Value of Orientation

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"Always start off on the right foot." Trite, yet true, advice. Make sure each new member benefits from a carefully constructed orientation, and watch your productivity levels rise.

OVERVIEW [top]

An adult's first day on a new job is often compared to a child's first day at school. The scenario may be different, but the underlying fears and concerns are the same: Will they like me? Will I fit in? Will I know where to find everything? How hard will I have to work?

Experts have come to understand the importance of a carefully constructed orientation program in ensuring that new employees are set up for success. Often, an employee will decide in the first week how long they want to stay at your company. Make it a good first week, and you will have that person longer. A study by Corning Glass found that new employees who completed an orientation program were 69% more likely to be with the company three years later. A similar study by Texas Instruments revealed that employees who had been thoroughly oriented to the company reached full productivity two months sooner than those who had not.

Some orientation programs last just one hour, while others carry on for days or even weeks. In some companies, immediate supervisors are responsible for orienting their new employees, while other firms prefer a more multifaceted orientation program in which several different members of management and perhaps even peers present various aspects of the business. The dilemma lies in determining which approach is most appropriate for your particular company, industry and employee base.

In this Quick-Read, you will find:

  • Why a thorough orientation program is a smart investment.
  • What kinds of information must be included in an orientation effort.

SOLUTION [top]

Once viewed as little more than an opportunity to tell new employees where to park, when to take their lunch break and who to see for office supplies, orientation programs are increasingly being handled more strategically. In addition to providing fresh recruits with the nitty-gritty on how to survive in their new environment, orientations frequently act as a primer on corporate culture and interoffice politics. They are also an opportunity to sit down with new employees and determine what forms of training will be needed to set each person on his or her desired career path.

Essentials to include in your orientation program:

  1. Don't forget to take care of necessities like the INS Form I-9 for employment eligibility verification and the W-4 for payroll withholding. Include a personal data sheet with social security number, emergency contacts, home address and telephone number. If your company uses employment agreements or identification cards, this is also the time to take care of those matters. In addition, employees should be asked to fill out benefit coverage election and beneficiary designation forms, so that all new hires will be eligible for these valuable programs immediately.

  2. Employees should be informed about basic workplace rules, such as the attendance/tardiness policy, payroll periods, overtime rules, sick leave, vacation, performance evaluation procedures, and pension programs. If you have an employee handbook, make sure new recruits have a copy, along with a form to sign, verifying that they have read it and agree to abide by it.

  3. Make sure new employees know where to turn if they have follow-up questions. Some organizations assign buddies or mentors — someone who will take a new hire under his or her wing and help that person with anything that may arise in the coming weeks. In other instances, employees are encouraged to talk to their immediate supervisors or human resources managers.

Before rolling out any orientation program, it's crucial to make sure it will meet the needs both of the company and of your incoming employees.

  1. Survey your current employee population, and try out the proposed program on your management ranks. Put them through the program and solicit their feedback on what may have been missing from the process.

  2. Enlist the assistance of all parties you feel employees should meet on their first day. Typically, this includes the human resources manager and immediate supervisor, but you may also find that new employees would benefit from the wisdom of their soon-to-be-peers or from a presentation by the CEO.

  3. Some people learn best by listening, others prefer to read materials, while still others get the most out of an interactive presentation. To accommodate different learning styles, offer several means of presenting information throughout an orientation.

Remember that no process is ever complete. Continue evaluating your orientation program year after year, no matter how long it has been in place. Routinely adjusting the program will help maintain its effectiveness.

REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE [top]

In recent years, Carl M. Freeman Companies, a community and golf course development firm based in Potomac, Md., has grown by leaps and bounds, thanks to several major acquisitions. With a flood of new employees coming into the organization, orientation has become more important than ever.

"We like to not only give them a sense of welcome but also have them understand how they fit into the organization, who we are, what our goals are, what they can expect from us and what we expect of them," says Deborah Waldman, vice president of human resources.

Twice a month, Freeman holds a one-day orientation program that gets the boring stuff — paperwork — out of the way first. Then Waldman and her staff engage the new employees in an interactive session, covering the firm's culture and philosophies, as well as the basic skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the organization. Participants view a video on the company's 50-year history and get assigned a buddy who will help answer their questions throughout their first month on the job.

New employees are also given a skills assessment and an opportunity to discuss training programs. Finally, they meet with their respective supervisors, who have prepared 30-day plans for them. The new employees thus complete their day knowing what to expect over the next month.

Due in part to its thorough orientation program, Freeman has achieved an 11% turnover rate in a business where the average stands at 23%.

DO IT [top]

  1. Talk to your current employees about the orientation they received on joining your company. Ask them which aspects they found most useful and, most important, what was missing.

  2. Compile all the information you have decided to impart to new employees. Verify that everything is up-to-date and relevant to that group of recruits. Remember that participants are being flooded with a wealth of information, so don't burden them with information they won't need to perform their duties.

  3. Share some interesting facts about the company, its founders and its products or services. For example, if you are a tool manufacturer whose hammers just happened to play a role in the construction of the White House, mention that. Most new employees will be proud to work for a company with such a prestigious history.

  4. Stop periodically to make sure new employees understand what they are being told. Encourage them to ask questions.

  5. Allow employees to take up their actual job duties as soon as possible. If a person has been hired to wait on customers in a retail setting, don't keep them in the back with a seemingly endless stream of training videos. Alternate real-life experience with training materials for the greatest effectiveness.

RESOURCES [top]

Books

Recruiting, Interviewing, Selecting & Orienting New Employees, 4th edition, by Diane Arthur (AMACOM, 2005). Chapters 13 and 14, "The Fundamentals of Employee Orientation," and "Beyond the Fundamentals of Orientation."

Successful New Employee Orientation: Assess, Plan, Conduct & Evaluate Your Program, 2nd edition, by Jean Barbazette (Jossey-Bass, 2001).

Internet Sites

New Employee Orientation Checklist. American Bar Association.

New Employee Orientation: Starting Off on the Right Foot, by William H. Truesdale. Management Advantage, 1998.


Article Contributors

Writer: Julie Cook

Interview with Don Andersson, consultant and coach for executives and teams, Cranford, N.J., (908) 709-9267.

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