Technology puts employees in orientation program’s driver seat

When new employees arrive for their first day on the job at the U.S. operations of General Motors’ financing division, they take a seat behind the steering wheel of a virtual GM vehicle.

Armed with a road map, they proceed to navigate their way through General Motors Acceptance Corporation’s (GMAC) orientation program.

The virtual dashboard on an employee’s computer screen features a steering wheel and a complete selection of functioning buttons and dials. There’s even a radio offering a choice of classical, jazz and rock music, along with volume control.

The presentation includes video clips from GM’s archives and GMAC, an overview of the company’s automotive and insurance products, details on its organization and structure, and information about employee benefits and programs.

One section focuses on customer service. Another takes new employees through a video presentation called Business 101, which uses the example of a pizza parlour to explain the basic principles of operating a business.

Before exiting the program, a new employee participates in an interactive quiz and, upon completion, a certificate with his name and score is automatically printed.

“We went through the same process every company goes through,” said Milissa DeJongh, the GMAC training consultant responsible for the development and rollout of the new orientation program. “We sought feedback on the current program and looked at new technology that wasn’t available to us in the past.”

The GMAC orientation program is delivered via CD-ROM but links to a corporate intranet for information that may be subject to change.

It’s a solution that offers the best of both worlds. Bandwidth intensive videos, for example, are available locally on the CD-ROM, while the company org chart and information about employee benefits and programs is accessed from an intranet, where changes can be made on the fly. This ensures that the orientation program is always up-to-date.

GMAC’s new orientation program “will be a reference tool for employees to use throughout their career,” said DeJongh. “Traditionally, orientation programs are looked at as something that’s used once and that’s it. This product will be an ongoing reference guide to information on our products and services, organization and structure, terminology, and so on. When employees transfer to another department, they can review the orientation program to learn about the new area they will be working in.

“The bottom line,” said DeJongh, “is that GMAC wants new employees to be excited about working here. When employees are more knowledgeable about the company, everyone benefits.”

A self-service orientation solution will never replace the human touch, the warm welcome and the personal tour of the office, but it facilitates the delivery of orientation to a dispersed workforce. It ensures consistency and thoroughness, eliminates any excuses for delaying orientation and dramatically reduces the burden on HR resources.

The first few days and weeks on the job are crucial, as new employees ask themselves if they’ve made the right decision. A powerful orientation program that conveys a positive image of the organization and the opportunities it offers for career development can go a long way toward creating a strong first impression.

Another company that has gone the self-service orientation route is BASF Canada.

A Canadian subsidiary of one of the world’s largest chemical companies, BASF Canada has approximately 1,000 employees in eight locations across the country, including more than 200 field sales representatives who work from home.

With an HR department of 11 based in Toronto, BASF Canada’s director of human resources Peter Sinclair was an early adopter of the self-service approach.

“It was difficult to deliver an orientation program to staff in the field and difficult telling them all the same story,” said Sinclair.

“We produced our first CD about two and a half years ago and just recently produced a second version.”

The BASF orientation product features a welcoming message from the president and an overview of the company’s history and operations. It also includes details on financial performance, information on employee benefits, printable claims forms, a glossary of terms and acronyms pertaining to the chemical industry, plus a fun, interactive quiz, complete with bells and buzzers to signal a right or wrong answer.

“As a chemical company, safety and ecological issues are very important to us,” said Sinclair, “so there’s a lot of emphasis on these issues, too.”

BASF Canada soon discovered the CD-ROM was a hot commodity with multiple applications.

“As we started giving it to new employees, existing employees said, ‘Hey, we want one, too.’ Often, an employee working in one plant, say Arnprior (Ont.), wouldn’t really know what we do at the other end of the country in Blackie (Alta.). So, not only was it a useful tool for new employees, it also brought everyone else in the company up to speed on who we are and what we do,” said Sinclair.

Sinclair also found that employees took the CD-ROM home to show family.

“We are one of the largest chemical companies in the world and we’re a company that our employees can be proud of. Having our story on a CD-ROM allows our employees to share that pride.”

Leveraging the investment even further, BASF Canada has found the CD-ROM effective as a recruitment tool, particularly when a desirable prospect is weighing her options and needs some extra convincing.

“Young people in particular have ambitions and aspirations for where they want to go. The CD gives them the idea that we are a big company with lots of opportunities.”

The application of computer technology has streamlined many of the traditional HR functions but in most organizations, employee orientation is still being done the old-fashioned way.

Employees in remote locations often get no more than a perfunctory introduction while, in other cases, orientation is delayed or indefinitely postponed while HR waits for sufficient new hires to justify a formal classroom session.

With a self-service, computer-based program, HR can guarantee prompt delivery of an inspiring orientation anywhere, anytime.

Norm Tollinsky is director of marketing, with Infopreneur Inc., a March Networks company specializing in self-service, multimedia employee orientation programs. He can be reached at [email protected].

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