You’ve probably heard the phrase “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” In this article, I’d like to show you how to make sure that first impression is a good one, and how technology that most organizations already have—including learning management systems (LMSs)—can leverage your effectiveness in onboarding.

Onboarding starts before you ever meet a new employee

New employee onboarding begins before the first day of work. It begins when prospective hires first obtain any information about your organization, perhaps as an applicant or even well before. For instance, exposure to your company’s brand and image in the industry, news of the organization in the media, or even word of mouth on the streets or at conferences: All of these create an impression.

The way that your organization treats the employee before day one (some organizations refer to this as “preboarding”) and throughout his or her first year will either improve or weaken the new hire’s initial impression. In fact, according to the Aberdeen Group, companies that use preboarding are 1.6 times more likely to have a lower cost per hire than those without.

The moment of truth: Onboarding begins

Employees may enter the process of new-hire onboarding believing your organization is amazing! They hear positive reviews of your company’s culture through online reviews or social media. Maybe their colleagues are clamoring to work there.

Yet even if your new hire has a positive impression initially, your onboarding process will quickly shed light on how the company truly operates, and research shows that new hires decide pretty quickly whether they want to stick around. According to Bersin & Associates research, 90 percent of employees make the decision to stay with their employers within the first six months of hire.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) notes, “A 2007 study from the Wynhurst Group found that newly hired employees are 58 percent more likely to still be at the company three years later if they had completed a structured onboarding process.”

When new hires accept a job offer, they immediately begin to reflect and ask themselves important questions:

  • Was this a good decision? Should I have chosen this organization?
  • Do I have what I need to be successful? How will I get the training and resources to be successful?
  • What is expected of me? By when?
  • How is my performance measured? How often?
  • What can I expect in the first week, month, and year in this job?
  • Will I enjoy working here?

Strategic onboarding helps the applicant answer these questions earlier in the process.

So what is onboarding?

Simply put, onboarding is the process of integrating new hires into an organization.

This is different from new-hire orientation, which typically takes place over the course of a single day or perhaps a week. While both onboarding and orientation may involve paperwork, compliance courses, self-study, and exposure to company culture, strategic onboarding is not just transactional. Instead, it is a more holistic, ongoing, and thoughtfully executed experience.

Effective onboarding prepares new hires to be effective in their roles through exposure to needed information (at the right time and pace), socialization with other employees, opportunities for reflection, and a balance of activities.

Ideally, this process includes tactical information as well as carefully planned experiences and exposure to information, combined with ongoing feedback.

Why onboarding matters

According to SHRM, a 2009 study by the Aberdeen Group “reported that 66 percent of companies with onboarding programs claimed a higher rate of successful assimilation of new hires into company culture … and 54 percent reported higher employee engagement.”

When employees assimilate more quickly, and when they engage with the organization at a higher level, they are more likely to be proficient and to contribute more to the organization.

The Aberdeen Group study also related successful onboarding to decreased turnover, higher job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and lowered stress.

The numbers speak for themselves. But what if your organization doesn’t get it?

Getting buy-in

Consider forming an internal advisory group to assist in creating or revamping your onboarding.

I wrote about the importance of advisory councils for learning-technology initiatives for Learning Solutions Magazine in 2012 (updated and republished in 2016). The process for using a council for onboarding is very much the same. Carefully select individuals in your organization who have a vested interest in improving the bottom line, as I suggest in that article.

Involving supervisors in the process is critical. Determine what the managers’ expectations are by asking what they want new hires to be able to do within the first week, month, 90 days, six months, and year of employment. Working with the managers to define what success looks like can also shed light on other dependencies in the onboarding process.

For example, if your organization isn’t able to provide the correct space, equipment (laptop, phone), or technology access (intranet, internal email, SharePoint, printer access), the new hire will be less likely to meet the manager’s expectations in the time frame the manager expects.

Similarly, if there is a lag in HR paperwork, benefits decisions, offer letters, and direct deposit forms, the new hire can’t get up to speed as quickly as expected.

By using the advisory group to uncover current processes and limitations, and comparing these to the manager’s expectations for new-hire proficiency, you create an opportunity for dialogue and process improvement.

Use facts, focus groups, and storytelling to get the attention of the individuals who can gain buy-in to improve processes. Paint a picture of what happens when onboarding is ineffective, and get commitment to improve the onboarding process by connecting the outcomes of onboarding to the impact on the bottom line. Numbers can get the attention of individuals who need to sign off on investing in a new-hire onboarding program.

Create a project team

You may need a tactical project team, perhaps consisting of some of the members of your advisory council as well as those responsible for putting new methods into action. This could include members of HR, instructional designers, webmasters, a project manager, and learning and development team members.

The project team can deliver the plan for improving onboarding, and the advisory group serves as a means to vet ideas and take them to a higher level for approval, if needed. Use their help building the framework, and recognize them for their efforts.

What to include?

Start with the basics (before day one), and share logistics with the new hire as soon as possible. This may include paperwork needed for technology access, benefits, company procedures, and resources.

Balance the mundane paperwork with efforts to warmly welcome the new hire. This can include handwritten thank-you notes from her team and manager, copying the new hire on welcome announcements sent within the company, or including his bio and experience on the company intranet or in newsletters.

Be sure to share information new hires will need before their first day, such as dress code, parking, building access, what to expect on day one, and team member contact information.

It is also helpful to let the new employee know what to expect (in whatever detail you can provide) for before day one, and for their first day, first week, first month, and first year.

Leveraging technology

You can balance the time required to welcome and prepare new employees by leveraging technology whenever possible.

You may not be able to automate everything related to the hiring process right away, but you can use existing technology to get the efforts started, then build in automation over time.

  • Use the capabilities and features of your learning management system (LMS) or enterprise resource planning system (ERP) to automate some tasks. You may be able to automate offer letters, welcome letters, introductory videos, checklists, document gathering and workflow, quizzes and compliance courses, and introductions to any internal or external social media channels for employees.
  • Using your public-facing website to share information about the work experience in your organization can serve as a recruitment tool as well as a means to provide information to new hires. The transparency created by making information and guidebooks available for employees and their managers can give a new hire a better understanding of what to expect. NASA has been recognized as No. 1 in the Partnership for Public Service report Best Places to Work in the Federal Government. See how NASA uses its website to recruit and prepare employees for working at the agency.
  • Some organizations send new employees a welcome video from the CEO. Even more inventive, HireVue employees record their own welcome videos and share them within the company’s social networks.
  • Remember to balance delivery of self-paced learning (such as early access to materials and resources via your LMS) with human interaction and reflection. Although automating some tasks can be helpful, following up with phone calls and check-ins before the new hire begins will make the experience more personal.
  • Think about the cloud-based tools your work teams are using. A client of mine uses Slack for many points of team communication in addition to project management. Adding new hires or consultants through the app into the conversations and channels gives them an opportunity to learn more about the projects underway and to interact with team members quickly.
  • Companies with virtual teams are discovering that tools such as Skype can bring workers together, and by creating channels for work purposes as well as casual conversations, they are bridging the distance between workers and creating stronger teams.

Make it ongoing

Creating a strategic onboarding process will take the buy-in of senior leaders and managers, input from individuals across the organization, and a commitment to ongoing improvement.

Set expectations with your advisory group and your new hires, regularly checking in for feedback and adjusting course as necessary. And celebrate success throughout the organization as you continue to strengthen the new-hire experience.


Hein, Rich. “Top 8 Sites for Researching Your Next Employer.” 28 March 2013.

Hofmann, Jennifer. “Virtual Teams Are Here to Stay (No Matter What Yahoo Says).” InSync Training. 19 August 2014.

Lahey, Zach. Welcome to the 21st Century, Onboarding! Aberdeen Group, 2014.

Lamoureux, Kim. Strategic Onboarding: Transforming New Hires into Dedicated Employees. Bersin & Associates, 2008.

Lindenberg, Stacy. “Revisited: Building Internal Advisory Councils.” Learning Solutions Magazine. 31 May 2016.

Martinez, Ben. “Up Your Onboarding Game with Technology.” The Hiring Site Blog. 16 January 2015.

Maurer, Roy. “Onboarding Key to Retaining, Engaging Talent.” Society for Human Resource Management. 16 April 2015.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration. “Careers at NASA.”

Partnership for Public Service. The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government. 2015.