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Post #3538

Creating a warm welcome

I’ve been thinking about new employee orientation lately. We’ve had four new people join BERG since the start of 2011 and we’re about to add two more, so there’s been a lot of orientating going on here.

When I worked at a company with more than 600 employees and was directly responsible for hiring and training a team of 10 employees, we had a very in-depth orientation programme that lasted for weeks and had been continually refined over a couple of decades.

New employee orientation for a small, relatively new company like BERG is obviously a very different thing. For one thing, since we’re so much smaller, it takes a lot less time to learn about the organisation and the people in it. That doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s any less important to have some sort of induction process.

Early in 2010, shortly after I started working at BERG, Matt Webb – being the wise and good company manager that he is – had me start compiling a checklist of all the things we needed to make sure happened when a new person joined us. At the time it was mostly geared toward short-term contractors since that’s mostly who were joining us in the spring and summer of 2010. Since then the list has grown and evolved and its focus has turned toward full contract employees. It seems like every time a new person comes on we think of two or three more things that need to be added to the list. The checklist is divided into four categories:

  1. Things the new employee needs to be provided with (keys, an email address, computer kit, access to the network server)
  2. Things the new employee needs to provide us with (biog and headshot for the website, details to get on payroll)
  3. Things the new employee needs to know (who everyone else is and what they do, general company policies, how to request holiday, location of the first aid kit)
  4. Admin that needs to happen (add their details to various spreadsheets, get them on payroll, add them to the blog rota)

I’ve been wondering if there’s anything else that we’re missing – other things we should be doing to ease new people into the BERG culture besides having a checklist. I had a quick browse around the internet which wasn’t particularly helpful – most of what I found was either blindingly obvious or not especially relevant for very small companies like BERG. I did stumble across a couple of things, though, that seemed relevant for companies of any size and worth sharing.

The first was from William H Truesdell who, in 1998, wrote on The Management Advantage Inc’s website:

Explain your organisation’s mission and its philosophy of doing business.

  • “The way we do things around here…”
  • “We believe that our customers are…”
  • “Nothing is more important than…”

Those would be good things for a company to think about and have an answer to even if they aren’t doing it for the sake of new employee organisation. It seems to me that last one in particular – “Nothing is more important than…” could give a lot of great insight in the space of just one sentence to a new person joining the organisation.

The second thing was from Alan Chapman on Chapman has quite a lot of material there about new employee orientation and training which emphasises ‘whole-person’ development, and he suggests saying something along these lines to a new employee:

“You’ve obviously been recruited as a (job title), but we recognise right from the start that you’ll probably have lots of other talents, skills, experiences (life and work), strengths, personal aims and wishes, that your job role might not necessarily enable you to use and pursue. So please give some thought to your own special skills and unique potential that you’d like to develop (outside of your job function), and if there’s a way for us to help with this, especially if we see that there’ll be benefits for the organisation too (which there often are), then we’ll try to do so…”

A little later he says,

So much of conventional induction training necessarily involves ‘putting in’ to people (knowledge, policies, standards, skills, etc); so if the employer can spend a little time ‘drawing out’ of people (aims, wishes, unique personal potential, etc) – even if it’s just to set the scene for ‘whole person development’ in the future – this will be a big breath of fresh air for most new starters.

Based on my experience, I think he’s probably right.

That’s a little bit of BERG’s still very new and very evolving New Employee Orientation story. If your company does anything interesting or creative for new employees that you’ve found to be helpful, fun, innovative, etc, we’d love to hear about it!

Before this:

6 Comments and Trackbacks

  • 1. Frankie Roberto said on 28 April 2011...

    You’ve forgotten the most important thing: the location of tea, coffee, milk and kettle/coffee machine, and a detailed explanation of the established social norms for making other people’s tea/coffee… :-)

  • 2. Jaime Scatena said on 28 April 2011...

    Hi Kari,
    I’ve worked for two different companies – a huge (8.500 employees) and a smaller one (100) – and I was in charge of part of the orientation process on the second. My duty was mainly to explain the internal bureaucracy related to costs and expends structures, IT. It’s a whole different scenario, comparing to BERG, as you’ve already stated.
    I loved Mr. Chapman “whole person development” approach. I believe it’s perfect to be applied in a small company, where you can have a more personal relation with the employees, allowing them to show different skills that are not directly related to their daily jobs.
    If it’s properly applied I’m sure it will help you guys to avoid the company’s “growing pains”.

  • 3. Kari Stewart said on 28 April 2011...

    Frankie, that is very, very important indeed. I’m going to add it to the checklist. Thanks! :)

    It’s basic things – like the location of the light switches – that it’s so easy for those of us who are already part of the company to just take for granted, but actually articulating and pointing out those things rather than just leaving it up to the new person to figure out her/himself is a really good (and easy) way to be hospitable.

  • 4. Kimberley Crofts said on 29 April 2011...

    I like your categories.

    Category 1 reminds me of a friend who started at a new agency recently. On her first day they gave her a coffee mug with her name on it, a fully set up computer with all the software she would need, and a welcome card signed by all the staff. These things seemed to be so simple, but really made her first day a memorable and easy one.

  • 5. Max said on 5 May 2011...

    Good points! I would probably add external information as well, such as ‘the nearest and best place to go for X’ (X being coffee, food, supplies, headache tablets, a haircut, you name it).

    One really important point (I find) is a very clear indication of when you can go home in the evening. It sounds trivial, but I’ve worked in so many places where around 6ish, everybody started getting a bit fidgety, not knowing whether to stay (because everybody else was still there) or go home (because you were done with your job).

    This weird, unintended peer-pressure could easily have been avoided by an open and friendly chat involving the entire team.

    All the best to you!

  • 6. karl said on 11 May 2011...

    Been there, done that. Same process than you. Starting with a small growing list to the point where lists are not manageable anymore. I had a few experiences with orientation. All of them with good and bad. :)

    When working at W3C, there is one person who is assigned to be your guide for the next 6 months. This person explains the basis, but more exactly gives you a tour of the Team Guidebook. This Guidebook is on the Private staff Web site (but editable by everyone). It’s an accumulated knowledge small experiences lived by each individual in the organization. Basically the W3C web site is like a giant wiki, except it is a Web site. We all edit static Web pages. The guide was not only list of things to do, but also on how to behave, on how managing expectations, etc.

    When I arrived in another job after W3C, I used the company wiki partly to do this job and invite people to edit. Basically when someone had a question about something which was not yet in the wiki. The person had to create the page first (it might mean a bit of training on how to edit, etc.) but that would mean people could take ownership of the content and make the wiki a real community thing.

    The rules have to be flexible enough so that they change with newcomers. Indeed it is important that the culture of the company live but at the same time growing and introducing new people in the company, it is also accepting that you will adjust to the new person coming in. It is two ways and that creates sometimes interesting challenges for policies, desires, etc.

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