Prometheus Training, LLC

Top 5 Mistakes of Orientation and Onboarding Programs

Is your new-hire orientation program working for you or against you?

When clients ask us to analyze why their Onboarding and Orientation strategies are going wrong, here are the Top 5 mistakes we see:

#5: The program that only HR could love

Orientation is usually owned by Human Resources, but it's not supposed to be about Human Resources. Orientation programs that only cover HR information (benefit packages, employee manual, etc.) are missing the point.

The Fix:
Orientation is supposed to answer new-hire questions such as: What is this organization really all about? What is it really like to work here? How are things organized, and where do I fit in?

In other words, Orientation is supposed to capture the organizational culture. And that requires getting beyond the HR boundaries to develop the program, partnering with managers from other stakeholders, even getting input from (yoiks!) actual employees about both the content and the deployment of the Orientation program.

#4: Just the facts, ma'am

Nothing puts new-hires to sleep faster than an information dump masquerading as an Orientation program.

The Fix:
Sure, new-hires need to learn a lot of information. But they probably do not need to learn it all at once and it's unlikely that they need to memorize it.

Which means that you have a perfect opportunity to get away from the lecture-and-test mode, and opt for a friendlier format. One of our favorites is to publish the information in a reference format - notebook, web page, etc. - so new-hires can use it as needed back on the job. That frees up training time for interactive exercises that reinforce how to access the data, how the information is organized, how the data is used in different departments, etc. Your new-hires will enjoy the interactivity - and be better positioned to make use of the information on the job.

#3: You are alone, so very alone

Your organizational slogan may say "We are a Team," but your Orientation program says "You may be on our team, but we don't want to know you."

The Fix:
These days, we have become more cognizant of the importance of "social networking." If you want to help your new-hires feel like part of the team, you need to help them build their social network within the organization - which means helping them figure out who people are and what their roles are.

Good Orientation programs incorporate social networking activities at various stages of the orientation process. For example, we often provide a "Getting to Know the Organization" module early on in the process, which explains what the various areas of the organization do and who their key players are. The follow-on activity to this module is an exercise in which the new-hires make contact with those key players who are most directly connected to the new-hire's job. Additional social networking activities should be sprinkled throughout the orientation period.

By the way, don't be afraid of the word "social." Your goal is not to get your new-hire a date for the prom. But you do need that new-hire to become a fully-functioning member of your team - which means knowing whom to call to get something done, understanding who reports to whom, etc.

#2: One-time-event mentality

What's wrong with this picture? You are running an orientation program to promote employee retention and foster employee loyalty over the long term. Your goal is to demonstrate your commitment to helping the individual new-hire become successful on the job. But you expect your employee to "get oriented" during a single session - usually a session that is crammed to the gills with way too much information, and often a session that is over-subscribed because the program is only offered once a month or so. No wonder the new-hires aren't getting your message.

The Fix:
Orientation is a process, not an event. There's no way around it. Remember your first day on the job? You had a ton of questions - but they were different questions from the ones you needed to ask on Day 21, or Day 42, and so on. A good Orientation program is set up as a process, making it possible for new-hires to get good answers to their urgent questions right after they are hired, but also making it possible to re-engage with them later during their first few months as their needs change. And, taking a process approach frees you to change things up now and then - mixing online media, classroom time, and small-group projects so as to give new-hires the real flavor of your organization.

#1: We don't have an orientation program

You may think that you don't have an Orientation program, but you do. Your program may be grounded in Strategic Thinking and HR Best Practices. Or, it may be based on the opinions of Elsie, the cranky bookkeeper who loves to share her 20 years of assorted grievances with every new-hire who passes her desk. But count on it, someone is orienting your new-hires.

The Fix:
The best defense is a good offense. A well-thought-out, well-implemented orientation program is an effective weapon for retaining employees and helping them to become productive faster. Think of orientation as an investment. And keep your new-hires away from Elsie! Good orientation programs are good business. Think of your orientation program as a window into your organization's culture. The better the view through that window, the more likely your new-hires will get onboard quickly, and stay onboard for the long term.

About the author

Helene Geiger is CEO of Prometheus Training, LLC.

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