Developing an Effective Orientation Program

One area of Human Resource Development that is often overlooked is the orientation of your employees when they are first hired on.

Orientation is also referred to as “onboarding”.  There are slight differences in the meaning, but essentially they both refer to the process of allowing your new employee to become acclimatised to their new surroundings.

“Orientation” refers to the basics, such as where is the lunchroom, when are breaks, who is my boss, etc.  “Onboarding” is a bit more complex, and refers to the longer-term needs of the new employee.  This process helps to avoid “cognitive dissonance” or reality shock, which is the discrepancy between what the employee was expecting to see or do, and the realities of the new job.

When developing your Orientation and Onboarding process, it is important to follow a few steps.

  1. Realize that onboarding actually begins during the hiring process. If you don’t give the employee a realistic perception of the job and the organization during the interview, they may be shocked to find that there are aspects of the job or company they don’t like.
  1. You need to establish what, exactly, the new employee(s) need to know, and when they need to know it. Develop a checklist with timelines to ensure you don’t miss anything!
  1. Gather the required job-related documents, such as company policies, job description, or procedural manuals for equipment that the person will need, including vacation policies, payroll information, etc. Ensure your policy manuals or handbooks contain clauses that specifically state the policy is not intended to constitute the terms of a contract of employment.
  1. Include any training that will be required, such as mandatory health and safety training or job-specific training. Also ensure that the employee is aware of any upcoming training that will be required.
  1. Provide the employee with any performance appraisal criteria. If they don’t know how their work will be measured, it is likely they will focus on the wrong aspects. This is especially important if the employee has sales criteria to meet or performance expectations for bonuses.
  1. Diversity in the workforce could require implementation of an additional orientation program for both existing and new employees. Provide training on cultural sensitivity, reactions and statements that are prohibited under human rights legislation, and effective communication techniques.

Be careful not to “overload” your new employee with information.  Often there is a need to get the person working right away, and sometimes the new employee is left overwhelmed with the amount of paperwork they have to complete, such as payroll and vacation forms, policies to read and sign off, benefit and pension information, and so on.  Space out the onboarding process and allow the employee time to digest the information so that they can feel comfortable.

And, finally, don’t forget to evaluate your program!  You need to ensure that the time spent to onboard the new person is effectively managed and garners the results you need.

  1. Get the employee’s reaction. Did they learn anything? Do they still have questions? Do they find the program to be “useful”? Does the employee demonstrate transfer of the knowledge to the job?
  1. Review the “socialization effects”. Periodically assess the employee’s progress on understanding and acceptance of the beliefs, values and “norms” of the organization.
  1. Cost vs. benefit. Compare the orientation costs (training pay for all involved, cost of printed materials, training programs, etc.) with the benefits of the orientation. Look for reduction in errors or improvements in productivity and/or efficiency.

For help developing your employee onboarding program, please contact me!