Upon arrival at the Rizzo Center, new employees are introduced to the “Welcome to Carolina Blue” brand right away, as they are guided to their classroom.

Employees new to UNC-Chapel Hill are now being welcomed to the University with the “Welcome to Carolina Blue” orientation program. Held at the Rizzo Center, the Welcome to Carolina Blue orientation program features a redesigned format, new materials, and a website – new.unc.edu – to provide new employees with information and resources as they begin their Carolina journey.

While the “Welcome to Carolina Blue” redesign was spearheaded by the Employment and Staffing and Organization and Professional Development units within the Office of Human Resources, the groups’ leadership sought out the expertise of many others within OHR.

The Advisory Committee

Noreen Montgomery, senior director of Employment & Staffing, spearheaded the effort to overhaul the new employee experience, with the support of Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Linc Butler, and Vice Chancellor for Workforce Strategy, Equity and Engagement Felicia A. Washington.

In November 2016, a committee of OHR employees with key roles in in the orientation process was created to examine New Employee Orientation content, delivery, brand, and logistics.

The committee was composed of employees from Benefits and Leave Administration, Organization and Professional Development, Employment & Staffing, the EHRA Non-Faculty HR unit, and WSEE Communications. This New Employee Orientation Advisory Committee researched a number of orientation programs from organizations and universities before making recommendations regarding changes to the existing UNC-Chapel Hill New Employee Orientation program.

“It really was a group effort,” said Mark Haapala, director of Organization and Professional Development. “In all, we had 12 team members that helped re-imagine the program into what it is today. We also invited over 30 representatives from schools, departments and units across campus to participate in a pilot to make sure the new program was inclusive and engaging.”

Goals of the re-brand

The Advisory Committee’s overall goal was to “re-brand” the hiring and orientation process at UNC, from start to finish, to ensure an increasingly positive experience for new employees.

“The overall goals of the new employee orientation rebranding were to engage new employees’ heads and hearts,” said Montgomery. “The Advisory Committee wanted to make orientation more inclusive by making new employees feel like they became a part of something bigger through coming to work at UNC. The group wanted employees to feel like they made the right choice in selecting UNC as an employer and to create awareness of and appreciation for the UNC community and culture.”

In redesigning the new employee orientation process, the working group continuously focused on several questions, such as:

  1. How can we make new employees feel welcome and part of the Carolina community?
  2. How do we connect with both the head and the heart?
  3. How can we provide needed information in ways new employees want to consume it?
  4. How can we combine the “boring” essentials of a typical orientation program with more engaging elements found in best practice orientation programs?

Fewer slides, more connections

In order to engage new employees’ head and heart, the Advisory Committee redesigned the presentation program itself.

“Significant changes were made to the NEO presentation,” said Montgomery. “The presentation now focuses on information around Carolina’s culture, community, notable achievements, and history.”

In addition to giving new employees a sense of belonging at UNC, having fun was also a part of the design. Creative elements such as a “Rameses” rams head paddle are used during interactive activities, and at the end of the day, the group comes together for a photo for social media.

Every part of the orientation process is designed to create a comfortable, welcoming environment.

“I’m especially proud of the attention to detail in the new program design,” said Haapala.

“For example, we replaced classroom style seating with round tables to encourage conversations. We created activities to help people think about how their specific roles fit into the University’s mission and share some fun facts and history highlights. We even take group photos of each class to share on our social media channels,” he continued.

The “Welcome to Carolina Blue” orientation program incorporates increased interaction with and between new employees.

Past orientation programs focused on reviewing university and state policies, but found that they inundated attendees with information.

During past new employee orientation programs at UNC, facilitators labored through 143 PowerPoint slides (which included 695 bullets).

“We were overwhelming people,” said Haapala. “Today, we still cover key policies but the broader focus is on making people feel connected to the University in these first four hours of their careers here. Our presentation is now much more visual, and has a more contemporary look and feel.”

Going digital

Photo of lots of printed materials
Before “Welcome to Carolina Blue,” new employees were given over 40 individual printed pieces. Now, the majority of this information can be found at new.unc.edu.

Part of creating this contemporary look and feel was taking many of the printed resources given during orientation digital.

In the old orientation program, orientation facilitators provided new employees with over 40 separate pieces of printed information (photo: right).

For the “Welcome to Carolina Blue” new employee program, WSEE Communications developed a website – new.unc.edu – that provides the bulk of that information in a digital format. For new employees, this means less to carry and less to keep up with.

“Benefits materials are reviewed, but now only essential hardcopy benefit materials are provided, which help new employees to feel less overwhelmed,” said Montgomery.

In addition to cutting down on excessive paper usage, this website allows the various teams working with new employees to streamline their delivery of information, and to ensure that information they are referencing is both accessible and accurate. In addition to orientation and benefits information and materials, new.unc.edu provides employees with information regarding important policies, milestones and campus resources.

This new website, says Montgomery, can be used not only by new employees but also by jobseekers and targeted applicants, visitors to the University, and current employees.

One-stop shop (that includes lunch!)

Another major change from the old orientation program is that the “Welcome to Carolina Blue” orientation sessions are designed for all UNC-Chapel Hill employees – SHRA staff, EHRA non-faculty, and faculty. This not only creates a more inclusive atmosphere, but also gives new employees a greater opportunity to network with their colleagues at UNC from diverse roles and backgrounds.

Those networking opportunities are extended into a whole new feature of new employee orientation: lunch! Attendees are now provided lunch following the orientation program. In the previous orientation model, attendees were expected to leave and have lunch on their own. Unsurprisingly, many new employees were not sure where to go.

“We heard from many past participants that they did not know what they were going to do for lunch on their first day and they didn’t know where to go or how much time they had,” said Haapala. “We eliminated that feeling of uneasiness by providing them with lunch and the opportunity to further network with their fellow new employees.”

Another stressor that the Advisory Committee worked to remove was new employees’ need to go pick up their UNC OneCard.

“After several years of working with the  UNC OneCard office, we are now able to utilize newer technology so that UNC OneCard pictures can be taken and cards developed prior to the end of the Welcome to Carolina orientation session,” said Montgomery. “This saves both the UNC OneCard office and new employees valuable time and alleviates unnecessary anxiety and frustration.”

First impressions provide lasting effects

Research has shown that strong orientation programs improve employee retention, loyalty and performance in the long-run. At the same time, a strong orientation program also has its more immediate effects. Nearly 90% of employees decide whether to stay in a job within the first six months — so first impressions matter. Those behind the “Welcome to Carolina Blue” orientation redesign kept that in mind.

“We think our new hires now come out of their session even more excited about their decision to join Carolina,” said Haapala. “The time in which people decide in their mind if they have made a good or bad decision with a recent job change continues to compress so we have to make a good impression in these first few hours.”

“Our goal with Welcome to Carolina Blue New Employee Orientation is to reduce the natural anxiety and fear and boost the excitement and confidence,” Haapala continued. “We want them to be able to tell their friends and family that (after one day on the job) they made the right decision to join Carolina and they are excited about the opportunities for them here.”

According to Montgomery, fulfilling these goals will lead to lasting effects for UNC.

“UNC will benefit from this by helping employees adapt faster to their jobs, retaining valuable employees, and reducing the cost it takes to recruit for vacancies created by turnover,” she said.

New UNC-Chapel Hill employees attend one of the first “Welcome to Carolina Blue” orientation sessions at the Rizzo Center in November 2017.


NEO Advisory Committee

The UNC-Chapel Hill New Employee Orientation Advisory Committee included:

  • Noreen Montgomery, Senior Director of Employment & Staffing, Office of Human Resources
  • Kathy Bryant, Senior Director of Communications, Division of Workforce Strategy, Equity and Engagement
  • Mark Haapala, Director of Organization and Professional Development, Office of Human Resources
  • Ceresa Aberg, Staffing Support Services Manager, Office of Human Resources
  • Mary Beswick, Employment Consultant, Office of Human Resources
  • Erica Guestin, Senior Benefits Consultant, Office of Human Resources
  • Rob Stevenson, Senior Benefits Consultant, Office of Human Resources
  • Jen Baker, Training Specialist, Office of Human Resources
  • Sheilah Hobgood, EHRA Non-Faculty HR Consultant, Office of Human Resources
  • Sheila Corcoran, Creative Director, Division of Workforce Strategy, Equity and Engagement.
  • Kaylon Kirk, HR Communications Specialist, Division of Workforce Strategy, Equity and Engagement
  • Janet Launder, EHRA Non-Faculty HR Consultant, Office of Human Resources
  • Christopher Castelloe, Training Specialist, Office of Human Resources
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