Strategic onboarding: A C-Suite mandate for business success

Strategic Onboarding Blog

We all have our fair share of harrowing onboarding tales—perhaps technology failed us or a supervisor failed to show up on our first day. If we conducted a poll (and I’ve done so in numerous workshops), the collection of dreadful onboarding experiences would be endless. 

While we may chuckle at these initial job misfortunes, the truth is that a poorly handled onboarding process can have far-reaching consequences. A third of employees leave within the first 90 days—and it can cost up to 300% of their salary to replace them. Not to mention the negative impact such shake-ups have on morale.

What you stand to gain is even more significant than what you stand to lose. CEOs at the helm of successful companies have differentiated themselves in the marketplace by creating a high-performance culture. Organizations whose cultures rank in the top quartile post a 60% higher shareholder return than median companies, and 200% higher than those in the bottom quartile.

Your company culture is evident from day one. It’s the first glimpse a new hire will have of their employee experience throughout their time at your company. It’s the first opportunity to instill in them your purpose and vision. That makes onboarding the first critical moment that matters on their employee journey.

An effective onboarding program not only fuses incoming employees with the heart and soul of your company but fuels and accelerates their path to full productivity.

The bottom line is that CEOs who care about their bottom line must care about creating an effective onboarding program—from the day a new hire signs the contract through their first year with the company.

Intelligent communication for onboarding success

At the core of an outstanding onboarding experience is effective communication. Communication is the thread weaving through every critical moment during onboarding—from the initial sign-on to HR orientation, compliance training, and manager interactions. Intelligent communication is paramount to the success of your onboarding programs.

Optimize onboarding through these four recommendations:

1. Start with preboarding

Change is challenging for everyone. It’s crucial to acknowledge that every new hire, regardless of experience, faces a significant learning curve in adapting to a new job, both personally and professionally.

Communication should commence the day an employee signs. Before employees start, keep them “warm” with a welcome video. Then, give them information in their first week and first 30 days and ease the transition with personalized messages from their hiring manager. The goal is to reinforce confidence with the new hire—showing them your company culture and a solid plan for their success.

50% of candidates back out of their job acceptance before they start.


2. Create a personalized yet scalable onboarding process

Traditional HR communications—sending emails, posting an update on a stagnant intranet page, or assigning long eLearning modules with email reminders—are out of touch and ineffective. 

This is especially true for deskless employees—a substantial 80% of the workforce, encompassing 2.7 billion people worldwide. Many of them don’t even have access to emails containing essential onboarding information. Even if the employee does have access to email, they may miss it among the thousands of emails sent daily. 

Today’s workforce wants the same modern, personalized experience they get when ordering from Amazon and other companies. Think about the convenience of receiving notifications from Alexa about a delivered package or a reminder about a grocery list. 

Leaders can meet these expectations by sending personalized, omnichannel onboarding campaigns designed to reach them on their preferred channel with the information they need right at that moment. 

Technology like Firstup is crucial to enhancing the employee onboarding experience. From the moment the employee starts, the platform automates each step of the onboarding journey. New hires receive communications at the right time and in the right channel, including pulse surveys and reminders to help them during this often overwhelming process. 

An onboarding journey with this level of personalization, resources, and reminders in the first 90 days will have a much greater impact than an HR orientation with a folder of paperwork or a welcome email with 10 attachments to sign.

3. Forge a sense of belonging

Onboarding is more than paperwork—it’s a crucial time to help employees understand their role and feel a sense of belonging. Foster a connection early on between the new hire and the team. Consider the following ideas:

  • Allow employees to introduce themselves. Give them a stage in your communication platform where they can share fun facts and foster connections among their colleagues.
  • Create an onboarding buddy program to pair new hires with employees from different departments, facilitating cross-functional connections. These “sidekicks” can help them feel more included in the company.
  • Send them company swag. New hire gifts can be used to demonstrate the company culture. Consider a swag item or your CEO’s favorite book to reinforce your core values.

4. Prioritize listening

Effective communication involves not just conveying information but also listening to the needs and sentiments of new hires. While 90-day onboarding surveys are valuable, implement regular pulse polls for real-time data and quick course correction.

Let’s not overlook the pivotal role of managers as a vital communication link. Equip them with comprehensive onboarding templates, communication guides, and specialized training tailored for this crucial phase. Empower your managers to become adept communicators, facilitating meaningful two-way conversations. 

Onboarding doesn’t end after the first 90 days. Before the six-month mark, HR and managers should check in again on how new employees are settling into their roles. At the end of their first year, your conversation can shift to professional development. This ongoing involvement will demonstrate you’re invested in their success. 

Nearly 90% of employees decide whether to stay or go during the first six months on the job.


Recognizing that onboarding is the inaugural employee experience, executives must seize the opportunity to make it count. By implementing these innovative communication strategies, organizations can transform onboarding into a strategic advantage and lay the foundation for a thriving corporate culture.

Set your new hires up for success with personalized onboarding journeys

Related resources

Picture of Brittany Barhite

Brittany Barhite

Dr. Brittany Barhite is the Head of Employee Experience at Firstup. She has more than 16 years of experience in employee, leadership and external communications. Prior to Firstup, Brittany handled internal communications for a Fortune 500 company, overseeing employee and executive communications. Her experience and education provide a fresh internal communications approach that is focused on creative storytelling and transforming the employee digital experience.

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