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ON BOARDING OR OFF-PUTTING? Orientating your Way to Successful Engagement

11 March 2013

‘Orientating’ Your Way to Success through People

“After waiting in reception for 25 minutes (“Sorry, everyone’s in the Monday morning meeting”) I was taken to a crowded work station pod, introduced in rapid fire to five other people who barely looked up, and was pointed towards a very worn, stained chair. There was so much dust on the desk that I had asthma by the end of the day…no computer log-on, nothing to write with. I was given a pile of forms to fill out and a 10 centimetre thick ‘induction’ binder to read which contained all the ‘standard operating procedures’. Later that day I was contacted by someone in HR who said they’d send over a list of the compliance modules (30 in all!)  that I had to complete on-line within the next 2 weeks.

My manager was in meetings most of the day… she dropped by to say hello in the afternoon and apologised for not being available, then asked one of the other managers to help me out – his response was he was pretty busy but would see what he could do - then she left to fly interstate…we finally caught up on day four for an hour.

I was new to the city, having relocated from Brisbane for the role and didn’t know my way around… had no idea where to go for lunch or how to get there, was even worried about straying too far in case I couldn’t find my way back to the office. If it hadn’t been for the GFC I would have left the next day. I’ve stuck it out but I’m leaving as soon as I can”.

Sound too far-fetched to be true? This story was related to me a couple of months ago by a very frustrated and disappointed employee, one who has high-demand, hard-to-find skills, and who had just joined a financial services firm. And she is already looking for her next role.

With disengagement at an all-time high (recent estimates in Australia put the actively disengaged at around 65%), and at a time when the world is experiencing escalating skills shortages, making a great first impression and maintaining it is critical to continued and growing productivity.

All too often though, many corporations miss an opportunity to make a great first impression and to “close the sale” on a newly-recruited individual by providing a pretty ho-hum orientation, and in some instances very little at all. Importantly, this lack of upfront investment in time also inadvertently slows the new person’s development and the time it will take for them to reach their expected productivity. 

Most new employees come to work on day one, excited about the prospect of the new job, new opportunities, and new friends….only to have the bubble burst on the very first day. 

Some might see a poor orientation as simply a missed opportunity to impress a new employee.

However, the knock-on effects of a big discrepancy between the ‘sell’ from the recruiter or hiring manager, and the impressions at orientation could turn it into a ‘disaster’ with significant implications.

Almost all companies do some kind of an orientation for new hires, but sadly the feedback from employees shows that not only are many orientation programs boring, they are usually heavily geared towards getting all the compliance matters out of the way (often tedious hours of excruciating on-line e-tutorials) and because of information overload, often very little is taken in by your new hires.

In addition, the recruiter or human resource person who made all of those wonderful promises is not answering your calls. Your family or partner may have been nervous about the “change”, made even worse if you just physically relocated yourself and/or family.

Buzzwords and acronyms are everywhere but you still don’t even have a computer log on, have no idea where to get a decent coffee, lunch, or your suit dry cleaned - let alone a clear understanding of what projects you’ll be working on and when.

Additionally, and all too frequently, many existing employees pay little attention to, or seem to understand the crucial importance of the orientation process and engaging new recruits to their own future, and the company’s future success.

As a result, many new employees are questioning their decision by the end of day one, with disengagement setting in pretty quickly as you begin to wonder if it really was a good decision.

If a company makes a negative first impression it may take months to overcome an employee’s initial frustration and “buyer’s remorse”, if at all.  Yet research shows consistently that improving orientation can increase retention rates by as much as 25%. 

Initial new employee frustration and disengagement also shows up in more time taken to productivity and increases in error rates. Poor orientation can knock the wind out of even the most enthusiastic new employees’ sails as they start to find themselves in a loop of poor performance leading to spiralling confidence, all through lack of a customised, professional, and targeted orientation.

Poor orientation programs can also impact future recruitment efforts.  Everyone you know asks you during your first week “How’s your new job”?  Imagine if the response to the question about your company was “Not at all what I expected, nothing like what they told me at the interviews” or “They never told me that…”. Inevitably this can lead to negative rumours and perceptions forming about your company that could discourage others from applying – not a path to success in a time of increasing skills shortages.

Given the indisputable importance of achieving your strategies through strategic workforce planning, continuing to woo your new recruits therefore, is absolutely crucial to success. Yet, most orientation is owned and done by Human Resources and in larger companies often by junior HR staff.

Bottom line? Hiring managers and existing employees need to own the orientation process - to understand and take responsibility for on-boarding and engaging the new recruits; for getting them up to speed as quickly and effectively as possible. They are closer to the issues, the crucial information and hence the keys to success in the role and of course, will ultimately suffer the consequences if the orientation is not done well, such as having to take on more work if the person leaves; missing team targets and bonuses, and poor morale if turnover continues.

As the key to future to success, continuing to keep new and existing employees engaged is just as important as Business Development or Relationship Development - The Romance or Fling discussed in a previous article from Rocket Blue applies just as readily to employees.

The fact is, if you thought the war for talent was already tough, start ‘engaging’ - it’s only going to get tougher.

Penny Nesbitt, Director, Rocket Blue Pty Ltd

m: O4O3 895097