"Compass" - Employee Orientation and In-Service Education


When Michael Rambarose became CEO of the Whitney Center in Hamden, CT, a life plan community with 300 employees, he was curious about how new employees were being oriented to their work. He learned that new employee orientations were being canceled so that a larger number of people could participate—but wondered how welcoming that felt to new people. The old program also seemed transactional—lots of information about Whitney Center being given to new employees—but not interactive or learning about the people who were choosing to work there.


In 2015, Rambarose and Employee Relations Officer Karyn Fryer reorganized the Whitney orientation by asking the question, “What do we want to gain from this program?” They decided that orientation and onboarding were part of a larger engagement strategy for all employees, which led to a brand new program of twice-monthly, full-day sessions with all staff, quarterly coaching conversations, regular staff meetings, and an overhaul of their performance appraisal program.

Implementation Details:

The full-day program is called Compass and is for all new and current employees. In the morning, CEO Rambarose and his COO Ken Sandberg focus on the employees, spending 3 hours with no more than a dozen staff in back and forth conversations about why they chose to work at Whitney, each other’s values, and the organization’s mission. Rambarose remarks on the authenticity of these conversations and Fryer talks about the huge impact it has on employees: “We just spent 3 hours with the CEO.”

The afternoon program is run by Fryer and features hands-on work, including a few minutes eating lunch as it would be experienced by an older person, roundtable conversations with residents, and a dementia simulation. One certified nursing assistant said it was the most “impactful thing she’d done in her life.”

Day 2 is for new employees only and includes the usual paperwork, tours, etc. along with training on in-service requirements, such as corporate compliance, resident rights, infection control, etc. New employees also will have a “touch point” follow-up meeting two months later.

Factors for Success:

  • Leadership must be integrally involved and committed to spending a few hours getting to know their employees in the one-day curriculum.
  • Understand that the goal of this program is to begin to build relationships with your staff.
  • See these candid discussions as opportunities to hear about issues and situations in the community and be able to address them immediately.


  • Despite rolling out the employee engagement survey during a reorganization, the survey showed that employees became even more positive about Whitney.

Need more information?

Contact Karyn Fryer at the Whitney Center