Article

Orientation Is Essential

December 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Justin Spath - Also by this author

After weeks, if not months, of advertising, recruiting, interviewing, testing and all around back-breaking efforts to find the right person for the right job at the right time, your search is finally complete. You have the perfect candidate for your job picked out, and he or she has accepted the offer and is starting on Monday. With the person chosen, your job is done.

Wrong. You have just managed to complete one part of bringing a new employee on board with your dealership. You must still handle a part of the hiring process that, while often overlooked, is equally important as the search itself; new employee orientation.

Think back to your first day on the job. Were you expected to know what to do already? Were you thrown into a job with a pat on the back and instructions to “have fun?” Was there a formal structure to how you got started or was it just “learn as you go?” Now think about the last person you hired on and how you dealt with them on their first day. Was it better than yours? Did you try to improve on what had come before, or were you satisfied with how things have always been? Gather all of those thoughts together and keep them firmly in your mind so that as I discuss the three major components essential to a new employee orientation, you can see where you are succeeding and where you are lacking.

The first major component of a good orientation program is procedural, the one we are all probably best at. The procedural aspect of orientation includes all of those sheets of paper that the government tells us we must have on each employee, combined with all of the policies we want them to learn and finally, all mixed together with your dealership’s own internal paperwork. Without all that paperwork, the new hire might not get paid correctly, might not know how to sign up for medical insurance and might not know to turn to their employee handbook when they have questions. Policies, procedures and paperwork can be boring and tedious, but they are vital to making sure a new hire is taken care of by your dealership. By getting this taken care of up front you are not only fulfilling you procedural orientation duties, but also influencing the new employee’s opinion of the company by showing that you do not procrastinate and are on top of the business at hand.

Once you have gotten all of the procedural aspects of the orientation out of the way you can move on to the part of the orientation most directly aimed at the new employee, the structural orientation. This part of the orientation focuses on the job the person has actually been hired to perform. This may take anywhere from the first few days, to the first few weeks depending on the job the person has been hired for.

The key point to remember about the structural part of orientation is that it should last through at least one full cycle of work for the job the new hire is starting. If you look up at that last sentence you will see that I put the emphasis on “at least.” One cycle of work in orientation is the bare minimum you have to do to be effective. I would prefer, and recommend at my dealerships, to see hiring and training managers go through a cycle of work far more than one time. Even if a person has experience already in the job they have been hired for, they still will need guidance on how your dealership handles things, and that guidance needs to be ongoing. Orientation is not a single event that takes place on the first day. Like anything else, it is a process that will take time to complete. The best way to handle the structural part of your orientation is probably through programs commonly called “buddy” or “mentor” systems.

Buddy and mentor systems are, in essence, the same thing coming from two different levels. A “buddy” is someone at the same organizational level or in the same job as the new hire who is guiding them through their orientation and training. A “mentor” is someone of a higher organization level (usually a direct supervisor) leading the orientation and training. Either way, the program works the same. The new hire is assigned a specific person to help guide them through the structural part of the new hire orientation. I’ve seen many managers dismiss the buddy/mentor method of orientation as a silly idea only to become firm believers after seeing how effective it is for their colleagues who use it. The buddy/mentor system increases a new hire’s knowledge of the job, makes them more productive, almost always decreases turnover and increases retention because new hires feel more welcome.

The third aspect of new hire orientation is the most overlooked, cultural orientation. Few dealerships take the time to acclimate a new employee into their corporate culture, leading many new hires to feel out of place and more than a bit lost. They will not know the goals and ideals of the company or what they need to do in order to fit in. This is not always the fault of the hiring or training manager though because often a dealership has not defined its culture well enough to provide a proper orientation. I cannot really give you guidance on how to define your dealership’s culture; that would take an entire article into itself. But, what I can do is give you an example of how the dealerships I work for address the cultural orientation of its new hires.

The culture of our company stresses the importance of quality work and customer service with a focus on both external and internal customers who buy our products and services. Each employees in our company relies on other employees to perform quality work. In every part of what we do, we strive for these two things. In order to help our new hires understand this culture, we start from their very first day.

On the new hire’s first day of work, the hiring manager greets them, shows them their workspace and introduces them to all of their coworkers throughout the entire dealership. We do this because we want every employee to know each other and know where to go when they need help. After this, we have the employees attend a class on quality work and how it relates to our dealership’s culture. The classroom setting allows specific focus and emphasis to be placed on our dealership’s culture and ideals.

I’m sure all of this sounds well and good to you, but you are probably thinking that everyone does something like this. That’s true, but we know that every manager believes in these principles all the way to the top, and that is shown to each new hire because the dealership owner and president takes the time to sit down with every new employee, usually on their first day of work, and have lunch together discussing the culture and ideals of our dealerships. Every one of our several hundred employees is given cultural orientation, not only from their supervisors and co-workers, but from the very owner of the business. I don’t know if many of us could say we’ve been at a company where the cultural orientation is so important to the business that every manager from the top down teaches it to every employee as they are hired. Including cultural orientation allows the employee to understand not only what they are going to be doing, but why they will be doing it as well.

Effective new hire orientation is essential if any dealership hopes to have a quality workforce. All three aspects of that orientation discussed here – procedural, structural and cultural – have important roles in making sure that a new hire learns and can succeed with your dealership. Think about what processes you have in place for orientation and whether they are satisfying all three necessary aspects. If not, then address them. Once you implement all three, you can be assured that you will have a better trained, more organized and all around more effective workforce.
 
Vol. 3, Issue 10

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