Given the shifting of supply and demand for good employees, the orientation or onboarding process for new staff is receiving much more attention these days. We know from personal experience that getting off to the right start makes a big difference in how we feel as well as how we perform, and more organizations are rethinking how they treat new hires.

What worries me about the current articles I am reading and what I hear is that companies are treating onboarding as an event instead of a process. There is intentionality around the first day, week or month, and after that, the employee is considered to have learned all they need in order to acclimate.

I believe that onboarding needs to extend beyond just the entry period and continue until an employee has experienced one full cycle of the organization. They need to have guidance for all the “firsts”: the first Black Friday in retail; the first time of preparing for the audit, the first graduation at a school; etc. Onboarding includes sharing the norms and culture of the place in real time: telling someone in June about how your organization acknowledges the boss’s birthday in February does not sink in. Employees need to see for themselves to understand how the environment/dress code changes in the summer; what the expectations are around holiday vacation time, how the organization handles travel in inclement weather, etc.

They also need assistance with the firsts that invariably occur with their work: the end of year reporting process, the first work-related travel or conference attendance, or the first time meeting that big client for the annual visit. There is no way a new employee can absorb a year’s worth of information without the right context or understanding of its applicability – so crucial knowledge is either forgotten or never shared due to poor timing.

Yes, onboarding over a few days or a month is far better than the one day of fill-out-the-HR-paperwork orientation, but to make it great you need to continue to provide support and formal interventions for a full year. Each new hire requires a huge investment of resources to get them in the door. Don’t short-circuit the process and see them walk out the door prematurely.

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