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October 30, 2000
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If your first day on the job consists of trying to turn on your computer,wondering if your boss is invisible, eating lunch by yourself, and hoping you’llfit in better on your second day, it’s likely that things will go downhillfrom there. Effective orientation not only gives employees the ins and outs oftheir job requirements, but also welcomes them into the company culture.

In an effort to standardize orientation training for its worldwide workforce,Bausch & Lomb Inc. is rolling out several new tools for its HR managers."At one time, orientation was a nice thing to do," says Clay Osborne,vice president of workforce development and diversity for Bausch & Lomb."Today, most companies see it as critical to success."

The globaleye-care company and manufacturer has its headquarters in Rochester, New York,and employs about 12,000 people in 35 countries. Within the next few months, itwill introduce three orientation tools: an interactive online video, HR managers’guidelines, and a mentoring program.

Bausch & Lomb’s HR managers will combine these tools with their ownlaundry list of items, such as how to fill out time sheets and benefits forms,and tailor their programs for local workforces.

The tools seek to promotecompany values and culture, an approach that moves away from traditionalprograms. "It’s really a philosophical difference," Osborneexplains. "The emphasis is on communicating principles and values and howthe new employee can participate and contribute. In the past, orientationprograms focused on the technical aspects, such as how to get into the 401(k).We believe that it’s the culture and the values that determine success atBausch & Lomb."

New employees can be compared to immigrants, says Howard Klein, assistantprofessor of management and human resources at Ohio State University. "Theyneed to learn the history, rules, people, language, and culture, as well asperformance expectations," he explains. "There are three differentlevels of orientation. Job issues are at the bottom and organizational issues atthe top. In the middle are issues related to the employee’s workgroup,division, or unit."

While rules and policies are important, Klein adds, itis understanding things like company values that helps people feel like part ofthe organization they work for. This increases their sense of belonging andtheir commitment.

Bausch & Lomb’s new video and guidelines promote such core values asteamwork, communication, creativity, diversity, learning, trust, and quality.The company wants to instill these ideas into the employees’ daily work life,thereby fostering the desired culture throughout the organization.

Ideally,employees carry these ideas with them when they move to new job positions,different divisions, or even a new country. The orientation tools were developedby an international team of HR managers and will eventually be offered inseveral languages.

"It is more true now than ever before that the way people are hired,oriented, trained, recognized, and compensated sends a powerful message aboutwhat truly is valued in a company," says Simon Tsang, vice president of HRfor Asia at Bausch & Lomb.

By focusing on organizational issues from the get-go, the orientation isdesigned to quickly integrate new talent. "I think global companies likeBausch & Lomb have a greater needto give employees standardized employee orientation programs," says Osborne."Many of the principles and values need to be inculcated early, becausechange occurs so fast."

Building community

Technology is also altering the face of orientation programs. It is no longernecessary for employees to be tied to a physical workplace, yet they still mustlearn the ropes and share the employer’s mission. CDG & Associates Inc. isa virtual organization with 75 consultants scattered around the country. Theconsultants, who install HRIS systems, are linked through computer networksrather than by location. CDG combats the geographic distance by fostering asense of shared culture and values from the start.

"We begin the orientation process during recruitment," explains CDGfounder and president Cynthia Driskill. "We have the candidate sign anon-disclosure form and then disclose as much as we can about the company in thebeginning. We continue that openness throughout the orientation process andbeyond."

New consultants spend from one to three weeks at CDG’s main office inDallas learning everything from how to use their laptops and file expensereports to the ins and outs of the employee stock ownership plan. Psychologicalprofiling helps them to see where they fit into the organization. Theorientation process also includes seminars in communication. Consultants areassigned to new-hire partners who can provide guidance once they are out in thefield.

As a "virtual introduction," newcomers post photos ofthemselves on the CDG intranet, along with brief bios that include work historyand hobbies. This way, colleagues who have been working in different parts ofthe country recognize each other’s faces when they gather at the company’sannual meeting.

New consultants also work through a practice application or, in some cases,real-life assignments. Putting employees to work right away is a good idea, saysCharles Cadwell, consultant and author of New Employee Orientation: A PracticalGuide for Supervisors (Crisp Publications, 1988). "The employees arelooking to show their stuff and not to sit around."

Bill Duncan has been a consultant for CDG for less than a year. During hisorientation, he had the chance to work on a major proposal project. He said hiscolleagues treated him as an equal, rather than as the new guy. He also feltfamiliar with his company when he went out into the field on his own. Duncanalso was impressed that company experts conducted the orientation training. TheCFO explained how to report time and expenses, the IT manager presented computerinformation, the HR manager presented benefits, and so on.

CDG has a retention rate of more than 93 percent, which Driskill attributesto the intensive orientation and the firm’s nurturing environment. "Themore prepared consultants are before they start their daily responsibilities,the less management overhead they require," she says.

© Marc Tyler Nobleman

Image © Marc Tyler Nobleman

Workforce, November2000, Vol. 79, No. 11, pp. 36-40 -- Subscribenow!

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