How to Design a Winning Employee Onboarding Program

January 17, 2014by Mike LepisRecruiting and Retention


As a creative agency focused on employee and internal communications we have helped clients redesign their employee onboarding programs to better align with their brand values. The goals are to increase engagement and retention. In our experience we have found onboarding programs to be sorely neglected from a branding standpoint.

Where to start?

Wikipedia, of course!

According tothe Wikipedia “onboarding” entry: “Onboarding, also known as ‘organizational socialization,’ refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders.”

So, why redesign it for your organization?

Probably because the “knowledge, skills, and behaviors” taught in your program are out of date, out of sync, and off brand. Your program may have been written by someone from a time when your organization was less focused on employees. Or maybe it is being supported by people who aren’t experienced in unleashing the potential of onboarding as a brand experience.

That’s not great. In fact, you may be training people to be ‘actively disengaged.’ And being ‘actively disengaged’ is bad. Really bad. According to Gallup calculations, actively disengaged employees—the least productive sort of employees—cost the American economy up to $350 billion per year in lost productivity. Billion. With a B. (source: The High Cost of Disengaged Employees). It’s like having a vandal or a gremlin in your ranks.

Why not design your on boarding program to give your employees the best start at being actively engaged? Companies with high levels of employee engagement have been shown to improve their operating incomes by over 19%, while companies with low levels of employee engagement decline over 30% (Source: The ISR Employee Engagement Report. Towers Perrin-ISR, Why Employee Engagement? These 28 Research Studies Prove the Benefits). It seems so simple but why is it so hard? Why not look at knowledge, skills, and behavior from an engaged employee’s point of view?

So, now you know why, where do we start with your onboarding Program?

  • First, be honest with each other, you are setting the tone for your company culture with your onboarding program.
  • Ask yourself, are you a sink or swim culture?
  • Are you innovative and inquisitive?
  • Do you work in a culture of intimidation or hazing?
  • Are you collaborative?
  • Is employee engagement important to you, or are you challenged by a big changes within your organization?
  • How are you setting the expectations of new recruits?  How are you following through?

As a communications professional, you have your instincts. But take it step further. Getout there and ask other people about their experiences. If you use Gallup’s Employee Engagement Survey to measure engagement, you have even more information at your disposal. Take the areas that need improvement from your Gallup scores and insights from a companysurvey on onboarding and include them in the brief for an onboarding program redesign.

An onboarding program sets the tone for employee experience

Onboarding is one of the first experiences employees will have connecting to the internal expression of your brand. It sets the stage for their whole experience. This is the opportunity to deliver on the promise extended during the recruiting period and make the transition into your organization as seamless as possible. You chose them, and now they will choose to become part of your organization.

What have your onboarding experiences been like? We’d love to hear more about your challenges or successes. Please share in the comments section below.

Mike Lepis

As a Chief Strategy Officer, Mike leads our team to develop strategy, insights and creative solutions to drive employee engagement. He believes through human-centered design and strategic communications—employees will get behind a brand and its mission.