Orientation Overhaul: Scheduling a realistic first day for new employees

For about the 10,000th time in my career, I had a conversation with someone about Day One need-to-have content vs. nice-to-have content vs. there-is-absolutely-NO-need-for-new-employees-to-experience-this-on-their-first-day content.

Even now, 20 years into my career, I find myself surprised at just how much content some (well-meaning) people feel is necessary to shove into one day. So today, we’re level-setting. Getting back to basics, if you will.

The bottom line is, everything you present on Day One is brand new content – even to experienced professionals – and a new employee’s capacity for retaining that content is reduced because of many factors:

  • Emotional stress from the “unknowns” of starting a new role with a new organization
  • Schedule and routine changes at home, while commuting and at the job
  • Social insecurities (for both intro/extroverts)
  • Lack of context to truly understand the content you’re providing
  • Uncertainty that s/he made the right decision to join your organization (remember, new employees are choosing YOU just as much as you are choosing THEM)

(……..and about 1001 other things)

With these factors in mind, it is crucial to plan your newly-hired employees’ first day to be one of foundation, exploration and connection. Here are a few tips you might consider:

  • Offer a simple welcome breakfast for new employees and their hiring managers before Orientation officially begins. Managers can warmly greet the new employee and spend a few minutes in casual conversation to ease first-day jitters. Facilitators can take it a step further and conduct a brief connection activity (icebreaker) to allow all participants – new employees and their managers – to meet each other and start making acquaintances.
  • Set clear expectations with new employees in advance on what will be shared, so incoming employees have an opportunity to process and mentally prepare for their first day. For example, if you will be taking a walking tour of the facility or sending new employees on an on-foot scavenger hunt, let people know so they can be sure to wear comfortable shoes. If your executive team will be involved and they encourage questions/dialogue, sharing that in advance will allow new employees to consider areas where they might be curious to learn more about. Then, when you start your day, reiterate the itinerary to clearly set the stage for your day.
  • When training must occur on the first day, remember that you are setting a foundation – you are not creating deep subject matter experts at this point! Keep your content simple, hands-on and attainable. Training is not about what people need to know – training is about what people need to do. Ensure that your focus is on delivering relevant content that a new employee will need to successfully perform their job function, and why it matters. Supplemental content – job aids, documentation, FAQs, wikis, flow charts, decision trees, videos and other supporting resources – should be readily available for in-the-moment help.
  • Got some “nice-to-have” content? That’s fine….but consider sharing it before their start date instead of adding it to the busy first-day agenda. A well-timed video message from your CEO with a brief overview of the company history or mission statement, for example, can help engage your incoming employees during that quiet period in the week before their first day and keep them excited about joining your organization! Then, on day one, take a moment during a transition (after a break, coming back from lunch, etc) to mention the video and quickly debrief the key points.

Friends, onboarding is a big job. It requires an intentional blend of nurturing warmth, memorable experiences and relevant productivity. A well-structured onboarding program has the potential of impacting a number of strategic talent/human capital initiatives, and it starts with the earliest moments in New Employee Orientation. Keep your eye on what is most important for your newest associates to learn and do, and use that as a starting point for designing your Day One Experience!

Your turn: How do you balance the Need-to-Have with the Nice-to-Have? Share a tip or idea in the comments so we can all learn together!

Is this the year you committed to improving your organization’s onboarding experience? It starts by looking for opportunities with your existing program through an Onboarding Audit. Let’s talk about it!

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