Puzzled About How to Start New Hires Out Right? - Management
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Puzzled About How to Start New Hires Out Right?

By Marilyn Moats Kennedy

Article Date: 06-01-2005
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

Re-examine your orientation program. New employees may have signed on, but they're still in their job-hunting, organization-evaluating mode, which may never end.

Last summer when the 2004 recruits reported to their new jobs at a large well-known company, they were sent through an orientation program. During orientation, an incident occurred that should send a chill - or at least a shiver - through any manager who faces rising turnover. 

As the HR person was beginning the after-lunch session of the one-day orientation, she looked out at a sea of bored-
looking participants and said, "I want to go over the 401K plan with you. It's a very important part of the compensation package." 

From the back row came a voice, "Skip it. We're not going to be here that long." The HR person is out of intensive care, but still has palpitations when she recalls the incident. 

Is anyone who's concerned with turnover monitoring new-employee orientation programs at your dealership or are they another casualty of the booming market and economic good times?

I'd argue that orientation programs have been "back-burnered" to the point that few managers care about the content or track audience reaction. Bad idea. New hires may have signed on but they are still in their job-hunting, organization-evaluating mode, which many never end. 

What kind of first impression does your orientation program make? Does it confirm the new hire's choice - that your dealership is a good place to work? Or is it so foreign to the new employees' mind sets that it can dampen, if not negate, enthusiasm for the job?

What Works
One of the most common flaws in any orientation program is that it's completely out of touch with the younger workers' values. Upward mobility has been replaced by skills development as the most desired byproduct of a job. But CEOs and senior managers still address the new recruits by pointing out how "I began where you are 17 years ago and now I'm a . . ." 

Who are they kidding? These are the same top management representatives who no longer promote from within but recruit from competitors to "leaven the organization." 

What the CEO or keynote speaker says will be remembered and widely quoted - with contempt. The more non-content, rah-rah the presentation, the more derisive the comments. 

Spending 30 minutes explaining retirement benefits is another mistake. How many people are thinking about retirement the day they start a job - and what organization would want them if they were? Ditto for sick leave and vacation.

When I talked with new workers last summer, they were quick to criticize what they saw as the patent cynicism of organizations that think new workers are only interested in rewards and perks, not challenges and job content. 

One new accountant remarked that, "Even college professors - who can hardly be called skilled marketers - are careful to make the course sound exciting until the time for ‘drop and add' is over." 

How much excitement does the old upward-mobility party line generate?

HR's defense of this boring spiel is that legally, they must cover all bases. That means telling new recruits that they are "workers at will" is important. Right! 

Today's new college graduate understands that perfectly, but with a twist. It's not the company's will that matters but the worker's. Soothing anxiety in the legal department may be a worthy goal as long as it doesn't drive new recruits out the door.

 A new recruit who spends a day or more being guided through the policy manual may endure, but what's been learned that's useful, inspiring or likely to result in a jump start on the job? What about the organization's mission, its successes, its goals? 

Granted, those are all things new recruits are supposed to discover in their research prior to initial interviews. Most don't bother. If they did any research at all, it was debriefing other candidates. This may be the organization's best - and last - chance to put its case before its future.

Orientation programs that offer elaborate explanations about why the organization is an also-ran and laying off more people are organizational suicide. Leave the new recruits in fools' paradise until they've started the job - unless you want to motivate the best to start circulating their resumes. 

Most managers don't even attend orientation programs - which is certainly a comment on the content - and an indictment of the process itself. I think it's a mistake not to find out exactly what goes on. To do this, only in-person attendance counts. Then, if necessary, you can develop a strategy to counter unfavorable impressions and supplement the program with information new recruits really want and will retain. 

What would you have concluded had you heard the young man dismiss the 401K as irrelevant? How would you have rethought your on-the-job orientation plans? Here are some ideas managers tell me will help to restore new hires' flagging enthusiasm after a company-wide orientation program.

Assign new employees a buddy
You may call this person an "information mentor" if you like. The buddy keeps an eye on the new hire for the first month and answers questions of how and why. 

This was practically standard operating procedure in the 60s and early 70s when many companies had lengthy training programs before the new hire was officially let loose on the company. 

When internships became the on-the-job training experience for most college students, management tended to assume that, once on the job, they would need little assistance. Wrong! Worse than not knowing something is not knowing that you don't know.

Early monitoring can not only provide a smoother transition into the organization, it can reduce frustration and identify those who truly need more assistance to do the job. This is part of a smart orientation program.

Tell new recruits how to manage you
If your first contact with recruits after the company's orientation is a session on "How to Please the Boss" - never so crudely titled of course - you'll earn their respect for plain speaking, a generational favorite. 

If you're time compulsive, tell them you'll expect them at meetings on the stroke, no excuses. What's your policy on use of the Web during business hours? Even if the company hasn't got one, you should.

The younger your recruits, the more important this is. How do you like problems presented? Do you want a solution proposed? Alternative solutions offered? 

The more they know about your expectations and how to meet them, the sooner they'll be productive. Is this too simple? Then why do people who quit their jobs after only six months complain that the main problem was a fuzzy-thinking boss?

Keep soliciting questions
The orientation meeting leader who asks for questions, gets none, and then awards him or herself a gold star for clarity is delusional.  How many people, on the payroll for two days, are going to ask the questions that really concern them in front of strangers? The recruits are worried about first impressions, too! 

Managers who really want questions keep soliciting them in informal situations. One manager told me that although he gets few questions in the first three weeks, it's a flood after that. 

Walk around and pop in often. The neophytes may appear busy and productive but do they really know what's expected? I'd bet co-workers are offering all kinds of advice during the first three months - most of it not what you'd like them to have.

Start with short meetings and lots of email
The new hires have just endured a long, boring, and in their view, pointless meeting. Instead of trying to top that, how about flooding them with department history, facts, goals, and successes. 

Younger workers are addicted to email and appear to read everything. What incentive do they have to change a favorite communication medium that they're highly proficient with?

Finally, effective orientation programs never end. The manager who picks up the slack and treats orientation as an opportunity to teach rather than a legal obligation may be rewarded with more people who will want to know more about promotion opportunities and the 401K than they do about vacations and sabbaticals.

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