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New Employee Orientations: From Dreadful to Delightful in 3 Easy Steps

Jan 11, 2021

Try of handshaking between two work partnersI have never been all that big on how to onboard new employees—despite how frequently the term is used, it just doesn't sound like something any human being should have to endure.

Like, "Hi, honey. How was your first day on the job?"
"I got onboarded."
"Oh no! What happened?"

See what I mean?

No new employee blasts out of bed in the morning, hoping to feel "onboarded." Even in church, we don't sing "All Are Onboarded." We sing "All Are Welcome." But I digress.

Welcoming new employees—that, I can help with.

When you do it right, when you put some creativity and thoughtfulness into your new employee orientation, it works. Suddenly you've taken something dull and dreadful and turned it into a thing of delight.

The result: New employees who can't wait to contribute and are set free to do so. It starts with three simple steps:

  1. Inspire
  2. Inform (sparingly ... we'll get to that)
  3. Invite

You might consider these the three pillars of your new employee orientation. 

1. New employee orientations must inspire

The problem with new employee orientations, or should I say one of the problems, is they're created from the viewpoint of the employer—not the new employee, who's probably already a little on edge.

Think back to your own employee orientations: the ones that inspired confidence and the ones that left you wondering, "What have I done?" 

A Tale of Two Internships: the Good and the Random

Years ago while still in school, I signed up to do a summer internship in human resources. Good company, good connection with the person who would be my supervisor. We had met through an informational interview.

To my knowledge, he had never before had an intern—but he loved the idea when I proposed it. Together, we worked out the details and eagerly awaited my start date.

Yet even before I started, I had my hour-by-hour schedule for the first two weeks. For some, this might sound stressful. For me, it was Heaven.

Manager #1: "You made a good decision by coming to work here" 

Those words were never said out loud, but they didn't have to be.

The day I started, my new boss met me in the lobby, offered me a smile and a handshake, and escorted me enthusiastically upstairs to my fully equipped workspace, complete with large, personalized welcome sign.

Color me happy.

Clearly, the employer cared — and valued my time. Of the many people I met with during those first two weeks, not one person canceled or showed up late, including the CEO.

Manager #2: "Hey, how's it goin'?"

Contrast that with another internship, where the boss was sitting with his back to the door as I walked in. I knocked to announce myself. He stayed sitting and simply turned his head and said, "Hey, how's it goin'?"

All-righty.

First impressions aside, the orientation was literally a checklist of employer to-dos. No regrets, because it turned out to be a good internship. But instead of inspiring confidence, the orientation left me scratching my head.

Make sure your new employee orientation inspires confidence

Notice, by the way, that inspiring confidence doesn't have to mean Hollywood-inspired videos or anything else expensive. Inspiring confidence simply means communicating positive messages at every turn; for example: 

  • "We're glad you're here."
  • "You made a good decision by coming to work here."
  • "We're here to help you succeed." 

Just as that first internship site did with me, you can convey these messages with your words, your body language, how you prepare, how you show up, when you show up, and how you follow through.

What are three ways you can inspire confidence in your new hires? Preferably right away?

2. New employee orientations must inform

This is where it pays to talk with members of your team. (It always pays to talk with your team—but here, in a particular way.) Ask those who still clearly remember their first day on the job: 

  • What was most helpful for you to know in the beginning?
  • Which parts of the new employee orientation felt like overkill? 
  • What wasn't covered that you wish had been covered? 

It's easy to take certain information for granted when you've been with a company for years. But to the uninitiated, even basic information might be nebulous at best. Examples

  • Which projects, initiatives or results are the new hire's top priority
  • How the boss prefers to communicate (ideally, this comes out in the hiring process—but not always)
  • The endless acronyms that get thrown around at staff meetings
  • What to do if you have to call in sick 
  • The code to unlock the bathroom door

You get the idea. I have sat through new employee orientations that felt just right, and others where my eyes glazed over (a tough thing to hide) from information overload. Do your new hires really need to hear in granular detail about your company's history? Or their 401(k) plan? 

Yes, these things matter. But they don't necessarily matter in the first 48 hours. Best to let new hires ease in. And in the spirit of designing your employee orientation program from the perspective of those going through it, ask yourself, "What would be most helpful for new hires to know?" 

This approach also frees you (and them) from having to share (or hear) everything you know. Along those lines, here are two more keys to success: 

  • Don't let your employee orientation program be a one-time event. Instead, let it unfold over time.
  • Treat your employee orientation program as a living, breathing project. Aim to make it better and better, every time you use it.

3. New employee orientations must invite

"Invite what?" you ask. Again, a few examples: 

More confidence. The kind that comes from keeping commitments. Owning your role as manager. Speaking respectfully about the company—and other people, especially those not in the room. These seemingly small gestures build your credibility and the candidate's confidence in working for you. 

Connection. How will you help the new employee connect with the rest of the team? I have worked in organizations that let me fend for myself in this department (I don't recommend that), and others that were so excited to show off their culture that they invited me into the office before I started to meet the team and get acquainted. And of course taking the new hire to lunch on Day 1 is always a nice touch. 

Contribution. Generally speaking, new hires are hungry to start contributing right away—meaningfully. How can you help them realize this goal? For example, who should they be meeting with? Can you set up these meetings ahead of time (i.e., before the new hire's start day)? What information will they need? This is yet another area where forethought pays big dividends. 

Questions. Thankfully, you don't have to address every possible question that could come up. But acknowledge that questions are inevitable—and make sure the new hire feels free to ask. Obviously, avoid phrases like, "It's not rocket science" and "Duh." I'm laughing as I write that, because I've heard both.

We haven't even gotten into diversity and inclusion. Clearly, these need to be woven into your recruiting, hiring and welcoming. For a quick refresher, here is my interview with Kenneth James of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace: Insights From an Expert. 

Could your company's employee orientation program use a makeover?

You don't have to go it alone. I invite you to click here to tell me more about your needs. Together, at no obligation to you, we'll determine how I can help. 

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