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A great start for great people

Onboarding isn’t just an explanation of employee benefits, a desk and a computer password. At least it shouldn’t be. Far too often, companies use up valuable resources to find the right candidates and then ignore them after they’re hired. These businesses lose out on the positive ripple effects and cost savings of an effective orientation process—and they become part of the estimated $37 billion annual loss companies experience when employees don’t understand their jobs. And that’s just in the U.S. and U.K.

What is an effective orientation process, anyway? In my mind, it begins with how you describe it, and I think I’d rather be “welcomed” than “onboarded” as a new employee, wouldn’t you? Most of us can remember that first day on the job, which feels a lot like the first day at a new school. You don’t know anyone and feel ill at ease. You’re afraid you’ll forget what you’ve just been told to do and feel like an idiot—or, worse, make a mistake that costs your new company a lot of money. You don’t even know who to ask how to get to the bathroom. All too often, that’s the discomfort we lay on our carefully selected employees.

At the least, your “welcoming” processes should include: a tour, a few introductions, an e-mail address, and telephone access and instructions—along with the desk, computer password, and explanation of benefits—all on the first day. Somewhere in the first couple of days, new employees need instruction about your products or services, customer service philosophy, marketing initiatives, and what each department does and how they work together to meet goals or provide service.

There is much more that you can and should do but, to be effective, your process should reflect and support your culture and values as well as match the individual preferences of your new employee. Don’t expect an introvert to stand up and give a presentation to strangers; you may lose a talented new employee.

Not a one-day event but a month-long process

No one can get oriented in a day. Your welcome and training process should last at least a month, beginning with communications before the first day on the job and ending with getting feedback that can help you improve the experience. Check back after 60 and 90 days to make sure things are going well.

Best practices include doing things like: providing written job descriptions, setting clear expectations, assigning a mentor, clarifying your culture and values—and, a very simple but respectful thing, dedicating uninterrupted time to talk with your new hire, with no phone calls, e-mails or other interruptions allowed. A word of advice: go ahead and risk the small amount of money it takes to get business cards made for your new employees on the first week of employment; don’t wait until after a waiting period. Give them what they need up front to succeed.

Going far beyond the basics

With the basics taken care of, how can you reinforce your culture and values in the process? Here are some examples from a March 2013 Bryan Burkhart column in the New York Times: Thrillist throws people into an open environment to begin working as part of the team from Day One.  Warby Parker sends the employee a welcome packet with company history, press releases, core values, what to expect the first day, week, month and other information before the start date; and the night before starting, the supervisor calls to make sure the person knows where to show up and when.

Other companies send welcome gift packets related to the culture or history of the company; arrange lunch with the senior team; or play a game that fosters and rewards connection between the new person and other employees. The common theme in the examples is that these companies make the effort to be respectful, supportive, understanding and welcoming to their new employees—going beyond the basics, and way beyond the minimum.

Effective orientation programs are meant to increase the comfort level and productivity of new employees. But, truly, it’s your business that reaps most of the benefits. You reduce the cost of learning; speed up the time to productivity; greatly improve turnover rates; and increase overall morale. Can you afford not to be on board?

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Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Kathleen Quinn Votaw serves on the Board of Directors for both the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) Denver and Colorado Companies to Watch. She is also founder and CEO of TalenTrust, a Denver-based professional services firm that helps high growth companies solve the people puzzle.TalenTrust offers strategies to attract, retain and engage talented people. Reach Kathleen at kvotaw@talentrust.com or 303-838-3334.

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