New Employee Training and Orientation Builds Agency Success

Recruiting, interviewing and hiring is a big investment for your agency. Doesn’t it justify a good orientation process to ensure that each new hire succeeds? Even if (especially if) your agency is easygoing and not focused on process, highly motivated new people have to know how to get things accomplished or you risk losing them.

Here’s a story: A few years ago, two talented new people were hired by one agency: a young man and a young woman. Each was a “good fit” with the organization, came on board with tremendous energy and enthusiasm, and everyone expected great things.

Three months later, one was gone, and the other was struggling along, barely able to lift her head to say “hi…” when she arrived each morning. She seemed completely overwhelmed; her performance was lackluster at best. 

What happened here? Given the three-month timeline, the problem was obvious. The agency had no orientation procedures—no mentoring, no vesting in the agency culture, and virtually no training. When you throw people into the deep end and walk away, they may flounder… unless they have a few “swimming lessons.”

Off and Running… Away?

Anyone who has ever taken a new job (and moved on quickly) has horror stories. Perhaps they arrive at the workplace excited and prepared, but their new employer somehow forgot their start date, or that they were even coming on board at all! We’ve heard everything from, “I was taken to an empty conference room with a book and some product bulletins because they needed to ‘free up’ a desk and office for me,” … to “They had me go through a bunch of sample screens on the computer, and then told me I should get started… on what, I thought?”

People join an organization with high hopes of finding something great, or at least much better than their previous situation. This hope is tempered with nerves, and a well of goodwill that can go dry very quickly. Like a new client, the first three months together can make or break the relationship.

New people need attention—time to get oriented and become familiar with agency policies and procedures. And they need supportive people to talk to when they have an issue or a problem. If they are worried about causing trouble or offending someone, they may not speak out when faced with issues or problems. They may withdraw—and eventually leave the agency.

The First Week: Orientation

Have you taken a critical look at your new employee training processes recently?

Every organization with more than three or four people needs some sort of organized orientation. Provide each new person with an agency policies manual spelling out all the particular policies from vacation and safety to health benefits. The new person should also receive organizational charts, name and phone lists, and a “who to call when” checklist for getting help. And that’s just the beginning.

In addition, each new person should receive a thorough orientation with each key department, preferably with a mentor from each department. Each orientation should cover welcome/orientation, job-specific training, and probation period reviews and supervision. Make it fun and high-energy, and train the entire agency in how to present it and “live it.”

The First Month: Training

The employee’s first month with your agency should be an absolutely seamless experience. If your agency is larger (over 20-25 people) and the immediate manager/supervisor has a big workload, pair the new person with a seasoned employee mentor or two who will be happy (not annoyed) to answer questions and help them with people, processes and procedures.  

As the new employee begins actual job-specific training, they should be provided with a job description, along with a more detailed outline of job responsibilities with components of each responsibility broken out task by task where necessary. This makes it easier for the new person to grasp all parts of a specific area and work with them. Cover basic responsibilities first, then gradually, phase in additional responsibilities as you increase the employee’s workload.

We have never heard anyone complain that their workplace was too helpful, too organized or too supportive. Your new employees come into the agency with idealism and great expectations. The younger they are, the more talented and educated, the more they are likely to take flight—away from your organization. So, positive nurturing of these new employees is an essential investment.

The Three Month Milestone: Steer Them in the Right Direction…

Reasonable learning curves should be estimated for new tasks. Set goals for learning tasks and regularly review the employee to see how well they are adapting. Goals should be flexible and modified per the needs of the individual.

During the first three months, the direct manager or supervisor needs to be in close communication with the new employee. Even the most talented and accomplished among us have weak areas. New employees will be more amenable to working on weak areas while they are in the training/probationary period.

Don’t let weak areas become entrenched problems. Point out where the new person needs to make adjustments, but lend support and encouragement.

Also, be open to learning from new employees. They can bring a fresh perspective to procedure and methodology, and help reshape your agency’s future direction.

…And Make Sure the Team is Working Well Together

Teamwork needs to be a focus as well. Remind your people that they all play a role in helping each other succeed. Be careful not to focus on the new person as a company savior, as this can engender petty jealousy and animosity.

Instead, make sure each person is given the tools they need to do well, each and every day. Verify that the “who to call for help” list is working for the new person. And check that the “helpers” aren’t doing double duty by having to spend half of their day training. Spread out the mentoring among your managers.

New employees aren’t the only ones who need training and nurturing. Institute career planning tied to agency goals and vest every employee, from newbies to agency sages, in the agency’s culture. In time, orientation will become second nature to your people, and your agency will truly become symbiotic—one big unit rolling along like a creative juggernaut, every fiber of its makeup supporting all the others.

Six Month Check In…Watch Them Fly

Check-in frequently over the first six months to ensure that new problems have not cropped up. After six months, your career planning and employee review process should kick in, and your new hire will be a stellar addition to your team. I know that we’ve said many times that the agency manager needs to take a helicopter view of employees and their duties. With new hires, you need to hover just a little bit. Nurture them at the start, and they will become your high fliers.