Suppose your company is small enough that an official orientation program for new hires seems too expensive, yet large enough that fresh employees can get lost. Try an approach like the one used by Infincom, a Phoenix-area office-equipment distributor. Mike Koether, Infincom's president, assigns every new employee the same task: seek out and have a one-to-one discussion with each of the top managers in the company within the first five days on the job.

The recruits get a firsthand account of what will be expected of them and each manager's role in the company. The managers can assess the skills and resources being brought into the company. Most important, everyone gets to make the kind of personal connection that begets a strong sense of responsibility.

"We think the first 90 days of the employment relationship is the most critical time and establishes the entire foundation for the future," explains Koether. By taking great pains to see that new employees understand the company and their role in it, Koether keeps turnover and firing low.

The orientation assignment also serves as an early-warning system for wayward employees. If someone doesn't have the initiative to carry it out, says Koether, "we know that recruit is going to have a problem." The employee's manager maps out a 90-day action plan to help the employee understand what it will take to succeed.

-- Ellen E. Spragins