Boost Retention by Making Your Onboarding Program Strategic

By conducting a cultural audit, HR can make onboarding more meaningful and effective.
By: | May 21, 2019 • 3 min read
culture retention

Few HR leaders or employees believe their employer does a good job bringing new talent into the organization. Today’s onboarding approaches should provide new hires with clear expectations in terms of their behavior and interaction with management, customers and other employees. All too often, however, onboarding consists of little more than paperwork and maybe a brief summary of the organization’s mission.

Strategic onboarding seeks to solve that issue by moving beyond automating paperwork. Instead, it delivers a personalized journey that transforms new hires into fully functioning, integrated members of the team.

Strategic onboarding is made up of four pillars: cultural mastery, interpersonal network development, early career support, and strategy immersion and direction. Cultural mastery is a critical component, but one that often gets overlooked. By providing employees with a sense of formal and informal norms and how to thrive within them, HR will enable new hires to fit in quickly. They need to understand the ins and outs of company culture in honest and authentic ways, or else the organization risks losing them—and in a time of near-zero unemployment, that’s a big risk to take these days.


The challenge for many organizations is defining their culture. There are a few questions that can help start the process: What’s the “real and true” story? What’s changing as the organization grows and evolves? Are there any hidden perceptions that need to be unearthed? Are there any old traditions that need to be carried forward? Is the organization aspiring to build a different culture than what exists today?

To find out the answers to these questions, HR can conduct a cultural audit. At its core, a cultural audit is a simple, three-step process that includes asking, documenting and analyzing. Each of these three steps plays a critical role in understanding and establishing an organization’s culture.

1. Ask. Conduct business leader interviews and use employee surveys and focus groups to get a sense of what all individuals across the entire organization feel are the core tenets of the company culture. Each level in the organization likely has a different take, based on their day-to-day experiences.

2. Document. Take the results of the surveys, focus groups, and interviews and document the corporate values, unconscious expectations, daily behaviors and practices, perceptions (even myths!), and anything of potential value that helps paint a picture of the culture.

3. Analyze. Once the data has been collected and documented, examine it carefully to identify factors that are consistent as well as differences between sources. See if the data aligns with current strategies. Look closely to see if perceived, actual, stated or desired cultures emerge. In particular, take note of areas where there’s a disconnect between the aspirational culture and the way the organization currently functions.