The following outlines the standard orientation for a new employee into a small architectural office. This was my orientation some 40 years ago. Recently I talked to Tyler, a newly graduated architect and he outlined a similar experience when he recently entered an architect’s office as an employee.

For architects, especially those in small firms, nothing has changed much in the past 40 years. While most businesses have moved forward with modern business practices in management and human resources, the small firm is left behind and is having problems maintaining a strong productive team.

It Begins On the First Day

Do your remember when you started new a job? You walk in and the lowliest member of the team gives you the ‘walk around’, introduces you to everyone, shows you where the coffee room and the bathroom are and then takes you to your desk.

Orientation complete.

Later in the day, maybe the next day, or even in 2 or 3 days later, someone else comes along and gives you a task without giving you any real explanation on how to do the work. He says I’ll talk to you in a couple of days. So you sit there without most of the information it takes to do the work. You are afraid to keep asking questions for fear of looking dumb.

Within a week or two you slowly piece together the routine, but feeling uncomfortable the whole time. However, with perseverance, you finally master the routine and get to know your job, although there is no job description. You do what you think is best and if you are not being criticized too severely you stand confident that things are going quite well. This whole time, though, you’re never completely comfortable in your work.

At the end of the first year, your boss or the office manager informs you that you are getting a raise of 3% above your current salary. The rationale behind the raise is that the company couldn’t afford a larger one due to the recession.

This doesn’t tell you how you are doing in the company as there are no tools for evaluating your work, or benchmarks for your growth in the company, not that you’re familiar with how well the organization is doing to begin with.

Things Will Be Different

Have you ever been through this kind introduction to a job?

If so, I’m sure you’ve said to yourself, “Once I have my own office things will be different.” However, once you have your own office, you find yourself too busy ‘doing it, doing it, doing it’, to set up a proper orientation system for your new employees. And so your office becomes another small business without an effective orientation for new employees to welcome them to the team. They aren’t given the tools they need to succeed; the company vision and strategic objectives, and systematic feedback systems for the team members to know how they are faring in the company and what they must do to grow and help the company succeed.

So busy are you ‘doing it, doing it, doing it’, that you do not make the time to properly bring on a new team member. Because you do not have a proper orientation plan for new employees, employees may underachieve, become disruptive and generally never reach their full long term potential in your company. They move on to other opportunities as a result.

Lack of proper orientation can cost the company thousands of dollars in under-achieving employees, high staff turnover or disruptive employees. It could be the single biggest obstacle for the success of your company. Yet your team members are the single biggest asset. Investing in them is the key to your company’s success.

Establish an Orientation for New Employees

  1. Have the company president personally welcome the new member on the first day. Stop all projects and have all team members attend a small gathering where everyone introduces himself or herself and describes their role in the company.
  2. Assign a team member to meet with the new employee each day in the first week to answer any questions that come up about the work, the office or the company. Encourage the new employee to prepare questions so they can be answered efficiently and effectively.
  3. Make a point to give the new employee feedback on their work. If it is good, compliment them. If it requires improvement, make a point of clearly outlining the why and what of how to better complete the task at hand. Review the expectations that were laid out when the employee was hired.
  4. After the first week, meet with the employee weekly to discuss the work being done, answering any questions about the office and company. Ask the new employee if there is anything preventing him/her from being able to do their best work.
  5. Establish a ‘trial period’. When the trial period is over, make it clear to the new employee that he/she has successfully fulfilled the trial period and is now an official team member. Be clear on the expectations that the company has for the new employee.
  6. Have the new employee make an educational plan consisting of ways they will learn new skills to better serve the company.

Make the preceding steps into a repeatable system for each new employee. The rewards for the company will be many including: better employee retention, higher productivity, employee satisfaction and ultimately a stronger team.