Stop Wasting Money on Employee Orientations

May 6, 2005

Organizations in the United States are spending millions of dollars annually on orientation, and they don’t know why. Orientation, onboarding, employee integration--whatever you call it, is probably the only form of training companies deliver that doesn’t regularly get measured for a return on investment.

    Forms get filled out, ID pictures are taken, benefits are discussed, and maybe a torturous video viewed about the company and its product or services or history, and by that time the new hires are ready to bolt for the door.

    People join organizations to do a job, and during their first day on the job all we want to talk about is the rules and reasons we may use for terminating them! It’s insane. And it’s a complete waste of money. But there is a better way.

    First-day "information dump" orientations have proved less and less effective. I base this on my personal research as well as the Marcus Buckingham/Curt Coffman book First Break All the Rules and work done by Drake International.

    Instead of the info dump, try the following:

  • Tie the orientation to more than just benefits, forms and policies. Orientation needs to reflect the mission, values and culture of the organization. Whether the company is a family-owned business or a multinational, people want to belong to an organization whose T-shirt they can be proud to wear at the beach.

    Agilent Technologies goes one step further. On a new hire’s first day, it sends flowers to the person’s home along with T-shirts for the whole family. MicroStrategy, in McLean, Virginia, uses an in-depth boot camp to allow new hires to bond with their new organization. The orientation is spread over several days and includes technical training as well as team-building.
  • Get new hires to their work site as quickly as possible. Give them a job to do and use all that newfound energy and resource to invigorate that understaffed and overworked team that has been waiting for the new person to start.
  • Use a stepped or staggered approach to orientation. Have a brief meeting on the first day, then a second meeting later that week. Continue to hold brief meetings over the first three to four weeks. Stagger the times of the meetings. Have them in different departments or different parts of the organization. Use orientation to allow the new hires to get a more complete understanding of the breadth of the company. Further, allow employees to become aware of all the different activities that are going on in the organization.
  • People join companies, but they leave managers. Involve the manager as soon as possible. Orientation (or the trendy term "onboarding"), like most alleged human resource activities, is more effective when not handled solely by human resources. Face it: New hires will pay more attention to what their managers say than what someone from human resources tells them. Managers held accountable for the success of their new hires are more likely to be involved in getting the new hires started off right.
  • Give new hires a goal they can reach in the first couple of weeks, or even days. People hate it if they join an organization and then feel that they aren’t allowed to do any real work.

    In fact, a SHRM study found that more than 80 percent of people who voluntarily change jobs do so because they want to feel that they have more control over their work and that the work they do has an impact. One reason people are flocking to smaller organizations is to feel that they aren’t just a cog in a giant machine. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard in exit interviews "I’m leaving to go to a smaller organization where I can really make a difference."

    Track how the improvements to your employee orientations affect turnover. If the above steps are done well, they won’t have to be done often.