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Spotlight-All Aboard-July 2011

Effective employee orientation, or “onboarding,” reduces early-stage turnover and boosts day-one productivity.

Spotlight-All Aboard-July 2011
An orientation process designed for new doctors joining the University of Minnesota Physicians was, to put it mildly, an exercise in inefficiency and costly delays. Those signing on to the multi-specialty physician organization—who also serve as faculty members in the university medical school—had to complete more than 100 human resources and administrative tasks in their initial days on the job. It was like drinking water from an orientation fire hose. 


It often took days or weeks following their start dates for physicians to secure crucial hospital practice privileges, undergo mandatory background checks, or complete training required to begin their work. Those delays left a sour taste with physicians at a time when first impressions were critical. The delays also meant lost income for the organization, says Linda Kenny, administrative center director at the University of Minnesota Medical School. “We were losing significant amounts of revenue because our new physicians weren’t able to practice right away,” Kenny says. 

So Kenny and her colleagues turned to an orientation tool from Chicago-based vendor SilkRoad Technology to bring new efficiency and cohesiveness to the process, with the goal of getting new-hire physicians productive on day one. Called RedCarpet, the Web-based automated process gets new doctors started on orientation tasks more than three months in advance of their start dates, provides a personalized new employee portal, features electronic rather than paper-based human resource forms, ensures all needed technology is in place in physician offices on day one, and creates a uniform orientation approach for more than 20 specialty departments.

Kenny says RedCarpet provides a more seamless, hassle-free, and welcoming process for the 650-physician organization. She expects the tool will help boost revenue and first-year retention of new doctors. Feedback from the physicians confirms the improvement. When surveyed about their satisfaction with the old orientation process, doctors gave it an average rating of 4.4 out of 10. With the new system, the average rating jumped to 7.6.


Orientation Payoffs

How well newly hired employees are “onboarded,” or welcomed to and oriented to their new jobs and organizations, can play a significant role in first-year employee retention, reduce turnover-related costs, and get new people up to speed faster. Employment experts say that with the job market gradually improving, finding ways to keep your top new hires is achieving renewed priority. After all, why funnel significant resources into recruiting the best employees only to let them fend for themselves once they walk through the door? If new employees don’t feel welcome, appreciated, and productive early in their tenures, they are more at risk of leaving the organization prematurely, not to mention hurting its competitiveness with substandard performance.

“Our belief is that if we are going to spend a lot of time and resources upfront on recruiting and hiring, we should spend an equal amount of time in orientation to ensure those recruiting practices pay off,” says Jeffrey Domler, chief financial officer at Colder Products Company, a St. Paul firm that makes couplings and fittings. 

Organizations increasingly see the value of launching orientation activities before a new person starts work, avoiding the day-one avalanche of paperwork, by sending forms and welcoming gifts in advance, ensuring work spaces are fully equipped with the right technology when they walk through the door, and freeing new hires to spend time getting to know their colleagues during their first days. 

At University of Minnesota Physicians, that lead time is vital because of lengthy credentialing processes needed to secure hospital practice privileges for new doctors, which involves reviews to ensure they’re properly licensed. The process can take more time if they’re arriving from other states or countries.

“We wanted to avoid giving them all these tasks at once, which can be a problem with orientation programs,” says Jeni Skar, an administrator with the U of M Medical School. “We’re also seeing a growing expectation from our physician population to do more of these things via the Web.”


Seeing the Whole Picture

Some see orientation as one stage of a broader, ongoing onboarding process. At Ameriprise Financial, the Minneapolis-based financial services company, onboarding extends over an 18-month period and includes a large training component, says Carol Hondlik, vice president of human capital projects. 

In their first 90 days, new Ameriprise hires not only receive a detailed introduction to their own jobs and departments, but also an overview of other business units. They meet with colleagues from other departments and review the company’s performance management process. The process was revamped a few years ago so it was more customized to specific jobs and departments, Hondlik says, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.

 “Effective onboarding is about helping people master their own jobs and department goals, but we believe an important part of it also is helping them understand the role they play in assisting others across departments in getting their strategic goals accomplished, and vice versa,” she says. The 18-month onboarding features a series of required “core curriculum” training courses offered monthly or quarterly. 

To ensure that all new Colder employees get a first-hand understanding of the company’s products, every new hire—from accountants to marketing specialists to engineers—spends at least a day on the production floor, Domler says. New people also go through a formal, two-day product training process. “We think understanding products helps people better understand the company as a whole and the markets we sell into,” he says.

At Coloplast Corporation, a Denmark-based company with Minneapolis operations that makes products for ostomy, urology, and continence care, the newest approach to orientation is designed to help employees understand how their jobs tie into larger organizational goals, says Nichole Lundeen, Coloplast’s director of human resources. Some new hires view a video moderated by Coloplast’s CEO and CFO that features customers of various business units commenting on Coloplast products. The goal is to present the video to all new hires.

“What it does is walk new employees through our mission, vision, and values, and it gives them a good sense of the global company they are part of,” Lundeen says.

 

Cultural Awareness

Many companies are assigning new employees buddies or “navigators”—experienced workers who can show them the ropes and answer questions. Hondlik, for example, currently serves as a navigator for three Ameriprise employees, fielding questions from a newly promoted vice president about what’s expected of the role, helping a transplant from California adapt to a new city and build a new network, and coaching a new employee who’s seeking ways to improve a relationship with a manager. 

New employees at Colder also are assigned a buddy, usually someone who’s been with the company for at least five years. The buddy is a peer or teammate rather than direct supervisor or boss, and is encouraged to take the new employee out for at least two lunches on Colder’s dime. “It gives our new people an informal channel into the culture of the company and the way things really operate here,” Domler says.

At University of Minnesota Physicians, there is one primary contact for all newly-hired physicians, an executive assistant who places a welcoming phone call after they’ve accepted a job offer. “The idea is to give them just one point of contact for all questions from where to park, how benefits packages work, potential schools for their children, recreation options, and more,” Skar says. “They become shepherds of sorts for our new physicians.” 

One common metric used to gauge orientation success is retention of new hires in their first year on the job. Hondlik receives regular reports on the attrition and retention rates of Ameriprise’s new hires. The data is broken out by business line and individual leader. 

“That enables me to spot trends, such as people leaving at a higher rate from one part of the business or from one particular leader, which might allow us to provide additional support, coaching, or whatever is needed to help improve retention rates,” Hondlik says.

Colder’s goal is 100 percent retention in the first year, Domler says. Human resource leaders believe effective onboarding is just as important as rigorous hiring practices in influencing that statistic.

“If you have a lot of employees leaving within a one-year time frame,” Domler says, “you likely have some adjustments to make in how you are recruiting, hiring, or onboarding.”

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