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Onboarding best practices

Part 3: How orientation differs from onboarding and why it matters

August 15, 2016 | By Lisa Dare, TEKsystems Digital Content Strategist

three diverse employees are onboarded during orientation

My team and I are fanatical about the difference between orientation and onboarding. While many people use the terms interchangeably, we know orientation is just one part of an effective onboarding program.

Failing to understand the difference between orientation and onboarding makes it likely you'll overlook key components that can make or break the success of your efforts.

Let me explain why this matters.

How is orientation different from onboarding?

Orientation is an event to welcome the new hire and officially establish them as part of your company. This event generally occurs the first week on the job for all new hires, regardless of their role. Orientation, or “bootcamp” as it's often called, introduces a new employee to your company’s culture and offers socialization with other new hires. It’s your opportunity to make a great first impression and help validate they made the right choice in coming to work for your company.

46% of candidates rate their experience applying for jobs as poor,  and 64% share info over social media [iCIMS]

Many organizations bring in top leadership to illuminate your company’s history, vision and goals. Others include social activities, such as cocktail/welcome receptions, casino night or group-based philanthropic activities as a way to build camaraderie. This can help solidify an employee’s decision to join a company they see as fun to work for as well as rewarding.

Onboarding, on the other hand, is a process that unfolds throughout the first 6-18 months of employment, spanning from recruitment through pre-boarding and orientation, to ramp up new hires to peak performance. High-performing organizations know that while onboarding encompasses orientation, it also goes far beyond it, taking the new hire’s role and position into account. This holistic approach results in better retention, faster time to full productivity and a greater sense of belonging—all of which directly impact your bottom line.


Organizations with structured onboarding programs experience

60% improvement in revenue per full-time employee

63% improvement in customer satisfaction [PwC]

What makes a great orientation event?

There’s no cookie-cutter approach to designing a world-class orientation. Some important factors to consider include:

  • Geographical diversity: Are your new hires co-located or spread across multiple regions and/or countries?
  • Hiring patterns and volume: Creating opportunities for socialization and networking may be very different if you hire 1-2 individuals each month as opposed to larger cohorts.
  • Availability of leadership and business area speakers: The value for top leadership to meet face to face with new hires can’t be underestimated; however, it’s not always feasible because of travel and other commitments. 
  • In-person vs. remote events: We look for unique ways to create that sense of connection even when in-person events aren’t an option.

Most organizations have invested heavily in developing orientation materials and content. HR and corporate training departments play a valuable role in defining the essential information that new hires need to begin their job duties, such as information on the organizational and departmental structure, policies and procedures. When evaluating the maturity of an organization’s existing orientation, we collaborate with internal stakeholders to create an experience that is memorable and aligns new hires with the company’s brand and connects them to go-to people within their business area and across other areas.


Organizations with a standard onboarding process have 50 percent greater new hire retention


While a great orientation aligns new hires to the company’s brand and reaffirms the individual’s decision to accept the job offer, it does not take the person’s new role within the organization into account; everyone is given the same information. It is essential to bridge the transition from the orientation event to on-the-job readiness, recognizing that managers and peers need to help the employee become productive in their specific role. The next few months of a new hire’s tenure are critical to building formal and informal networks, mastering new skills and meeting role-specific performance expectations. A comprehensive onboarding process is the difference between allowing an employee to “sink or swim” and creating a high performer.

Download the Elements of Onboarding Guide

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