Oriented or disoriented?

Making new employees feel welcome assures them they’ve made the right decision to join communication matters.
By Sandy French
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/05/2003

I read with interest the findings from Canadian HR Reporter’s recent survey — HR’s Quest for Status: Fantasy or Emerging Reality? What particularly caught my attention was the response to the most challenging issues facing HR in their own organization: recruitment and retention.

A key component to a successful recruitment and retention strategy is orientation, yet surprisingly few organizations make the connection and build it into their plan. Many settle for a poor orientation program or do nothing at all. As a result, they undermine their own efforts to attract and retain quality people.

Business orientation is like going to a social event. You’re invited to a party where everyone knows each other — except you. No one greets you when you arrive, there’s no one to show you around and make introductions — you’re left to fend for yourself. Compare that experience to being warmly greeted, introduced to the other guests, and generally welcomed into the group. It doesn’t take much to understand that the latter is going to create the positive and lasting impression.

Making new employees feel welcome is common sense and good business. So why don’t more companies do it right? In my experience, it goes back to the notion of strategic HR. Many practitioners don’t approach recruitment and retention strategically. If they did, a strong orientation program would be part of the mix. Their energy and resources are focused, almost exclusively, on getting people in the door.

Recruiters sell the experience of working at their company to prospective hires. They paint a picture of the company — vision, values, culture — and these ideas become important factors in a candidate’s decision to join. What happens when the reality doesn’t meet the promise? When the culture is nothing like they’d imagined?

This can put a new employee off from the first day and result in discontentment that shows up in productivity, attitude and commitment. For example, we worked with a business that had several recruits quit soon after they joined because the company couldn’t manage to get them a computer for up to a week. They believed that if this company couldn’t provide something as basic and important as their PC, this company did not have it together.

Having an orientation process in place is key to successfully kicking off the employee experience for new hires. Areas to consider include: orientation meeting(s), materials and post-orientation followup.

Orientation meeting

First impressions matter. Successful programs make a new employee’s experience a positive one — reinforcing the idea that they’ve made the right decision to join the company. The orientation meeting is one of the first, official steps to welcoming a new recruit, answering questions and sharing company expectations.

Some things to consider when developing the session:

•Recruitment: Look at what your recruiters are saying about the company. Your message has to be consistent and, ideally, the materials should look similar.

•Values: Review your company’s values and make sure to discuss them during the orientation session.

•Culture: Develop a program, workshop or even a game that reflects your company culture (for example, a furniture company we know wanted to reinforce teamwork, so they had new hires visit various departments to get assembly instructions for their office chairs).

•Executives: Consider who will be part of the orientation. Will HR run it or will other managers and executives participate? Who is involved sends a strong message — new employees at one large company we worked with received a welcome call from the CEO.

•Format: It’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it. Give thought to how the meeting is going to be structured and presented. If the presentation is dull, confusing or an information dump, it reflects poorly on HR and the company.

Orientation materials

Materials are all part of the image. Well-produced materials send a strong message to new hires on the importance your company places on orientation, and also help enormously in effectively communicating information.

•Pre-work and quantity: Decide what materials are important to share on an employee’s first day and what can be provided to them ahead of time or at a later date. It’s a poor communication technique to drop a huge load of paper on new recruits and expect them to be gracious. No one needs to know the intricacies of their pension or benefits plan on day one — provide highlights and a source for further details.

•The look: Provide creative, professional materials. They should be well thought out, clear, imaginative, understandable and easily recognizable as part of the orientation program.

•PowerPoint: If you’re going to use a PowerPoint presentation, make sure it looks professional. A limited amount of information on each slide, that’s logical, easy to digest and visually attractive (for example, colour and pictures). Consider providing participants with summary documents that capture the key points of the presentation.

•Intranet: Posting orientation material on the company intranet is a great way to improve efficiencies — easily updated and accessible — and support the program. Consider creating a “welcome” navigation button specifically for the orientation program.

Post-orientation

Like any good host, it’s important to check in on your guests and make sure they’re having a good time. An effective orientation program doesn’t leave success to chance. Elements are put in place to ensure that after the formal orientation is finished, the new employee is still being supported.

•Friend: Many organizations assign a buddy or friend to help a new recruit. They provide support and assistance in everything from navigating payroll and understanding policies to making sure the recruit is included in social functions.

•Consistency: One of the biggest complaints we hear from HR is that some managers are doing a great job making new employees feel welcome, while others do a terrible job. This is a sensitive issue because it speaks to managerial competency. In this situation you might try a couple of things — training mangers on good orientation techniques, providing managers with an orientation template or checklist to improve consistency and communicating the expectation that this is a core competency to their role as a manager.

•Feedback: A followup feedback session is important. Depending on the number of new staff, this should ideally be done face-to-face, or if not possible, through print or e-mail. You’ll want to determine the effectiveness of the orientation process, how it can be improved, how the person is feeling about the company and their knowledge of the organization.

As the saying goes, “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” Consider the impression you’re making with new recruits. With so much emphasis being placed on attraction and retention, there’s a long-term return to investing in an orientation program that makes people feel welcome and valued from the moment they arrive.

Sandy French is the president of Northern Lights, a leading Canadian internal communication agency. He can be contacted at (416) 593-6104 ext. 222 or Sfrench@northernlights.ca.

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