Monthly Archives: October 2017

Orientation vs Onboarding

In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. – Jim Collins, author of Good to Great – Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t

Jim Collins had it right. But hiring the right people and putting them in the right place in the organization is just the beginning. After the hiring comes the orientation. And after the orientation comes the onboarding. In this column we will discuss the difference between the two, emphasize why onboarding is so important and give some examples.

Let’s begin with how not to do orientation. The worst example of orientation this writer has ever heard of went something like this:

“There’s the desk. There’s the phone. Good luck kid. You’re on your own.”

Ouch. Unfortunately, more than a few employees feel that they were not given a proper orientation for the job that they were hired to do. Some of it involved basic things, such as how to make copies or how to transfer a telephone call. Some of it involved major things such as what to do id a VIP calls or shows up at work.

What is orientation?

For our purposes, orientation is the process of introducing and aligning a new employee to the practices of the new employer, such as new surroundings, activities, etc.  It is typically a brief event, sometimes only one day. It covers the essentials, things like where to park, where and when to go to lunch, location of bathrooms, use of computers, forms, email, policies and procedures. It is in effect a checklist.  It usually occurs in the first day or few days of employment.

What is onboarding?

Onboarding is often described as organizational socialization. There is no one size fits all when it comes to onboarding because each company is different. Onboarding goes on much longer than orientation. It is designed to integrate and match the employee’s personality, skills and behavior with the practices, customs and values of the organization. By the way, training is different than orientation and onboarding.

Why do onboarding?

According to a 2007 study by the Wynhurst Group, when employees go through structured onboarding, they are 58% more likely to remain with the organization after three years. Also consider Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report that was issued in 2014. It found that that more that employees believe the job market is opening up, the less likely they may be to stay in roles that don’t meet their needs and expectations.  The study found that more than half of employees (51%) say they are actively looking for a new job or watching for openings, and 35% of workers report changing jobs within the past three years.

Each workday, Gallup posts the percentage of employees “weekly engaged at work” on the News section of As this column is being written, the number stands at 36.7%, a percentage that has moved up five points in recent weeks. Gallup defines engaged employees “… as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” Gallup categorizes workers as “engaged” based on their responses to key workplace elements it has found predict important organizational performance outcomes. Onboarding increases the likelihood that employees will remained engaged employees.

Another reason to do onboarding is that it shows that the company is making an investment in its employees. Is there a way to determine if this investment pays off? Companies that value employees are more successful if one considers the return on investment in Fortune magazine’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For. Tracked for 15 years: Stock in Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” way outperformed both the S&P 500 and the Russell 3000 indices. Specifically, from 1997 – 2013 the S&P 500 had an annualized stock market return of 6.04%, the Russell 3000 had an annualized return of 6.41% and the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work Far had an annualized return of 11.8%.

Implementing Onboarding at Your Company

Depending on the size of your company an onboarding plan may need to involve coordination between many departments. It is a process that requires time and commitment.

One of the best and most comprehensive onboarding programs is that of Disney’s College Program. Check out the website for ideas about what to include in the onboarding process. It’s at

Zappo’s onboarding process has gotten a lot of attention because of its thoroughness and emphasis on culture at the organization. At the end of the first month, any new employee who doesn’t feel they’re a good fit is offered $2,000 to quit.

Sapling, a San Francisco company that specializes in onboarding, states that effective onboarding programs share the themes listed below.

1.Make the investment: these onboarding programs are not an accident; the companies listed invest heavily in time and money to support new employees to be successful.
2. Start early: make sure everything is ready before the employee starts their first day to make sure they can hit the ground running.

3. Company Culture is everything: over invest in making new employees feel welcome and aligned with company values.

4. Get the team involved: Welcoming them into an inclusive, dynamic team with lots of communication that will have real returns on their ability to integrate with the team effectively.

5. Clear Roadmap: Giving new employees a clear and structured path for their integration into the company supports them to be productive and successful in their new role.

6. Training and development: Help new employees learn with the right training tools, and by giving them practical skills so they can start contributing as soon as possible.