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Onboarding Shouldn't Be Like Boarding a Plane

A group of people waiting in line at an airport.

Former employment attorney and author Jathan Janove writes for SHRM Online on how to inject greater humanity into HR compliance. Jathan welcomes your questions and suggestions for future columns. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column. 

It's your first day on the job.

After you walk into the building, anxiety overtakes excitement while you wait "to be processed."

After you arrive, you're ushered into HR. You're walked through a bunch of rules, policies and procedures. They include:

  • The scarily worded, legalistic, zero-tolerance sexual-harassment policy.
  • The contractual disclaimer stating that although rules and policies are mandatory for you, they're optional for the employer. You have no rights.
  • Your acknowledgment that, except as prohibited by law, you can be fired at any time, with or without cause, reason or notice.

Perhaps if you join a particular type of employer, you'll receive the instruction my friend did on her first day: "If you want a desk, you'll have to assemble it yourself."

Howdy, newcomer. Welcome aboard!

In their book The Power of Moments (Simon & Schuster, 2017), Chip and Dan Heath put it well: "The lack of attention paid to employees' first day is mind-boggling. What a wasted opportunity to make a new team member feel included and appreciated."

But it doesn't have to be this way!

The Oracle Approach

My close friends forwarded to me an e-mail from their son, Micah Druckman, describing his onboarding experience when he started a job as technical program manager for Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. Micah told of an exemplary start to a new career.

Prior to his start date, his soon-to-be manager asked what type of laptop he wanted. Shortly thereafter, a member of Oracle's IT team called to confirm Micah's choice and promised to have it ready when he started.

Oracle's new-hire team invited Micah to an onboarding camp on his first day of work. It took place in a large conference room in Micah's building and consisted of a group of new employees and members of the new-hire team. After Micah received his new laptop ("I got the one I wanted!" he said), the new-hire team efficiently led the group through the logistical details new employees need to know.

There was an icebreaker session and a talk about the organization's core values from a senior manager. Micah said, "The icebreaker session was a great way to learn about each other. The talk about core values was compelling; the manager gave several personal examples of how he has observed each value in action during his time at Oracle."

Next, new hires were greeted by their managers, walked to their desks (already built) and introduced to new colleagues. Micah explained that they were given "two fantastic resources to help us with our onboarding after that first day: a chat channel to the new-hire team for any questions, which they replied to quickly and thoroughly, and a website with a new-hire checklist for our first day, week and month at the job. The checklist includes links to important videos and policy documents to review, and each item can be checked off as it's completed."

One gesture that touched Micah personally: They were asked about special dietary needs, and Micah replied that he keeps kosher. In the middle of onboarding camp, a member of the new-hire team used a ride-hailing service to pick up his food and bring it back to him. "Her act made me feel valued on my first day at the company," Micah said.

Oracle Speaks About Onboarding

I asked Anje Dodson, Oracle's vice president of human resources, to share the HR perspective on the company's onboarding practices. "Creating a good onboarding experience starts before day one," she said. "To help new employees start learning more about Oracle and keep their energy high in the time between offer and start, we stay in communication.

Anje Dodson"Before their first day, new employees receive a Welcome to Oracle e-magazine with a message from leaders and information about Oracle, our values and opportunities that await them when they join, as well as stories from employees around the world.

"We also work with managers to help make sure they are ready to deliver a good onboarding experience. Something as simple as not having a laptop available on an employee's first day can take away from a great experience, so we focus on having good global processes to deliver both a welcoming and productive experience.

"To help new employees easily navigate their first 30 days, we created a global New Employee Portal with a digital checklist and access to everything they need from orientation information and benefits enrollment to training and development, as well as internal social media channels where experts are on hand to answer questions and new employees can start networking."

Dodson described three driving factors in Oracle's approach:

  • Employee engagement.
  • Effectiveness/efficiency.
  • Consistency.

"Before we started taking a more centralized approach to onboarding, survey results showed that employee expectations weren't lining up to reality, and there were big differences in onboarding experiences across the company, which didn't make sense and created inconsistencies in the core cultural messages for employees.

"However, since launching the Onboarding Center of Excellence, we've seen a nearly 50-point increase in new-employee satisfaction scores with onboarding. We continue to take a user-centered approach to designing the new-employee onboarding experience, as well as extending that into employee learning, career development and performance. Ultimately, we want to help employees succeed at all stages of their journey with Oracle."

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines "oracle" as "someone who knows a lot about a subject and can give good advice."

When it comes to new-hire onboarding, I think Oracle qualifies as an oracle.

Jathan Janove, J.D., is the author of Hard-Won Wisdom: True Stories from the Management Trenches (HarperCollins/Amacom, 2017). He is president of the Oregon Organization Development Network and was named in Inc. magazine as one of the Top 100 Leadership Speakers for 2018. If you have questions or suggestions for topics for future columns, write to


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