Training for New Arrivals

By Don Jacobson

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Whenever new employees come on board (whether they are new hires or they have transferred from another office within the same agency) it is vital that they get off to a good start in their new position. They need to understand their role in the organization as a whole, learn the expectations of their supervisor, and practice the basic elements of the job. Their experience in the first few weeks will have a significant bearing on their level of commitment and ability to become productive quickly.


It may be self-evident that new employees need to be trained, but it is all too rare that managers provide carefully designed training programs that give new arrivals what they really need. A well-rounded training program should have three elements:


  1. a broad orientation about the organization (e.g. agency, office, or post) where the employee is newly assigned;

  2. a training manual and/or the office's Standard Operating Procedures; and

  3. a training checklist that addresses the nuts and bolts of what the employee needs to know in order to do his/her job. The first two are fairly common; training checklists--which are the most important to a new employee's ability to get up to speed--are somewhat rare.


Many offices/posts organize orientations for new arrivals. They are typically held once or twice a year and provide new employees with an overview of the key priorities of the organization and of the roles of the different units within that organization. One of the key advantages of the orientation format is that it allows large numbers of people to be briefed at one time. While orientations are very useful, they should not be the primary component of the training program for new arrivals since they are not usually done frequently enough to be able to address the nuts and bolts issues that people really need to learn during their first weeks on the job.


Training Manuals and SOPs

Every office should have a training manual and/or collection of written Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to help new employees learn the office's procedures and policies. These documents serve as a vital reference tool and an excellent starting point for the employee's training. These written materials should be used only to supplement experiential training, however, as few people can really learn how to do a job by simply reading about it.


Training Checklists

A well-designed training checklist can serve as an excellent guide for new arrivals as they learn all the most important elements of their job (including both "big picture" and nuts and bolts issues).  They should be given at least a full week to work through the checklist before formally taking over their job responsibilities.


Checklists provide a structured approach to each new employee's training that ensures that they are exposed to all the issues that the manager may intend to include in the training program but might otherwise forget in the absence of the written list. Checklists also allow new employees to work through the training agenda at their own pace, spending less time on issues with which they are already familiar, and more time on those issues that are totally new to them. In addition, checklists minimize the amount of time that any one person has to spend training the new arrival. Normally, the individual would spend a little time with a number of different people in order to get through the items on the checklist. This not only spreads out the training burden, but it also gives the new arrivals and old-timers a chance to start getting acquainted.


It should be noted that the mere existence of a training checklist will not help much if careful thought is not put into what is on it. In setting it up, canvass your best employees and your most recent arrivals to get their suggestions about the specific things they think new colleagues need to learn during their first week. In general, however, checklists should include the following types of issues:


A meeting with the new arrival's supervisor. This should be a wide-ranging discussion that allows the supervisor and new arrival to get acquainted. The supervisor should use this meeting as an opportunity to find out what motivates the employee and to learn about any aspects of the employee's background and skills that might provide "value added" to the office (e.g. advanced computer skills, experience as a trainer, etc.). This meeting also affords the supervisor with a golden opportunity to explain his/her expectations, priorities and objectives for the office.


Briefings with key colleagues. The new arrival should meet with colleagues who handle portfolios that relate closely to his/her work. (Note: If there are several new arrivals per week during some times of the year and they all need the same briefings, each week's new arrivals can go around together for these briefings to minimize the time drain for those doing the briefings.)


Systems issues. This part of the checklist should list key functions that the individual will need to be able to accomplish with the office's proprietary computer systems. If the office has no unique computer systems, the new arrival should at least learn the office protocols for naming, filing and formatting electronic documents.


Doing a little of everything. The new employee should spend a little time doing each type of work that the office has. This includes shadowing not only colleagues who may do similar work, but also those responsible for any clerical tasks that may be unique to that office. While some may chafe at this idea, it is a great way for the new employee to get to know the staff, find out where everything is, and figure out where he/she fits into the larger operation.


Giving new employees the time to get grounded in these issues will ensure that when they start handling their portfolios they will have perspective on how their work furthers the objectives of the office. This will help them reach full productivity faster and will do wonders for their motivation and operational effectiveness.

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