Everything You Need To Know About Orientation And Onboarding

Posted by Cathy Reilly

bigstock-Personal-Development-76070924Rebecca starts her new job today, and she’s excited. As the hiring manager who hired her, you see her potential and can’t wait to see her reach it.

So, you distribute and discuss the company guidelines and policies, have her complete all her new hire paperwork, show her the video your company uses to introduce new employees to its culture and values, walk her to her desk, and tell her to let you know if she has any questions.

You’re done, right? Rebecca is officially onboarded?

Wrong! You’ve only led Rebecca through the very first part of the onboarding process: orientation.

The new employee onboarding process and orientation are two very different processes. In this case, you’ve led Rebecca through orientation and thrown her into the deep end -- a strategy that could drastically reduce the likelihood Rebecca will still be around next year.

#New hire orientation is NOT the same as new hire #onboarding. Learn the difference! [Click to tweet]

Recent research by the Aberdeen Group shows that the shorter the onboarding process, the less likely an organization is to retain a new employee after year one. Rebecca’s onboarding process never really even got started.

So, what’s the difference between an onboarding process and orientation? How can you change Rebecca’s experience to make sure she reaches that potential you saw in her initially?


Let’s start with orientation.

Orientation is a short-term process (lasting from one to several days) that focuses on getting the new employee acquainted with the basics, such as the organization’s structure, culture, policies and guidelines. It often takes place in a conference room, but current technology makes it possible to change orientation into an online experience.

Typically, orientation is led by HR and focuses on the information all new employees are expected to know. Whether the new employee is a support employee or an executive, they must start their first day at a company with orientation.

Effective orientation lays a solid foundation about the organization in a streamlined way. Once new employees have the basics under their belt, they have a clear perspective to grow from as they increase their knowledge and contribute their talents.

Orientation should be engaging and interactive for employees so that, even on Day One, they have a positive experience and feel good about the decision they made to join the organization.

This “red carpet” portion of a new hire’s first days at an organization introduces them to the organization and sets the tone for a new hire’s onboarding process. Following orientation, new hires like Rebecca know much more about the place where they work, but they are still new. In the coming days, weeks and months, they will need to ask questions as they learn more about their new responsibilities and roles.


Onboarding, on the other hand, is a much longer, more involved, and more targeted process.

Rather than focusing on organizational information that all employees need to know, the onboarding process drills down to more detailed information related to the new hire’s position. It aims to get new hires in the driver’s seat of their role more quickly, ultimately improving the organization’s productivity and bottom line.

The onboarding process begins with orientation and should last anywhere from six months up to a full year; often closer to the latter, depending on the organization and role.

Onboarding is not an information dump. It relies on the participation and feedback from the new hire and the organization (the employee’s manager).  

In Rebecca’s case, her onboarding would include first meetings with different team members and learning about how her role fits into the big picture. She would be taught the company’s different systems and technology, be assigned a mentor as a “go-to” for position-related questions, and be introduced to different key people in the organization.

All the while, Rebecca would be meeting with her manager (a key player in new employee success!) at regular intervals to evaluate her progress and give constructive feedback about the process. Manager facetime and feedback are invaluable to new employees and unfortunately, often overlooked or undervalued.


What’s more effective?  

Like many things in business, the answer is multifaceted.

If you drop the ball with orientation, your new hires may not be motivated or engaged during the onboarding process. If you conduct an effective orientation but then fail to follow up with a thorough onboarding process, you may be holding your new hire back from becoming an integrated member of your team...and leaving profitability on the table as a result.

In the long run, they both serve important roles in the development and retention of new employees, but you can’t start a good onboarding process without effective orientation.

Since new hires are never more engaged or motivated than on Day One, it’s important to ensure a new hire’s orientation makes them feel as though they chose the right organization. If a new hire looks back on their first day as a negative experience, they may reconsider their decision to join your organization. However, if your organization’s orientation process is engaging and memorable, you can build loyal employees right from the start.

Consider how your organization would handle Rebecca’s new hire experience on Day One, and during the days and months to follow.

Do you create a positive orientation experience to set the tone for your new hire’s entire onboarding process? Are you providing an onboarding experience that keeps employees motivated and involved?

If not, think about how you can build a better orientation and onboarding program to ensure the success of all your new hires.

How does your organization handle Day One for a new hire? Have you ever used orientation technology? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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