The importance of orientation

Companies often expect new hires to
“hit the ground running,” but are businesses giving employees the resources and guidance to do this? According to a
recent survey developed by Robert Half
International, companies may be hindering
new employees from performing at their
best by not providing them a formal orientation program. The survey was conducted by
an independent research firm and included
responses from 492 full- or part-time workers 18 years of age or older employed in
office environments.

“Only a small percentage — one third —
of the workers we surveyed received any
kind of formal orientation program from
their company,” says Phil Willingham, senior regional vice president of Robert Half
International, the world’s first and largest
staffing service specializing in accounting,
finance and information technology.

Smart Business spoke with Willingham
about the importance of a formal orientation program and the key elements of a
good plan.

Why is it important to have a formal orientation program for new hires?

Eighty-seven percent who underwent a
formal orientation said that it helped them
prepare for success within the organization. A formal orientation program increases the likelihood that employees ramp up
more quickly because they feel supported
and guided during the first days with the
company. Employees who receive a formal
orientation feel comfortable in their roles
more quickly and achieve a sense of
belonging. These attributes provide a good
foundation for work productivity.

From the company’s perspective, providing a formal orientation helps get the new
hire up to speed quickly and helps with
retention, which reduces the high cost of

Why don’t more companies have a formal
orientation program in place?

It could be an expense issue — or a perceived expense issue. Or it may be time
constraints. Growing companies are often stretched thin and unable to dedicate the
necessary resources to develop a formal
orientation program, which takes planning
to put together.

What is the advantage of a formal orientation
program versus an informal one?

Many companies already have some kind
of informal orientation in place that may be
effective in helping the employee feel comfortable. However, the value of a formal orientation program is in its consistency: It provides employers with an opportunity to reinforce the company’s values and set expectations, and it also lays the groundwork for
keeping the company’s message consistent.

Not having a formal orientation program
doesn’t necessarily mean employees won’t
be successful. But the first days of work at
a new company leave a lasting impression.
The more thorough the orientation, the
better new hires can acclimate quickly,
learn what resources are available to them
and gain a sense of the corporate culture.

What are some key elements of effective formal orientation programs?

At the very least, supervisors should give
new hires a tour of the office, introduce them to their colleagues and explain security procedures. Make sure you invite senior management to meet with the new
employee; an appearance by an executive
or other company leader adds credibility
and weight to the session. If this is not possible, a high-quality video could be a good

The first couple of days are also a good
time to discuss the history of the company,
explain the corporate culture and give
some basic tips on what the new hire can
do to succeed in the company. This is also
a good opportunity to talk about short-term expectations (what is expected within 30 to 90 days — which can also coincide
with a training schedule) as well as the
long-term vision (what is expected of the
employee in the span of one to five years).

The important part of a formal orientation is that the message is coordinated and
consistent throughout. The ideas conveyed
in the orientation should reflect those
expressed during the recruitment process
and how the company presents itself to the
outside world, as well.

The first days also need to include a
meeting with the Human Resources
Department for formalities such as giving
the new employee a handbook, information about benefits, vacation time, etc. It is
also important to give the new employee a
list of key contacts in the company —
which can help speed up communication
when an issue or a question arises.

A good orientation program is an ongoing
process. Managers should ensure the orientation process doesn’t end when a person leaves the formal session. A mentoring
program is an excellent way to provide
ongoing guidance and support beyond the
first few weeks on the job.

PHIL WILLINGHAM is senior regional vice president for Robert
Half International in Houston. The company has more than 350
staffing locations in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific
region, and offers online job search services at
Reach Willingham at (713) 339-1060 or by e-mail at [email protected].