From Orientation to Onboarding — It’s More Than Giving Out a Company Mug

The year was 1990-something, and it was my first day at my first professional job as a pediatric medical office receptionist. I was greeted and then given a binder of standard HR policies and procedures (to read on my own, of course), a stack of forms to fill out, a company mug, and a quick tour of my work space (the front desk). I then spent time observing my friend, who had recommended me for the position, doing basic tasks while we chatted — mainly about our personal lives. By my third shift, I was on my own.

That was it. I had received my new employee orientation.

Sure I knew my rights as an employee, how I was going to be paid, two key processes in the computer system, and to ask my friend if there was something I couldn’t figure out on my own (of course, that was only if she happened to be working that day). But as parents and sick kids started flooding the front desk with all sorts of questions and needs, I just wanted to make a run for the exit.

I was reminded of this experience when I attended the Detroit Chapter of the Association for Talent Development meeting on the topic of effective onboarding. Dr. Gia Buckner-Hayden spoke about how companies must go beyond orientation (going through policies and procedures) to onboarding (going through the company culture and way of working) to ensure new employees are acclimated both functionally (orientation) and socially (onboarding). In a nutshell, orientation is the event and onboarding is the process.

Oh, how my experience at the medical office would have been different if I’d been given the opportunity to job shadow a long-term, best performer employee instead of my friend who had one foot out the door. How much more efficient would I have been if I was taught more about the computer system before being asked to problem-solve complex medical billing issues for patients?

Truth be told, this job is what led me to my new major, human resources development, and ultimately my current career. I knew there had to be a better way, and I was going to figure it out for myself and others!

My latest onboarding experience was when I joined Innovative Learning Group three years ago. It was one of the most robust experiences I’ve ever encountered. It definitely went beyond orientation to the type of onboarding Dr. Gia described — and I’m not just saying that because ILG’s CEO will read this post.

Sure I was given my mug, but that was just part of the welcome reception. I was also given a checklist of all the steps I would go through during the onboarding process, from my office orientation — being shown everything from where the office supplies were kept to where the can opener was stored — to having sessions with my direct manager as well as with marketing, IT, and human resources.

A huge part of my onboarding was spending A LOT of time with Lisa (the CEO) learning about the culture of ILG… not just her preferences but how things really work around the office and how we get work done together. There were phone calls and sessions to role-play client meetings and to review our service offerings. Lisa and my direct manager checked in with me daily to gauge how I was doing and see if I had questions.

All of this didn’t happen in one day or even two days; it occurred over the course of a couple weeks. And I wasn’t set off on my own until I was fully comfortable with the day-to-day expectations of my role.

So what’s my point? Well, it’s that onboarding should be a process not an isolated event, and that it goes beyond the basics into the heart of the organization. When done correctly, onboarding can keep valuable employees from escaping through the nearest exit. Even better, they’ll want to stay and thrive.

What have been your orientation or onboarding experiences? What had you running for the exit or wanting to stay? Do you still have your company mug?

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