The first day at work for a new employee is a rare opportunity for both the employee and the company. The employee is excited – happy to have a new job and ready to prove his or her worth. The company has a new person joining the team ready to learn all about the company’s culture, vision, and goals. This should be a defining experience – one that fosters confidence and loyalty, leaving the new employee ready to work as an ambassador for the company internally and externally for years to come. It’s a special time for both the employee and the company.
So why do so many employees and companies dread the New Employee Orientation experience?
The problem is that most organizations don’t give the New Employee Orientation program the resources and attention necessary to truly leverage its potential for the company. How many workplaces can you think of that make New Employee Orientation a priority? How many put their best trainers behind the program? How many allocate the time that is really needed for a quality orientation? How many incorporate participation from top execs as a regular part of the program? For most of us that list is short.
After years of working with clients facing this struggle, and helping to develop new employee orientation programs at Microsoft and countless credit unions across the country, we have learned what works.
New Employee Orientation That Works
- Be Real. Let new employees see “the real company” – be honest about your history, your culture, what works and what doesn’t work as well as you’d like. What do you aspire to be, and where are you now? Use stories from current employees to paint the picture – video interviews with people in the same role talking about what it’s like to work at the company – the pace, tips for success, what to watch out for, how to get answers, how to influence co-workers and get placement on projects, etc. This authentic snapshot of your company gives you more credibility with the employee and better sets up future hires for success.
- Keep it Face-to-Face. One of the toughest elements of New Employee Orientation is dealing with remote offices. As business continues to become more global, and as mobile technology allows for an ever-increasing number of remote workers, New Employee Orientation falls further and further behind in achieving its goals. WebWorkerDaily (www.gigaom.com) recently reported that while they are in the business of trying to accomplish nearly everything at a distance, they have conceded that “when done virtually, training is tricky.” In fact, their research shows that companies with a large number of regional or remote employees have had such a difficult time in executing high-quality long-distance orientation that they have opted for face-to-face, traditional forms of training as the only solution. We don’t blame them. In our experience, it’s what works.
- Start at the Heart. Strong relationships are still built by spending time together. Start by inviting new employees to spend the first few days, or even the first week at the company’s central headquarters. Headquarters is the heart of a company’s history and culture, it’s where the key executives live, and there is nothing that can replace that time with company leaders. Knowing where the “big” decisions are made helps give the employee a stronger sense of belonging to the whole team – not just a satellite office or one department manager. Then follow up by visiting the new employee a week or so later. By spreading out the opportunities for face-to-face time with core representatives of the company’s culture, you will both build a better relationship and solicit new questions and concerns as the employee becomes more familiar with the work, your company, and its goals.
These three little tidbits of advice might sound like “no-brainers”, but as we said, the real problem is not in knowing what you should do for new employee orientation, but in allocating the resources and time to do it right. In our book Evolutionaries: Transformational Leadership we explain how most truly transformational change occurs through leveraging the power of high performance teams. New Employee Orientation is no different – your program is only as strong as the team that is leading it. If you are ready to build a truly Evolutionary New Employee Orientation experience in your organization, here’s where to start:
- Get the Right Team! Treat your Learning & Development team (your “trainers”) as a consultative arm of the organization. Hire only the best talent – make sure they have a background in education and understand how people learn and how to design custom curriculum, in addition to expertise in your company’s business. Then listen to them! And be sure they can teach! Are they fun and engaging in addition to knowledgeable? Can they hold attention? Do people naturally trust them? Are they good at telling stories? If you had to put them on a stage in front of your most important clients would they make a good “face” of the company?
- Balance Speed with Quality. Task your team with designing and implementing the best solution in the most efficient, but also the most effective manner. The balance between providing training quickly and inexpensively must be carefully checked against ensuring that the learning experience is developmental and meaningful at every opportunity. We are not just trying to create a better business; we are committed to growing stronger and more confident people.
- Place a Value on Live Instruction. Make high-quality person-to-person training a priority in your company culture. Cultivate several key subject matter experts (SMEs) and have your Learning & Development team thoroughly train them as instructors to provide your in-house training classes. Yes, this means educating them on methods for successful teaching, learning, curriculum planning, classroom management and presentation skills/performance techniques. It may sound like hard work, and it is, but we promise this group of SMEs will not boost the quality of your program, but also develop stronger seasoned employees to represent the company in a variety of venues.
- Measure Your Success! Remember to ask employees what they think of the training. We like to ask two simple questions: 1) Rate the quality from 1-10 of your New Employee Orientation (first day), and 2) Rate the quality (1-10) of your New Employee Instruction and Mentorship during the first two weeks of your employment. Any rating lower than a 9 should require a follow up process with the employee to evaluate program success and solicit suggestions for improvement.