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Critical Analysis of HRD Intervention: New Employee Orientation Program

Introduction

Human resource development is the process of supporting employees to build personal and work knowledge and skills. This is a broad process including activities such as career development, training, performance evaluations, coaching and mentoring, succession planning, and organizational development. The thrust of human resource development is developing a superior workforce able to fulfill effectively the goals of the organization. (Swanson & Elwood, 2001) Without human resource development programs, business organizations are unlikely to gain human resource capabilities necessary to accomplish its business objectives.

Human resource development interventions commence during the entry of new employees into the organization. Intervention at this stage is crucial since the quality of the start of employment have long-lasting impact on the continuity and longevity of employees as well as the quality of performance and outputs. Moreover, the development of organizational commitment starts during the first year of employment depending on the work experiences of new employees. (Holton, 2001) Many new employees, especially new graduates have limited knowledge and skills in actual work situations and hold unrealistic expectations of the work environment. As such, they require sufficient guidance and support during the first months or even year of employment in the organization. (Buckley et al., 1998) Human resource development

intervention for new employees could be formal or informal, with formal interventions hosted by the company while informal interventions could be in the form of coaching arrangements in work group or department assignment of new employees (Swart, 2005). These would assist new employees adjust to their job assignments and work environment as well as develop a positive attitude and motivation towards work.

Orientations comprise one intervention for new employees because this welcomes employees into the organization by giving them information on the organization, the work, the different roles, and the work environment. It is at this stage that new employees develop a first impression of the company and assess their existing capabilities and potential to find their place in the organization. A diligently developed orientation program would have a positive influence on new employees, which could minimize turnover and translate to cost savings for the organization. (Wanous & Reichers, 2000) The succeeding discussion assesses the orientation program developed for new employees, in my workplace, in terms of its effectiveness in developing positive attitudes and motivating new employees.

Overview of the New Employee Orientation Program

The New Employment Orientation Program at my workplace formed part of the standard policies for new employees. I personally went through the orientation program when I first started and I have been included repeatedly as part of the employees charged with orienting new employees in our department, especially for the hands-on

exercise. The company values commitment and excellence in performance and the orientation program is a means of catalyzing these expected outcomes. The purpose of the orientation program is three-fold. First is to assure new employees of their decision to work at the company by providing a welcoming activity expressing the appreciation of the company for the interest of the new employees to join the organization. Second is to inform thoroughly the new employees about the company and its goals and values to help the new employees develop a comprehensive view of the organization and make sense of their roles and contributions in the workplace. Third is to address the concerns of new employees about the work, work policies, and work environment including the people they would work with, the managers and supervisors monitoring work, compensation and benefits, and workplace culture. After completing the orientation, new employees should be motivated to fulfill their roles in the workplace.

The orientation program constitutes a one-day activity held at the company conference hall. There are usually less than ten new employees hired at one time, with one or two new employees for my department, making it easier to have one-on-one contact with the new employees. The orientation is a three-stage activity. First, is the information dissemination portion with the human resource manager providing an informal and interactive discussion of the company by drawing the perceptions and ideas of the new employees about the company and their work, the organizational structure, company vision and mission, and organizational culture. Second comprises a tour of the office building, introduction to the managers and some of the executives, direction to the utilities, direction to their workstations, introduction to their coemployees, and hands-on experience of actual work where I take part. Third involves

discussions of compensation, benefits, performance evaluations, recognition and awards, promotion, training and development, and other matters concerning employment through a similarly interactive but directive discussion back at the conference room. The activity ends with a small welcome gathering attended by some of the executives, managers and employees.

Assessment of the New Employee Orientation Program

The start of employment constitutes the stage of adjustment and transition for new employees, who would likely undergo different types of behaviors until they finally completely adapt to the work environment and culture (Buckley et al., 1998; Mulling, 1998). Effective orientation programs could shorten the learning curve of new employees facilitating an expedient transition and adjustment period (Wanous & Reichers, 2000). If achieved, the organization can expect positive performance from new employees in a short period. The new employee orientation program should assist in the adjustment of new employees during the stage of transition. From my observation, those who reacted positively to the orientation also carry this positive attitude when they start work. They can easily pick-up and complete instructions.

This means that the people handling the orientation program should be good teachers and experienced managers to represent effectively the company to the new employees. Employees and managers of business firms reflect the value and culture of

the company so that interaction of new employees with representatives during the orientation supports perceptions of the business organization. (Swart et al., 2005)

In relation to the one-day orientation programs for new employees, the head of the human resource department handled the orientation. The human resource manager has been in the company for ten years and has grown with the company values. She has the credibility to represent the company to new employees. I have personally worked with the human resource manager and she has wide knowledge about various work issues.

The timing and schedule of the orientation also matters. The positive impressions or perceptions of new employees developed from the orientation should continue on to their actual work experience (Swart et al., 2005). The schedule of the orientation and the start of actual should be proximate enough to encourage continuity.

Relative to the new employee orientation program, the schedule of the orientation is usually on a Friday and the start of work is the following Monday. The rationale is to allow the employees to contemplate on the orientation activity over the weekend and prepare for work the following Monday. From my experience, the schedule or timing of the orientation program also supports the build-up of the energy level and motivation of employees from the orientation program to actual work.

The content of the orientation program should integrate the five Cs including context, communication, core competencies, compensation and culture. Context refers to the discussion of the purpose of the orientation and the expression of the

expectations of the facilitator and the new employees. Communication refers to the utilization of communication processes to facilitate information sharing and the establishment of a feedback loop continued during the actual work. Core competencies means the discussion of capabilities and skills expected from the new employees and the support of the company in the development and enhancement of these skills. Compensation involves the personalized discussion of compensation and benefits including opportunities for promotion. Culture refers to the process of letting new employees experience the work culture of the company encompassing the working relationships, policies and rules, and operation of processes or systems. (Holton, 2001)

All these aspects found integration into the orientation activity, albeit in varying degrees since the orientation only happened in a day. I observed limited exposure to the company culture. The new employees only gained an idea of the work environment through observation as well as hands-on experience of the work they would do. This means that there would still be an adjustment stage for the new employees but this involve a lesser time because of the orientation.

Overall, the orientation program for new employees is good with a high return rate. Based on my observation, not all hired employees undergoing the orientation actually report for work per se. A high return rate reflects greatly on the orientation. The company has a return rate of 9:10, which means that 9 out of every 10 employees undergoing the orientation report for actual work.

I have considered some areas for improvement. One is the integration of creative and intellectually stimulating simulation activities into the orientation. As a

service firm offering consulting services for various issues creativity and analytical skills are required competencies in the company. This would provide the new employees with a better experience of the company culture. Another is the involvement of more people in the orientation process. This would involve greater costs in terms of working hours but this would also support motivation of new employees.

These improvements find support in theories on organizational learning and human resource development. These theories focus on the importance of creating a high quality orientation experience to have a strong start in the areas motivation, job satisfaction, commitment, and loyalty.

Kolbs learning cycle [See Figure 1 below] explains that there are four learning style options based on the four stages of the learning cycle, which also refers to the training cycle. By using a four-point matrix, the cycle encompasses differences in the learning style of individuals and explains the process of experiential learning. (Werner & DeSimone, 2005)

The key assumptions of Kolbs theory include learning as a cyclical and stage process as well as actual experience as a necessary component of learning. As a cycle, there are four stages of learning, which are: 1) concrete experience; 2) reflective observation; 3) abstract conceptualization; and 4) active experimentation (Werner & DeSimone, 2005). These could also comprise points of reference in learning and the movement from one stage to another indicates a different learning experience. As such, learning can move from concrete experiences to reflective observation indicating cognitive processing as the process of learning as well as from the translation of abstract conceptualization into active experimentation constituting learning as improvements in action. In application to the orientation program for new employees, Kolbs theory means that the activities, content, and processes involved in the orientation should

catalyze the learning cycle. To facilitate learning, experience is important (Werner & DeSimone, 2005) as I have realized in taking part in the hands-on experience of employees during the orientation. The second stage of the orientation program involves hands on experience as the new employees tour the company and undergoes hands-on work such as taking calls from clients and addressing their questions or service requests as well as coordinating with other departments or with supervisors. Providing employees with experience can support movement to the second stage of learning in the cycle such as towards reflective observation and/or active experimentation in fulfilling actual work. Kolbs theory also implies the importance of the quality of the experience, which involves a time factor. Since the hands-on experience, which I handle, in the new employee orientation program is only for fifteen to thirty minutes, this does not provide high quality experience. As such, the recommended integration of creative and intellectually stimulating challenges would augment the experience of the new employees because they would exercise creativity and analytical skills on a daily basis in the workplace. Concurrently, there are four styles of learning describing the point of reference and the direction of movement in the learning cycle. First is diverging style, which moves form concrete experience to reflective observation (Werner & DeSimone, 2005). In my workplace setting, this usually happens when new employees accumulated experiences and then make judgments over their experiences to draw insights for various purposes such as to address problems or implement improvements. The experiences from the new employee orientation program supports new employee

judgments particularly on whether to report for work and their future in the company. Nevertheless, to ensure positive judgments to report for actual work, creative and intellectually stimulating activities mimicking the tasks of the new employees would mean better experiences and more certain judgments. Second is assimilating style that involves movement from abstract conceptualization to reflective observation (Werner & DeSimone, 2005). This means the reflection on theoretical learning relative to the information obtained and things experienced during the orientation. The new employees undergoing the hands-on experience, especially new graduates learn a number of important things on how theories apply in real work practice. Again, the hands-on aspect of the orientation only covers a short period, which does not provide sufficient experience for in-depth reflection but at the least, new employees would have an idea about what to expect in starting work. Third is converging style, which moves from abstract conceptualization to active experimentation or learning by practicing theoretical knowledge in real world contexts (Werner & DeSimone, 2005). In relation to the one-day new employee orientation, this finds application in the hands-on experiences of their actual tasks, albeit only for a short period. Even so, the hands-on experience supports commencement of the movement from theoretical knowledge and application in the real work setting. Fourth is accommodating style that covers movement from concrete experiences to active experimentation. This means repeating and experimenting on experiences. (Werner & DeSimone, 2005) The repetition of the hands-on experience during the orientation constitutes learning when applied in actual work experience.

Experimentation would likely occur during actual work experience since there is no opportunity for improvements during the orientation, unless with the inclusion of new activities such as the recommended creative and intellectually simulation activities. From my observation, many new employees mimic the work completion processes they experience and observed during the orientation. Learning commences as early as the orientation of new employees. The new employee orientation program commences the learning cycle. The commencement of the learning cycle creates a positive perception on the part of employees as well as an indication of the commitment of the organization towards human resource development (Swanson & Elwood, 2001). This then ensures that new employees report for work as well as develop the level of motivation necessary to a satisfactory work performance (Swart et al., 2005). However, concrete experience as the point of learning has weak support from the orientation because of the limited hands-on experience. Nevertheless, the orientation acts as a springboard for experience-based learning in actual work. My experience shows that at the least, the hands-on experience allays the concerns and expectations of new employees about what their work would be.

Mezirows theory of transformative learning also supports the importance of integrating experience-based activities in learning activities. This theory explains that individuals hold particular habits of the mind based on previous experiences. These habits are carried on and likely changes only when significantly influential events challenge these habits or through a gradual process of change. (Swanson & Elwood, 2001)

A number of perspectives emerged on the means of realizing transformative learning. One is critical reflection or the process of assessing assumptions and beliefs through interactions with other people holding similar and different perspectives. Interaction is necessary in critical reflection. Another is connected or relational learning that focuses on the learning within the social context and requires the building of social connections among the learners. This means that learning occurs by considering experiences in relation to other people. Still another is social action or change that pertains to learning in the form of change at the group or organizational level by considering group goals and the contributions or roles of the members. Last is the extra rational approach, which perceives transformational learning as facilitated by the unconscious processes occurring in individuals. This means that the change determining processes occur beyond the conscious or rational awareness of individuals. This implies the importance of emotions, insight, intuition, personality and social linkages. (Swart et al., 2005) As such, transformative learning focuses on the factors influencing cognitive processes that create change. Although difficult to assess or measure, there are ways of influencing cognitive processes.

In application to the new employee orientation, transformative learning stresses on the need to include interaction and socialization in the activities as a means of influencing unconscious processes and create a positive response to the company (Thomas & Anderson, 1998). Transformative learning finds importance in two situations. One is in the case of new employees who are also new graduates. This mode of learning would assist in the transformation from academic to the actual work setting. Another is the case of new employees with previous work experiences. Regardless of

the reason for finding new work, those with previous work experiences have formed assumptions and expectations based on their previous experience that may or may not coincide with the practices of the company (Buckley et al., 1998). Transformative learning would support the reinforcement of assumptions consistent with company culture and change negative assumptions that do not apply to the workplace (Thomas & Anderson, 1998). I observed that the extent of interaction of the people handling the orientation program with the new employees affects the attentiveness and ease of the new employees during the orientation.

Consideration of the one-day new employee orientation program shows the integration of the elements of interaction and socialization through interactive discussions (Bauer & Green, 1998; Bauer, Morrison & Callister, 1998). However, the orientation activities, except for the hands-on experience, do not target socialization and group rapport. As such, even while the new employee orientation provides interaction it fails to support relationship building, which also influences positivist cognitive processing of the activity. This supports the recommended inclusion of creative and intellectually stimulating simulation activities applicable to the whole group.

I believe that while the two theories support the assessment of the new employees orientation program and provide insight on ways of improving this human resource development intervention, these also carry the limitation of being generic guidelines that do not consider differences among new employees in terms of sociodemographic background and personality. As such, it still falls on the responsibility of the personnel developing and implementing the orientation program to customize the

activity according to variances in the individual and group characteristics of groups of new employees undergoing orientation (Wanous & Reichers, 2000).

Conclusion

Orientation for new employees is an important part of human resource development because this sets in motion the future outcomes of the employment relations. Kolbs theory applies to orientation programs by stressing on this activity as the commencement of learning. Mezirows theory also supports orientation programs by explaining that this activity can affirm positive habits and change negative habits blocking a positive experience in the company. Nevertheless, developing effective orientation programs also requires flexibility and customization to specific needs.

References

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