In common usage, to orient oneself is to locate oneself in respect to points of reference. In an organizational setting, orientation is the process of assisting individuals in locating themselves with respect to the organization’s culture, values, vision, mission, goals, structure, and procedures. While typical notions of orientation begin with the new member’s entrance into the organizational system, organizations may also consider the orientation process to impact persons outside their system. In some regards, this broader definition of orientation relates to branding, corporate goodwill, and reputation. For the purposes of career development, most employers begin to focus attention on the orientation process somewhere between the recruiting stage and the onboarding stage (when a new employee begins employment). However, many organizations fail to recognize that the process can and should continue past this single moment in time.
It is helpful to think of the orientation process as the organization’s formal effort to compete with other potential perspectives. Because the candidate or employee is part of other systems—families, friendships, and so on—they have access to other, possibly competing, views of the organization that recruits and ultimately employs them. Thus any activity that supports the organization’s ability to shape the individual’s view of the organization should properly be seen as an orientation effort.
Identifying appropriate goals for each stage of the orientation process and addressing those goals through the appropriate mechanisms are keys to a successful employee orientation process. In each stage, organizations must balance short- and long-term goals.
At the pre-entry stage, the principal short-term goal is to generate and encourage positive attitudes toward the organization. This step includes the provision of information sufficient to transform a potential candidate into an actual candidate or to convince a candidate to accept an offer to join the organization. The longer-term goal is to create a commitment to the organization and its objectives. At this stage, of course, the goal is simply to lay the groundwork for that commitment. Because of the demand for highly individualized information and the need to begin the attitudinal transformation of the candidate, personal interactions and other interactive tools tend to be highly successful. However, the expense of these mechanisms means that most organizations must find ways to offer as much interaction as possible to most individuals while focusing in-person efforts on those opportunities with the highest likely return on investment. Organizational Web sites and intranets are the most popular alternative to in-person activities, as they have the potential to provide the wide range of information needed to address concerns and answer questions. A well-crafted Web site or intranet is also a potent transmitter of positive cultural messages.
The entry stage, which typically encompasses the first four to six months of employment, is where most organizations focus the bulk of their orientation resources in terms of time, money, and energy. Nearly all organizations hold some sort of local, on-site or in-office orientation for new employees. Most employee orientation programs have several content elements in common: organizational policies and practices, basic logistics of the work, such as parking, security, expected hours, and so on; organizational structure and key individuals in the organization; and the organization’s history, culture, values, strategies, vision, goals. Many orientation programs also include introductions to or elementary development of key job skills. That is not to say, however, that all new employee orientation programs should include all these elements. The appropriate goals at this stage vary greatly along several dimensions, including the nature of the business or industry, the type of role to be filled by the new employee, the complexity of skills involved in the job being filled, and the subsequent orientation activities planned for the new employee. For example, the orientation goals of a telemarketing company that has traditionally high turnover and fairly straightforward job descriptions should be quite different from those of a consultancy, which might also have high turnover but which expects a much greater range of skills of its employees. In each case, the company will want to continue its positive cultural message, emphasizing those attributes that make it an attractive employer. But while the telemarketer may choose to emphasize employees’ opportunities for commissions, the consultancy may choose to emphasize employees’ opportunity to move rapidly toward partnership.
In order to emphasize the company’s commitment to its new employees, most employers elect a person-to-person approach for employee orientation, using some combination of human resource personnel, professional trainers, and other staff to personally deliver the message. On the other hand, many companies’ orientation programs include long informational sessions that are frequently tedious for the new employee and whose content they do not retain. A far better mechanism for this kind of information is some sort of reference material, to which the employee can turn when questions arise. Good examples are manuals and a company intranet. In practice, it is often to other staff that the new employee turns, so many companies adopt the practice of assigning a mentor or “learning buddy,” to make sure the new employee has someone specific to turn to with questions.
Finally, each organization must determine those points throughout an employee’s career at which they are in need of further orientation. Each time an employee enters a new career stage, the organization has a new opportunity to orient or reorient them within the system. Examples include annual performance appraisal cycles, promotions, taking on a new role, and taking on management responsibilities. At each of these moments, the organization should help the employee understand how they fit into in the system from their new vantage point. Organizations that fail to recognize the need for further orientation, or that miss the opportunities to provide that positive orientation, risk losing influence over employees’ views to competing perspectives, thus increasing the likelihood of employee turnover. The variety of mechanisms for addressing those goals is as broad as the variation between organizations.
- Anticipatory socialization
- Assimilation and mutual acceptance
- Organizational entry
- Organizational socialization
- Realistic recruitment
- Arthur, D. 1991. Recruiting, Interviewing, Selecting & Orienting New Employees. 2d ed. New York: AMACOM
- Jerris, L. A. 1993. Effective Employee Orientation. New York: AMACOM.
- Stockard, J. G. 1977. Career Development and Job Training. New York: AMACOM.