Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New Employee Orientation: An Opportunity Often Lost

I’d like to propose that ad agencies rethink the way they conduct employee orientation.

New employee orientation gives every company a chance to establish a positive attitude and create enthusiasm among all its new hires, no matter who or what level they are.

Unfortunately, most orientations are totally process oriented. As conducted at most companies, orientation is all about rules, regulations and procedures - how many vacation days are allowed; how many sick days; dress codes (if any) and health benefits. Insurance options are explained in detail. Policies about expense reimbursements, supper money and other important procedural details are discussed. All of this is necessary and contributes to the smooth operation of the organization. 

But at most companies, there is a whole critical aspect missing from the nuts and bolts of new employee on-boarding.

Orientation should be a critical time to teach the core values of the company.  It is a great opportunity to create excitement, a sense of purpose and enthusiasm among all new employees.

All new new hires should see the agency's most current creative work.  It is also a great time to provide history (Ogilvy still gives out David Ogilvy’s seminal work, Ogilvy on Advertising) and explain philosophy and services to clients. All employees should be given a tour of the full office; if a company has a great conference room or editing facilities,  employees should see them and be impressed by these features. This should be done for every level of employee from the most senior executives to the support staff. What a wonderful way to build morale and create a sense of community.  After orientation, people should go home excited about their new employer.

If possible, new employees should meet department heads, be addressed by senior leaders of the agency and told what to expect. This doesn’t have to be done every week, but it is important for the long term that all employees have a sense of belonging. All too often I meet mid-level executives who have never met or even seen the senior executives of their company.

This kind of orientation should be mandatory for all employees. Too many people get hired,  are thrown right into the thick of things and are actually excused from their on orientation.  It shouldn't happen.
There is one other aspect of orientation which could and should be done and is rarely part of any orientation that I know of. The process should enable prospective employees to understand the expectations and the culture of the agency.

It is a perfect time to explain to account people and creative people what is expected of them in their functions. I remember joining a wonderful agency a long, long time ago. It was called DKG (Delehanty Kurnit and Geller). DKG was one of the great creative boutiques during the sixties and seventies. We were told, in no uncertain terms, that account people were expected to make great relations with their clients in order to create rapport which would enable us to sell great work. We were even told, “We don’t tell our clients how to make their products so they shouldn’t tell us how to make ads.” That was the marching order given to account people.

Creative people were told to respect account people, get the objectives and strategy from them and then do great work. Partnership was encouraged among account, creative, media and production.  We were indeed a family. The business is different now, but the point is that after that orientation, everyone knew what the agency stood for and it gave direction for our behavior.  And I felt proud to be working there.

Most employees tell me that orientation seems to be a necessary evil at all agencies. What a shame. It could be the perfect opportunity to reinforce a new employee’s decision to join the firm.

Please share with my readers the nature of your most recent orientation.


  1. Colleen LongstreetJune 30, 2010 at 10:30 AM

    How timely is this post - I am revamping the entire orientation program at my new company. I agree with all of your points and have put a call out to my HR network to tell me of the most innovative onboarding initiative they've seen. If anyone has any suggestions I'd love to hear them - I'm happy to compile a list and share!

  2. Thank you Paul, for writing about one of the most important yet often neglected touch points for a new hire. Whether these are conducted purposefully or not given much attention, orientations communicate loudly -- "what matters most, here". And the best companies continue the on-boarding process beyond the orientation. They design touch points at the 3 month and 6 month mark to check in with their new hires and calibrate expectations for the road ahead.
    Very nice article, Paul!

  3. Thanks Paul for raising these points. The on-board process is beneficial to both the hire and the agency. I also think that agencies should continually invest in ongoing training to educate/focus the agency on its mantra. While some agencies view training as a responsible cost to cut, I disagree.

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