All aboard! It’s a familiar call when boarding a train. That call today is very appropriate for people joining a company for the first time. You begin your career journey, whether starting at an entry level or transitioning to a senior position with a company’s on-boarding process.

Both large and small companies are looking at the advantages of the on-boarding process over the more traditional employee orientation program.

On-boarding is very different from an orientation program in that you are personally welcomed into a culture with specific values and a history of achievement. On-boarding reminds you of your fit after being selected and how you undoubtedly will contribute in your new organization. The personal welcome is critical not only by the “boss” but also by the people you’ll be working with directly. It’s not just a handshake; it’s a dialog about what you really need to know, what’s happening in your area, where you contribute, and what expectations you and your colleagues share. It makes the first 90 days a meaningful process of integrating and contributing what you were hired to do.

With an orientation program, you typically sit in a classroom environment and, as if an outsider, are told about company policy, practices and benefits. You and other entrants pore through what seems like countless forms of admission from human resources. You’re briefly introduced to your boss and teammates. But something is missing. You feel more like an observer than a participant. Of course you get to ask questions, are given important information, and your boss will see you when orientation is over.

Most of the forms can now be delivered online and prior to your first day. So there’s more time to interact with your new team, hence the movement toward on-boarding. On-boarding is nearly a continuous process for the first critical weeks.

With on-boarding, your new boss plays a larger role of integrating you into the company and the team you’ll be working with, whether a senior or an entry level team. He or she conducts the on-boarding experience. You’ll interact with your fellow team members as a contributing member. Your ideas are sought and integrated into the collective information. Human resources can act as a facilitator as well.

On-boarding can last beyond a day, depending upon the numbers of people you need to meet and talk with. There’s a check-in after two weeks to see how you’re doing; another after 30 days, and after three months. All designed to assure you are being fully integrated and participating in the position you were hired to perform.

In smaller companies, the check-ins are spontaneous and have no fixed milestones.

Your career development and retention initiatives begin with a great welcoming process. If you want to participate in the decision making and fun, you made the right choice, and will likely stay a while and contribute and grow. You discover that your values and the company’s are really very close, which encourages a long stay. When done well, on-boarding is a seamless process from welcome, to individual contributor, to team contributor.

What are the characteristics of good on-boarding? Many on-boarding processes are tailored and informal. They focus on building relationships with key people in the company. They deliver online a lot of information about benefits, compensation, relevant policies and history, leaving more time for learning the important projects, ongoing work and information about what you will be doing. Much of the online communication begins after hiring and before the official start date.

Today, smaller companies have embraced on-boarding and have an easier time with implementation. They recognize the importance of building relationships early, and how that contributes to longer retention times. Owners are available, so new hires are known and accessible to them.

For senior executives joining large corporations, the on-boarding process adds the informality needed for relationships at the top. Although the senior executive has already met her boss and her peers in the selection process, now with senior on-boarding there’s opportunity to contribute right away to the common vision of the company as a colleague and executive team member.

You could say that the on-boarding process is a more natural way of bringing people of common value together to achieve a common objective. Discussion, shared leadership, common perspectives, individual contribution based on unique and complementary skills, is the content of the on-boarding process for the team at the top.

Whether entry or transition, people will stay with a company that responds upfront to their need for meaning, common values, recognition, feedback and individual contribution.

Allan Benowitz, a vice president with The Employee Engagement Group of Woburn, Mass., notes a common theme among all employees they survey: They have an engagement level around 75 percent after one year, which drops to 50 to 60 percent for years two to five.

“Around the years six to seven and beyond employee engagement levels seem to rise,” he says.

What begins with on-boarding and continuous attention to employee growth and development “will have a positive impact on keeping employee engagement levels higher than average engagement levels,” according to Benowitz.

It truly pays off in the long-term to have a great on-boarding process.

Bob Vecchiotti is a business adviser and professional coach in Peterborough. He lives in Dublin.