In 1950, Eileen Barton sang the hit “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d Have Baked a Cake,” which nearly 70 years later echoes the sentiment about how many organizations are welcoming new employees. All too often new hires are disillusioned on their first day of a new job when they are met with disorganization. After being wooed in the hiring process, they seem forgotten when no computer is ready for them, their hiring manager is “busy,” and they are left to fend for themselves. This breaks what John Kotter deemed in 1973 as “The Psychological Contract” between what the organization promised and what the new employee expected. Since we knew they were comin’, their onboarding and orientation should not be an afterthought.

A simple recipe to make the new hire feel valued and glad they joined your company exists. When mixed together properly, Dr. John Sullivan suggested in “The New Hire Orientation Toolkit,” it can increase new employee retention by as much as 25 percent. The learning team at the Alberta Motor Association (AMA) took the five basic ingredients noted by Angela Heyroth in her research on the “Best Practices in New Hire Orientation” and whipped up a successful orientation program that keeps new hires engaged.

  1. Welcoming and Enfolding

The feeling of leaving a known place of work for something new is often met with mixed emotions from excitement to worry, and sometimes dread. Designing an onboarding/orientation experience that welcomes the new hire and their family before they start can alleviate these emotions. It’s easy to create a celebratory atmosphere that raises enthusiasm and makes people feel they are a productive part of the organization from the start.

This could be as simple as calling with a friendly welcome and letting them know what to expect on their first day. Sending a “welcome package” to their home before they begin with gifts to share with their family includes them in the celebration and builds support for the new organization. Managers can send an email that shows how glad they are they joined the team, or include the new employee on an email to the whole team announcing their arrival and what skills they bring.

Post personalized posters/banners to greet them as they arrive, or have a welcome card signed by their new team waiting for them at their desk. Send them an invitation to the orientation event and present them with their name tag or security pass to show you prepared for their arrival. Give them a tour of the building and introduce them to key people. Ensure their computer, email, logins, phone, and systems are ready for them to be instantly productive.

2. Engaging

The last thing you want your new hire saying is “I left my old job for this?” Skip the boring PowerPoint lecture and design an active orientation that engages the body and senses in learning. To leave them feeling happy they joined the company, make their first day a well-structured orientation day event that isn’t rushed and includes taking them to lunch.

Use accelerated learning techniques that appeal to visual, auditory, somatic, and tactile learners.  Break down content into bite-size chunks so as not to overwhelm them, and only cover the basics new hires need to master to make them successful. Tie together the big picture view of the company to instill pride in joining a worthy organization. Hiring managers should also check in with them daily during their first week to see what’s working and what’s not.

3. Create a Shared Vision

Research shows that the “first minutes are critical in new-employee orientation,” and when done right, can lead to happier, more productive, engaged workers. An effective way to create a shared vision with a multigenerational workforce is to focus first on what the new hire brings to the organization and how it fits with the company culture.

To do this, design a scalable orientation to run whether there is one new hire or 20, and hold it at company headquarters to familiarize new employees with the corporate culture. Engage facilitators with an enthusiasm and thorough knowledge of the organization’s story, values and culture. Share the company history to connect new hires to the roots of the business and its key strategies. Align new employees and their skills with the company mission, vision and values, and show how important their roles are to the overall business. Additionally, display an organizational chart with pictures of senior executives so they can avoid a gaffe by recognizing them.

4. Involve Senior Leaders

While experienced learning professionals deliver the orientation program, involving senior leaders in visible roles from the start elevates the program and makes new hires feel valued. To create buy-in and help the new hire affirm their decision to join, ensure the CEO welcomes new employees and their families in a note that arrives in the welcome package or invite an executive member to lunch with new employees. You could also create a video greeting from the CEO or schedule an appearance at orientation that involves senior leaders in a short, two-way conversation with new hires about the company’s culture or core business.

5. Part of an Onboarding Process

New hires respond favorably when they are part of a process that displays the culture through recruiting, interviewing, the job offer, the pre-orientation materials, orientation, the business unit knowledge transfer, and the follow-up activities. Orientation can begin before employees start when companies allow access to an intranet site that lets new hires know about benefits, dress code, where to park, how to enter the building, places to eat close by, and transit information to the office so they don’t feel lost in a new environment. Before orientation, train hiring managers on the onboarding/orientation process and set-up an intranet site with downloadable materials to make welcoming new employees easy.

Additionally, assign mentors or buddies to guide new hires through their first week. Give them an infographic of a new hire learn-track that continues through their first week, first month, 90 days, and six months. Seek continuous improvement by sending an anonymous evaluation of the onboarding/orientation process after their first week, and conduct HR stay interviews at the vulnerable six months point.

Create a manager checklist that’s a dummy’s guide to onboarding and begins before the new hire starts and carries through their first month. Or create an infographic to help managers understand the whole process a new employee goes through and emphasizes what the manager is responsible for doing at each stage. 


It takes a tremendous amount of organizational collaboration to onboard and orient new hires successfully, but it is well worth the effort. After employing many of these suggestions in a new orientation program, AMA saw a 56 percent reduction in new hire turnover and those new employees who did not attend the orientation day had a 50 percent higher turnover rate than those attending. The first days send a message. A thoughtful orientation with targeted goals designed with purpose can affirm the new employee made the right decision to join your organization. The result is an engaged employee with a purpose that contributes to the overall organizational success. This simple recipe helps design a program that truly values what the new employee brings to the team and sets them up for success; after all, you knew they were comin’.