Sunday, February 25, 2007

Orientation and Training

Yale's site is quite impressive; much to click and learn, and a fairly comprehensive "initial directions"-type page that must save the HR department and others involved in new employee orientation tons of time. I wonder how much time some HR department employees spend typing out directions and filling new people in on procedures via email and telephone. One problem with the Yale site though is that pages like start.htm represent something of a "dump truck" philosophy of orientation and general web design; everything is on the page, and it would be hard for a new employee to know exactly what of the content linked there would be expected of them to know. Nevertheless, this kind of initial-hire website seems a very important resource for any large organization that spends time doing much hiring. The "For Supervisors" page is incredible, and really could be useful for any organization; standardizing this process and providing a checklist is really useful.

The USDA site's checklist for employees, complete with time expectations, does a great job of streamlining and outlining exactly what needs to be done.

The Outward Bound-type team building really does work if members of the organization are not dysfunctional or dissociated from one another in advance. It's odd that team-building activities would require some initial buy-in, but I think that after a certain point, the ship might have sailed on the idea that we're all in the same boat. My experience has been that getting outside of a workplace environment and trying to accomplish an activity really helps people to learn about their coworkers and themselves, with their human strengths and weaknesses, rather than just the person who executes their particular job functions. Hopefully, upon returning to the workplace, in addition to the almost inevitable building of trust and camaraderie, employees will have learned a little more about the different kinds of roles that their colleagues can play. Getting people to participate in these programs is easy; simply make it mandatory. Motivating your employees to actually prefer doing this over the work they'll eventually have to do once they get back may be another story, but I think the best way to encourage people to be enthusiastic is just sort of to insist that it will be enjoyable and stay positive about the activity. It also might be helpful to schedule team-building, non-work essential activities outside the times of the year when work tends to pile up.

I have found that as far as skill-related training is concerned, I have a strong affinity for cross-training both as a manager and as an employee. As a manager, allowing employees to train each other is useful for distributing the workload, and can decentralize the entire training process. It also allows employees to collaborate more effectively in project work, and to be more interchangeable in cases of short- or medium-term personnel shortages. As an employee, I tend to enjoy the opportunity to learn from someone as they perform their craft and to feel like I'm really learning from a practitioner; as opposed to sitting through presentations and demonstrations about processes. I also find that the informal, collegial environment that cross-training allows is quite ideal for team-building and for learning in a low-pressure environment.

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