Fair or unfair, our opinions about people are informed by first impressions. Likewise, an employee’s opinion about your firm will largely be shaped by what happens in their first few days there.
Most of us can recall an experience at a new job in which we were left to learn the ropes on our own, while feeling out of step with the organization. This experience will erode a new employee’s initial enthusiasm for the position. And it may seem like “bait and switch” if they were lavished with attention during the interview process but abandoned once they became employees.
However, many architecture and engineering firms, even those with well-established operating procedures, lack a comprehensive new employee orientation. Even fewer formalize the “ramp-up” process that explains day-to-day logistics and immerses the employee in the culture and spirit of the organization.
A good introduction to your firm is never more important than with top talent—your most valuable assets. Most top performers prefer a well-run and well-organized environment as a platform from which to do their best work. Is the “first week experience” you are providing to new employees conveying a well-oiled machine or, well, something less?
The impact of ineffective orientations is not limited to the new employee. Others are affected as the new employee seeks help from coworkers at inopportune times, or a client doesn’t get a promised revision because the new employee was the last one in the office and nobody ever explained how to use FedEx.
To develop your own new employee orientation, start at the beginning with these basic steps:
1. Assemble a list–Make a list of all of the things that should be covered. This is the heart of the process so be sure it’s comprehensive. The list should include everything from how to use the copier and request supplies, to CAD and BIM standards and document naming and filing. I have helped companies of all sizes with this initiative and the list is never less than thirty items or so. Divide the list into categories such as logistics, HR, security, technology, etc. Use your list to develop a checklist that will be provided to new employees on their first day.
2. Divide the orientation into sections–Each category of the checklist becomes a different section or module of the orientation, and can be conducted by different members of your firm as appropriate based on the content of that section.
3. Budget the time–Assume that a thorough orientation will take a half-day or more—this includes everything from completing their regulatory forms and reviewing health insurance, to setting up their workstation and outgoing voice mail message. Don’t expect much productivity from new employees on the first day. I have seen too many situations in which new employees are working on a project within an hour of their first day arrival—without even being introduced around. These employees have had a valuable orientation of a different sort. In just the first hour they learned a lot about how the firm regards its employees.
4. Do lunch–Arrange for new employees to have lunch with their manager or a few coworkers. While they’re out, show them the local lunch spots and other neighborhood high points. Make sure this is planned in advance and doesn’t come off as an afterthought.
5. Follow up–There are two critical points at which managers must follow up with new employees. The first is at the end of the first day. The hiring manager should be the one to kick off the orientation, but subsequent sections will likely be handled by others. This is a good division of labor as long as the manager re-connects with the employee at the end of the day. The second critical follow-up time is at the end of the first week. Schedule this end-of-the-week meeting on the first day, so that new staff know that even if things get busy, there has been time set aside to address any issues that have come up.
If you do nothing more than these steps, you’ll be ahead of most firms in shaping new employees’ first impressions of your firm. This is important for all new employees, but particularly so for your valuable, and more discerning, top talent.
This post is adapted from 5 Steps to Creating an Environment Where Top Talent Thrives by Ross Mitchel.
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