From the March 2000 issue of Entrepreneur

The new employee shows up on Day One. Do you show him to a desk, put him to work and simply walk away? Do that, and you just may be sabotaging his chances for succeeding at the job. Fail to give him an orientation of both the company and his job as soon as he arrives, and you can count on him quitting not too long after he's started, say the experts.

Want some good news? Those same experts insist that just a few hours of training, or even small gestures that demonstrate goodwill, can turn a new employee into an enthusiastic long-termer instead of another point chalked up on your attrition tallies.

Joyce L. Gioia, president of management consulting firm, Herman Group in Greensboro, North Carolina, and co-author of Lean and Meaningful: A New Culture for Corporate America (Oakhill Press), says she can affirm the point. When a client in the help-desk industry came to her with a whopping 300 percent turnover rate, Gioia helped institute a simple new-hire orientation program that eventually slashed that number to 18 percent. Says Gioia, "Orientation takes just a little investment of time, but it pays huge dividends."


Robert McGarvey writes on business, psychology and management topics for several national publications. To reach him online with your questions or comments, e-mail rjmcgarvey@aol.com

Breaking The Mold

Mull over that while you're contemplating the bad news: You probably don't offer much orientation to new hiresfew small businesses dobut your bigger competitors do. Indeed, generous chunks of training budgets at mammoth corporations are devoted to orientation. "[Small businesses often] don't realize how important it is to hold a thorough orientation, and they don't think they have the time to spare," says Gioia.

"Small companies are really out of step," adds Alexander Hiam of the employee training and development firm Alexander Hiam & Associates in Amherst, Massachusetts. "Orientation should be an obvious component; it's just common sense."

Don't think that because your company is small and doesn't have a budget for training that you can't afford an orientation process.

"Oftentimes, it's the small things that make the difference," says Mel Kleiman, managing partner of Houston-based Hire Tough Group, which provides training and consulting for hiring and retaining employees. "Doing things a little bit better will make you so much better than the competition. Little things make a big difference."

Such as? First impressions, for example. "Employers need to recognize that the first day on the job is the one day that a new employee wants to do better than ever," says Kleiman. "There's only one time to make a first impression, for both the employee and the company, and making the first day the best day will bring long-lasting results to both parties."

Want to make the best first impression for both of you? A starting point is avoiding the common pitfalls many businesses make. Kleiman has given us a road map around the must nots:

  • Never start a new employee on Monday morning at the very beginning of a shift when everyone is trying to get over the weekend. Why not 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday when the workplace mood is cheerier and less hectic?
  • Don't let a new hire spend the first day on his own. Assign a "buddy" to answer questions, take the employee to lunch and make introductions around the office. The buddy should be someone who loves his or her job and the company, instilling a positive attitude in the new hire from the start. And don't just say good-bye when it's time to punch out. Stop a moment to chat with the new hire; ask how the day went and whether he or she has any questions.
  • Don't give a new employee a work space that isn't set up. Make sure the phone and computer are workingyou might even set up a screen message that welcomes the new hire by name.
  • Don't bombard a new hire with a pile of forms to fill out. Nothing dampens the enthusiasm of the first day faster. Send out a welcome packet in advance.
  • Don't expect a new hire to perform at top speed on the first day or even the first week. Recognize there's a learning curve of at least one to three months for practically any job.

Stumble on a couple of these points and there's gloom looming ahead because, says Kleiman, hourly employees have decided by the first day whether they're going to quit. Salaried workers may not jump to a decision so quickly, but bungle too many first-day areas, and you can be assured your new employee is questioning exactly where this relationship is going.

Sweat The Small Stuff

And you can do still more by taking small but impactful steps. Gioia offers up a winning step-by-step formula for making orientations work, both for you and your new hires:

1. Welcome new hires as honored guests. Have the president or top executive personally introduce them to everyone in the company (if small), or if larger, to everyone they'll be working with.

2. Make sure new hires fully understand how their work fits into the company's big picture by letting other co-workers explain their jobs and exactly how the new hires' jobs affect theirs. Essentially, your staff orients the new hires, and, in the process, they're taking the first steps toward creating the working relationships they'll need further on down the road.

3. If orienting five or more new hires at the same time, include something in the orientation they can learn and use on the job. Examples include a two-hour course on time management or a short course on grammar or letter-writing. Why? Research is emphatic in showing that when employees feel they're learning on the job and their employer has invested in expanding their knowledge and skills, they're that much more apt to give their job highly favorable ratings.

4. Include career-pathing where possible by scheduling visits from workers who started in the same positions as the new hires and are now in higher positions within the company. This lets new hires see the next steps on the career ladder, motivating them to do well at their current rung.

5. Use orientation as an opportunity to reinforce the decision to take the job by acknowledging that the new employee made the right decision in joining your company. Tell new hires you're going to help them stay marketable, give them the opportunity to grow and all the tools and equipment they need to be successful.

6. Give them something tangible (with the company logo) that makes them feel good and that they can use at their desks in the office. Like what? Try a paperweight or even a mouse pad. It's a little gesture, but it fosters a certain sense of belonging, and that's crucial in getting new hires off on the right foot.

In addition to these first-day or first-week gestures, don't forget the important job-related instruction that will help cement the relationship. Gioia offers these tips:

  • Clarify expectations you have. Clearly tell employees what's expected of them andguess whatthey'll probably do it. What do you need to do? The direct supervisor needs to say, in writing, here's what we're going to do for you as far as benefits, helping you grow in your job, and so on, and here's what we expect of you: Be on time, give 100-percent effort, and the like. Have the new hire sign it, and you (or the recruit's supervisor) should sign it too. That document in effect becomes a performance contractand everybody likes living up to contracts.
  • The supervisor and the new hire should work together to develop a personal growth program for the individual. Where does the new person want to be in three months, six months, a year? For example, if the employee is in the hospitality field working at the front desk, he or she may want to be cross-trained for the concierge position. This shows the new hire that the company cares about working toward his or her personal goals.

Are these steps worth the effort they'll take? Consider this: How many hours did it take you to hire this new staffer? You know how hard it's become to recruit good people in today's tough marketand that's why there's no longer any question that putting in a few steps at the front end to make the relationship work is just good sense.

"By building positive attitudes and strengthening commitment in your new hires, you'll create a strong foundation for future success," says Hiam. It's truly that simple.

Contact Sources

Alexander Hiam & Associates, (413) 253-3658, http://www.streetwisemotivation.com

Joyce L. Gioia, (800) 227-3566, http://www.herman.net

The Hire Tough Group, (877) HIRE-TOUGH, mkleiman@hiretough.com