Onboarding Vs. Orientation

December 01, 2016

In our recent webinar, we had a great question during Q&A: “What do you see as the difference between orientation and onboarding?

Ah, the great debate of onboarding vs. orientation. [Click to Tweet]

The difference between onboarding and orientation boils down to this: orientation deals with the location of the printer, your computer, and your immediate coworkers. Onboarding deals with the job role and the culture of the organization.

Onboarding vs. Orientation: Mentors =/= Buddies

One of the biggest mistakes I see when organizations use mentoring to supplement onboarding, is confusing the function of a “buddy” with the function of a mentor.

Onboarding buddy programs are great, don’t get me wrong – especially since you do need to know the location of the printer, your computer, and be introduced to your immediate coworkers. Orientation is a necessary thing, and buddy programs as a  supplement  to onboarding can be great.

But to leave it at orientation, and stopping short of onboarding, is a critical error.

Mentors take it beyond the purely social function that a buddy fulfills, and addresses the cultural and job role-related aspects of the new hire’s start at their new organization. And because onboarding is two-pronged, you may well want to have more than one mentor per new hire – one to focus on culture, and one to focus on the job role. (Learn more about  mentoring for onboarding best practices .)


Keep Onboarding and Orientation Separate

Finding qualified mentors is probably the biggest challenge any organization has – usually because there’s a lack of understanding of what that person in the role of mentor should be responsible for doing. There’s a lot to be said on this topic, as  mentoring training  is essential to clearing up what it is that you need mentors to do and tying it back to your program objectives.

But can you have a buddy program and a mentoring program for your onboarding process?
Absolutely. Just make sure that:

  • The two programs stay separate from each other to prevent confusion (especially in reporting.) 
  • You clarify to buddies, mentors, new hires, managers, and leadership what the differences are between the two programs’ goals/objectives, strategies, success metrics, and roles of people involved. 

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