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How to Craft Onboarding That Has Staying Power


Mon Mar 07 2016

How to Craft Onboarding That Has Staying Power

Employee onboarding typically focuses on introducing employees to the organization and their new role. Sounds simple, right? Prep the workspace with supplies and set up the computer, phone, and email account. Print lists of need-to-know info and instructions for basic processes. Share a lecture about the firm’s history and current goals. Walk around the building and introduce co-workers and point to the fridge, bathroom, and printer. Line up the first few assignments. Voilà! Your new employee has been onboarded.

Not so fast. Beyond providing information about an organization’s policies and procedures, effective onboarding should make the employee feel comfortable in the new environment, help them learn about daily tasks as well as long-term performance goals, and convey the impact that company culture and values have on their job. (Review this checklist for a sampling of the topics covered in most departmental onboarding.)


Sadly, many orientation programs fail to fulfill these needs. Some workplaces forego a proper orientation in the hopes that new recruits will “figure out” what work needs to be done and how to go about accomplishing duties. Meanwhile, some onboarding efforts are so crammed with information that employees walk away dazed and overwhelmed. And some programs are just plain boring. The result, according to research from Bersin by Deloitte, is that nearly one-quarter (22 percent) of new employees quit after just 45 days.

Karen Lawson, author of New Employee Orientation Training, has experienced bad onboarding first-hand. She opens the book with a story of her first day as a management trainee for a bank: “It was clear that no one had any idea who I was or why I was there. When the manager finally arrived, he was unprepared. There was no workspace available for me and no plan. He managed to set up a table for me in a corner, handed me an enormous banking manual, and told me to start reading. That was the extent of my new employee orientation.”

Enter the Onboarding Roadmap

As a direct result of this experience and then as an external consultant and training professional, Lawson recognizes the need for a clear and established process that helps new employees adapt and assimilate quickly and successfully into their new work environments. She’s not alone. New employee orientation training ranked #5 among the key content development areas in ATD’s 2015 State of the Industry report.

But developing and facilitating effective onboarding is no easy task. It takes time and resources, and orientation training is just one element. In her book, Karen Lawson advises organizations to start with “a written plan that outlines specific components, actions, timelines, goals, responsibilities, and available support of their onboarding programs.” This “road map” is shared with everyone in the firm and provides a way to measure the success of the program. Lawson reminds readers that breaking down timelines into segments can help give structure to the plan, including:

  • prior to employee’s first day 

  • first day 

  • first week 

  • within first month 

  • within 60 days 

  • during the first 90 days 

  • ongoing follow-up.

Stacy Lindenberg, facilitator of ATD Education’s Essentials of New Employee Onboarding, agrees that it’s important to have an onboarding plan. She advises managers and training designers to interview current employees to get suggestions about their best and worst experiences when beginning employment (not just with their company). “With this information, you can create a road map. Identify what has worked to increase employee engagement, and what could be improved,” says Lindenberg in her blog post, “5 Tips to Creating Onboarding Programs,


This road map should also identify the people with primary responsibility for all onboarding activities, including the new employees, the facilitator/trainer who designs and delivers the orientation program, organizational leaders, the human resources (HR) department, the training department, and the employees’ supervisors.

“You may need to work with existing employees and managers to help them understand the purpose and importance of creating or reinvigorating a program for new employees. Without their involvement, your efforts won’t have the long-term traction and buy-in needed to succeed,” adds Lindenberg.

Four Building Blocks of Onboarding

Once the plan and roles are established, one of the most important aspects of onboarding is the new employee orientation training, says Lawson. She explains that these vital sessions fulfill many needs, such as:

  • introduce employees to the organization as a whole—its structure, culture, purpose, and values 

  • review departmental policies, procedures, and performance goals, as well as their role in helping to meet those goals 

  • promote communication between new employees and management 

  • reduce employee anxiety associated with entering into an unknown environment with new people, expectations, and situations 

  • help employees get up to speed more quickly, thus reducing start-up costs associated with on-the-job training.

    Depending on the role, new employee orientation training may require a half-day, full-day, or two-day program, not to mention follow-up activities. Talya Bauer explains in a SHRM white paper that each program will need to cover four distinct building blocks, with varying degrees of depth:

  • compliance (basic legal and policy rules and regulations) 

  • clarification (understanding of the new job and related expectations) 

  • culture (sense of organizational norms) 

  • connection (interpersonal relationships and information networks).

    Orientation Training Design Guidance

    In New Employee Orientation Training, part of the ATD Workshop Series, Lawson dedicates individual chapters to each type of orientation program (half-day, full-day, and two-day). She outlines proposed agendas that you can adapt for your own workshops, addressing all four building blocks and highlighting learning objectives. Thumbnails from presentation slides will help you customize the workshop to make it interactive, memorable, and fun. (Check out this blog post for some of Lawson’s ideas on customization.) Lawson also provides tools and checklists developed specifically for busy supervisors and managers who conduct orientation in their departments.

    Bottom line: Whether your organization implements a two-day or half-day program, your efforts will be worth it. According to a benchmark report by the Aberdeen Group, organizations with standard onboarding processes experienced 54 percent greater new hire productivity; 50 percent greater retention among new hires; and twice the level of new hire engagement. Clearly, by taking the time to properly orient new hires, organizations will increase that employee’s chances of being successful—and staying.

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