Thursday, July 16, 2009

New Employee Orientation at West Point

I was reminded of the importance of new employee orientation when my buddy got back from dropping his son off at the United States Military Academy at West Point to start his journey as a new cadet. With tears still in his and his wife's eyes, his accounting took me back in time to my orientation.

First of all, I can't believe I am old enough to have friends whose babies are entering (or in some cases have already graduated from) West Point. Ouch! But I am equally amazed at how effective the orientation process still is. In one day, young men and women are transformed from civilian individuals to members of a high performing military team (see this video here for the parade at the end of Day 1).

While my own orientation (R-day for Reception) is still a blur, I remember some of the key components. I received uniforms, got a haircut, met my new leadership team, received some briefings, signed some forms, and learned the basics of marching. And by the end of the first day, I was "New Cadet Magness," participating in my first parade in front of parents and friends of the West Point Class of 1985. Aaaah...good times. (At least I will remember it that way for you here. I won't go into how I cried myself to sleep in my bunk...scared to death about what I was getting into! Ha!).

How does your orientation process measure up? Are you ensuring that you provide the time and energy necessary to give that good first impression, to make new employees feel like part of the team, and to help all team members see the big picture for the team they have just joined? How does your program compare against these key elements from my own orientation program?

-- Issue new equipment to enable success. I received uniforms, linens, a room assignment, foot locker, a bunk in the barracks, and everything I needed to function.

-- Provide information about the team and learn how to use all new equipment. On R-day, I learned plenty of rules. "Pick up your bags! Drop your bags! Salute, left turn, right turn, forward march! Your only responses are yes sir, no sir, and no excuse sir. Do you understand new cadet?" Wow...just typing that last part made me nervous! I learned how to make my bed (and how to sleep in it without messing it up so it would always be ready for inspection. More good times!), how to walk, march in formation, and sit in a chair (ok, some of these elements may not directly apply).

-- Learn about organizational culture. R-day provided an overview of the cadet honor code and the basics of the military which we had just joined. We raised our right hand and took an oath of allegiance to defend our country.

-- Take care of all administrative and HR issues. While again most of it was a blur, I remember signing plenty of paperwork to enter into the system for pay, benefits, and notification of next of kin (you may not all need that last item!). We were told when we could take time off (Christmas) and when we could retire (24 years seemed like a long time but wow did it go by fast!).

-- Meet the leadership team and be formally welcomed into the organization. I was one of 11 young men assigned to a squad leader. This cadet junior would be our mentor and instructor for the first summer (yes, orientation extended for a couple of months -- NOT good times!). We heard from the cadet chain of command and the leadership at the Academy. All of these leaders welcomed us and provided an orientation to what we had just joined.

There are any combination of elements for an effective orientation. In sum though, new employees must feel like they have the necessary skills and tools to be effective, they understand the fundamental administrative elements of the organization, they know their leaders, and they are educated on the company's culture, vision, and goals and objectives. New employees should know and understand their role and see where they fit on the team.

How does your orientation measure up? Are your troopers marching as one by the end of the day? It can be done! That's...Leader Business!

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