The Difference Between Orientation and On-boardingTwo words that make me absolutely cringe when I hear them used interchangeably are “orientation” and “on-boarding”. They are not the same thing.

Orientation is a one time event. It usually lasts a day (or less if you do it well) and is an opportunity to share a ton of information that people must know.

Where the bathrooms are.
What time everyone takes lunch.
Where to park so you do not get towed.

Orientation is meant to share the essentials. It is intended to ensure that new hires get the very basics of what they have and usually includes a lot of paperwork filling out time. It is not very interactive and certainly does not help the new hire after it is over.

On-boarding is much longer. It takes place both before and after the hire. It could last weeks or months – the longer the better. It is meant to introduce and ingrain the company culture and way of working. It should reinforce everything the new hire was told in the recruiting phase. It should incentivize new hires to do their best work until they can do better. Then it should incentivize them to do better. It should make them happy with their decision. It should develop, coach and mentor. It should turn a great hire into a great employee.

See the difference?

Is your company putting new hires through an orientation or an on-boarding?

To find out more about creating effective onboarding programs and not just orientation, check out my Onboarding Primer.

This post reviewed  and edited on September 20, 2017

5 thoughts on “The Difference Between Orientation and On-Boarding

  1. I couldn’t agree more!

    This is a discussion I struggle with consistently. You say it much more eloquently than I do. I just say, “Orientation is one tiny PART of oboarding. It’s an accumulation of items that are part of the larger onboarding process.”

    The reaction? Crickets.

    • I totally understand Carlos. Many companies do not get it and wonder why people leave in the first 90 days – this could be why…

  2. Very refreshing to read and makes me reflect on various orientation/on boarding experiences I have had with various jobs. I love that you state, “It should incentivize new hires to do their best work until they can do better.” It is very obvious when this is the intent (and more obvious when it is not).

    Have you designed any solid on boarding programming that you would be interested in sharing? I know it strongly varies by company, industry, and most specifically culture and values, but I am wondering if you have discovered some staples that make up a strong foundation.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and energy.

    • Danielle,
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I am actually going to be sharing my best practices and case studies from when I have been a part of changing from an orientation system to an on-boarding program in a webinar on 6/6. If you would like to register for that you can do so here.


  3. Pingback: The Process of Creating an Effective Onboarding Program

  4. Interesting, various companies tend to do just the “orientation” and forget about the whole process of onboarding. Which is very important, just as you said.
    Maybe in the future the HR managers will realise both is important.

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