It Pays to Help New Staff Start Right

by Ron Kaufman

Effectively orientating your new employees can pay back big dividends in staff retention, employee commitment and customer satisfaction.

Managers should invest wisely in well-designed staff orientation programs.

Effectively orientating your new employees can pay back big dividends in staff retention, employee commitment and customer satisfaction.

Staff members who are properly trained and welcomed at the beginning of their careers feel good about their choice of employer, fit in quickly with peers and colleagues and readily contribute new ideas. They also speak well about your firm to friends and family. And they represent you more confidently to customers, business partners and suppliers.

Poor orientation of new employees can cost you dearly. Those who don't start right don't tend to stick around long, either. High staff turnover means you must recruit, train and orientate new staff all over again. Staff turnover also takes a high toll on the morale of those who do stay behind. When people leave your organization, those who remain begin to wonder... should we be looking for new employment, too?

But while many managers will agree that new staff orientation is important, very few invest the time and attention necessary to make sure it's done consistently, and done right. 



Now is the time to review your staff orientation program. Apply the following ideas to be sure your staff "start right"!

Think long term.

Effective orientation is a gradual process, and does not end after the second day on the job. The initial induction of employees during the first few days is important. But it is even more important to make sure new employees fit in and feel comfortable over the longer term. This can mean six weeks for a factory worker, or up to six months for new members of a senior management team.

A time for everything. Everything in it's time. 

New employees arrive with basic questions that must be answered quickly: What is the dress code? Where are the tools for my job? How does the telephone system work? When do people eat, meet and get paid? 

After the initial induction period, your employee's questions will change and mature: "How am I being appraised? Why is the system set up this way? How can I (safely) suggest changes ? Who can I see for guidance, approval and support?"

Don't try to answer all possible questions in the least possible time. Stretch out the process to cover the first weeks or even months on the job. This lets new staff absorb essential information more gradually and completely. 

An extended orientation program also reassures new employees. Newcomers are always under great pressure to perform and adapt. Your extended program shows you understand their situation, you care about their adjustment, and you will continue to show interest and attention over time. 

Involve everyone in the process. 

New employees are not the only ones affected by the quality of your orientation program. Other groups are influenced during this important period as well, including peers, bosses, subordinates, senior managers, customers, suppliers and even the new hire's family back home.

Each group has different questions and concerns about the new employee. Address those concerns by giving each group an active role in your overall orientation program. Buddy systems, lunch meetings, panel discussions, site visits, family days - these and other methods can be used to involve diverse groups and individuals in the process.

The reputation of your Human Resource Department is also at stake. If orientation is well planned and conducted, the HR department will be seen by new employees as a valuable resource for addressing their future concerns. On the other hand, poor staff orientation sends an early message that the HR department is ineffective or out of touch. 

Your orientation program should accomplish seven major objectives:

Create comfort and rapport. New staff want to feel a sense of acceptance and belonging inside the organization. Accelerate this process by creating abundant opportunities for new staff to interact with their peers, bosses, subordinates, colleagues from other departments, customers, suppliers and senior managers.

Diversify the time and nature of these meetings. For informal conversation, tea-times, meal-times and after hours get-togethers are a good choice. Include new hires in customer visits, focus groups and occasional management meetings.

Send new employees on short attachments to visit other company divisions and departments. Spending a week, a day or even an afternoon in a different part of the business will do wonders to build rapport and understanding throughout your organization.

Introduce the company culture. New staff usually want to fit in with accepted norms and values. "How do things really work around here? What importance do people attach to style, dress, presentation? Is punctuality very important? Do meetings start on time? Are long hours the exception or expected?"

Understanding company culture only happens over time, through formal presentations, informal dialogue and lots of personal experience. What gets said "officially" is compared with what gets said "confidentially" over lunch, after hours and even amongst colleagues in the washroom.

Extend your positive influence beyond the formal presentations. Create a buddy system or mentor scheme to match your most sincere and enthusiastic staff with your incoming employees.

But don't expect your enthusiastic staff to stay that way if their mentor role becomes a burden. Give the mentor relationship real support: pay for a few lunches, allow time in the weekly schedule for mentor-mentee conversations, include mentor services in annual staff appraisal and show appreciation to the mentors with tokens of recognition, appreciation and respect.

Show "The Big Picture" 

You must help new staff find quality answers to all of the following questions:

"Where has this company been? Where is it today? Where are we heading to? Who are our customers? What do they say about us? Who are our major competitors? What is our market position?"

"What is our current focus: are we expanding operations, going regional and launching new technologies? Or are we trimming costs, rationalizing product lines and streamlining operations?"

You can orient new staff to these "Big Picture" issues with a well-designed presentation. With slides, OHP, video or multi-media, highlight your history, and present status, your future goals and directions. Share "humble beginnings". Detail "greatest achievements". Show excitement for future directions. But be candid about company weaknesses, too. Talk openly about difficulties and challenges in the market. Keep your "Big Picture" presentation upbeat and lively, and keep it up to date.

In large organizations, very senior managers are often the best authorities to share insight on the future of the business. But these same managers may frequently be out of town or involved in handling current events. They are not always available when you want them to participate in an orientation program.

You can solve this problem by capturing them on videotape as they discuss the opportunities and challenges facing your organization. Then use the video in your program, and bring the managers back "live" at a later date for panel discussions, question and answer sessions, or informal "meet the manager" conversations.

Explain job responsibilities and rewards. Clarify expectations from the very beginning. Ensure new staff are thoroughly versed on their job responsibilities and accompanying levels of authority. Demonstrate and thoroughly explain your staff appraisal system. Show new staff a copy of the actual appraisal form and illustrate how good performance will be assessed, measured and rewarded. Use career paths of those who have come before them to illustrate possibilities and potentials in the job.

Handle administrative matters. There will always be paperwork to complete, forms to fill and detailed procedures to follow. Employment agreements, insurance policies, benefit packages, charitable contribution forms, locker allocation, tools and uniform distribution, the list goes on and on. While these are important to complete, resist the temptation to "get it over with" at one long (and boring) sitting. Spread those administrative tasks over many short sessions in the first few weeks. Hours of filling out forms on the first day at work is not the way to inspire enthusiasm about the dynamic nature of your organization!

Provide reality checks. Make sure your orientation is not an ill-guided fantasy of what you wish the company could be. If your program shows only the bright side of the business and the happy side of daily work, don't be surprised when new employees come back shell-shocked after two or three weeks on the job. Take time to be open and candid about the pressures and realities of your company, your team, your customers and your competition.

One large regional firm developed an extensive orientation program along the theme: "You will know more about the problems of this organization than people who have worked here for years!" This novel approach produces new staff who understand realities and are ready to work hard to help make them better.

Gain full participation. Give everyone a role to play in new employee orientation. Involve peers and colleagues in your mentor schemes, engage managers in talks and panel discussions, put subordinates in charge as hosts and guides during your cross-department visits. Invite new staff's family members to a special "Meet the Company Day" and take lots of photographs at the event. Later, send the best photographs back to your new staff's home address - with a copy of your company's newsletter and a hand-written note from you to the entire family.

Most of all, gain full participation from the new employees themselves. Resist the temptation to project all information in a one-way stream from the company towards the new staff. Have new staff explore the company, research the competition, meet the customers, and then generate their own questions for you to receive and reply.

Finally, get your new employees fully involved in welcoming the next batch of incoming staff. This will ensure your orientation program stays fresh and relevant to staff needs, and can be a watershed towards making "new staff" feel like "veterans" at the company; experienced, involved and able to contribute.

The time, money and human resources you dedicate to new employee orientation can be one of your best long-term corporate investments. Make sure your program is thoughtfully designed, carefully delivered, continuously upgraded and improved.


Copyright, Ron Kaufman (Ron@RonKaufman.com). All rights reserved. Ron Kaufman is an internationally acclaimed innovator and motivator for partnerships and quality service. He is the author of the best- selling book, "UP Your Service!" and the free monthly newsletter, "The Best of Active Learning!" For more information and free copy of the newsletter, visit http://www.RonKaufman.com

 
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