Key Ingredients of Successful Employee Orientation

Virtually all organizations have some form of orientation program. Unfortunately, very few have one that is designed to achieve the objective we have just enunciated. In order for a company to have a fully effective “best practices” program, the program needs to contain the following “ingredients”.

Information Transmission

New employees are on a very steep “learning curve” when they first begin with a company. It is a reality that they and their supervisors will be heavily focused on job-related information in order for them to become productive. Unfortunately, this job-related approach leaves little opportunity for transmitting information that is relevant to the socialization process.

Important information related to:

  • Company history
  • Philosophy and goals
  • Structure and roles of key departments and individuals
  • Expected standards of performance and behaviours
  • Benefits and benefit systems
  • Rules, regulations, policies and procedures

is often overlooked or not provided to new employees. Having this kind of non-job-related but important information is vital if employees are to function successfully in their jobs. How and how much of this information is provided to employees when they first start work sends a whole “message” to them about the company, the way it operates and its values and beliefs about its employees. Exhibit 9.1 is a checklist of the information and supplies involved in orientating bus operators.

The Orientation Session

The consensus amongst human resource experts is the initial “orientation session” plays an essential role in building commitment and loyalty because it is a “first impression” and provides a foundation for subsequent activities. Full advantage needs to be taken of the fact the new employee is now on-site. Using the session to go over information that the employee can simply read about does not exploit the session’s potential (see Table 13 - Pre-reading, Ice Breakers and Learning Teams). Adult education literature is replete with novel ways to use discovery and experiential methodologies both engaging and highly effective. Using these approaches not only improves the flow and retention of information, but also says something about the company and its values.


A Visit to the “Dark Side”

The purpose of much of what happens in the recruitment process is to determine whether the candidate has the knowledge and ability to perform the tasks of a bus operator competently as described in the National Occupational Standards. There are, however, individuals who may have the knowledge and ability, but who, nevertheless, do not perform satisfactorily. As if there were a “dark side” to the individual that was not exposed during selection and hiring. Sometimes referred to as “Evil Twins” these individuals never perform to their potential and, in some cases, can become serious morale and productivity problems. The root of these problems can be either something in the employee’s make up or something that has happened on the job that has created the problem. Depending upon the cause of the problem, different strategies need to be adopted by the company. If they are individual-based, there is a failure in planning, recruitment, selection and/or hiring. If the problem is organization-based, the organization has to examine itself and make the necessary changes in its processes, of which orientation is one.



As stated, new employees are on a steep learning curve when they first join a company. This learning curve can be even steeper for new employees who come from different cultures and backgrounds. They need “seep” time for ideas and information to sink in. Although there is an inherit attractiveness to making orientation a “one shot” event, a strong argument can be made for staging it over the first few weeks of employment.

Table 13
Pre-reading, Ice Breakers, Learning Teams, Group Size…

The use of some easy-to-implement techniques and approaches can significantly enhance the orientation process. Too often, orientation is an instructor/leader-focused process that is viewed by new employees as “something they have to go through” in order to start work. This “necessary evil” aspect to orientation need not be the case, if the session(s) are well designed. Some of the enhancement techniques that companies have found to work well are:
Ice Breaker Exercises Used at the beginning of the session an “ice breaker” is a technique that aims to get everyone in the session talking and relaxed. Often accompanied by laughter and light-hearted humour, the icebreaker sets the tone for the orientation session.
 Pre-reading Candidates who have just become employees are keen to learn and look good the first day on the job. For this reason, the use of pre-reading can greatly enhance the orientation experience. The assignment of pre-reading can also potentially signal whether you have an “evil twin” in the group, if one of the candidates does not complete the pre-reading prior to the start of the session.
 Learning Teams The orientation experience can be significantly enhanced by having participants working/learning in teams. Educators have known for decades that adults prefer to learn in a participative environment where they can interact with one another during the learning process. The use of learning teams begins the process of building loyalties, cohesion and positive work norms, all of which are important components for bus operator success on the job.
 Group Size Educators have found the size of an orientation “class” can impact on participants’ experience. It is generally believed a group size of between 14 and 24 provides for the best learning/teaching experience.
Experiential / Discovery Exercises   Individuals learn best by doing and, therefore, making the orientation highly experiential and allowing participants to discover information makes for not only a more interesting and enjoyable experience but also one where participants learn much more. Allowing for “hands-on” activities not only provides for more variety, but also leads to a more profound comprehension.
 Topics The orientation session needs to include “dialogue.” New employees are on a very steep “learning curve” when they first join a company. The company, in an effort to maximize the investment in the orientation process, may be tempted to include as much information as possible. Serious consideration needs to be given to determining what the new employee wants to know and to build part of the session(s) around these informational needs.



Buddies and Mentors


Heaven or Hell?

A young woman died accidentally and ended up at the Gates of Heaven. When asked by Saint Peter, guardian of the Gates, if she would like to come in, she asked him what was her alternative. He said that if she wanted to she could go to Hell for three days to find out what it was like. She agreed and proceeded to have three of the most exotic and wonderful days she could ever imagine experiencing. After the three days were over she went back to Saint Peter and pleaded with him to let her go to Hell. He agreed and in the next instance she was back in Hell but forced to exist in intolerable conditions. After describing her three days visit to one of the other souls living in Hell, she asked what had happened. To which he responded, “Now you know the difference between being a recruit and an employee.”

The use of a “buddy” system or mentors can be a very effective way to enhance the orientation process. Under this scheme, buddies are assigned to new-hires to coach them through the early stages of their work experience. These buddies, who should be trained in coaching techniques, are selected from the current employee group and are individuals who are known to have positive work values, norms and a commitment to the company’s goals32. Where a collective bargaining agent represents employees, then the buddy process can be something jointly sponsored by the union and management, thus giving it greater credibility and support.

Employee Handbook

An “Employee Handbook” can be an invaluable aid in the orientation process. A Handbook is a repository of much of the information outlined above and, therefore, provides a very convenient way to keep and transmit that information33. As mentioned in the section on Hiring, the Handbook needs to cover the terms and standard conditions of employment that apply to all employees.

Experts and Honchos

Orientation is an excellent time to introduce new employees to individuals in the organization whom they may not encounter, on a regular basis, when on the job, but who are, nevertheless, important for them to know. Some of these individuals would be payroll and benefits experts, health and safety specialists, union leaders and members of senior management. In the case of the latter, research has identified interactions with senior executives can have a very important impact on employee commitment and identification with company goals, either positively or negatively. Therefore, if senior managers are involved in orientation, they need to be “schooled” in their role and how it should be performed in order to have a positive impact.


The orientation process needs to be evaluated to determine its effectiveness. Evaluation can be done in three ways:

(a) interviewing a sample of employees who have gone through the process,

(b) sending a questionnaire to all new employees at a prescribed time after they have gone through orientation, or

(c) by conducting a focus group session with a representative sample of new employees.


32 Again, research has shown that work group peers are more influential in shaping organizational norms of behaviour, values and beliefs than formal company sponsored programs. It is for this reason that the selection of buddies is important. A side benefit of a buddy program is the effect it has, as a form of positive recognition, on the buddy.

33 Organizations that have handbooks have often developed them for risk and discipline management purposes i.e. if we want to discipline employees for rule violations we have to tell them what the rules are. In these cases, employees are asked to sign a document confirming that they have received the handbook and are aware of its contents. This signed declaration is then put on their personal file. As mentioned in the section on Hiring, people are often reluctant to sign documents and requiring them to do so “under duress” not only weakens the value of the signature but can engender bad feelings (see the note on Likes and Dislikes). Using the employee handbook as an orientation tool can help relieve this problem.





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