Orienting New Employees Starts Well Before You Meet Them

My fascination with the military—and the U.S. Navy, in particular—started before I was 10 years old. And during the decade between then and when I was commissioned as an officer in 2002, I acquired a whole set of ideas about what actually being in the Navy would be like. 

These ideas came from books, movies, stories from veterans and myriad other information sources around me. 

Some of those ideas turned out to be accurate; others weren’t. For example, most of what you experience on a day-to-day basis in the U.S. Navy—especially if you’re a ship driver like I was—bears little to no resemblance to Maverick’s job as a fighter pilot in the 1986 movie Top Gun. 

But other patterns of behavior such as respect for rank structure, commitment to teammates, and aspects of selfless leadership that I’d learned about turned out to be fairly true. And certainly the overarching ideas of duty to one’s country and mission accomplishment, which attracted me in the first place to military service, are indeed a large part of military culture. 

The same process occurs with other organizations, even if they are not as large or embedded in broader society as the U.S. military. Organizations project messages through their current and former employees, their formal recruiting communications and various other formal or informal, intentional and unintentional ways. People then interpret and assign meaning to those messages, and, here’s the key—they may begin at that moment to form ideas about what it would be like to be a member of the organization. 

They also begin forming ideas about what types of behavior might be acceptable or unacceptable and about what norms or routines they might expect. 

Orienting new employees, therefore, starts well before you meet them. 

What’s more, this process also influences who even is more or less likely to express interest in joining your organization, focusing your pool of applicants. It’s the first part of the “attraction-selection-attrition” framework first discussed in 1987 by Ben Schneider (in this article). 

All of this points to the importance of an organization’s brand—not in terms of its products or services, although that’s very important for different reasons—but its brand as an employer. 

When people think about your organization, do they think about it as a potentially ideal place to work? 

If not, who are you attracting in your recruitment efforts? 

And from what sources are people learning about the internal culture of your organization? Friends? Family members? GlassdoorLinkedIn

And, perhaps even more importantly, who is controlling that message?

These questions are important to consider, because without a strong employer brand that’s linked to your organization’s strategy, your recruiting efforts run the risk of being suboptimal. 

Furthermore, creating a strong employer brand can complement the orientation or socialization process for new employees. This happens when an organization consistently projects an employer brand that attracts people with specific values or preferences that are congruent with what the organization needs. 

Many organizations, in my experience, fail to capitalize on the opportunity for setting expectations and socializing employees during their first few days or weeks. Still fewer have a deep, strategic view of this process that includes the employer brand and what types of people it hopes to attract into its workforce. 

Therefore, most organizations and human resources (HR) functions have the opportunity to strengthen this critical initial part of the talent-management pipeline. 

Perhaps, the opportunity also exists for HR as a function to learn even more from its partners in marketing—because HR should not just be concerned with internal, administrative matters. 

Instead, HR must also look outward, with a strategic focus on acquiring the talent needed both today and tomorrow. And clarifying a strong employer brand that helps to orient future employees might be a place to start. 

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For more insights from some smart people I know, check out The Strategic Agility Institute

About Ben Baran
Ben Baran, Ph.D., is probably one of the few people in the world who is equally comfortable in a university classroom, a corporate boardroom and in full body armor carrying a U.S. government-issued M4 assault rifle. More at www.benbaran.com and www.agilityconsulting.com.