For two solid years of my career, I designed and facilitated new-hire orientation. The company I worked for was large, and it was my responsibility to welcome and train 10 to 30 new employees every Tuesday and Wednesday. Throughout these two years, I redesigned and polished the orientation, discovering what worked and what didn’t. As I was responsible for their first impression, I sincerely wanted them to do well. I wanted success for each and every one of them.
But, of course, not all were successful. A few quit or were fired within 30 days. And whenever this happened, I had to examine why and decide what I could have done differently during new hire orientation to ensure a better outcome.
- Being unrealistic. The trend at one point was to make orientation as fun as possible. And I went through a short phase in which I had balloons, games, food and cake. It was a blast. And I was the rah-rah girl. They were now part of the greatest company ever in the entire history of companies. They were going to love, love, love working here. By the time the day was finished, they were so excited to get to work, I really felt like I’d done my job well. Unfortunately, work isn’t always a party. It’s not always fun. And rarely is there cake. And some felt duped. Hoodwinked. That wasn’t my intent, but I had to revise my methodology fast. And—after some retooling—I was able to keep it interesting. And I kept some fun…to a degree. I mainly made sure to be realistic on what they could expect.
- Allowing executives to play hooky. When the company hired new executives, everyone was anxious to meet them—and waiting for them was a long list of to dos ready to get done. So they never had time to sit through orientation with the rest of the plebes. Some thought they were too good; some were just swept away by other executives. Big mistake. I allowed the people tasked with driving forward or even changing the workplace culture, standards and brand to skip out on learning company fundamentals. Of course, I was a lowly middle manager at the time, so who was I to tell anyone anything? Allowing them to play hooky was another executive’s choice—probably one who didn’t attend orientation either.
- Not bringing out the cane to speakers who yammered on and on. I had a variety of speakers throughout the orientation who were there to present their particular department. I’d always had time limits for their presentations, but about three quarters always went over—some by staggering amounts, which would set us behind for everything else. And it’s not like these prattling gasbags said anything particularly relevant or inspiring. And they would say the same insipid frippery week after week. I would watch participants struggling to keep their eyes open. I would watch them look at the clock. I would watch them looking at me, as if I could rescue them from the stranglehold of boredom. And I could have. Giving strict time parameters and specifics—a matrix—assisted my speakers in tailoring their presentations for maximum impact and interest.
- Relying too much on a text-stuffed PowerPoint. In my first weeks conducting orientation, I used my predecessor’s yawner of a PowerPoint, which had slides of text that had been copied directly from the handbook. It didn’t take me long to revise the PowerPoint and devise new methods of presentation. Plus, I incorporated loads of participation. There were at least three occasions during which the projector failed me, and I was left PowerPointless. And those were probably the best orientations I’d ever facilitated.
- Forgetting to give breaks or provide snacks and coffee. In truth, I never made this mistake. But I know plenty of orientations, seminars and workshops that do. People retain more if they are given a short break every hour—I like seven minutes. Random, I know, but it works for me. If people know they’ll be able to stand, use the facilities and get some coffee, snacks or water at the end of each hour, they’ll pay attention and participate. If they’re doomed to sitting in a chair for any longer than that, they’ll likely tune you out. Plus, these little breaks help you organize material into bite-sized chunks. I was at a seminar recently, and the breaks were every two and a half hours. Water was provided, but that was it. No coffee. No snacks. And the room was an icebox. I was so cold, my bones ached. While the speaker was lacking a certain charisma, the information was interesting enough. If I could have just had a few minutes to process one portion before moving on to the next, I might have gotten more from the seminar. But all I could think about was how much I wanted a break. Just a few minutes to walk out into the sunshine and thaw out. Was that too much to ask? Incidentally, I’ll never attend another seminar from this company. So what impression do new hires get when they have a similar experience? Not a good start.
New-hire orientation should never be treated as an incidental occurrence. It should be well thought out and planned by a professional who knows what he or she is doing—and then it should be shaped and approved by an executive committee. A great start stacks the odds in the company’s favor that the new employee will add value to the company and achieve results.