A Slam Dunk New Employee Orientation Process

employee orientationYou go to the Apple Store. You meet an army of smiling (not in that Stepford Wives kind of way), diverse and wildly capable Apple employees who are waiting to solve all your problems. Because they all believe deeply that Apple makes products that change peoples’ lives.

And they’re amazing. How do they find these people? I’ve said it myself — I would hire anyone I’ve ever worked with at the Genius Bar.

How do they do it? Sure, they hire smart people. But it’s more than that.

Quite simply, they have an amazing employee orientation process.

If you don’t, Apple has a lot to teach you. I’ll lay it all out for you.

And at the end of this post, I also have a special treat — a detailed plan you can download and implement at your nonprofit.


 How well do you orient your new employees? Are they oriented? Or disoriented? Does your new staff orientation look like this?

“Here’s the staff directory. Oh, wait. She’s not here anymore. Oh darn. He relocated to our regional office. Geez, we need to update this thing. Anyway, I have to go to a meeting and we’ll definitely catch up when I get back. Introduce yourself around.”

Am I close?

I completely get it. You’re busy. You finally filled that open position (and you’ve been doing that job while interviewing) and you just can’t wait to shift all that work to your new hire.

So you don’t wait. You start shifting right away because you’re so busy.

Too busy to do one of the most important things you can do to ensure staff productivity and retention.


This week, a front page New York Times offered readers a glimpse into the Apple orientation process. It’s called Apple University.

Sure, it’s a big deal and expensive. (“… even the toilet paper in the bathrooms is really nice,” said one employee). But stay with me.

Here are five things you can borrow (steal?) from Apple’s employee orientation and implement at your nonprofit right away.

1) Have one. A great employee organization ensures that your new employees know it’s not just a job; it’s a vocation. If you want a data entry person to see a donation as a roof over someone’s head rather than just a piece of paper, you need a great orientation. Think about those Apple employees. Why are they so different from the folks at Best Buy? One reasons is that Apple invests in their employees and we know that makes a difference.

2) It’s not just an orientation; it’s a welcome. Demonstrate the new person’s value from the moment they walk in the door. Plan for their arrival. What would you want YOUR first day to look like? You’d at least like to talk to a very senior person who tells you how glad she is to have you on board, right? What materials might they want to read before they even set foot in the office? What do you want your new staffer to say to their partner (or pet) when they get home after day 1? Make that happen.

3) Keep it simple. At the end of the day, it’s all really simple. It’s about the mission. It’s not a laundry list of activities or programs. It’s about an overriding theme that brings all employees together. Make sure that thread is bright red and clear from day 1.

4) Communications. One of Apple’s classes is called “How We Communicate At Apple.” Brilliant. Be sure your orientation incorporates the value of clear communication up, down and with peers. Maybe toss in a bit of email etiquette and a bit about the value of direct feedback.

5) What Makes Your Organization Unique? An employee should tell her cat that first night that she feels lucky to have joined your organization. And not just because of the mission. Should be more than that. Whether it’s about how you all work, the culture of your organization, your nonprofit’s core values, whatever it might be. We had a TV in our lunchroom space at GLAAD; many lunch hours included 30 minutes of some cheesy soap opera. Yes, of course it had a gay character that allowed it to pass as work, but it was part of our culture. Take a break, have a laugh and do it with a group of colleagues.


And now for that special treat.

Download my free EMPLOYEE ORIENTATION GUIDE. It will help you create your own employee orientation process that would even impress the Dean at Apple University.

Pass this along to others. Build some consensus. Let me know where you land.

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Joan Garry
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Joan Garry

Widely known as the "Dear Abby" of nonprofit leadership, Joan works with board and staff as a strategic advisor, crisis manager, change agent and strategic planner. Joan also teaches at the University of Pennsylvania with a focus on nonprofit communications and leadership.
Joan Garry
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