A careless new-employee orientation is the fastest way to create lasting negative expectations among your employees that ultimately will destroy all of your attempts to build a positive company culture.

I'm going to bet that this is what's happening at your company. And that you have no idea just how destructive that situation is.

Here's how to improve, and why it's so vitally important.

Use Orientation to Stress Employees' Central Purpose In Your Organization

Employees are especially impressionable during their first days-and especially their very first day-on the job. This is because beginning any new job is disorienting, and psychologists have shown that during periods of disorientation, people are particularly susceptible to adopting new roles, goals, and values. Those new values and beliefs might turn out to be destructive, or they may be constructive ones like you want to seed. It depends largely on your orientation program.

With this in mind, I recommend that you focus your orientation process not on instilling practical know-how, but rather on instilling the most useful possible attitudes, beliefs, and goals. Keep the focus on what is most crucial for your business: core customer service principles, your company values, and why and how your employee is an essential part of the company's overall mission.

Don't fritter away orientation on inconsequential details. ("This is the break room. We clean the employee fridge out each Friday.")

Instead, focus on what is absolutely central to an employee's purpose in your organization. For example:

At Mayo Clinic, an extraordinary medical organization, this central purpose is "The Needs Of The Patient Come First": seven short, simple words that make priorities very, very clear.

At The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, the central purpose they get across at orientation is embodied in the simple, elegant credo, "The Ritz-Carlton is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission."

The CEO Should Lead Orientation

Involve the highest leadership level possible, ideally the CEO, to personally provide the orientation on values, beliefs, and purpose. Sound impractical,even impossible? Consider this: Herve Humler, the President and COO of Ritz-Carlton Hotels, personally conducts every Day One orientation at every new Ritz-Carlton hotel and resort that opens worldwide a tradition he continues from the Founding COO, who did the same, throughout his entire long tenure.

Diana Oreck helms the renowned Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, which trains senior leaders of companies that span a broad variety of industries. Here's what she has to say:

"It amazes me when I see the missed opportunities in so many companies around new employee orientation. Here at Ritz-Carlton, one of our non-negotiables is that new employees must attend their new employee orientation on Day 1 and Day 2. We don't say, "Oh, my gosh. It's so busy right now. We'll catch up with you in three weeks. And we don't rush through orientation along the lines of the ' 3-C's' that are popular in some other companies: 'C your office, C your computer, C you later.' We take onboarding very, very seriously. We are striving to make it an emotional touchpoint for the employee. In fact, while many companies start the orientation by saying, in effect, 'Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Company ABC. Aren't you lucky that we gave you a job?' at Ritz-Carlton, it's 'Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Aren't we blessed that you chose us?'

"And this next piece is very, very important: Orientation is not relegated to human resources. It is the most senior people in the hotels who teach the new employee orientation. Here's our reasoning: When you join Ritz-Carlton, you're not joining a job. It's like you're joining a family. So think about that: if it were your own family, you're not going to relegate the warm welcome of your parents, your brother and sister, your cousins to someone else. You're there to welcome them yourself. This is why our senior leaders have consistently taken the time and made the commitment to do that initial orientation."

It's that kind of important. Because you only get one Day One.

Published on: May 29, 2015
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