Strategic Onboarding: Creating a Cultural Immersion to Retain Top Talent

By Sarah Colley

In the ever increasing competition for top talent, you can get your talent acquisition process to a well-oiled machine, but if there is a revolving door, the work never ends nor is it effective. The average turnover rate in the healthcare industry is 16.9%, creating much opportunity around retention (PWC/Saratoga ASHHRA HR Metrics Tool Benchmark Results Calendar Year 2016). Top talent must be retained and the first key element to retention of new talent is the onboarding process. The “onboarding” word gets thrown around in the industry and there are many definitions. Some of those onboarding definitions are:

  • “The process of integrating new employees into the organization, of preparing them to succeed at their job, and to become fully engaged, productive members of the organization” (
  • “Bringing employees into a company, making sure they know what’s expected of them, making sure they know how they’re going to add value, making sure they understand how they fit” (“Faster Isn’t Always Better for Onboarding”, Talent Management Magazine/Lisa Rummler, March 2007).
  • “Onboarding is the process by which new hires are emotionally, physically and professionally integrated into the established culture and operations of their new employer” (

What is the difference between Onboarding and Orientation?

Orientation is an event while onboarding is a process. High performing organizations have both orientation and onboarding. A few years ago, like many organizations, ours had a mundane and regulatory-based orientation process and not much of an organized onboarding process. Realizing this was not an effective strategy, a multi-disciplinary team set out to revamp the process, led by Human Resources and Marketing. Orientation shouldn’t be about what the regulatory requirements dictate that new employees learn, but instead should be an immersion into the organization’s culture and brand.

The original orientation process touched on all things we had to tell employees in a non-interactive process. It was traditional lecturing and slides. Most of the presenters were managers or directors, but you did not see the presence of executives with the exception of the CEO stopping in for a few minutes to say hello and welcome. After the orientation was revamped, it became an immersion into the desired culture. Much of the regulatory required training was moved to a more interactive session or electronic learning. The orientation process now has four hours during our two-day orientation experience of executives including the CEO immersing the new hires into our mission, our vision, our expectations and standards of conduct, our brand, how to create customer experiences, communication expectations, connecting the why behind our work and finishing with all new hires committing to our brand promise and celebrating with a reception that all executives and hiring managers attend to welcome our new employees.

Onboarding begins from the moment an offer is made, and for our organization, lasts around 90 days while the new hire immerses into our culture and becomes fully integrated and a productive employee. We revamped a position to be an Onboarding Coordinator. This individual works with each new hire to ease any anxiety of their new position. The Onboarding Coordinator reaches out to them before they begin to answer any logistical questions, help remove any barriers that may exist for them, and then greets them when they arrive for orientation, along with facilitating the orientation. The Onboarding Coordinator continues through their first ninety days to follow up with the new hire to check in and see if all is well or if there any issues or barriers that need to be addressed to ensure they have been fully integrated into our culture and are becoming a productive employee. During the onboarding process, we also ensure that our new hires are educated well on our benefit offerings so that they can understand what is offered to them and what plans are best. Utilizing an outside enrollment company has given us more resources to provide thorough education.

The Purpose and Goals of Strategic Onboarding:

  • Quickly integrate the new hire into the organization’s culture.
  • Ensure the employee feels valued and welcomed.
  • Provide consistent information to all new hires.
  • Understand the new hire’s expectations and what is expected from them.
  • Reduce turnover and increase retention of top talent.

How do you measure the success of a Strategic Onboarding Program?

While our organization has had much anecdotal success, our reduction in turnover overall and within the first year indicates success. Our overall turnover has reduced by 1.3% which equates to 35 people. Hard dollar savings for 35 people is almost 1 million dollars in turnover costs. The reduction in first year turnover shows us that we can retain top talent with the right onboarding program. We also have to insist that the culture in the area where they go to work reflects that of the organization’s expectation. Our scores on questions around understanding and the competitiveness of benefits have also increased.

The anecdotal success is most rewarding with this change in strategic onboarding. While we often receive feedback in orientation about “how it’s the best orientation they have ever attended” and “they have never seen one quite like it”, the best story is through one of our van shuttle drivers. Some of our senior executives went out to recognize this shuttle driver who was nominated and chosen for one of our Brand Promise Awards. After receiving the award, he said, “I just completed my first year anniversary and I remember in orientation the presentation of how we could make a difference regardless of our role. I realized I wasn’t just a shuttle driver that I am a shuttle driver and I too can make a difference.” He has done just that. His customers, both employees and visitors, are delighted by him as he drives them from the parking garage to the facility. He makes their day and sometimes sings to them with a song he wrote about organization. We talk a lot in orientation about creating experiences and the necessity of every role which he completely understood and acted upon. We also celebrated another employee, an environmental services technician, who was seen giving the jacket off his back to a homeless man outside of our parking garage. These employees were immersed into our culture and understood the impact they have upon others which is at the core of our mission. Strategic onboarding and immersing all new hires into our culture has helped us retain the top talent we are bringing into our organization and ultimately ensuring that we are delivering better service and care to our patients.

Sarah Colley, SVP | CHRO
Regional One Health