By Christine Jaroszewicz
March 18, 2010
Frequently the terms orientation and assimilation are used synonymously and often referenced as an HR function. Many organizations focus on developing or perfecting orientation programs as a first step in combating employee turnover. While this action allows for initial good feelings and a reduction in the direct stress placed on a new employee, it often doesn’t have the expected impact of decreased turnover. Instead, organizations pursuing this strategy may discover that their orientation program did not include an essential element to succeed – assimilation.
What’s the difference between orientation and assimilation? Orientation is an event. Employees are engaged in orientation for a specified period of time with very specific tasks to complete; knowing where the restrooms, kitchen, and caffeine can be found, completing employee paperwork, learning the company’s background, and familiarizing new employees with a few key processes in order to be able to begin functioning in the job. Assimilation is a much longer term process and requires the involvement of individuals throughout the organization. By involving “the village,” a good assimilation ensures the new employee has the opportunity to fully develop an understanding of the organizational culture as well as an effective support system for continued success.
Assimilation At Work
We worked at designing an assimilation program that actively engages a new employee throughout their first12 months with the organization. The program begins with orientation events spread over the new employee’s first 30 days. Events include review and collection of essential paperwork, introduction to general business functions, colleague introductions and technical training sessions. Many of the orientation events scheduled during the new employee’s first month are hosted by the operations team, consisting of human resources, marketing, IT, and accounting. The general purpose of the orientation period is, as mentioned above, to fill out forms and become indoctrinated as an employee, as well as to become familiar with the tools and resources that the firm has to offer.
Moving beyond orientation, assimilation continues between 30 – 90 days of employment, as a concerted effort is made to assist the employee in building relationships within the organization. During this phase of assimilation, the hiring manager takes on primary responsibility for including the new employee in meetings, lunches, and introducing him/her to new co-workers. If the new employee is part of top management, we produce a short five minute introduction video that is used to introduce the person to the organization. It enables everyone, regardless of location, to get a glimpse of their new colleague.
Beyond 90 days it is likely that a new employee is feeling more comfortable in their position and with the organization, but assimilation continues. Why not have the President and/or the CEO check in with the new employee at the half year mark? This is a great opportunity to get feedback, and a better opportunity to show the employee that they are part of the team. It allows the new employee the opportunity to speak to management, and will hopefully reiterate and encourage feedback in the future.
Managers should check in with new employees at the six month mark to reevaluate expectations, discuss performance and generate a common understanding of what’s coming in the next three to six months. At this time, both the manager and employee have the opportunity to tackle common questions and performance concerns before they are able to progress into larger issues.
Throughout the year-long assimilation process, incorporate various touch points to make sure the employee is on track, understands his/her expectations, understands their function within the organization’s big picture. Create different types of opportunities to gather feedback by using surveys, interviews, and informal gatherings. It’s a terrific opportunity!
The benefits of orientation are short lived, whereas the benefits of assimilation are much longer lasting and actually a better predictor of longer term success. Involving all of an organization’s members in the assimilation process – HR, Operations Staff, Hiring Managers and even the Leadership team – further ensures employee engagement in the process. When culture and fit are key indicators of success, spending time assimilating and teaching a new employee the ropes becomes a key development area worthy of the time allocation.
Christine Jaroszewicz is the Human Resources Director at Stout Risius Ross, Inc., a winner of the 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work for in Metro Detroit. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.