Why you should embrace your new recruits. (Not literally, you understand...!)

It's a no-brainer, as they say. Having spent thousands to recruit the right person, it's surely commonsense to make sure they stay put with your firm - and a good induction may be the key. Ian Boughton explains how to give your new recruits a warm welcome

By Ian Boughton

Have you ever experienced that helpless feeling when the new start who joined you just this morning goes off for lunch - and is never ever seen again?

Don't blame them for being unreliable. It might be your own fault - because if your induction process wasn't well-planned, you may have been lucky to keep them past coffee time.

British business is incredibly bad at handling the induction process for new staff. So many people have been telling stories of how they were left alone in an office on their first morning with no company, nothing to do, and no instructions, that recruiters Reed recently decided to find out how bad the problem is.

In speaking to nearly six thousand people, they discovered that one in 25 of them had walked out on their new job, simply because the induction process was so bad. And the public sector offices were the worst of all.

Shaky beginnings

Stories of new beginners being left alone are common, and it's not unusual for an office manager to be completely unaware that a new member of staff has been recruited. No wonder it takes a new recruit, on average, seven weeks to feel at home in their new job.

But some inductions are quite unbelievable. One new recruit was told to stand up in front of the two dozen other people starting that morning, hop around on one leg, and sing "we all live in a yellow submarine". Would anyone blame him for quitting on the spot? And what on earth did the recruiting manager think she was going to achieve by it?

Hiring people at all is expensive. It takes a lot of time and a lot of money, either on advertising or agency fees, and to waste it all by making a mess of introducing a newcomer to your organisation is, to put it politely, unwise.

However, in the midst of the business world's incompetence at inductions, there are some shining lights who can show you how to get the whole thing very imaginatively right.

A recruitment company which practices induction processes on its own staff is Angela Mortimer, where training director Judith Taylor has a process well worth copying.

Curious as it sounds, every single newcomer to the Angela Mortimer office, even highly-qualified graduates, will start with three months as an "operations co-ordinator". This is essentially a receptionist job, but the real secret the Angela Mortimer agency has understood is that a receptionist can be the most powerful information source in an organisation.

Getting it right

Everything passes through the front desk, and so the person working there has a unique bird's-eye picture of the company's operations, the clients it deals with, and who's who - normally, it could take years to meet everyone from chairman to cleaner to director of the Timbuktu office, but the receptionist gets to know them all, quickly.

This gives the new start two great advantages, says Judith Taylor. They get to understand how the company works, and also to appreciate where they themselves fit into it.

"In this company, it is understood that the tea-boy may one day become chairman, if you give him the chance. We believe that to take people on without giving them the right building blocks may be simply setting them up to fail - which is wrong."

As so often happens, the definitive word on how to do it well comes from an American.

The acknowledged expert on man-management, Big Jim Miller of Arlington, Texas, once wrote that the first day in a job makes an indelible impression on a person's outlook, and can set the tone for everything they do in that job for years to come.

Big Jim would always start his induction process early - he would send a letter of welcome to the newcomer's home the week before they started, to inspire confidence and let the newcomer's family know there really was going to be a welcome into the new job.

When the day came, he didn't fall into the obvious trap. "I didn't try to impress them about the company. I could have tried to overwhelm them with facts and figures about how successful we are - but what good would that do? They already know we're successful, or they wouldn't have applied."

Boundless enthusiasm

Instead, he used to give them a Success Kit, which included such bizarre but effective items as a Bottle of Enthusiasm. This was a harmless coloured liquid, but it brought with it a telling comment about the company philosophy - whenever things were getting hard, the employee was to take a swig of enthusiasm! And if the bottle ever emptied, unlimited free supplies were always available from the boss.

Over the next days the new start would be taken to lunch by the boss and an appointed "buddy". The boss would already have sent another letter, thanking the newcomer for their time and attention on the first morning, and at the end of the first week, there would be a simple and friendly "How was your first week?" form to fill in.

His staff loved him for it. And there was another valuable benefit - nearly all of them volunteered to be a "buddy" when someone else joined.

There are similar good examples in Britain. An envelope manufacturer in Essex always used to invite new beginners, no matter how senior their job, to spend their first week on the production line making envelopes. Apart from giving them a respect for the product which earned their wages, it formed a useful link between departments - the factory staff would always appreciate a manager who had done his or her time getting their hands dirty beside them.

And there's a golden rule emerging, here: a good induction helps the employee to look beyond their own desk.

At the home of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Georgia, the very top man of the world's leading fizzy drink once stopped off in the reception area to chat to the two new girls there. What's your job, he wanted to know.

The first girl said, "I'm a receptionist." The second gave him a bright smile and said, "I welcome people to the biggest soft drinks company in the world! "

One of them went on to great things!

Refresher courses

There is a school of thought which says that induction never stops, and an Australian business consultant has begun to advocate "re-inductions" for existing staff.

There is a certain logic to it. The basic premise is that an excited or nervous newcomer will never remember everything they are told on the first day. They are unlikely to understand it all anyway, because many things only become clear when they come into context in doing the job.

So any sensitive inductor will understand that the newcomer must be thinking "Will I ever understand all this?" and possibly even "Have I made the right decision coming here?" That's perfectly understandable.

The brilliant follow-up is to have a re-induction even for employees who have been in post for a couple of months, or even a year. The lesson in this for managers is never to assume that staff have grasped all the basic information about the company and their job.

And you don't have to work out the entire induction process for yourself. There actually is a guidance programme you can follow - it comes from the Productivity 4 U organisation, and is available online. It's called the New Start programme, and details and costs are at www.p4you.com

Ian Boughton is a writer on business matters who has edited three secretarial magazines. He believes that the wise words of experienced managers should be shared widely. He is also an acknowledged expert on good coffee in the workplace, and makes a mean cappuccino.

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