Cruise Ships and Onboarding Best Practices – Are There Lessons to be Learned?

What Can We Learn About Welcoming New Faculty to CSU through a Cruise Ship's Practices?

Faculty onboarding is important to ensure a smooth transition into life at CSU. I recently experienced cruising for the first time and in doing so recognized that the cruise line had perfected the onboarding process in a thoughtful and consistent manner.

Preboarding: Prior to our embarkation, and at various time points from first making the reservations, we received information on when and where to go, what to expect upon arrival, and the necessary travel documents we should carry. The itinerary, touring opportunities, and details regarding shipboard amenities were also shared. Similar to guests on a cruise ship, faculty also benefit from these practices! Staying in touch and providing a new faculty member with information between the time of hire and their on-site arrival is a first step to making them feel welcomed and included. It is an opportunity to provide information about the department or unit, the college, the university, and the surrounding community. This is a good time to ask the new hire if there are other things they would like to know about or people they would like to correspond with before arriving, and it can help the new hire manage their uncertainty during the transition. Department leaders should familiarize themselves with the CSU HR New Employee website. It has a wealth of information and resources, and leadership can use the site to support their onboarding efforts.

A photo of a larger ship on the ocean.
What can cruise ships teach us about faculty onboarding?

Orientation and Introductions: Once we boarded ship, there was a safety briefing followed by welcome beverages and hors d’oeuvres before we were shown to our room. In the room, our service team (who addressed us by name after verifying our preferences) oriented us and gave us information on Wi-Fi, room amenities, and operation of the electronics. Our luggage was placed for us, and we were informed that they would secure the empty bags to minimize crowding in the room. We were also introduced to our personal concierge who subsequently helped further orient us to the ship and restaurants, where she made reservations on our behalf. Not only did we feel welcomed and valued, but we also felt confident that our short time on this ship was going to be a positive experience.

Introductions to key staff members, orientation to the campus facilities, understanding safety parameters and the expected code of conduct, knowing who to reach out to with questions, and having logistics explained and taken care of up front was very reassuring. These are directly translatable to onboarding new faculty. For example, departments might consider providing support for their office set up, offering secure building or office access tools, having a computer and phone set up, meeting with IT support, touring the facility, sharing relevant information, and introducing key personnel. Oh, and did I mention a welcome gift? Maybe some CSU swag!

Settling In: While time on a cruise ship is short, best practices from their team included repeated check-ins on whether expectations were being met and if we needed anything additional. Everyone from the captain to service team members interacted positively with guests.

For a faculty member ‘settling in’ may take up to a year, and it is vital that they have formalized check-ins with their unit leader and department head to follow up on their integration and learn if there are specific resources they need to be successful. Onboarding is a team effort, however, and it is up to everyone to make a new member feel welcomed. This is also a time to ensure the new team member understands the expectations of the position, the culture and purpose of the unit, and how they fit into it. As the new faculty member becomes familiar with the department and faculty, mentors should be selected. These mentors should work with the faculty and other, relevant department leadership to establish SMART goals for their upcoming year.  It is recommended during the first six months of a new faculty members integration into the department that they be assigned a buddy. This is intended to be an informal relationship with someone who can relate to the challenges and opportunities a new faculty member faces. They serve as a friendly resource for the new faculty member and can help them integrate into the campus community.

Following up: The onboarding process can take six months to a year. It allows time for the faculty member to integrate with the institution/unit, learn processes, feel supported professionally, and have necessary resources to be successful. This helps faculty feel as though they belong at CSU and increases the likelihood that they will stay in their role. Onboarding done right is vitally important for retaining faculty members and is far more cost effective than having to go through loss and rehiring. While we couldn’t stay longer on the cruise ship, the experience had us saying we will go back if another opportunity presents (despite the intermittent motion sickness)! In keeping with good practices, the cruise line did reach out to ask for feedback to see if expectations were met—another great idea for department chairs as they onboard their faculty!

Key Takeaways!

  • Onboarding includes orientation—and so much more!
  • Onboarding begins at the time of hiring and continues for up to one year after the faculty member is on site.
  • Small gestures showing the faculty member is valued are important.
  • Frequent check-ins are important.
  • It is critical to define roles and responsibilities of those involved in onboarding to ensure consistency and sustainability of the process.


Author Information: This blog post is written by Khursheed Mama. Khursheed is a Professor and Interim Head in the Department of Clinical Sciences. She is also a Faculty Success Advocate.