When I remember new hire orientations of jobs past, I think of watching cheesy, outdated videos, completing a marathon of poorly photocopied forms, and being escorted to an empty cubicle three hours before the end of the business day, left to wonder how I should pass the time until my new boss got back from an offsite meeting. I think about how homesick I was for the job I just left, how I’d had this sick feeling in my stomach, how I’d feared I’d made a terrible mistake.
My experiences are not unique. Despite notable innovations in other areas of leadership, the new hire orientation continues to be an overlooked area. And if you think about all of the time and effort you just spent to bring the new hire on board in the first place, this doesn’t make sense. If your orientation makes an off-putting impression, it may take months to overcome the bad taste the new employee now has in her mouth.
Poor orientations also slow time to productivity, increase error rates, and adversely impact recruitment efforts, and incredibly, improving orientation can increase retention rates by as much as 25 percent. Read on to learn more about the goals of well-designed programs and how you can implement one without relying exclusively on the HR department.
Goals of Orientation Programs
The first step in turning around your new hire orientation is to realize that it’s not just a formality, or something you do as a goodwill gesture. Good orientation programs accomplish the following objectives:
Reduce Startup Costs: Proper orientation can help the employee get up to speed much more quickly, thereby reducing the costs associated with learning the job.
Reduce Anxiety: Any employee, when put into a new, strange situation, will experience anxiety that can impede his or her ability to learn to do the job. Proper orientation helps to reduce anxiety that results from entering into an unknown situation.
Reduce Employee Turnover: Employee turnover increases as employees feel they are not valued, or are put in positions where they can’t possibly do their jobs. Orientation shows that the organization values the employee, and helps provide the tools necessary for succeeding in the job.
Save Time for the Manager: The better the initial orientation, the less likely supervisors and co-workers will have to spend time teaching the employee.
Develop Realistic Job Expectations: It is important that employees learn as soon as possible what is expected of them, and what to expect from others, in addition to learning about the values and attitudes of the organization.
Well thought-out orientations celebrate the arrival of the new hire, integrate her into the team, and provide a comfortable forum for answering questions that extends beyond the first day.
Orientation Best Practices
Like the hiring process, the orientation process is one that should begin well before the new hire arrives for his first day. Here are several issues to keep in mind as you prepare to officially welcome your new employee.
Own the Process: Typically, new hire orientations are managed by junior level human resources staff, but these are not the people who should be responsible for assimilating a new employee. Orientations should be designed and run by you, the new hire’s manager, because who better understands exactly what needs to be done to get this person up to speed? HR can have a standard one or two hour session to sign paperwork and go over corporate policies and benefits, but beyond that, your department should be running the show.
Involve High-Level Execs: Encourage the CEO or general manager to stop by your new employee’s office, send a personal e-mail, or make a phone call welcoming the employee to the organization.
Plan a Special Outing: Take the team out to lunch on the new hire’s first day, organize a dinner with other new employees and their spouses, or engage in a team building activity with current employees.
Make an Announcement: Place a welcome note and picture on the company Intranet, and if anyone reads the local paper or company e-newsletter, put a notice in to let everyone know about your new team member.
Get Creative with Their Office Space: Have your administrative assistant create a banner signed by the team, or hang a team picture on the wall.
Gift Them Little Extras: Send the new hire’s spouse and kids first day welcome gifts, corporate products or cards to make them feel they are part of the team and to build support for the new company.
Set Up a Series of Peer-to-Peer Training Sessions: In addition to any official job training your new hire may need to complete, organize a series of meetings with team members who excel in particular areas. Encourage your new hire to seek out these team members to answer questions about their job duties.
Put a Standing Check-in On the Calendar: Ensuring that you meet with your new report at least once a week during the duration of her first three months of employment will positively direct her activities and catch potential issues early.
Personal touches and consistent follow up should motivate new employees as you engage in the process of showing them how things are done in your organization and providing them with the tools to do their jobs effectively.
A final critical point is that orientations need not be limited to one day. Ideally, activities should be planned over the course of a few weeks so that you don’t overwhelm the new hire or neglect important things she needs to know.