In this post I address that specific part of the overall onboarding process known as orientation. In many companies, orientation includes a dreadful review of the employee handbook, a booklet largely written by attorneys to make it easy to fire people.
During orientation a cheerful person from human resources says, in essence, “Welcome to our company! We’re thrilled you’ve decided to become a member of our family. Before we go any farther, we want to make sure you know the reasons you can be punished — up to and including termination!”
Human communities need rules to function effectively. Clearly stated expectations contribute to great relationships. But we go way beyond clarifying expectations. We make everyone sign a document (usually the last page of the handbook) attesting that they have read the rules. We need the signature, of course, in case we have to prove in court that they were aware of the consequences of not abiding by the rules. We start building our case for termination on their first day of work!!!
Many readers will cite numerous reasons why this is a good idea in today’s litigious business environment. Even if you believe such rules are a good business strategy, even if you would prefer not to have them but consider them a necessary evil, I encourage you to be honest about whether they contribute to engagement and retention. Here’s a hint: They don’t.
The best orientations I’ve seen focus most of their time helping new employees understand the values and beliefs of the organization, along with the expected behaviors. This allows people to decide whether their personal values harmonize with the organization’s. It invites them to join emotionally, to get excited about what the organization stands for in the world, and ultimately to make a commitment to enliven those values through their work.
But if you have a strong culture, it’s not for everyone. Ritz-Carlton and Zappos, for instance, encourage people to opt out immediately if they’re not willing to make that commitment. Zappos even offers each new employee $2,000 if they wish to opt out.
For this to work, by the way, the description of cultural values cannot be fiction. When employees leave orientation, they experience the culture directly. If the difference between the described culture and the experienced culture is too great, disengagement sets in immediately.
When was the last time you reviewed your orientation and your handbook? Are you proud of the way they express your brand?
Thanks for reading. As always, I welcome your thoughts.