Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Build Your Own Orientation
The constituency for the orientation is new employees across the college. That means faculty, but it also means full-time staff from various offices. (The faculty start with the staff for the first week, then have a separate series of faculty-only meetings focusing mostly on classroom issues.) The idea is to help the newbies put faces to names and offices; to go through some basic information on employee benefits; to make some statements about the mission of the college and its commitments to fairness and diversity; and to introduce a few basic policies.
In the past, it was a two-day event, with fairly significant griping by the end of the second day.
Then it morphed to a one-day event with a series of 90-minute followups monthly for a semester. By the end of the semester, though, attendance flagged badly.
Since many sets of eyes are better than one, I’m hoping to crowdsource a solution to this. Given that certain institutional needs have to be met -- for legal reasons, for example, it’s useful to be able to say that everyone was introduced to the sexual harassment policy -- is there a way to make new employee orientation more useful and compelling for the new employees?
Do you remember anything particularly good (or awful) about your own orientation? If you could have constructed it , what would you have done differently? (And no, “Not having one” is not an option.)
offer free food. make it good food. have lots of cake.
give everyone a t-shirt for the event.
don't publicly give thanks to the people who put on the event. they got paid to do it, and they put on an event that no one wanted to go to. everyone there will be thinking "i work my ass off every day, and no one applauds me."
get the job done as quick as possible. don't let this thing be an all day event if it can be done in 4 hours.
if you have Q&A, dismiss everyone and let people with questions stay afterward; else, everyone feels obligated to sit through a Q&A that they dont care about. i can't stand it when that happens.
When I run new hire training (in a corporate setting) I invite a "spokesperson" from each of the various departments that the new hires will have to work with (i.e., travel, document production, copy center, library resources, payroll, supplies, etc) to give a talk for less than one hour. Although, I tell the managers that the hour is theirs to do with as they please, I suggest that it is best if the information is limited to "just the critical stuff." This is just enough to let the new hires know about such services but not overwhelm them with too much information.
Some of the departments would actually use only about 15 minutes (not a whole lot to say about using photocopiers), while others would use the whole hour and be very creative with things such as skits. (the ladies from payroll did a wonderfully funny skit on how to NOT fill out timesheets and then bitch to them about not getting paid! an otherwise boring subject that they made fun). The main idea is that I am not running it, the individual departments are providing what they think is important. I am only providing the framework and time schedule.
It is also helpful to suggest that each department prepare a handout such as phone numbers, who to contact for which issue, instructions for filling out travel requests, etc. Something for the new hires to "take-away" from each hour. This later morphed into a new hire website to cut down on paper usage.
Sometimes the department spokeperson would come to our office, others would have the new hires come to them. I left that choice to the departments. I then would schedule things so that the new hires didn't have to sit for too long. We also provided lunch at the company cafeteria.
As far as the legally required stuff; that I leave to HR for the first half of the day. By having that first and in the HR offices I feel that it comes across as being more serious.
HR also provides a binder with their paperwork and with several blank spaces for the handouts to come from the other departments.
New hires still feel somewhat overwhelmed. Something that I think cannot be totally avoided; but, at least this way they have something to set them on the correct career path.
P.S. Those follow-up seminars never work. Either they have needed the information before the scheduled seminar, or they have already found out and don't bother showing up.
That's a lesson for both classroom and these orientations. Only very rare presenters can speak effectively for longer. The organizers have to break it up.
Powerpoints are invariably awful. There are no exceptions. If I told you that people stood up for 45 minutes, handed out their bullets on paper, read their bullets aloud, pointed at their bullets on the computer screen, and that their bullets were all about effective classroom teaching and avoiding long lectures, would you believe me? Of course you would, you've been there with me in these faculty development/orientation days.
It's crazy-making, and it's degrading to have to sit through something so ill-conceived and lazy.
I always feel that the not-so-subtle message of this sort of welcome-back is that faculty time is without value but is 'owned' by the school and that we have no more right to crtical thought than a goose being force-fed for eventual pate.
Sometimes an online tutorial/test can satisfy legal requirements for OSHA or harassment policies. No one takes any of that stuff seriously anyway, so it might as well be given its perfunctory, meaningless due that way, which at least is quick.
We once had an elaborate spills and chemicals presentation, warning us to never take chances, always treat unknown substances seriously. Fine, but a month later when I had a mysterious drip from the ceiling onto a student's workspace, I called the presenter and he giggled, telling me to prop a coffee cup under the leak and carry on.
Again, it's crazy-making. I know about coffee cups without a morning's training! It's abusive to subject people to elaborate lectures the lecturer does not himself believe in.
And you wonder, dd, why faculty have such a battitude some days.
Mentorship is fine in theory, but when administration gets into the business of formalizing it and 'hooking up' people, it turns into an embarrassing waste of time all around.
Being a mentor to a younger colleague has been the crown to my career--deeply wonderful to 'teach' a peer--, but we found each other, worked out our relationship, and did things our way.
How else could it possibly succeed?
Really, what you describe doesn't sound as if it needs the time allotted to it. Two full days and then monthly followups?? Gah. So more efficiency, definitely food, and (much as I despise them, because it still takes the same amount of time) try to dump some of the mandatory training (sexual harassment and ethics are the two required here) into an online format, to be completed at the employee's discretion.
I like the idea of a website, with all the useful numbers and links on it.
In my mind, orientation should not be more than a day long. Instead of the follow-up seminars, follow it with an online format. Perhaps pay them to do it with $10/module.
Also, DO NOT schedule orientation for 2 weeks before the term. I hate cutting summer travel short for orientation, particularly when I've taught summer school until 2 weeks before the term. It should be scheduled less than 5 days before the start of the term.
To me the goal should be three-fold; first, to get the legal crap out of the way in as brief a way as possible. Second, tell me what I want to know about MY benefits, vacation time, etc. Third, give me the briefest idea of what resources are available on campus and where to go to get the details of how to use them.
The most useful thing I ever left one of these sessions with was the URL of an orientation website that had links to ALL of this type of information - it became my homepage for the first few months while I got used to where everything was and who to talk to.
Oh, and I agree on the food thing - good quality food will keep people there and sugar will keep them paying attention.
But realistically, a half day should do it. Remember that they aren't going to RETAIN most of the information you are pouring into their heads. People are anxious to get to their new jobs, see their new team that they will be dealing with day in and day out and get an idea of that stuff, not sit in a room with a bunch of people they may never see again.
Drag people in during one of the busiest times of the year. Force them to spend hours of their own time being transported to the event. And feature keynote speakers who have never actually done the job that they are telling the audience how to do.
"Simmering resentment" is a good way of describing the reaction.
Don't get me wrong, these SOPs contain incredibly valuable information. But as a new employee, receiving this amount of information, without context or motivation is extremely inefficient. Employees that want to be good at their jobs end up seeking out the details of this information when the time comes to use it (just in time).
That being said, I would suggest the orientation be filled with high level topics and pointing the employee at the source of where the details of information can be found.
...I'm assuming here that all the details are well organized and in a standardized location...
One thing not mentioned in my blog was that my orientation included a whirlwind tour of campus facilities that was EXTREMELY valuable in both the short and long run.
My short answer is that our HR program probably goes too fast and definitely lacked a succinct one-page handout showing our fringe benefits and the choices to be made. What we got was a mess, an assemblage in a wide variety of styles and clarity produced by each vendor. What we still probably need is a couple of faculty there to translate between HR and human, but the HR people probably know there is a law or policy that prohibits that sort of clarity.
Informal mentoring by several math profs who have made insurance and investment research their avocation is the better path.
In contrast, our faculty "training" program is too long and is, in general, covers things that are totally irrelevant to teaching either science or math at the college level. Many of the observations in that blog article deal with this. Put that same time into team building within the department, in the form of group as well as individual mentoring, and you might get more of a payoff. It has been great that our new faculty know other new faculty from other parts of the campus really well. It is really bad that they hardly know some of the faculty in their own department.
Although it is good for new faculty to meet new staff, since there is nothing like knowing someone who works in one of the hidden parts of the college, most of the concerns of these two groups are wildly different. Faculty, for example, are concerned about those classes that will taught real soon now. They need to know the secrets of getting a syllabus printed fast. They need TIME, without distractions, and a ready source for answers much more than they need a Powerpoint lecture presentation about not lecturing with Powerpoint.
two years ago I did orientation at my current job. It was a 2 day affair that was often stultifying, b/c it was panel after panel with powerpoints or lectures. But what I did like: the campus tour, which gave a little bit of history. The resource fair at lunch, which let me browse around campus resources of all sorts and gave me a sense of what's available for students. The "what it's really like to live here" panel with 4 faculty members who just talked about random things about living and working here. The history of diversity reform on campus (that was a good powerpoint--lots of photos of campus history that was often very dramatic). I felt like I learned a lot about the history of the campus from someone who was passionate about it.
most of the practical stuff, like how to fill out a travel reimbursement, I'd have preferred to read on line (which of course I had to do anyway since I didn't remember the demo).
And I liked that the HR folks where there to take up all my benefits forms and check for errors.
One can only hope you've hired faculty and staff who are smart enough to read and understand information on their own. Make sure they know where to go if they have questions, but don't treat them like idiots.
Oh, and free food never hurts.
Also agree with having the event run less than a full day. With good food.
You wrote: "Given that certain institutional needs have to be met -- for legal reasons, for example, it’s useful to be able to say that everyone was introduced to the sexual harassment policy" -- well, there's your problem. You conceive of orientation as intended to serve the institution (e.g., make its lawyers happy) rather than to serve employees. As long as that is your mindset, orientation is going to suck.
As a new employee, nothing is worse than being forced to waste my time on some pointless time-waster that exists solely for compliance and CYA (because management doesn't have the guts to tell lawyers no) or that is some manager's pet initiative that he got out of a management book at the airport. Employees can smell that kind of time-wasting crap from a mile away. It's corrosive to morale.
But I don't expect anyone to listen to me. Organizations will continue to focus on CYA compliance and pet initiatives that aren't actually necessary, because that's how the system is set up.