How To Ruin A Great Recruiting Effort With The “Orientation From Hell” – Part I

This is the first of a two part series on how to “close the sale” after a world class recruiting effort.


HR professionals need to know it also. Many corporations miss an opportunity to make a great first impression and to “close the sale” on a newly-recruited individual by providing a lackluster orientation! They also inadvertently slow the new hires development and the time it takes for them to reach their expected productivity. A weak orientation may just be a missed opportunity to WOW a new hire but it may also turn into a disaster if the orientation process contradicts the initial impression put together by the recruiter. Almost all companies do an orientation for new hires but few pay much attention to them. Often workers come to work excited about the prospect of a new job and new friends only to get cold water in their face the first day on the job.

A simple survey of workers not only will show how boring orientation can be, but also how little of it employees actually remember. HR has it all backwards. We celebrate when an employee LEAVES our firm, but where is the party when a new hire comes on board? Stop getting “the intern” to put the video tape into the VCR and making the “benefits clerk” the first point of contact for a new hire. HR needs to start making the beginning of a new job a celebration and a process to make the new hire productive right out of the gate!


Remember the horrors of your first day when:

* You were given 15 minutes to: “read and sign a 100 page handbook”

* You had to watch the orientation “video from hell”

* You spent the morning filling out confusing benefits forms until it hurt

* On your first visit to your cubical you found no phone #, e-mail address, password or business cards

* Your boss might have been out of town the week you started

* You met dozens of people but you don’t remember any of them

* Your assignment the first day is to “read” the manuals and wait until the boss has time to give you some projects

* You find that the training you require to do your new job isn’t even offered until next month


Many new hires are questioning their decision by the first day. The next week isn’t much better with nothing to do because the boss hasn’t had time to give you a project. Buzzwords and acronyms are everywhere but you are too embarrassed to ask what is a “SNAFU” and similar strange words that are thrown at them. And you still don’t have a computer. The recruiter that made all of those wonderful promises is long gone. Your family is nervous about the “change” and it’s even worse if you just physically relocated your family. It’s like your first day in France and you don’t speak French. You feel alone and wonder if it was a good decision. If a firm makes a negative “first impression” it may take months to overcome an employee’s initial frustration and “buyers remorse.”

Research shows clearly that “improving” orientation can increase retention rates by as much as 25%. Initial hire frustration also slows “time to productivity,” increases error rates and can in general take the enthusiasm out of any new hire.

Poor Orientation programs can also impact future recruitment efforts. Everyone, you know asks you during your first week “how’s your new job?” Unfortunately, the response to the question is often “It’s not what I expected” or “They never told me…” which can result in negative rumors that could discourage others from applying. Remember that a great HR function learns to prioritize its customers and activities. The depth of the orientation can and should vary with the position and the “importance” of the hire. Getting a team leader up to speed might be more important than getting a janitor.


The “celebration” approach assumes that the first day, week, month as crucial to getting a new hire “signed on” to the company’s culture and shared vision. Later in this document is a Tool Kit of techniques that can have a significant impact on the quality of your orientation program and shorten the time to productivity. Make orientation something they will remember rather than regret!


Most Orientation is owned and done by HR. Not senior-level HR people but junior ones, generally from benefits. This is “bass-ackwards.” Managers and employees need to own the orientation process. There are numerous reasons for giving managers ownership of the process including:

* The team needs to realize how important it is to get and assimilate a new team member in order to be successful.

* Managers and employees need to “own” the orientation process and take responsibility for getting new hires up to productivity because they are closer to the problem and they will suffer the consequences if it’s not done correctly!

* The team and the managers are the only ones that can, over time, listen to and understand what the “new-be” in their function needs, wants and can provide it to them.

* HR can’t be strategic when it is mired in paper and routine. If it uses a Intranet/Call Center solution HR can make it easy for employees and managers to “self-service” their own assimilation needs with a minimum of HR effort.



* Make workers and co-workers see hiring and orientation as an opportunity to acquire new talent and increase productivity so they can become more of a winning team.

* Excite new hires about their new job/team and excite the team about the new hire.


* Give them the information they need and help eliminate barriers so you can speed up their time to productivity and have a positive ROI occur earlier.

* Eliminate poor starts/disillusionment that may lead to “crib death” resignations and retention issues.

* Reassure new hires that they made a good decision by allowing them to begin meaningful work as early as possible.


* Provide avenues to anticipate and answer questions that new hires might have.


* Identify motivators/challenges/”de-motivators” and dream job factors of the new hire so managers and the team can manage to them.

* Get family and other workers involved in the orientation and retention of a new hire.

* Give us a competitive advantage over our competitors by treating new hires differently so they can spread the word on how we ‘celebrate” new hires.


* Corning * PepsiCo * Peoplesoft * Oracle * HP * 3COM


1. It has weighted and targeted goals and it meets each of them

2. It is done by a senior person(s) and includes input from the persons peers

3. Is an on-going process

4. It begins before the first day of work

5. It is customized (one size fits one) to the person, the position and the geographic area/culture

6. It can be done “just in time”

7. It makes the first day a celebration

8. It involves the workers family and others in the process

9. It makes them productive on the first day

10. It isn’t boring/rushed or ineffective

11. It’s global/multi-lingual and diverse. Have a one size fits one strategy to allow for individual/local needs

12. It’s available on the Intranet and uses technology

13. It reduces turnover

14. It can be done “remotely” and during “off” periods

15. It is monitored, measured and rewarded. It also uses feedback to continuously improve

16. It uses technology but it seems real and personalized

Next Week – The Orientation Toolkit

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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