Tuesday, October 12, 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 they are or what their level.

Unfortunately, most orientations are totally process and procedure oriented.  As constructed 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); health benefits.  Insurance options are explained in detail. Policies about expense reimbursements, supper money and other very important procedural details are discussed.  It is all boilerplate. And it is all necessary. 

Unfortunately, while all these things contribute to the smooth operation of the organization, there is a whole critical aspect missing from these nuts and bolts.  It would be a wonderful time to really teach the philosophy of the company and its product.

Orientation could be a perfect time to imbue new employees about exactly what is expected of them and what they can expect from the company. Orientation should be the critical time to teach the core values of any company. It should also be the perfect time to create excitement, a sense of purpose and enthusiasm among all new employees. 

What a great time to present the agency’s work in order to excite new employees.  It is also a great time to provide history (Ogilvy still gives out David Ogilvy’s seminal work, Ogilvy on Advertising).  All employees should be given a tour of the full office; if a company has a great conference room or editing facilities, all employees will 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 excitement and community.

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 and are thrown right into the thick of things and are excused from their orientation. 

There is one other aspect of orientation which could and should be done and is rarely part of any orientation that I know of.  Orientation 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 creative driven agency as an account executive.  I was given very clear marching orders:  “Sell the work.”  During my first week I was told that my job was to create rapport with my client so that they trusted me.  That trust would enable me to sell the work.  (I carried that advice with me for the rest of my account management career.)  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.  Account people were told to give creative what they needed and then leave them alone.  The business is different now, but the point is that after that orientation, we knew what the agency stood for and it gave direction for our behavior. 

I know many executives who simply don't go to orientation.  They get dragged into important meeting and never get formally exposed to the rules.  Many people tell me that orientation is a necessary evil.  Most people, whether they go to orientation or not, figure out their healthcare  options and how to fill out an expense form.  They even manage to figure out how many days off they are allowed.

Orientation should serve a better purpose than that.  It could be the perfect opportunity to reinforce a new employee’s decision to join the firm.    


  1. Hi Paul,
    I imagine you are speaking to a larger agency where values and expectations are more apt to differ with the larger population of employees; many who were not part of the interview process.

    Much of what you recommend in orientation ideally is understood before the offer is made and accepted.
    Best Regards,

  2. Good post. Unfortunately, I fear that many agencies actually lack the clarity of purpose that you say they should impart to employees in such orientations.


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

Creative Commons License