After countless resumes, interviews and internal deliberations, you’ve found your perfect candidate and the hiring process has finally come to an end. But no matter how confident you are that you picked the perfect person, there’s still more work to be done to ensure they stick around.

Sixty-nine percent of candidates who experience a great onboarding process will stay with their company for three years, while a negative one doubles the chances they’ll start searching elsewhere.

Before you start designing your new onboarding process, it’s important to come to a consensus about what onboarding is and isn’t. This way, you’ll get a better idea of the upcoming project’s scope and what items may or may not fall under its purview.

what is onboarding?

Informal onboarding refers to the process by which employees learn about their new jobs without an explicit organizational plan. Formal onboarding, on the other hand, refers to a written set of coordinated policies and procedures that assist employees in adjusting to their new jobs in terms of both tasks and socialization.1

Also known as "organizational socialization," onboarding is the method by which new hires can acquire the knowledge, skills and behaviors to become effective members of the company. It enables new employees to not only embrace and adjust to the performance aspects of their jobs, but to the social workplace dynamics that drive their employers’ culture.2

Along with formal and informal approaches, onboarding generally falls under different levels of complexity called the four C’s.



ensuring new employees understand basic legal and policy-related rules and regulations



taking the time to make sure employees understand their new jobs and performance expectations



providing employees a sense of community by educating them about the organization’s values, beliefs, goals, mission and behaviors

connecting people


providing guidance about interpersonal relationships and information networks that can enable career success

what onboarding isn’t

To truly define onboarding, however, it’s important to also understand what it isn't. It shouldn't be confused with orientation. Nor should it be confused with first-day training or an employee’s first day on the job.

Orientation largely focuses on gathering and supplying information that’s mandatory or routine. Activities like completing job applications and filling out tax forms, while necessary, are generally not what talent experts consider. The same thinking applies to first-day training and the employee’s first day at work. While all these are elements of onboarding, they’re only pieces of a larger whole.

Onboarding is not a one-day event, but rather a carefully planned engagement delivered over time.

onboarding is:

the method by which new hires acquire knowledge, skills and behaviors to become productive members of the company.

onboarding is not:

  • orientation or supplying mandatory or routine information
  • first-day training
  • paperwork, like tax forms

onboarding’s impact on business

A positive onboarding experience is important because it represents the first opportunity for the hiring organization to personally deliver on the career promise as communicated in its employer brand during the recruitment phase. From the perspective of the new employee, the onboarding experience directly reflects on the character of their new employer — how dedicated the organization is to their success, and how satisfying a career they are likely to have.

A great onboarding process does more than just get a new hire up to speed. In fact, a great onboarding experience improves new-hire retention by 82 percent and increases productivity by 70 percent. In other words, not only does a positive onboarding experience mean that new hires will stick around longer, it also means they get more done. In that way, it can be a powerful workforce management tool.

onboarding survey results

53% percent

best-in-class companies are 53 percent more likely than others to start the onboarding process before a new hire’s first day.

58% percent

fifty-eight percent of companies say their onboarding programs are mostly focused on paperwork and processes.

88% percent

eighty-eight percent of companies admit they don’t onboard well.

key takeaways

Building a great onboarding process begins with a fundamental understanding of the ultimate aim it’s trying to achieve: helping new hires acquire the knowledge, skills and behaviors they need to become productive members of your organization. It’s a structured process that stretches beyond rudimentary first-day training to encompass the big picture of what it means to succeed at your organization.

An effective onboarding process can go a long way in transforming new employees into long-term, satisfied and engaged company ambassadors — and we’ll walk you through the process of building your own program in the next article in our onboarding series.

To get access to all these onboarding insights in one place, download your copy of the full series here.

1. J. Zahrly and H. Tosi, “The differential effect of organizational induction process on early work role adjustment,” Journal of Organizational Behavior 10 (1989): 59–74. M.R. Louis, “Surprise and sense making: What newcomers experience in entering unfamiliar organizational settings,” Administrative Science Quarterly 25 (1980): 226–251. M.R. Louis, B.Z. Posner, and G.N. Powell, “The availability and helpfulness of socialization practices,” Personnel Psychology 36 (1983): 857–866.

2. For reviews, see T.N. Bauer and B. Erdogan (in APA Press). T.N. Bauer, E.W. Morrison, and R.R. Callister, APA Press, 1998. A.M. Saks and B.E. Ashforth, “Organizational socialization: Making sense of past and present as a prologue for the future,” Journal of Vocational Behavior 51 (1997): 234–279. A.M. Saks, K.L. Uggerslev, and N.E. Fassina, “Socialization tactics and newcomer adjustment: A meta-analytic review and test of a model,” Journal of Vocational Behavior 70 (2007): 413–446.