Like many corporate orientation programs that fail to meet their potential, Eddie Bauer's discarded program was more of a single event than an ongoing process. At its corporate headquarters near Seattle, Eddie Bauer once conducted regular two-day employee orientations that began every other Monday. Despite a
need for new employees to begin tasks immediately, business was often delayed because of the program's schedule, and subject matter experts brought in to speak to new associates were consistently kept from other work to conduct the orientations.
"For many reasons we stepped back and looked at that orientation," says Arin Megenity, learning specialist for Eddie Bauer University, "and we tried to determine if there was just a better way to do it."
Research began by interviewing past participants and conducting campuswide focus groups regarding orientation needs. The company surveyed business unit leaders and conducted needs analysis using information from every business group. "We learned that associates usually didn't remember what was discussed on the second day," says Megenity. "There was just so much information for them to digest in two very full days. They were on overload."
In January, after months of research and development, Eddie Bauer University unveiled "Bauer Beginnings." Instead of two days, new hires attend an initial program that lasts only four hours—conducted every Monday, from 8 a.m. to noon, that includes a guided tour through the associate resource guide, two hours of technical training to learn desktop skills and a campus tour. The associate resource guide includes a 90-day initial performance plan for the new hire to follow, along with an introduction to the Bauer Beginnings Associate Portal, which provides online access to additional information.
New associates also are required to attend four seminars during their first 90 days at work. These seminars cover topics including corporate history, product and a brand overview. A performance management seminar provides associates information regarding performance appraisals and succession planning. And since these sessions are conducted periodically, SMEs are no longer torn from their jobs on a regular basis.
Four newly created supplemental components cover topics specific to each new hire as well. "For example, the in-store program is for any associate who touches our apparel world—designers, merchandisers, planners," says Megenity. "They learn how they make an impact and how the product (and how much) goes into the stores. It's a pretty powerful way for those associates to understand their direct business impact."
Yet, not all parts of the orientation are meant for new hires. The Bauer Beginnings for Hiring Managers, for example, is an online course that outlines a supervisor's responsibilities to each new associate.
Once the 90-day orientation period is complete, new hires are surveyed for feedback on whether they feel supervisors gave them adequate support during initial orientation. "The survey results are then sent as a report card to all of the corporate officers, directors and managers," says Megenity, "to let them know if the team is effectively getting their new associates on board or not."
Bauer Beginnings also contains built-in reminders for new associates to stay in contact and ask questions. Every six weeks, new associates receive targeted e-mails asking them if they have all of the information they need, and reminding them of the resource they have in the corporate HR department.
Although the program is new, Eddie Bauer is working to develop additional metrics to measure its impact beyond the initial goal of getting associates up and running as quickly as possible, says Megenity. "Obviously, it is really tied to retention," she says. "If your associates aren't getting the information they need, they probably aren't as likely to stick around."
Eddie Bauer Beginnings has brought the company a standardized orientation, Megenity says, providing a way for managers to know that all associates begin their jobs with the same foundation and message about product and brand direction.
"We want to get people to know we are proud of who we are and our rich heritage," she says. "[An orientation program] offers an opportunity to set the stage. Many have told me that it made the difference for them to meet people, to understand more about the history of the company, and how much they appreciate making that connection."—J.S.