An effective use of technology for many new employee orientation programs commonly involves placing resource materials and contact information online. But when Sprint chose to update its orientation—brought about by a mandate from CEO Bill Esrey—the Overland Park, Kan.-based communications company not only developed effective Web sites and brought many useful resources online, but it also used advanced video technology to create a one-day program to reach every new hire in the company.
The once outdated orientation was characterized by many as little more than a one-off data dump: a three-hour videotaped presentation about the company's history and employer expectations was followed by an afternoon question-and-answer session regarding employee benefits. Nearly 8 years old, the orientation program supported initiatives that weren't even driving the company's current growth strategies.
"It didn't detail the techniques and tools that a new hire needs to understand as they begin their first few months at the organization," says Cyndi Swall, project manager for updating Sprint's new employee orientation program. "The old program was tied to market share. And while we certainly want that element to remain, those things are hard for employees to connect with on their first day."
For six months, the Sprint team benchmarked other orientation programs at like-sized companies—Coca Cola, Bank One and Ritz Carlton. In their research, the Sprint team found that as many as 60 percent of all new hires at Fortune 500 companies leave within the first three months, says Swall, due largely, as exit interviews showed, to new employees feeling under-prepared, overwhelmed and disconnected from the organization.
A recent Sprint initiative attempted to address this "corporate identity" disconnect. As the communication industry evolved during the late 1990s, Swall says it became clear to executives that Sprint's separate business units needed to improve how they worked together. The company needed to bundle its products and services according to customer needs, requiring every employee to think of the company more as a whole. Called "One Sprint," the philosophy to bridge business units and build a common culture touched every department and found its place in the orientation program.
Following further months of tweaking, gathering information from worldwide business units and developing content, the universal orientation program was rolled out last 2001. Called "The Power of Possibilities," the new program was completely updated, not only in its content but also in the technology used to deliver it.
A central repository of information is now available online, allowing new hires to "click in one place" for information they might need in addition to consulting other newly developed blended resource tools that provide ongoing support. Managers can also access tools to help them welcome and tutor new employees. But perhaps the largest change in the orientation program involved the one-day orientation event which is now conducted live in a new auditorium at Sprint's world headquarters and in secondary cities with large numbers of new hires, including Dallas, Atlanta and Reston, Va. At the events, certified in-house new employee facilitators interact with a state-of-the-art DVD-ROM, containing 4.7 gigabytes of multimedia files.
And what of all the information regarding employee benefits that once filled an entire afternoon? It has been reduced to a 15-minute segment in the multimedia presentation.
The program provided a single, uniform message to every Sprint employee, says Swall. It's a measure, she believes, that will help curb high retention rates, drive productivity and provide strength to the corporate One Sprint initiative.
"Not that a new employee orientation program is going to change the culture of an organization," says Swall, "but as people come in, if they have a common thread on which they can hang their hat, it gives them a sense of belonging to something that is much larger than the business unit, office or department in which they are working." —J.S.