First impressions last, and you never have a second chance to make a good one. When it comes to employee on-boarding practices, this well-known adage rings even more true.
Yet, orientating employees to their workplaces and jobs can be one of the most neglected functions within many organisations. An employee handbook and piles of paperwork are not sufficient anymore. When it comes to welcoming a new employee, HR’s mind should already be focused on long-term retention.
Incoming employees often share similar feedback about their onboarding experiences. It is often described as overwhelming, boring, or – worst of all – non-existant. The result is a confused new employee who is not productive and is more likely to leave the organisation within that important first year.
One Singapore organisation, Hunter Douglas, says an upgrade of the on-boarding process helped reduce its turnover significantly. Where as many as 70% of staff were leaving the company within six months, the new and improved orientation programme helped reduce that to just 16%. Betty Lou Smith, Vice President of Corporate HR, Hunter Douglas, says it became clear that the high turnover was taking place because new employees weren’t feeling a connection to the company.
But it’s also productivity at stake. A well-thought out orientation programme, whether it lasts one day or six months, helps to get people up to speed faster. Organisations with these programmes in place report better alignment between what their employees do and what the organisation needs them to do; not to mention the lower turnover rates.
To orientate or not to orientate
At Singapore’s St Regis Hotel, the orientation programme serves as the new employee’s roadmap into the organisation. Emma Meyer, Director of Human Capabilities, HR and Training, says the process provides in-depth insights into the company’s history, mission and vision, as well as the core values it prides itself on.
It also presents the company’s organisational structure and explains the important facets of its corporate culture. Meyer says this information is vital to anyone looking to assimilate themselves into the organisation.
But just as importantly, the on-board process provides an avenue for new employees to get to know, bond and even form opinions on the group dynamics within their team or department. “Their colleagues will become their safe sounding board as the emotional connections that they formed during the orientation will allow them to share the challenges and the opportunities that come with being the new employee in the team,” Meyer says.
Alysson Do, Regional HR Director at Yahoo, echoes similar views. She says employee orientation schemes are an essential part of the HR process, ensuring new staff are guaranteed every success and opportunity from their first day.
“The goal is to enhance, nurture and create positive employee communications and engagement – establishing an important emotional connection with the Yahoo company and brand,” she says.
Coca-Cola has a worldwide on-boarding programme that aims to reinforce the positive employee experience and build employee engagement early on. Peter Novak, Director, HR, Coca-Cola Southeast And West Asia Business Unit, says orientation plays a critical role in delivering improved individual and team performance. “That ultimately means higher productivity for the business.”
The key ingredients
Every company has its own DNA written into its orientation programs.
One of the more creative orientation programs was instituted at Edgewood Tool and Manufacturing in the US. Prior to its recent takeover, every manager at the automotive manufacturer was required to write a 120-day orientation for every new employee they hired. It involved one action, or orientation event, every day. Some of these actions could include meeting the department directors or key customers. Even scheduling a lunch with the CEO would be on the cards.
It would be hard not to feel welcomed and fully integrated after 120 different orientation events.
At Yahoo, the first day “must haves” include provision of a laptop, email access, and a comprehensive information technology and intranet walkthrough. This is just so employees know where they can find key information, Do says.
“To support this we also issue each employee with an individual ‘Purple First Aid Kit’,” she says. “This is a manual that summarises the business, processes, benefits, key contact information, and what each new employee will be working towards during their first 90 days at Yahoo.”
Every new staff member is also assigned a “buddy”. The firm believes this is a great way to help new employees learn the nuances of the organisation, whilst providing support and answers for all the little questions that a new staffmember might otherwise not feel confident to ask. “And at Yahoo, there are no stupid questions,” Do reminds all staff, new and old.
At Coca-Cola, orientation programmes have similar elements. They can range from face-to-face sessions, on-line orientation, corporate videos, facility tours, market experiences, structured visits to the regional headquarters, to facilitated team sessions for new leader.
The devil though, as Novak says, is in the detail. Coca Cola has four key pillars in its approach to its orientation schemes.
Firstly, each orientation is designed individually within a common framework and programmes the company uses. Novak says it must be planned well ahead of time such that the employee, manager and HR are assigned clear roles and responsibilities.
Importantly, the programme needs to be integrated with the role in question. Novak says this third pillar demands that the orientation be integrated with the employee value proposition, connecting to the company’s performance management and development processes from the very first day.
The final pillar, feedback, is often forgotten by other organisations. At Coca-Cola, the success of the orientation programme can only be measured through direct employee surveys and later engagement and performance measures.
The St Regis Hotel makes sure its new employees are able to experience life as a guest of the hotel. Depending on the department, new staff are often treated to signature rituals, such as a taste of its famous Bloody Mary.
Service training is also part of the orientation programme. Meyer says this helps to synchronise new employees with the St Regis heritage and brand values.
The business case
Done correctly, an orientation programme offers a strong return on the time and money invested. Here are just some of the ways they reap rewards:
Reducing startup costs
Proper orientation can help the employee get “up to speed” much more quickly, reducing the costs associated with learning on the job.
Reducing employee turnover
Employee turnover increases as employees feel they are not valued, or are put in positions where they can’t possibly do their jobs. Orientation shows that the organisation values the employee, and helps provide the tools necessary for succeeding in the role
Developing realistic job expectations
It is important that employees learn as soon as possible what is expected of them, and what to expect from others. In addition, on-boarding allows them to learn about the values and attitudes of the wider organisation
Reducing ‘new-job’ anxiety
Proper orientation helps to reduce anxiety that results from entering into an unknown situation, and helps provide guidelines for behaviour and conduct, so the employee doesn’t have to experience the stress of guessing.