Views: Setting the stage for onboarding success

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At its core, the real purpose of onboarding is to bring a new teammate up to speed as quickly as possible, so they can start contributing to the organization’s mission, writes Mike Nachshen. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a colleague, consultant or even an entire agency – it’s really all about setting people up to succeed. 

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There are two elements to setting the stage for winning: Understanding the Organization and Building Relationships.

Understanding the Organization

That means the onboardee needs to have a detailed and thorough understanding of what makes the organization tick – in other words – what is the business of that organization.

For example, early in my career, I served in the U.S. Air Force as a Public Affairs officer, assigned to a unit responsible for global logistics. To truly understand our mission, new members were immersed in an extraordinary onboarding experience: they were placed on a KC-10 – essentially a DC-10 aircraft adapted into a flying refueling station – for a hands-on aerial refueling mission. Experiencing mid-flight refueling firsthand – flying at 400-plus mph and observing a fighter jet approach within yards to refuel – provided new teammates an unparalleled appreciation of our unit’s critical role.

That onboarding approach was successful – and it stuck with me. Now, whether I’m onboarding somebody else, or being onboarded myself, I always make it a point to embed an understanding of how the CEO of an organization “earns their pay” into the process.

Building Relationships

The other thing that’s essential to the onboarding process is helping the onboardee establish a network within the organization.

One February, I was asked to build the International Communications function for a $16b business unit of a newly merged Fortune 50. My boss was busy handling the details of the merger, so it was on me to figure out the onboarding approach once the merger closed in April. No worries! I spent the balance of February and all of March looking at org charts and figuring out who were the internal stakeholders around the globe that I would need to build relationships with. I even sent away for a brand new passport with extra pages, via expedited service, in anticipation of the trips that I would take to meet them.

There was only one problem. I got the call to lead the team in February of 2020, and the first day of my new role started on April 1, 2020. Of course, by then, the Covid-19 pandemic was ravaging the globe. Tens of thousands of people were sick or had already died from Covid, and the world was on lockdown. As almost everyone reading this will recall, the world literally changed in a matter of days.

However, the one thing that didn’t change was the value of building relationships as part of the onboarding process. Rapidly building relationships with key stakeholders inside the newly merged organization was even more important to the core purpose of onboarding.

Like everyone else at the time, I fumbled my way through phone calls full of barking dogs in the background, and had plenty of Zoom meetings with my new teammates interrupted by kids. But the ironic thing was, because we were all in the same boat, that helped accelerate the onboarding process. And sharing that intimate slice of their life with my new colleagues – whether it was “meeting” children, pets and spouses, or simply “seeing” the interior of someone’s home – helped create the relationships that enabled the onboarding process to succeed.


Onboarding sets the tone for the long term success of a new employee, agency or consultant. By focusing on creating relationships, and giving a new teammate an understanding of the organization’s core mission, an effective onboarding program will quickly bring a teammate up to speed and allow them to help the organization succeed.

Mike Nachshen is the president and owner of Fortis Strategic Communications, LLC, a consultancy that helps organizations win new business, defend market share, and protect and enhance their reputations. Prior to starting Fortis, he led international communications at a $16 billion business unit of a Fortune 50 Aerospace & Defense company. During his tenure there, he spearheaded an integrated Communications campaign that won a competitive $40b franchise program and built his organization’s brand across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Find him on LinkedIn or at