I’m going to give you three words, and I want you to pay attention to the first thoughts that come to mind.
High. Quality. Orientation.
What came up for you? Was it training? Waste of time? Teaching? Processes? Boring? Classroom? Employee handbooks? Building tours? Time-off and conduct policies?
High-quality orientation is quite possibly the most essential strategy for sustaining success organizationally. I could go on and on about the merits and research around new hire orientation. But suffice it to say, if your orientation program is subpar, you are intentionally training your employees to do subpar work. More than anything else, orientation does more to define your organization’s culture and work ethic than any other function.
But here’s the problem.
The vast majority of orientation programs are destined to fail no matter how carefully constructed, how rigorously upheld, or how talented the trainer is.
Because they fail to recognize the most important aspect of new hire orientation.
Relationships are the foundation of every high-quality orientation program. All the training, tooling, policies, and procedures are icing. Essential icing. But icing nonetheless.
The Big 4+1 Relationships
Relationships are what will make or break your orientation program. There are four (plus one) primary relationships that need to be addressed for your new employee to reach their maximum potential.
1. Their boss
People join companies, but they leave bosses. This relationship is the fundamental building block for all others. It is crucial that your new employee know who they report to and that they have time to spend together as soon as possible. While you have to be careful with personal information (especially during hiring), it’s essential the new hire and their boss moves toward knowing and understanding each other as people, real-life human beings, as quickly as possible. Position their boss as a mentor and coach as much as (if not more than) a boss. There will be more on this in the next article in the series.
2. Their peers
One of the top motivations for staying with an organization (and enjoying your time there) is having a “best friend” at work. Solid peer relationships bring a steadiness, joy, and camaraderie that can make even the most mundane tasks a pleasure. But don’t stop with the employee’s working group. Include peers from other divisions and departments, especially if they are part of an internal customer relationship [link to 5 ways next level leaders]. There will be more on this in the fourth article in the series.
3. Their direct reports
When hiring a manager, help them get to know their direct reports, again not as cogs in a machine but as real people with real lives. Use this time to see how they lead. How do they treat their team? This is a telling interaction, one that you do not want to overlook. Everything from point 1 above applies here as well.
4. Someone outside the chain of command
This relationship is less obvious but no less important. Get your new employee started with a mentor or coach who is outside of their chain of command. There is a freedom that comes when you know you are talking to someone who isn’t going to do a performance review on you soon. There will be more on this in the fifth article in the series.
+1 Senior leadership
This will vary depending on the size of the organization and the nature of the orientation program. And while it is not quite as important as the other four relationships, do not discount the power of including senior leadership in your orientation, mentoring, and coaching programs. At my previous company, we took each class of new hires out to lunch with most, if not all, of our senior leadership team. If you think that’s not possible, don’t dismiss the concept altogether. Horst Shulze attended and taught at every single new location opening during his time as CEO of the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain.
Engaging the power of relationships with mentoring and coaching
Relationships in and of themselves are inherently powerful. They improve collaboration, decrease interpersonal friction, build commitment and accountability, provide support through difficult times, and keep us grounded when everything is going our way.
Yet much of the power of relationships lay latent within an organization. We fail to draw it out and put it to use.
Fortunately, there is a tool for that. It’s mentoring and coaching. Mentoring and coaching allow us to build a much more complex and effective set of connections than we can through an org chart. It also allows us to build more value on existing relationships as well.
As you create space for each of these relationships to form in your new hire orientation, you will want to do so with the built-in assumption that mentoring and coaching will result. The goal of introducing a new hire to her boss is not simply mechanical, who to report to and when. It would be more powerful to facilitate a conversation on the organizational and departmental goals, how she fits in, and why her work matters. You can add value exponentially by continuing the dialog into what her goals and ambitions are and what motivates her at work.
This same pattern repeats for each of the relationships listed above, which is the secret behind high-quality orientation.
The result is a more aligned organization whose individual employees can move much faster toward their shared goals and objectives and take full ownership of their roles and responsibilities!