The important distinction between “orientation” and “onboarding”

I recently read an article about – you guessed it – onboarding, and a statement stuck with me…the author was defining new employee orientation at a high level, and then went on to define onboarding. The author suggested that, “Onboarding is often described as ‘orientation on steroids.'”

This was unsettling to me in a few ways:

First, the image of a steroid-influenced bodybuilder came to mind…an image that doesn’t exactly scream “welcoming new employee experience” to me.

Then I thought about the negative substance abuse implications associated with steroids and wondered why the “like _______ on steroids” saying is so common.

I also wondered about the ambigous description itself. How does the statement, “Onboarding is often described as ‘orientation on steroids'” even remotely describe the importance of a thoughtfully-designed and well-executed onboarding strategy?

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.

Business leaders, hiring managers, HR/Talent Development practitioners and other onboarding stakeholders need to have explicit awareness of your onboarding strategy (and yes, how “orientation” comes into play during onboarding) at an organizational level, and also where they impact the process at the division, department and role level.

Part of that awareness, particularly for decision-making leaders, is communicating how onboarding drives business results. Is your program…

  • Reducing employee turnover?
  • Improving efficiency and productivity?
  • Contributing to improved customer satisfaction scores?
  • Building customer loyalty program participants?
  • Reducing safety issues or accidents?
  • Increasing sales?
  • Reducing common errors or incorrect information being delivered?

Depending on your organization, industry, geography or size, these might be factors you evaluate…and likely there are a number of specific metrics you are measuring for overall success. Have you aligned those metrics to the new employee experience – during the orientation period AND throughout those crucial early months of onboarding?

And if you’re aligning and measuring….how are you communicating it to your stakeholders?

You’ll never demonstrate the value a strategic onboarding program delivers to your organization with a vague statement like, “Onboarding is often described as ‘orientation on steroids.'” Failing to share your story is doing your program, your team and your organization a disservice.

Tell your story through a variety of methods, including: executive dashboards, posting wins on your intranet, hosting a periodic calibration meeting with leaders and key stakeholders and showing recognition to the employees who make onboarding come alive! (Hint: Providing both quantitative data and qualitative examples help balance “the head and the heart”).

So, sure. Orientation is an important component of an onboarding strategy. But onboarding is not simply an exaggerated version of it… should be a rich, immersive experience that sets new employees up for success throughout their first months on the job, and is a strategic driver of business results.

Is this the year you are finally giving your onboarding strategy an overhaul? I can help! Let’s talk.

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