Thursday, 1 October 2009

The First Few Magical Days

It has been more than a decade and a half since I entered the workforce, but I still have vivid memories of my first day at work. I was excited and proud and yet scared and nervous, a strange feeling of accomplishment without knowing what I needed to accomplish. Elders at University had told us how much fun the first days at work are, but none of those great stories could settle my nerves or those of my fellow management trainees. A complete change in environment from a rather boisterous few months leading to graduation to a serious, disciplined and productively busy office was overwhelming if not downright intimidating. Soon enough though we were teamed up and assigned mentors, and at the end of the first and extremely busy week, it felt like we had been part of the system for years. When I look back, I realise that the orientation programme that the organisation had put together was designed to achieve this specific sense of belonging.

New employees are almost always motivated to start their new job, but they are also hesitant to ask questions, in fear of appearing stupid or causing offence. Since their decisions and actions are based on their own perception of what is expected, experiences with a previous employer, or advice from friends and colleagues, the possibilities of starting on the wrong foot are enormous. Since most organisations have their own culture, environment and processes, most businesses develop a comprehensive checklist of policies and procedures, to review with new employees on their first day, and a formal programme spanning from a few days to a few months to ease and orient them to the new system. The components and time span of a programme depend significantly on the industry, function and managerial level of the incoming employee. A good orientation programme lays the foundation for a long lasting relationship and ensures that the employee maintains a positive attitude towards the company, and their role. Research has shown that a good and effective orientation programme can increase employee retention by 25 per cent.

Orientation programmes have evolved over the years both in structure and form from the ubiquitous and unglamorous “apprenticeship” which involved a lot of hard work with little reward or recognition, to the very functional “on-the-job training” or “near-the job training” of the early 20th century, to the modern-day, sophisticated and pride inducing “Global Management Programme” which announces that the employee is on the way to managerial greatness even before entering the workforce. Indeed as businesses have grown more complex operationally and geographically, customising orientation programmes to suit the audience has become the norm at larger organisations. While training managers are busy creating more involved activities, organisations are torn between the old and time honoured conflict between productivity and training. The need of the day is to create a balance between function and feel-good, and not go overboard with either.

First impressions are always important in any relationship, and more often than not one of the most important relationships that an employer needs to manage and address is that with the employees. It is therefore to the benefit of any organisation, in these days of increasing hiring costs, to create those first few magical days which transform a new entrant from a mere employee to a proud and loyal member of the fraternity.

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