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How to Give New Hires a Great Start Some small businesses go beyond the standard orientation, raising retention and productivity.

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A number of small businesses focus on providing new hires with only the basic information and skills needed to perform their job. However, going beyond the standard orientation process can enable new hires to become successful in the workplace more quickly, and help ensure that the new partnership will be long and advantageous. The key is offering employees a chance to learn the organization's customs and jargon and connect personally with new colleagues.

A new hire's attitude about your business generally takes shape quickly, and can affect their long-term outlook and commitment to the company. Many employees typically make their decision to stay or quit within their first six months on the job.

So, how can your small business turn employees' first impressions into a lasting and prosperous relationship? Here are examples of how three small businesses are going beyond the basic employee orientation.

1. Connect with them early and personally.
When candidates accept an offer to work at SnagAJob.com, an hourly job site based in Glen Valley, Va., chief executive Shawn Boyer mails them a handwritten congratulatory note and a $100 American Express gift card as a token of thanks to celebrate their new job.

On their first day, new hires are assigned a department "buddy" who gives them a tour of the office, introduces them to their colleagues and serves as a mentor during the first few weeks. New "Snaggers," as employees there are called, also complete an office scavenger hunt and a "Confessions of a New Snagger" questionnaire. This Q&A covers personal trivia about the new hire, such as pets, children, hobbies, and other interests. Once completed, the answers are emailed to all employees and also posted on the company's intranet, along with the employee's photo. Snaggers are then quizzed on the bits of personal information shared in these questionnaires during weekly staff meetings. Correct answers are rewarded with candy.

While fun, these activities make an impression on new hires. "I never felt like the 'new person,'" says one new Snagger. "I didn't have to go out of my way to prove myself to anyone. There was the implicit assumption that since I was hired I must be good enough to handle the job. That level of trust is refreshing and made my transition to SnagAJob easier."

2. Make the introduction about more than just the handbook.
Some employee orientations include a strong dose of organizational culture and history, as well as participation from senior leaders. At RadioFlyer, the Chicago-based maker of children's toys, new Flyers join "chief wagon officer" Robert Pasin for breakfast. Pasin shares the history of the company as well as his personal stories of mistakes, successes and lessons learned. He answers questions and covers his expectations for team members to help RadioFlyer continue its success.

New employees also hear more about the company's values over lunch with members of the company's Vision, Mission and Values Committee, Its members are people who have been recognized by peers for living the company values every day.

New Flyers also get a first-hand look at the company's products. New hires complete an audit of customers' retail experiences and assemble RadioFlyer products. These practices help new employees learn about the products as well as their customers. Employees even get to keep a few of the products they assemble.

3. Treat new hires like equals.
At some companies, new employees wait through a probationary period before gaining full benefits and status. Pinnacol Assurance, a Denver-based provider of workers compensation insurance with about 630 employees, treats new hires as equals immediately, speeding their assimilation into the business. For instance, new hires are eligible to begin using their paid days off as early as their first day. Employees get up to 20 days off during their first full year.

A great welcome can make a lasting impact. Efforts to bring new hires into the culture, and not just the job, can reap benefits of shorter learning curves, stronger employee commitment, and reduced turnover. Leaders who take the opportunity to make new hires feel welcome can make a lasting impression that turns into a long-term advantage.

Marcus Erb is a senior research partner and senior consultant with the Great Place to Work® Institute. He focuses on the financial services, manufacturing and health care industries.

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