Orientation–Not Just a Once-Over-Lightly Anymore

If your new hires are falling asleep during orientation, it may be time to revamp your program.

by Matt DeLuca

One word that makes everyone in HR a subject matter expert is orientation. This termcurrently part of the onboarding processmeans a lot of things to everyone. The last time I checked, orientation to Disney meant a required four-day (4-day!) session for its theme park employees. At the other end of the spectrum are those brief, 45-minute orientations, where the subject matter expert (or a small team of experts) races through a catalog of details concerning the minutiae of the different prices for lost limbs according to the rate chart for the organizations up-to-date accidental death-and-dismemberment coverage. Then there are those orientation programs that cover retirement in a lengthy session, despite the fact that the person just started and may not even be eligible for retirement benefits.

 

And dont forget the HR professionals who love one-on-one orientation sessions, all the while complaining that they have too much work and too little time. This situation always grows heated when, in an effort to reduce the demands on HR, the one activity they really love doing (the orientation sessions) is often the first to be cut.

 

It is important to remember, though, that none of the various orientation options above take into account the most important factor: Extensive research has shown that a new employee would much rather be starting his or her on-the-job responsibilities than sitting through an orientation.

 

Despite the challenges of orientation programs, however, research conducted by industrial psychologists consistently shows that an effective orientation program has staying power. Results have shown that an effective orientation program has a direct impact on employee turnoverwith those undergoing orientation more likely to stay with an organization longer than one year (usually the most difficult period for the new employee).

 

The question you should be asking is whether it makes more sense to use an outside provider for this all-important activity. How do you determine if entrusting this function to outsiders is important to your effectiveness in this activity?

 

As Stephen Covey, author of the enormously popular The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, says begin with the end in mind. Do you recognize what constitutes an effective orientation program? Many believe the process is so important that organizations should really have a series of orientation programs. There are two reasons for this: First, intermittent training works best, and second, many successful training efforts have shown that less is more. With more than one session, you dont have to worry that everything will be covered. If it werent so sad to see how often well intentioned HR professionals insist on piling a ton of information on new employees, it would really be comical.

 

Your next step should be to employ gap analysis. What would effective orientation training look like? What would the results include? What would the results be immediately after training? How about three and six months later? Also consider your current new employee turnover. If there were a better orientation program, how do you forecast turnover levels decreasing for new employees? What other metrics should you consider that could be tied to effective orientation?

 

 Next, see what best practices employers are doing. Then network with vendors to see who offers what. When you learn of a program that you want to explore further, request the opportunity to witness it firsthand and ask how its effectivenes is measured.

 

At this point, you will have an understanding of what the marketplace has to offer. Compare those results with your current internal program. If you have a strong program, then you could do two things: First, see if there is anything else you want to offer or anything you want to change to make your program even stronger; second, consider (if your program is so effective) whether it is a core competency for your organizations HR program. If this is so, that fact should be shared not only as part of your internal branding initiatives but also with the outside world. When you become a provider of orientation programs elsewhere, as Disney has so successfully done in partnership with SHRM, generating revenue is certainly achievablethough hopefully it wont result in four-day orientation programs!

 

Regardless of the outcome, examining the effectiveness of orientation efforts is a valuable exercise to undertake periodically. You avoid doing so at your own peril.

Posted April 10, 2005 in Engaged Workforce

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