On-Boarding: It’s More Than First Day Paperwork

There is an old adage about the importance of making a first impression, and it couldn’t be more true. We don’t always have the opportunity to control the environment or circumstances in which a first impression is made.

And sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get the opportunity to make up for a less than stellar first impression with a better second impression. But in the work environment, when the first impression is on-boarding, there is no opportunity for a do-over.


To understand the importance of on-boarding, we need to look beyond the paperwork, and remember our own on-boarding experiences.

  • What kind of communication did you receive following an offer letter?
  • Did your immediate supervisor reach out prior to your first day?
  • Did someone give you clear directions for where to report your first day?
  • Did people seem eager to help or inconvenienced by your need for guidance and training?
  • Were expectations discussed and understood?

It’s fair to assume that as managers, directors, and leaders, our main focus is on how our new employees perform, therefore overlooking the importance of on-boarding. But on-boarding sets the tone for a new employee’s impression of the organization, the culture, and the brand. That impression creates a feeling and that early emotional connection to the company drives behavior and attitude. Behavior and attitude influences people’s performance and helps to keep it going. According to Forbes magazine, a strong on-boarding program is imperative to success in the first 90 days of employment and beyond. In order to get the best results from all employees, creating an environment which fosters positive attitudes and builds professional support from the beginning, is the foundation on which future success will flourish.

But what is on-boarding and who drives it? No different from the rest of the organization and departments that need to communicate and work together, on-boarding can be an indicator of the health of the larger organization, where different departments (such as Human Resources and Facilities) have different roles, but need to coordinate with each other to accomplish a task. There needs to be not just coordination but awareness of a common goal and then the desire to achieve it. And that can only happen when all groups see themselves as stakeholders in driving the successful welcoming of a new employee into a department, division, or the company as a whole.

Realistically, a poor on-boarding experience won’t, or at least shouldn’t, send a new employee running for the hills. But it’s worth asking why an onboarding experience would be anything less than stellar.

  • Who is overseeing the process and how is it being communicated?
  • Is the process that’s in place designed to be in the best interest of the organization, the department, the employee, or none of the above?
  • What message do we want to send on someone’s first day?
  • How important is this person to the operational functioning of our department?
  • What do we want this person to say when someone asks “how is the new company?”

Believe it or not, on-boarding is a type of marketing. It is an opportunity to show anyone who comes in what your brand is and how important your employees are to you. It’s a way to show people they are important and without them, there would be a void in production or accomplishing goals. And when people feel important, valued, and appreciated, they talk about their work environment in such a positive way it contributes to building the brand and attracting other amazing people who would also want to work there. That’s a type of marketing, and it costs nothing more than having an amazing on-boarding process and a staff of people who all have the same goal.

The answers to these questions and gaining the perspective of the new employee can be the first step to addressing a system which is truly the first impression of the Operational Health of an organization. Operational Health is the key to making sure that each group within an organization is at a minimum aware of how their work influences other departments. On-boarding is typically a coordinated effort between HR and several other groups. If it’s not working, and a new employee doesn’t feel as though the decision to start a job in a new firm is the best one they’ve made in the last 5 years, it may be a symptom of one, or several, larger issues within the operations of departments or the company as a whole. So ask yourself, how did you feel on your first day, and is there room for improvement?