Many companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on vast employee-orientation programs that last anywhere from a couple of hours to several months. If designed properly, this is money well spent because getting a new employee educated and up-to-speed quickly means the employee can make substantive contributions that much sooner.
Unfortunately, many managers assume that attending the formal orientation program, if there is one, is all that is needed. But that’s not the case. Regardless of the scope of the formal program, individual managers need to focus on a personal orientation too, one that is tailored to the specific job, team, and department. Hiring right is half the battle. Helping new hires to find their way around is part of the other half.
Orienting new employees should begin no later than their first day, regardless of the size of the company. It will help establish your supervisory relationship with the employee, provide a foundation for communicating expectations going forward, shorten the time period for an employee to reach optimal production, and foster relationships between the new employee and other team members.
The range of best practices for orienting a new employee is immense. So here are some ideas from which you can pick and choose, being sure that ultimately you cover them all. Start on day one and set up regular meetings to take place over the next several months in order to give you and the employee a chance to address everything.
- Cover the “Administrivia.” On the first day, make sure the employee has signed all the new hire paperwork, even if that’s usually handled by Human Resources. See if the new employee has any questions about what they signed. Give the new employee a list of key contact information including critical internal partners, vendors, and consultants; payroll and human resources departments; and IT help desks for assistance with computers, telephones, and information security. Show them how to access the intranet or get hard copies of policies and procedures they need to know. Make sure they know whom to contact about signing up for benefits, and so on.
- Give a Strategic Overview. Explain your team, department, and corporate objectives and link those to the individual’s job. Explain to the new hire your view of how they fit in to the bigger picture. Share organizational charts, strategic plan documents, pending project lists, etc.
- Introduce the New Employee. On the first day, you should personally introduce the employee to all the members of the team, explaining each person’s role and how their roles are linked to each other. For the first week, set up face-to-face meetings for the employee with some of his or her key business partners so they can get off to the right start together. Introduce the employee to their human resources representative. The sooner you can get these relationships going, the sooner the employee will learn his or her way around.
- Cultivate Your Relationship. Starting on the first day and for the next two months, set up a series of weekly meetings for you and the employee to discuss expectations. Clearly communicate your standards or metrics for judging and measuring performance. Consider sharing whatever form is used by your company for writing performance reviews and discuss each section. Ask the employee about his or her expectations and any questions they may have. By the end of two months, if not sooner, you should have a mutually agreed performance plan with achievable and measurable goals and objectives focused on the contributions you expect and that the employee can deliver. Use these conversations to establish the types, quality, and frequency of communications you need from the employee and find out what the employee needs from you. All of this will help cultivate a strong and open relationship between you and the employee.
- Give a Cultural Education. Help the employee learn about the corporate culture. You can talk about your company’s vision and values, the various ways in which the company works to support a productive and healthy environment, benefits and perks that may be available, and how you reward excellent performance wholly apart from the formal performance review process. Encourage the new hire to talk to other team members about their views of the culture.
- Arrange for Training. Regardless of their particular skill set, the employee will need job training. This can include assigning a mentor, signing the employee up for internal or external training courses, or putting the employee on projects that will give them a broad view of their job and the company. Either way, don’t ignore the fact that all new employees need guidance when starting a new job.
- Focus on the Team. Have conversations with the employee about the team environment and how their individual contributions will support the team. Discuss what it means to be part of a team, and the employee’s responsibility to be motivated and help motivate others.
- Get a Little Personal. During the first few months, you should take whatever opportunities you have to get to know the new employee on a personal level. Of course, you can’t get too personal; it may not be welcome or you could get unintentionally close to asking illegal questions. So use your head. Ask what they like to do when they are not at work and share the same about yourself. Find out about their career aspirations so you can watch for opportunities to help them develop additional skills sets in support of their goals. You can also ask what they liked and didn’t like about their relationship with prior bosses. That can give you a few good ideas about how the two of you can avoid some of the same pitfalls and capitalize on the positive.
- Prepare in Advance. Think about the challenges other new hires faced when they started work. Are there any lessons you learned that will help you plan better for this employee? What questions did other new hires have that you should have addressed before they had to ask? Consider asking them why they accepted the job on your team. This can reveal reasonable and unreasonable expectations the employee may have and allow you to deal with them at the outset. It can also reveal important information you should use in future recruiting efforts.
There are a few common denominators in all of these suggestions that result in “best practices.” First, if you follow through on these ideas, you are demonstrating that you care about the employee’s experience on your team and with the company. Second, you are establishing open communication as the basis for your relationship with the employee. Third, you are giving the employee an opportunity to learn about your management style at the outset while you are also getting to know the employee better. And fourth, you are showing the employee the best of your corporate culture — that you value employee contributions and support a productive work environment.
Managers and supervisors who take the time to create and implement their own orientation plans for new hires have realized the benefit of integrating employees more quickly. Productivity and performance is enhanced and relationships are stronger. Don’t put it off. If you wait until an employee is on board for a couple of months, you’ve lost a great opportunity to get ahead of the curve.
Barrie Gross is former Vice President and Senior Corporate Counsel (Employment Law) for an international Fortune 1000 company and is a regular contributor to AllBusiness.com. She is the founder of Barrie Gross Consulting, a human resources training and consulting firm dedicated to assisting companies to manage and develop their human capital. Visit www.barriegrossconsulting.com to learn more about Barrie and the services BGC provides.
Note: The information here does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you have a legal issue or wish to obtain legal advice, you should consult an attorney in your area concerning your particular situation and facts. Nothing presented on this site or in this article establishes or should be construed as establishing an attorney-client or confidential relationship between you and Barrie Gross. This article is provided only as general information, which may or may not reflect the most current legal developments or be complete.