Does your company or department have a new-hire orientation program? Have you reviewed it for content and effectiveness? If you’re not in charge of orientation, drop in on what goes on there. There are lots of good reasons why you should. First impressions are lasting and, because of this, the key to employee retention is new-employee orientation. Orientation makes such a difference because people have a completely different mindset when they’re looking for a job than they do when they start one. Just like dating, the object of the job hunter’s desire seems perfect until, at last, it is possessed. Then, reality sets in. A new hire will never be more enthusiastic, hopeful and energetic than during the first few days on the job. Those days will either fill that new recruit with unflagging commitment, turn that person into a cynical slacker or, even worse, something in-between – not bad enough to fire, but not good enough to add value either.

Most new-employee orientation programs were written at least 10 years ago and focus on telling employees what they can’t do. ‘I’m in charge here, and I’ll tell you what you can and cannot do.’ Well, times have changed and so should your orientation program. Just as bad as nay-saying sessions are the orientation programs written by the legal department. When legal concerns drive the onboarding process, the focus is on filling out forms and getting waivers signed. Does filling out forms fill people with enthusiasm? Orientation should be geared toward reinforcing the ‘buying decision’ they made when they signed on. Do this by making them feel welcome, at home, comfortable. Let them know they are a valued addition to the team and why their particular job is important.

If your organization has a one-size-fits-all orientation for all new hires, then it’s up to you to create your department’s own program. To get them off on the right foot, tell them what you’ll teach them; explain what’s in it for them. Tell them what they stand to gain in terms of experience, skills and know-how. It’s no small achievement to learn standout customer service skills, the intricacies of successful teamwork and the necessary work disciplines. Then address what’s really on their minds. These are the same issues that worry kids on their first day of school: Will they like me? Will I be safe here? How hard is the work? How will I be graded? Go out of your way to alleviate their concerns. Make them feel welcome and valued: Before a new hire starts, tell existing employees a little about the new person’s background so they have something to chat about when they first meet (school, hobbies, sports, etc.). Put up a welcome sign.

Make introductions all around. Make them feel safe and secure: Resist the temptation to drag them through the cactus. Don’t start them at the busiest time on the busiest day of the week. Give them a badge to wear that reads: ‘Please be patient, I’m new’. Then make a fuss over them when they don’t feel they need to wear it anymore. Give them a security blanket by assigning an experienced co-worker as a buddy to be there for them when you can’t. Assure them they’ll be successful: Zig Ziglar said, ‘The only thing worse than training your people and losing them is not training them and keeping them.’ Training is the key to successful peak performance; just ask any athlete or musician. And employees who don’t experience some sense of success or achievement on the job soon start to look for another one.

Explain your grading system: Be clear about your expectations. Assign small, measurable goals. Give regular feedback. Recognize accomplishments. People can’t live up to your expectations if they don’t know what they are. At the end of a great orientation, your new people will feel they understand the organization’s goals and values, feel comfortable with their co-workers and supervisors, and know that the organization is counting on their contributions. The good first impression a well-crafted orientation/training program helps employees cope with the inevitable frustrations that crop up in any job. Revitalizing your orientation process now will pay dividends for years to come.