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Orientation and onboarding together is what truly makes for a successful acclimation process. Orientation is more administrative in nature and typically involves: the completion of new hire paperwork, enrolling new hires in benefit plans, and setting the new employee up on the company’s payroll. Onboarding however, has more of a long-term focus and is aimed at identifying training needs, setting performance goals, providing on-going feedback, and ensuring the new employee is a positive contributor to your company’s success.
Onboarding differs from orientation in that onboarding:
- Is ongoing: the process doesn’t end once the employee’s first day is over. The onboarding process is continuous, beginning the second an employee accepts a job offer and continuing throughout the duration of their employment.
- Allows for feedback: constant discussion regarding progress and plans for improvement are discussed to ensure enhanced productivity.
- Is customized: each new hire possesses a unique set of skills and talents. Employers need to be able to identify new hire strengths and weaknesses and tap into them appropriately. By doing so, managers can set personalized performance goals, provide training in areas that are in need of improvement, and create individualized development plans.
- Has a bottom-line impact: the results of an onboarding program can be measured in a variety of ways: Have the costs of turnover decreased since implementing the program? Have the company’s profits increased? Has customer satisfaction improved? Has commitment and morale been bolstered? Increased productivity, satisfaction, and morale are common byproducts of a well-executed onboarding program.
It’s important to remember that the process of bringing a new employee onboard does not end after their first day. It is continuously aimed at developing the talents of your new investment: the employee.
Depending on the business size and culture, an employee orientation can vary in length and level of formality. The idea is to create program that appropriately reflects your company’s culture, while getting necessary information across. If your company environment is more relaxed, you may want to incorporate games such as scavenger hunts or crossword puzzles into the process. If your company’s culture is more of autonomy and independence, than your program can be designed with an independent learning focus, in which employees read the employee handbook on their own or go on the company’s website to learn about your history, mission, and values. The way in which you structure your orientation and onboarding program is up to you; however, there are some key components all employers should include in the process.
One necessary component of any orientation program is that of consistency; meaning all employees, regardless of their position or level of responsibility, participate in the same initial orientation. Of course the particulars of their job responsibilities and performance expectations may be different. Consistency will ensure that every new employee is treated equally, receives the same important information, and that nothing vital (such as the completion of new hire paperwork) is left out of the process.
In order to promote a consistent orientation process, there should be certain individuals that are trained in the delivery of the program. In larger organizations, these are most likely individuals in the human resources department, while in smaller companies, it may be one of the senior staff or principals. Trained facilitators will ensure a systematic approach. A checklist should also be created so that orientation and onboarding facilitators are sure to cover all pertinent information. The checklist should be signed and given to the employee at the end of the session, affirming that all listed information was covered.
The timing of your orientation program should also be considered. An orientation needs to be completed as close as possible to the employee’s arrival. Companies that hire a small number of employees tend to postpone providing orientation until a large group of new hires can participate. Any delay in the process can affect a new employee’s productivity and provide them with an opportunity to make mistakes or learn poor work habits. In addition, delaying the process may increase a new employee’s apprehensions and lower morale. To a new employee, failing to show them the ropes from the beginning may demonstrate that the company doesn’t value them.
New employees should be meeting key members of the company within their first few days on the job. Failure to introduce the employee to the CEO, president, or upper-level management may come across as cold, uninviting, or impersonal.
Although the program itself may be facilitated by someone in the human resources department, new hires’ direct supervisors need to be involved in the process. The direct manager should be present on the first day, setting expectations for the new hire. Part of hitting the ground running requires an action plan and a review of job responsibilities from the get-go.
Personal growth and development is important to many, especially talented employees. Managers should sit down almost immediately with new employees and provide them with a personalized development plan. The plan should cover what immediate training they may need, what they hope to gain from their new position, and where they would like to be in 12, 24, or 36 months.
The importance of an ongoing onboarding process cannot be overstated. An effective program extends well beyond the employee’s first day. Regular meetings are integrated within the process to ensure the employee is on track, to answer any outstanding questions they may have, and to seek their feedback. By stretching out the process, you help to ensure new employees are not overwhelmed and that obstacles or questions can be addressed as soon as they arise.
In order to appropriately structure your onboarding program, it’s important to follow a schedule. As reiterated throughout this guide, onboarding does not end after the employee’s first day (nor does it begin with the employee’s arrival). Below are some guidelines for making the process a continuous one:
Two weeks prior to start date:
Once a new employee has accepted a job offer, the onboarding process can begin. Start by sending the employee a welcome letter summarizing logistics outlined in the job offer and reaffirming your enthusiasm regarding their arrival.
Follow-up with a phone call to discuss any outstanding questions or concerns the employee may have and to further reiterate that you look forward to their start date. Confirm a date and location to which the employee should report on their first day and let the employee know who they should contact if they have further questions prior to starting.
Next, put together an orientation package, complete with:
- A copy of their job description
- An organizational chart
- The company’s mission statement
- New-hire paperwork:
- Employment Eligibility Verification: Form I-9
- Emergency Contact Form
- Direct Deposit Authorization
- Employee Handbook Acknowledgment
Send the package over to the employee so that they can review it before their first day. By putting these materials together beforehand, you are demonstrating to the employee that you care enough to put the time and effort into welcoming them. In addition, it serves to ease some apprehension and overwhelming feelings that are commonly experienced by new hires bombarded with too much on their first day.
One week prior to start date:
An integral part of the orientation and onboarding process is making new hires feel welcome. Employees that feel alienated and uninvited from the onset, most likely won’t stick around for very long.
A week or so prior to an employee’s start date, alert co-workers of the employee’s arrival. This way they can be prepared to introduce themselves and appropriately welcome the new employee. You may choose to do this informally by verbally informing co-workers, or perhaps more formally, by sending out an announcement letter. If you choose to write a letter, you should include the employee’s name (and nickname if appropriate), title, start date, office phone number/extension, and a brief description of their background.
Now is also a good time to assign a mentor. Mentor programs are a great way to increase a new hire’s comfort level and ease the transition into their new role. Make sure you have potential mentors complete a Mentor Profile Form in order to appropriately match an experienced employee with a new hire.
One or two days before start date:
A day or two before the employee’s arrival make sure you appropriately prepare their workspace. Some things to consider if the employee will be occupying their own desk:
Equip it with…
- Pens and pencils
- Post-it notes
- Pad of paper
- Office keys
- Office telephone list
Also, if the new employee will be using a computer, make sure you assign them a password and get them up and running on your company’s intranet. Whatever space the employee will be occupying, make sure it is neat and orderly.
The day before:
Type up an orientation agenda so that the employee knows what to expect for their first day. The agenda should include what will be covered and when. Try to be as detailed as possible; this will help to ease some of their apprehension. Now is also a good time to make sure you gather together any additional paperwork or ‘take-aways’ you’d like to provide to the employee on their first day.
The employee’s first day:
Upon the employee’s arrival greet them appropriately and show them to their workspace. Their work area should be adequately equipped and should include the printed schedule of the day’s activities.
The schedule should include the following:
- Tour of the facility. Show the employee around, pointing out areas of importance: breakrooms, restrooms, conference room, the supply room, printer/fax locations, their supervisor’s office, etc.
- Review of paperwork. Review the employee’s completed paperwork and make sure everything was completed sufficiently. Answer any questions they may have about what they filled out and ensure their understanding of the materials.
- Introductions. Introduce the employee to co-workers and key members of the organization. Ensure co-workers are warm and inviting. If the new employee has an assigned mentor, introduce him or her to their mentor. Be sure to reiterate the goals of the mentor relationship.
- Company history, mission, and goals. Be sure to cover the history of the company, the industry in which your business operates, the products/services you offer, and your client base. Reviewing such information will help the employee understand the culture and how they fit into the company environment. Company idiosyncrasies, such as unwritten expectations regarding dress, employee breaks, and personal phone calls should also be discussed in order to reinforce the company’s culture. Company objectives and future projections should also be communicated; the employee needs to know how his or her responsibilities fit into the larger picture.
- Overview of company policy. Company policy regarding important issues, such as attendance, dress, break periods, and use of company computers should be communicated. Employees should also be provided with an employee handbook (either an electronic version or a paper version) so that they can review it at their leisure.
- Review of job responsibilities. Discuss job expectations, responsibilities, and performance goals. Be sure to let the employee know what’s expected of them their first couple of weeks.
- Other logistics. Be sure to show the new employee how the company phone system works, provide them with their password to the company’s intranet, inform them of the employee entrance into the building, or provide them with their identification badge, if applicable.
Because it’s important not overwhelm the employee on their first day, depending on the depth and breadth of information you wish to communicate, it may be recommended that you span some of the above-mentioned goals across a two or three day period.
Once the first day is officially complete, the employee is still considered “new.” Someone from his or her department should be available for orientation during the first week(s), to answer questions about specific departmental policies, find needed supplies, or just as a friendly support for a lunch or snack break.
Other important goals of the orientation process with respect to an employee’s first week include:
Meeting with mentors.
Ensure adequate opportunity for the employee to meet with their mentor and establish a regular meeting schedule.
Assignment of their first project.
Assign the employee their first project. This will provide the new employee with a sense of ownership and involvement in the company. Not to mention, it will ensure productivity from the onset.
Review any outstanding information.
Any important information that was not covered during the first few days should be reviewed. This may include information regarding the company’s benefit program, payroll processes, promotional opportunities and procedures, or training and educational opportunities.
Answer any outstanding questions.
Now that the employee has had some time for the information covered their first few days to sink in, they may have some questions or concerns that they would like addressed. Be sure to provide them an opportunity to ask any questions they may have and be honest and direct with your responses.
Weeks 2 and 3:
After the first couple weeks of employment, begin to solicit feedback from the employee regarding the orientation and onboarding process. This will help you to refine the program in the future and address any issues or obstacles the new employee may have experienced.
Each employee who goes through the orientation should fill out a survey regarding: the level of information provided, how it was given, how well questions were answered, if enough time was given for acclimation, quality and help of written materials, what aspects were most/least helpful, any areas of importance not addressed, and orientation in relationship to one’s specific job duties. Let them know that their honesty is appreciated and will be used to improve the company’s employee orientation and onboarding program.
During this time, continue to ensure regular communication and meetings between the employee and his or her mentor.
Additionally, make sure firm performance expectations have been established and goals have been set. Review the employee’s progress toward reaching the goals and assist them if needed.