ElaineJennerich Kurt OBrien

Best Practices for Successful On-Boarding

Leadership Interview with Elaine Jennerich and Kurt O'Brien

Earlier this fall, POD interviewed the directors of two different Organizational Development & Training units at UW, Dr. Elaine Jennerich from UW Libraries and Kurt O'Brien from UW Medicine. Both organizations have well-established on-boarding programs, and Elaine and Kurt shared practices and strategies that may help leaders across the UW kick start or refine how they approach on-boarding new employees in their own units or departments.

Include Everyone

When it comes to on-boarding, everyone matters. As Elaine explains, “We don't differentiate; an employee is an employee. If you come on as a temporary in Libraries, you get the same departmental orientation as everyone else.”

In addition to hundreds of student employees, University Libraries has more than 325 employees in Seattle, Bothell, and Tacoma in all classifications, including Academic HR. Libraries employees at Bothell and Tacoma receive on-boarding at those locations and often participate in the Seattle campus orientation as well. Student employees receive orientation and training in their respective units, as well general Libraries customer service training. Everyone else participates in the on-boarding program managed by Libraries OD&T and Human Resources.

UW Medicine OD&T provides on-boarding for a diverse group of Harborview and UWMC staff. Together, Harborview and UWMC have roughly 10,000 staff, and it's expected that about 3,000 new employees will have been on-boarded in 2012 alone. As with Libraries, everyone is included. "Even if a new employee is in a temporary position, they’re still going through our orientation process," says Kurt.

View On-Boarding as a Process

Kurt and Elaine each encourage viewing on-boarding as a process from the point of hire, or when an offer is made and accepted, through getting new employees to orientation and beyond.

"At UW Medicine, every manager is required to check in with their new employee at the 30-day mark and at the 90-day mark," Kurt says. "We actually have a form with questions that guide managers through this check-in—to see how things are going, what feedback the new employee has, what's working, and what's not working."

"It starts even before the first day," notes Elaine. "Libraries HR and OD&T have developed an evolving intranet for supervisors who know they're going to have a hire, and it provides checklists and links to information they need."

Be Timely and Stay Current

UW Medicine holds orientations about every two weeks so that employees can complete orientation within 30 days of starting. "The goal is to try to have a new employee's first day be a new employee orientation day," says Kurt. "It doesn't always work out that way, but managers know the orientation schedule well in advance, and we partner strongly with HR and the recruitment office to try to have that be the case."

UW Libraries also makes orientation a priority. "Ideally, I'd like new employees to attend the Libraries orientation session within four to six weeks of starting," says Elaine. "I will do the orientation one-on-one when only one person is hired and there are no other hires on the horizon."

Elaine uses the on-boarding session as an opportunity to bring new employees up to speed on current affairs. "A few years ago, we started including information about what's happening in the Libraries and around the UW, for instance, the UW’s organizational effectiveness initiative, upcoming changes in the Libraries, what's happening with the budget, that sort of thing. It’s a great way to give new employees context."

Consider All the Pieces

Given the variety of organizations across the UW, it's impossible to have a cookie-cutter approach to on-boarding. Managers need to consider what's required, available, and needed at the broadest level—the University both as an institution of higher learning and a state agency—all the way down to the department, unit, and role levels.

(POD Tip: Managers can visit UWHR's New Employee Orientation page for help determining what orientation activities are appropriate for their employees based on primary work location and role.)

Libraries employees complete the orientation pieces required by the UW, including benefits training and online or in-person orientations specific to their classification. All new employees are also required to participate in hazard communication training online, and violence prevention training is highly recommended. Supervisors are required to sign up for POD's Strategic Leadership Program.

"In addition," Elaine notes, "we highly recommend that librarians, who are part of Academic HR, take the online classified and professional staff orientation because we believe it gives them a fuller picture, especially if they're going to supervise."

That takes care of many big pieces of the puzzle, but there's still more to fill in at the departmental level. To address that need, Elaine conducts a three-hour, in-person orientation session for Libraries employees at the Seattle campus, as well as a separate customer service workshop. Moreover, "there are additional touch points that we've built into the program over the years to introduce new employees and orient them to the organization," Elaine says.

UW Medicine works within an entirely different system. "One thing that's unique for us is that we're required to do an orientation to meet Joint Commission standards," Kurt explains. "Once every three years, each hospital will have an audit and we have to demonstrate through our training records that employees have received an orientation and they're getting specific types of information at that orientation."

UW Medicine holds a two-day orientation that meets Joint Commission requirements and is structured to meet the needs of different types of employees. According to Kurt, staff from both hospitals, as well as some staff from the UW Neighborhood Clinics, all start orientation together and receive "information that's consistent and pertinent for everybody, such as organizational-level information and our Patients Are First culture."

"On the second day, we split out the Harborview and UWMC folks and have two different tracks," Kurt says. And it doesn't end there. "For some of these employees, the two-day orientation is just their first stop on the orientation train. For instance, nurses have two more days of nursing orientation, and then they go to their unit and have a period of up to a month, or sometimes longer, of precepting with another nurse. A preceptor is like an educator with the unit. The assigned preceptor acts as a mentor and ensures every new nurse understands how the unit works and about various protocols, processes, and the like."

Kurt believes the multi-level approach can be applied to other types of organizations. "You have to let the job requirements dictate how much orientation is needed and how rigorous the requirements are," he says. "Although orientation is important for everyone—and everyone needs some of the same organizational and departmental information—someone in an office job may have fewer requirements than someone working in a clinic environment. Each type of employee needs to be positioned for success."

Set Clear Expectations

The Libraries staff intranet includes an extensive new employee checklist for supervisors that details suggested and required tasks and activities from before the employee's first day through the first day, first week, and first few months.

"Along with the various sessions new employees are required to attend, we require them to learn how to use the Libraries website, the staff intranet, the shared docs to find information, and our calendaring system, Meeting Maker," Elaine says. "There's also some required reading, such as our Personal Communication Responsibility Guidelines and the current Libraries Diversity Plan."

Elaine continues, "It's crucial to be clear about what's expected, including what's required versus recommended or suggested. In the orientation session that I facilitate, I help ensure the expectations are clear and help each employee determine which requirements still need to be met."

(POD Tip: Supervisors of classified and professional staff, excepting UW Medicine, can consult this handy checklist on the UWHR website.)

Hold People Accountable

For UW Medicine, Kurt explains, "We do keep tabs on whether each new employee has attended orientation within 30 days, but it's very rare for someone to be out of compliance. Managers are so familiar with the requirements that we have from a regulatory standpoint that they know what needs to be done and do a good job of documenting it."

With other departments across the UW, new employee orientation may not be as integrated into the culture as it is for healthcare institutions. Elaine has a few tactics to help ensure that orientation requirements are being met within UW Libraries.

"We give our new employee checklist, which is aimed toward supervisors, to both the supervisor and the new employee," Elaine explains, "and we tell new employees it's their job to go over the checklist with their supervisors. This gives the new employee and the supervisor an additional opportunity to communicate, and it also puts a little pressure on supervisors to do their part."

"Another thing I've started to do recently in my orientation session is have new employees take a piece of brightly colored paper, fold it in half, and write "My Orientation Book" on the front of it," Elaine continues. "We work through the list of requirements; they write down the ones they haven't done yet, and I ask them to write down a deadline for each one. I then take the additional step of following up with employees to make sure they're meeting those commitments."

Make Tools and Resources Available

Both University Libraries and UW Medicine provide extensive information online and in person to help new employees and their supervisors with the on-boarding process.

The UW Medicine OD&T website explains who must attend NEO, offers an agenda for the two-day orientation, and provides orientation schedules. In addition, extensive materials are distributed to new employees at each orientation session.

Along with the various resources and supervisor checklist provided on the Libraries staff intranet, staff receive a hefty folder at the in-person orientation that Elaine conducts. "For almost everything I talk about, from our strategy map to a map of libraries across campus, there's a handout or brochure in the packet. My hope is that new employees will use the packet as a reference and resource for many months to come."

Part of any on-boarding program should be connecting employees with resources that can help them be successful. "In orientation, I have a section on Libraries OD&T and what it can do for employees. I also talk about POD, tuition exemption, UW CareLink, EH&S, the Microsoft IT Academy, and Web Junction, which is a free continuing ed service for libraries around the country," Elaine says. "I also make sure to explain how we're funded, what monies are available for development, and how employees can access money for professional development."

Communicate Organizational Culture, Values, and Initiatives

"One thing that's especially exciting about orientation for me is being able to introduce new employees to our culture," Elaine says. "We look at our mission and values, strategic plan, and organizational chart; we talk about the Libraries Cabinet, the Library Staff Association, and other pertinent groups; and we go over Libraries events, like Student Appreciation Week, Prime Numbers recognition event, the Dean's all-staff meeting, and so on."

A departmental-level orientation is the perfect setting for communicating organizational values, guiding principles, and norms. "We talk in detail about our Personal Communication Responsibility Guidelines, which is something we developed to set expectations about attending meetings, checking voicemail and email, and reading the Libraries weekly online news," Elaine explains. "As part of our on-boarding, we ensure that employees understand our customer service philosophy and how it's rooted in our values."

Kurt agrees with Elaine's focus on the organization. Day one of UW Medicine's orientation includes an overview of UW Medicine Health System’s mission, strategic goals, and culture, while day two covers some of the same general topics—such as a respectful workplace culture, workplace safety, and patient relations—but addresses these in separate sessions specific to the employees’ UWMC or Harborview location.

Provide Opportunities to Connect

Elaine has built multiple opportunities for connection into the Libraries on-boarding program. At the Libraries orientation "we ask employees to share their name, job title, and unit, and then also some fun things—such as the first job they ever had, the job they had before this one, what they like to do in their spare time, what they like about working at a library. Even when I do an orientation session with just one or two people, I still do this because I think it's important for people to connect on a personal level."

"There are two more opportunities for connection," Elaine continues. "One is at InForum, which is a Libraries event that's held about six times a year. We take a few minutes at each InForum to introduce new staff to all in attendance. The other piece is a Dean's coffee—an informal event in Dean Betsy Wilson's office for an hour on a weekday morning when we have five or so new hires. It's a win-win—staff members appreciate having the opportunity to meet the dean, and the Dean truly appreciates the opportunity to visit with people and put faces with names."

Know What Success Looks Like

The benefits of on-boarding may not always be immediate, measurable, or tangible. While many studies support the importance of on-boarding for employee retention and performance, it's impossible to prove whether a particular employee performs better or stays longer due to a positive on-boarding experience. Still, Libraries and UW Medicine measure what they can. For instance, both evaluate their orientation sessions; UW Medicine also tracks compliance with orientation requirements, which is something Libraries is exploring.

"We get very strong feedback from our orientation," Kurt says. "It's not uncommon at each orientation to have one or more people tell us that it's the best orientation they’ve been to—and these are folks who, if they’ve been in healthcare for a while, have seen different orientation programs at different hospitals. We also have a learning management system for UW Medicine, which means that when the Joint Commission comes to do their audits we can easily pull transcripts for a given employee to determine whether or not they attended orientation and what those dates were, which is extremely helpful from an auditing standpoint."

For things that can't be easily quantified, Elaine and Kurt are clear about their on-boarding goals and what success looks like to them.

"When supervisors start to hire, they're very grateful for the checklist, especially if they haven't hired somebody in a while; I think it helps lower their stress level a bit," Elaine believes. "Then, when new employees come to my orientation session, they've typically already completed some of the things on the checklist, so I'm able to see that things are getting done. Between things like the orientation and the coffee with the Dean, our on-boarding program helps to create a culture in which it's okay to ask questions. There are people here to help you."

"All the research says that on-boarding is critical for retention of staff," she notes. "It also provides a golden opportunity to set expectations, to really lay the groundwork for that, and to help employees understand and start to adapt to our organizational culture."

Kurt believes that "one goal is to first and foremost set every new employee up for success, so they can get in the organization and feel like they have the information they need to start their jobs. A nurse going to any institution is going to have a significant orientation period, so our goal is to make it the most effective, efficient, and worthwhile orientation possible."

"The other piece of it is to increase retention. We're trying to engage in good practices through on-boarding so that ultimately we're able to hang on to folks and to reduce our first-year turnover," he says. "We know that those first 90 days—in fact, the entire first year—is critical. Employees are making judgments about their boss, about their team, and about the organization and whether or not it's meeting their needs. So the more we can demonstrate a commitment to new employees, the better."

Truly Welcome New Employees

Along with printed materials and resources, Libraries new employees receive a welcome kit as part of the orientation session. "The kit includes a number of fun things and comes with a handout to give everything meaning. There's a flower lei to welcome you, a stretchy string to remind you to be flexible, some fuzzy dice to say it's okay to take chances, and so on. It's a great way to reinforce organizational values, but also to have some fun. The orientation process should be a happy thing," Elaine believes. "The new employees want to be here. They're happy, and through on-boarding we try to bolster their sense of excitement that this is a good place to work."

Kurt agrees that it's essential to welcome employees. "I think most people starting a new job appreciate being welcomed and having some type of introduction to the organization. People want this, and if you're not providing it, you're not meeting your employees' needs."

Autumn 2012 | Return to issue home