4 Tips for Building a Best-in-Class Onboarding & Orientation Program

Congrats! You’ve done a great job pulling out all the stops to recruit your new hire.  They agreed to join your company, and now it’s time to make sure your company and culture live up to all the promises you’ve made during the recruiting process.

Most of us have been a new hire at least once in our lives and know that a typical onboarding and orientation experience involves finalizing paperwork, benefits/401k overviews, and lots of sitting and watching presentations.  I’d be willing to bet that you didn’t retain 75% of what was said.   On top of that, the onboarding often doesn’t match the amazing experience we had during the recruiting process.

Research shows that about 28% of employees quit within the first 90 days (inc.com) and the lack of a structured onboarding program is the top reason listed.  On a more positive note, the Society of Human Resource Management issued a report that says 69% of employees who participated in a well-designed onboarding program stayed in their jobs for up to three years (shrm.org).

Are you in need of an improved onboarding experience and not sure where to start?  We’re here to help you change that.

So how do we create an onboarding experience that keeps new hires engaged and creates the “stickiness” needed to make them want to stay with your company for the long term?   We are going to share 4 things we always consider when designing onboarding programs for our clients: experience over presentation, build a cohort, live the values, and celebrate.

Experience Over Presentation

One thing that’s consistent in all of our communications research is that no one wants to read anymore (so thank you for making it this far through the article), it’s all about video or getting the message across as quickly as possible (e.g. 140 characters or less).  So if you know that you new hires are coming with a short attention span, get them up and moving—it’s also a basic tenant of adult learning theory.

Gamifiation is a great way to get your new hires to learn by doing, and the games and tools kids use in school is a great place to look for ideas.

Build a Cohort

When we ask someone what makes it hard to leave their company, they almost always say the people.  So, connect them to each other as early as often as possible.  Design activities during onboarding that allows the cohort to learn about each other and become friends.  This will give your new hires a “phone a friend” and someone to talk to who is going through the same thing.  They may not ask you for help because they are embarrassed or think they should know, but they might call their friend who is in the same boat.

From an organizational perspective, it’s great to know people in other departments.  This will give them contacts throughout the organization to call when they need help getting work done, and it’s sure to accelerate progress.

We all remember being the new kid in school. So, if nothing else, this will give them someone to sit with in the cafeteria during lunch.

Live the Values

It’s one thing to tell your New Hires about your values, how you came up with them, and even why they are important to your organization, but it’s another, more powerful thing to find an experience that truly brings your values to life.

How do you make them more than just the words on the wall?

Most companies have a value around service, so is there an experience with your customers that can make service tangible for new hires.  Can they take customer service calls, work in a store, etc.?   If your value is community, do new hires have the opportunity to volunteer together at one of your partnering non-profit organizations?  Find where the rubber meets the road and visit often.


Maya Angelou said “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  Once onboarding is over, you want your new hire to feel loved, to feel pumped about how awesome of a company you are, and you want them to feel connected to your community and their teams.  Going over the top with a culminating event is a great way to do that.

We’re talking graduation ceremonies, employees with signs, banners, and balloons.  Pull out all the stops.

This is the last thing they will remember before they go back to their desks and start contributing to your organization.  Knowing that the company is so excited to have them is guaranteed to have them eager to contribute.

You can also read our other writings on communications and culture HERE.

If you are ready to get started CLICK HERE to schedule time to talk.


Cardigan is an employer branding and internal communication consultancy that helps companies get the most from their people and culture.