At First Sight

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.

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This article was originally published in the March 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: At First Sight.

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