Sunday, January 16, 2011

Don't Waste NHO!

Let’s see a show of hands: Who has ever read an employee handbook?

OK, I have, but only the ones I helped write. Mind you, I’m not implying that the employee handbook isn’t useful or popular. And if your desk wiggles it makes a great wedge.

Now let’s have another show of hands: Who’s attended an New Hire Orientation (NHO) that consisted mainly of walking through the employee handbook?

Well, not surprising, really, since it’s the only way to get people to read it.

Far be it from me to diss the employee handbook or argue with the need to familiarize new employees with its contents. After all, the employee handbook exists to protect the company from employee lawsuits so we have to have it.

And frankly, it’s probably not even worth making it less boring, since most people still won't read it unless it's composed of Tweet-sized sound-bytes that pop up on their iPhone while they're updating their Facebook status.

My point is simply this: If your New Hire Orientation process consists of presenting the employee handbook and reminding new hires about deadlines for benefits enrollment you’re missing a golden opportunity to create a feeling of connection to the enterprise.

Connection is a feeling of belonging and is strongly linked with engagement. We talk about ‘hiring for fit’ but the real magic happens if you can create a corporate culture that brings diverse people together.

Here are some ideas for creating a more meaningful NHO and on-boarding experience:

New Hire Orientation:

Welcome – Express how truly happy you are that these fabulous people have decided to join your company. Perhaps the CEO can say a few words, although depending on how often you hire that may not be realistic.

Who we are – There’s no feeling like pride in belonging to something bigger than yourself, so tap into that and shake your great company booty! Connect the dots between your amazing company culture and how people can be part of it.

Start group – People who start together have a higher chance of building lasting bonds as they spread out over the company. Help your new hires define their first network at your company by assigning them to a start group.

Fun activity – This is a chance for the start group to get to know one another and begin identifying itself as ‘us’. Mind you, it can go too far, as when my start group at a large consulting company had to run through the office singing, ‘We Are Eager Beavers.’ But it did break the ice.


Company email – Let everyone know about your fine crop of new hires. Send an email around, or post the information, introducing new hires with bio and pictures. Encourage employees to make them feel welcome.

Team lunch – Please don’t just turn new employees loose with a vague introduction to their new co-workers. Nothing promotes team spirit like free food.

Buddy system – Every new hire should have a ‘buddy’ on their new team to show them the ropes.

Mentor – This is advanced on-boarding but it’s a great advantage to new hires if they have someone higher up than their own manager in the organization that they can turn to for career support.

Have stuff ready – Every day a new hire sits around without a desk or wondering what to do or unable to get started because the new laptop hasn’t been configured yet is money wasted. Not to mention frustrating for the new hires, who are eager to dig in and start proving themselves.

Make admin easy – I once spent two weeks enrolling in benefits. I kid you not, it was so hard! Either offer a great online enrollment experience or have someone available to help people navigate the complexity. Don’t waste that sweet new hire momentum on kludgy administration.

Start group debriefing – After a few weeks have passed, bring the start group back together again to discuss first impressions before they are completely desensitized to your crazy inefficient processes. It’s also a good chance for the start group to meet up again, if they haven’t already.

One final show of hands: Who still reaches out to people they worked with years ago, with questions or just to hook up for lunch?

A feeling of connection makes people want to come to work. Don’t miss out on the golden opportunities provided by NHO and on-boarding to help people feel connected from day one.


  1. That is great information Laura. While I am sad to admit I HAVE read a numberof employee hand books (Ouch).

    HEre is an interesting question of those who do not read the hand book how many of them do you think have read and studied a labor contract? Hmmm.

  2. Well, I should hope so! I was speaking as an employee. ;-)

    The contract is different. That's the bit about money and work hours so I believe it's reasonably well-skimmed. How well it's understood is another question.

  3. Amen! These are great points, and they also gave me a flashback. My very first HR job (for which I was woefully unqualified at the time) included the duty of running New Hire Orientation. My main strategy was to have enough donuts. My how I've grown!

  4. Thank you Skippy - I totally forgot to mention donuts, which are absolutely essential to a successful NHO!

  5. The CEO of fantastic company with which I am familiar is going to start giving core value/company culture presentations to all new employees within a month of their start. I bet that will go a long way in helping them feel connected too. :)

  6. I can't imagine who you're talking about, Patty, but what a great idea!

  7. Yes I have read employee handbooks & usually found them to be helpful. One of them seems punative, "if you do this, we will do that to punish you", but that was not typical. Yes I have seen the fantastic company one with core values, & 5 year strategic goals, & accompanied with personal presentations of same. I have a feeling its a different one from the one you are talking about above. Very effective.

  8. Thank you for reading and joining the discussion. I'm glad you've found employee handbooks helpful and the up-to-date one that includes 5 year strategic goals sounds particularly good.

    It occurs to me that if companies would simply rename the employee handbook to, 'If you do that we will punish you,' everyone would read it. ;-)


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