Sunday, August 23, 2009

New Hire Orientation Goes Beyond the Employee

Everyday I go to the same coffee shop. Its right around the corner from our place. I go before work, the family grabs sandwiches or desserts for outings, and we take the kids on weekends. It's one of the few nice food stops in our neighborhood, its near the subway, its great. I know the owners and all the people that work there.

So, it was funny to see a new employee there. Funny ... as in interesting. I saw this employee (lets call her Wanda) needing to demonstrate an aura of authority. She should know what muffins were the best, or if the bagels were fresh. I watched her recommend the carrot walnut muffin, 'it's my favorite,' she said. What about blueberry cream cheese or zucchini chocolate!?! Come on!

Perhaps I am going a little overboard here? Maybe I'm projecting - I once was a waiter in an Italian restaurant. On my first day I, without yet tasting any of the food for myself, told some patrons my favorite entree - penne alla vodka. A new employee steps into a role - they need to play the part of employee. They need information to do their job, get oriented and welcome - but orientation should also consider current employees and customers.

At the coffee shop, as a customer I would have loved to see the new person shadowing a current employee - with introductions to regulars when possible. I would be confident my order made it to the kitchen and feel I was 'still' part of the community - one of the gang. Maybe Wanda could have been given some canned responses, like "I hear the Apple Walnut is a big seller." It's like she knows what she is talking about without the feeling that she is making it up. Give Wanda some tools for day one with the customer in mind.

I know food service, retail, accounting departments and software engineering groups all have very different on-boarding needs. I guess I know where I lack in a lot of the common on-boarding expectations - I get busy and pass off new employees, hoping the hiring manager will take up the slack. But I see more now how important orientation is beyond just the employee. Success will depend on not only how the employee fits in and learns the tools needed to do the job - but also how these needs relate to other employees and customers.

Come to think of it, I haven't seen Wanda back.

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