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The Importance of Good Orientation

First impressions do count. Providing quality orientation to new employees and volunteers is critical, yet is often one of the most neglected functions in an organization. If you have taken the time to find quality people, it’s your job to make sure they fit comfortably into their new role and the organization.

In 1995, Ohio State University conducted a study to evaluate the impact of a newly-implemented orientation program designed to help employees feel more a part of the organization, learn more about the university’s lingo and culture, and understand the university’s basic workplace principles. The new orientation program focused on the organization level, not specific jobs or workgroups. It was a “hello” to the organization that covered things such as history, goals, values and language.

Researchers Howard Klein and Natasha Weaver concluded that employees who attended orientation were better socialized in areas of goals, values and history. They also displayed higher commitment to their employer. In addition, they found an unexpected benefit those who attended the orientation program had formed better relationships with colleagues.

Klien believes the importance of orientation programs is often overlooked “Everybody has them and most are incredibly ineffective. Organizations are missing an incredible opportunity to increase retention and satisfaction.”

Klein compares new employees to immigrants. They need to learn the history, rules, people, language and culture as well as performance expectations.

“There are three levels of orientation, ” Klein explains. “Job issues are at the bottom and organizational issues at the top. In the middle are issues related to workgroups, divisions or units.” Klien acknowledges that rules and policies are important, but “it is understanding things like company values that helps people feel like part of the organization. . . .This increases their sense of belonging and commitment.”

Bausch & Lomb’s new orientation program promotes such core values as teamwork, communication, creativity, diversity, learning, trust and quality. “At one time orientation was a nice thing to do,” says Clay Osborne, vice president of workforce development and diversity for Bausch & Lomb. “Today, most companies see it as critical to success.” The company is moving away from traditional orientation programs and introducing an online video, manager’s guidelines and a mentoring program.

“It’s really a philosophical difference,” Osborne explains. “The emphasis is on communicating principles and values and how the new employee can participate and contribute. In the past, orientation programs focused on the technical aspects (policies, procedures, etc.). We believe that it’s the culture and the values that determine success at Bausch & Lomb.”

The Paradigm Project of the Points of Light Foundation recognizes that highly effective volunteer programs lay the foundation for volunteer engagement through mission and vision. During the first few interactions with the organization a new volunteer or new employee is seeking confirmation that joining this organization was a good move. Those first interactions are critical. First impressions can be lasting impressions. New employees/volunteers are eager to begin and motivated to learn. Seize the opportunity and create an engaging, positive orientation process that facilitates the individual’s movement into and through the organization by providing the tools he or she needs to be successful.

Charles Cadwell, consultant and author of New Employee Orientation A Practical Guide for Supervisors, offers five objectives for orientation that apply equally for new paid employees and new volunteers.

  • Make the person feel welcome. “One thing I always notice is that when an employee leaves there’s a party, but when they arrive there isn’t. Why not reinforce the excitement that the new person has arrived?”
  • Develop positive perceptions about the organization. Be certain people within the organization are available when the new person arrives. Include the direct supervisor in the orientation process.
  • Confirm their decision to join your organization. The employee/volunteer should leave their first experience feeling he or she has made the right choice and has joined just the right organization.
  • Reduce training time. Help the employee/volunteer feel comfortable in his/her surroundings and take care of details so that training time can be devoted to training issues.
  • Put new associates at ease. Orientation should help them feel comfortable with their new workplace and their colleagues.

Christine Morfeld in an article on Successful Employee Orientation believes orientation begins the moment you hire (select) a new employee (volunteer). The process starts before the new person sets foot in the door! Morfeld recommends that prior to the first day or orientation session it is advisable for the volunteer manager and/or direct supervisor to

  • Call to the new volunteer/employee to communicate how pleased you are that he or she will be working with you; to confirm logistics, such as when to arrive, where to park, whom to ask for, appropriate dress (casual or business); to confirm if there is a nickname or preference in how they will be introduced and addressed; and to answer any last minute questions.
  • Keep your calendar as clear as possible during the first week for a new staff person or the first few times the volunteer is in the office or at the worksite.
  • Announce the new employee’s/volunteer’s start date to paid staff and other volunteers with whom he or she will have contact; share a brief overview of the new person’s background and his/her responsibilities with the organization.
  • Arrange for a workspace, telephone, computer access, nametag, security pass, office supplies or other items that will be needed.
  • Identify a “buddy” that the new associate can use as a resource for the first month or so. The buddy can be available to answer questions and should check in from time to time in the first few days and weeks to see how the new person is doing.

Whether orientation is done one-to-one or in small groups, specific information should be covered

  • Organizational history, services and funding overview
  • Market niche – how the organization sets itself apart in the marketplace and the community
  • Mission, vision, values, philosophy and goals
  • Organizational structure
  • Interrelationships between departments/functions
  • Names of department heads
  • Organizational culture
  • Management style
  • Dress codes
  • Emphasis on teamwork, group interactions, diversity, quality, communication, etc.
  • Work arrangement policies – flexibility in scheduling, etc.
  • Career development opportunities such as training courses, mentoring options
  • Explanation of the performance evaluation system
  • Overview of workplace policies related to equal opportunity, non-discrimination/non-harassment, health and safety, confidentiality, internet and computer usage, holidays and grievance procedures
  • Organizational events and activities, such as holiday parties, staff meetings, special events and fundraisers
  • Facility tour

In addition to providing this information, it is recommended that you provide an orientation kit that includes written copies of some of the above, as well as

  • Organizational literature, including flyers and newsletters
  • A map of the building (depending upon size)
  • An organizational chart
  • A glossary of agency specific terminology and acronyms
  • A list of contact names for specific inquires
  • Instructions for accessing the agency’s intranet and operating email, voicemail, etc. as appropriate
  • Work related computer and internet policies
  • A calendar of training events, meetings, conferences, fund raising events
  • A current volunteer or paid staff job description
  • A comprehensive volunteer or employee handbook that details the company policies, procedure, and standards.

As part of a risk management program you may require new associates to sign an acknowledgement that they have received, read, and understand the contents of the policy handbook.

A good orientation program is not simply a two or three hour session to go over general information prior to placement in an assignment. One of the mistakes organizations commonly make is thinking that orientation is a one-time event. Orientation is an ongoing activity that should include regularly scheduled follow up over the first few weeks and perhaps months to see how the employee/volunteer is doing. This is your opportunity to offer immediate feedback and to encourage the new person to share any issues and concerns. Discuss problems and frustrations the new employee/volunteer may encounter and offer recommendations for solutions. Most of all, value the new associates fresh perspective. Always be receptive to comments, opinions and suggestions.

Orientation is a process designed to familiarize new associates with the broad mission and function of the organization so the new employee/volunteer sees his or her job as an important part of the mission. It can reduce start-up time, create enthusiasm, minimize anxiety, clarify performance expectations, save supervisory time, and reduce turn over. Orientation can also be an important step in determining future training needs.

Technology now offers us new options for delivering orientation programs. Employees and volunteers are no longer confined to a physical workplace, and orientation does not have to be delivered face-to-face. As we continue to deal with concerns about limited time and requests for short-term volunteer opportunities, we will need to become more creative and knowledgeable about providing 24/7 (24 hours/7 days per week) accesses to orientation. This is not to say that all face-to face orientation and/or training should become web based, but we can value volunteer (and staff) time by designing new options that redesign and compact face-to-face time while maximizing online self study. Virtual orientation, virtual training, and “virtual introductions” are new options. Newcomers at one organization post photos of themselves on the agency intranet, along with brief bios that include work history and hobbies. These “virtual introductions” helps colleagues recognize the new faces in the organization and are especially helpful for connecting virtual volunteers or off-site employees with all paid and volunteer staff.

“It is more true now than ever before that the way people are hired selected, oriented, trained, recognized, and compensated sends a powerful message about what truly is valued in a company,” says Simon Tsang, vice president of HR for Asia at Bausch & Lomb.

 

References

Hutchins, J. (2000). Steps to Effective Orientation. Online www.workforce.com

Hutchins, J. (2000). Getting to Know You. Online www.workforce.com

Klein, H. & Weaver, N. (2000). “The Effectiveness of an Organizational-Level Orientation Training Program in the Socialization of New Hires,” Personnel Psychology, Spring, 2000.

Morfeld, C. (2000) Successful Employee Orientation Part I, II, III. Online

www.suite101.com/article.cfm.6207/34398

About the Contributor: Mary Merrill

In Memorium
Mary V. Merrill died at age 60 February 19, 2006. She was a graduate of The Ohio State University and founder and sole owner of Merrill Associates. Mary was a globally recognized expert and trainer of volunteer management. She was a frequent presenter at both world and national conferences, and a mentor, a leader, a visionary, and a role model to many.

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