, there is no cookie-cutter solution for employee onboarding. While larger organizations might have more materials to assist in the process, startups and SMBs can balance the playing field by creating a more personal orientation experience.

Traditionally, onboarding had been an HR lead initiative. Long classroom-style sessions, with an emphasis on paperwork and policy review. While policy and day-1 documents are important, this process can demand a lot of time from hiring managers, HR or whoever is responsible for overseeing orientation. Furthermore, it doesn’t exactly set the employee experience off on the right track. A way to tackle this is through “crowd-sourcing” your orientation. Personally, I have worked with SMEs and leveraged the size of a smaller operation for a highly personalized experience. Regardless of the position within the company, new hires would sit down with marketing, connect with a software developer, learn about sales, and get a product demo or a market research presentation among other things.

“Through a multifaceted process, employees get a holistic view of the organization, and most importantly they get to form connections with coworkers.”

Orientation creates the foundation of an employee’s experience with the company. If you are wondering where to start, consider creating modules that could be delivered to newcomers by employees across the organization who have an expertise or knowledge in a certain area or domain. Reach out to team members and let them run with it. For example, if you’re a whiz with the in-house CRM, you could be a good match to help develop and deliver a 15-minute information/training session on using the system to new employees. If one of the goals of orientation is to connect newcomers to your team, why not share the duties of orientation across functions and take collective ownership of the process? This kind of distributed model is effective for organizations big and small.

Orientation is an often discussed, but an overlooked part of the employee experience. By focusing on the purpose and end goal of integration, creating an experience suited to your organization and being mindful of the importance of the first impression you can create a process that will drive tangible business outcomes. Better retention, productivity and quicker ramp up are all attainable by investing in having a strong orientation and onboarding experience.

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