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Managing Principals by Julia Kramer Hiring Inhibitions

Failing to properly introduce new hires into the firm inhibits future revenues, putting not only the new employee at a loss, but your firm as well.

By  Julia Kramer

Orientation sessions for new hires often generate snickers once employees have been around long enough to learn the reality and the ropes. Typically, the information is overly optimistic and misleading, and too often it’s completely unhelpful in terms of setting a clear direction for a new hire.

Rather than fixing the problem, many firms have done away with these sessions completely and instead expect the new employee’s manager and co-workers to help orient the disoriented newcomer. This is a mistake.

Orientation, when done well, is an unparalleled opportunity for the organization as a whole, and key individuals in particular, to prepare and plan for new employees, to graciously welcome them and help them feel included, to facilitate introductions and important contacts, and to educate them. According to Ilene Gochman, an organization effectiveness expert with Watson Wyatt Worldwide, “Few things are more important to a company’s long-term performance than choosing the right employees and ensuring they have the proper outlook from day one.”

In a 2007 survey, Watson Wyatt found that a focus on quality hiring and thoughtful orientation is closely linked to employee engagement, which, in turn, correlates with enhanced financial performance. (An “engaged” employee is motivated and enthusiastic about work and is focused on the good of the organization.) According to the report, for a typical S&P 500 organization, a significant improvement in employee engagement is associated with a $95 million increase in revenue. That’s hard to beat.

There are several ways to cultivate an engaged employee. The best approach is to start efforts before day one, continue during a structured (but not tedious or boring) orientation period, and follow up throughout the employee’s career.

BEFORE: Recruitment. Obviously, finding the right person for the job is fundamental to achieving the desired result. Take a look at your recruitment process—at what happens before day one. Do the individuals interviewing candidates know the details of the job for which the person is applying? Are they aware that they should explore a diverse set of candidates? Can they conduct an effective, comprehensive and legally sound interview? Will they make objective judgments as opposed to relying on gut feelings? If you can’t answer “yes” to each of these questions, then you may be starting new employees off on the wrong foot.

Spend some time with your recruitment team before they actively interview your future employees and ensure that they have the necessary skills and information to do the job well. This step is critical if you want your new talent to pay off in terms of organizational growth and financial success.

DURING: Orientation. When I envision the formal orientation sessions I’ve attended in the past, I see a sleep-inducing slide show with some stale information on mission and values, a dogmatic review of the employee manual and/or benefits, some uninspiring product information, and then someone espousing some gobbledygook that the company is the most wonderful and most perfect and most spectacular of all the companies in the land. It was enough to make me wake up and run for the nearest exit.

What would have kept me awake and happily in my seat was some up-to-the-minute, concise information about product, competitors, market segment and penetration, primary organizational objectives, recent successes, and how my new firm differentiates itself in the marketplace.

After getting some basic understanding about my new place of employment, I wanted to know about the people—who leads the organization and why; the departments and their primary reasons for existing; how my job fits into it all; and some cool stuff about what the staff had done recently. I would have liked my manager to take the time to introduce me to those important for me to do my job (and tell me why), to take me to lunch with my new co-workers and peers to help facilitate some conversation to break the ice, and to tell me what to expect in the next day, week, month and beyond.

There are a million other effective ways to bring an employee on board, but to do them well takes time and energy. Select someone qualified to be in charge and to manage the process, but vary the orientation cast of characters so that other employees have the opportunity to share their unique perspectives and experiences. Just like raising a child, getting a new employee off to a good start takes the whole village.

AFTER: Communication. In the world of orientation, once is not enough. Reorienting existing employees should happen whenever there is a significant change. A new senior manager, a new benefit plan or policy, a new product, a change in a regulatory issue, all cry out for communication. Never underestimate the disorienting power of change. Following a structured approach similar to new hire orientation, including information, education and explanation, will ensure that you don’t undo the good you’ve done by poorly managing change along the way.

Kramer, an HR consultant, is a contributing writer.

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