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A Simple Revamp to Improve New Employee Orientation


A Simple Revamp to Improve New Employee Orientation

Your organization may recently have been through new arrivals orientation and need to reflect on how to improve it for the next group or year.

Orientation is a crucial step in achieving engagement and productivity and is often given short shrift. Even if it is more robust, it’s worthwhile every year or two to evaluate the success factors and gaps toward fulfilling goals, welcoming new generations and integrating the older and the newer.

Harvard Law School took a new approach to student orientation this year doing what they call “community building.” The school’s reputation for high quality and turning out successful lawyers is undeniable, but “community” is not a term that has been associated with the institution. The law school administration is to be applauded for recognizing that and adding an important means of support that the students need.

The new approach is designed to make students more comfortable with their new educational and career preparation experience and the diversity of people they are about to face. It caught my eye because it started to establish a new form of cross-level conversation and intersected with a wide range of diverse affinity groups.

Marcia Sells, Dean of Students at Harvard Law School said probably the best feature of the new orientation was that the students were given an opportunity to talk frankly with second and third year students (I see this as a sort of cross-generational conversation without a wide age disparity) about fears, concerns, earning expectations and dealing with pressure starting Harvard Law School.

The community building has a personal identity and values piece conducted by my colleague Verna Myers’ consulting group as well as an element to begin to get to know faculty. The students were also given an opportunity to connect with gender, racial religious and cultural affinity groups. The other orientation changes are focused on dealing with the format and substance of law school and brought in student “peers” to participate – the Board of Student Advisors (second- and third-year students) to help the newbies understand the Socratic Method and the emotional as well as intellectual component of meeting with a professor about a case. The faculty leaders provided insight into why the school does what it does.

My purpose in telling you all this, since most of you reading this article are not students or working at law schools is to suggest that orientation programs of all kinds of organizations need community building beyond the new entrants themselves but also with colleagues at various levels up to the top and on topics beyond the standard and technical. It’s not a very big stretch to translate the reasoning and components to business situations. I have been advocating for many years the enhancement of company onboarding orientation to include elements of organizational culture, expectations of both current employees and management as well as newcomers, soft skills training and involvement of people or various levels. The Harvard Law School revamped orientation could serve as a model for organizations in many industries that have dissatisfactions and challenges – intergenerational and otherwise – with their current orientation.

How I envision the model:

  • Break down the silos between the functions with a stake in onboarding, talent management and training and business operations, including C-suite to coordinate expectations and overview of what newcomers need to know.
  • Include an ongoing community building segment along the general outlines of the approach described above, including multi-generational interaction.
  • Put a focus on enhancing soft skills from the beginning.
  • Build in a continuing role for senior managers to connect with employees, since one of the top reasons people become disengaged and leave is the quality of their relationship with a manager.


Starting off from Day One with this sort of intention and process is likely to bring positive culture change and loyalty and payoff in productivity for the longer term.

Please share your thoughts on the perceived benefits and viability of this approach. What have your experience and observations been about orientation processes?

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