I remember my first day of work at Warner Amex. Apparently, no one was expecting me. A woman showed me to an empty cubicle and asked me to wait. A short time later, she returned with an engineering book on how cable worked and offered it to me. Fortunately, I am an avid reader so I was puzzled but content to sit and read. And then noon arrived…I had no idea when my lunch was, or how it worked at this company. Worse, when I looked around I could not find a single person to ask.
Overall, on that first day, I felt invisible and unimportant. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that this initial feeling was later reinforced by how I was treated. For example, at the holiday luncheon I overheard the controller asking my supervisor: “Who is she? Is she in our department?”
The initial days and weeks of employment are important in 2 ways:
Let’s look at it from the point of view of the new employee first. My experience has been that I have felt both excited and nervous. I’m excited because it’s a new opportunity; one that I have chosen as my next growth opportunity. The nervousness comes from wanting to make a good impression, meeting many new people and having to remember their names and responsibilities, and in the cases where the position is a big move up there is also a bit of anxiety about doing the job well.
On the first day of work, I have my feelers out. What is going on? What are the norms so that I don’t break any written or unwritten rules on the first day? Am I going to fit in? Am I going to like it here?
As the old adage says: First impressions are the most lasting. In other words, they are hard to change later. I believe we are slow to change our impression because it would involve admitting, if only to ourself, that we were initially wrong. Furthermore, once we make that impression, we are constantly scanning for proof to reinforce that impression – and invariably we find it.
For the employer, the first days and weeks an employee is with your company are a golden opportunity to imprint your organization’s brand, culture, and soul on them. This is an opportune time to show and share how things get done here and how people are expected to interact with each other. When this is done well, if the employee does leave quickly it will be because they are not a good fit for the company, not because of a bad first impression.
It turns out that there is great value in lost productivity during the employee’s first days as long as the time is spent in learning about the internal brand (in other words, what is important to the company.) Verne Harnish, the author of Scaling Up, shared that employees at Sapient who went through the company’s ‘boot camp’ were almost as productive as existing employees from day one. Prior to instituting this orientation it used to take six months to achieve this level of productivity from new employees.
So, what do you do with employees on their first day of work? Is the day spent filling out forms, reading procedures and handbooks, or possibly thrown into the middle of project that should have gone out yesterday?
If so, what can you do to make your next new employee’s first day feel more like a party in their honor? And how can you interactively get them involved with the company brand?