Lessons from retail: go all in on the employee orientation

While I’m between full-time employers, I’m working a part-time job in big-box retail to pay the bills. I’m also learning some value brand lessons, including this one:

employee orientation needs to go beyond how to use the time clockFocus on the employee orientation – The best opportunity to maintain an amazing brand experience for customers is when a new employee joins your organization. At that critical moment, the organization can focus its resources on ensuring a great brand experience for everyone by offering a comprehensive and educational welcome to the new employee.

My first night in big-box retail, few people knew to expect me. And it took about 15 minutes to get me stationed at a computer for the next four and a half hours of back-to-back-to-back-to-back computer-based training modules. The modules were well done and integrated enough that I quickly learned some of the processes and standards that this brand integrated into its experience. But I learned little else. I didn’t learn the brand story or the emotional touch points that make the brand relevant to its target audience.

And I realized what a huge opportunity it was to teach this part-time, short-term employee how to create long-term brand loyalty all the time.

In more than 25 years of marketing communications, I – and many of my colleagues – have argued that a logo, business card, letterhead, brochure – and now, website or Facebook page – are the table stakes required to communicate your brand. I’m now adding an employee orientation or “on board” process to my recommended first steps.

It’s too simple of a concept to be ignored. It lays the ground work for the brand by explaining the technical procedures and emotional background for embracing an amazing brand. It creates confident and comfortable brand warrior. And it costs pennies.

It might look like this:

Technical processes and procedures:

  1. Here are your insurance, W-2, confidentiality and other forms.
  2. Here’s how to use the time clock.
  3. Here are your keys, and here’s how to turn off the alarm.
  4. Here are the emergency telephone numbers and procedures you should know.
  5. Here’s how to request/log vacation days.
  6. Etc.

Emotional background:

  1. Here’s our story, why we’re here.
  2. Here’s what that means in your job.
  3. Here’s what we expect of you.
  4. Here’s what you can expect from us.
  5. Here’s what our customers expect from you.
  6. This is what our brand looks like.

You can’t possibly explain every aspect of the job, but a good brand foundation allows employees to demonstrate the brand in a different, inviting, relevant and truthful manner every day, even if the technical aspects are not exactly right.

I’ve worked at places where policies, specific procedures and brand underpinnings emerged (evolved?) months, even years, after I joined the organization. I often joked “I must have missed that during the orientation!” It was funny at the time – and a more than a little frustrating – but until I saw it again in a different environment, I hadn’t recognized the missed opportunity it was.

brand management is like a bowling alleyBrands are like a bowling alley: each employee can go after the same set of pins from a different angle….as long as they’re on the right alley. With a proper employee orientation, you can get your employees bowling on the same lane in no time at all.

Volunteers need orientation, too
This is a critical opportunity to engage volunteers, too. Organizations don’t have the same economic hold on volunteers that they do on employees: there’s no price to pay if a volunteer leaves you tomorrow. A positive, comprehensive experience in the first days and weeks of working with a new organization, however, can pay huge dividends.

Brand happens, whether you prepare for it or not, so why not deliver the brand narrative early – during an orientation? You’ll increase the chance that the brand conversation in your audience’s mind is the right one if it starts correctly in the employee’s mind.

What do you think? Does your organization take advantage of the employee orientation? Or are you missing an opportunity?

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