Effective Protégé Orientation

By Barry Sweeny, 2003


The Two Kinds of Orientation

The definition that I offer for “orientation” is the advance preparation, training, and support needed to succeed the FIRST TIME in some process that is yet to occur.

There are two ways to think about orientation that this definition should help us understand:

  1. One-time initial orientation at the start of major new phases in one’s career or job assignment
  2. On-going orientation on a smaller scale for each of the new steps in a new process that you are learning.

1. One-Time Major New Phase Initial Orientation:

Typically, orientation is a series of a 1-5 days to as much as several weeks in which an organization prepares new employees for working successfully in the organization. The list of the potential content addressed in such “up front” orientation is very, very long.

  • It can start with “welcome speeches by key executives on down to your specific department manager.
  • It can include information related to employment conditions and benefit.
  • It could also include local and professional or certification expectations for your work
  • Organizational strategic initiatives for which you have responsibilities or to which you are expected to contribute, may also be provided in orientation information.
  • Further, if there are skills which new hires need to be able to perform to do their work satisfactorily, then training can also be incorporated into the initial “orientation” period.

No doubt, proteges WANT to learn everything that others feel is important for them to know. The problem is that proteges are ALSO anxious to get started with DOING the work. However, sometimes so much information ABOUT the work is “front-loaded” as to be overwhelming and wasteful. There IS a limit to what we can absorb when it is before we have actually begun to work.

This is why mentoring programs need to prioritize what they do initially, and also need to provide the second form of on-going orientation.

2. On-Going Orientation:

The initial orientation needs to be reconsidered if it is all that an organization provides. Although orienting new hires at that point is very important, it is NOT something that should only occur when an employee is new to the organization.

If the organization has any expectations for high levels of employee performance and success, then EVERY employee deserves both INITIAL and ON-GOING orientation and support for ANY new experience they are about to enter.

If the program is NOT providing proteges either initial or on-going orientation, it is probably not productive to point it out to them. However, they CAN be “hooked” to rethink their approach because they DO care about employees and their success.

  1. The starting point may be to just let them know how it feels to be on the receiving end of all the info.
  2. Another strategy is for proteges to ask the orientation leader if there will be an evaluation of the orientation at some point. That’s a hint that they have some comment that the leaders need to hear, and they may be willing to hear it now, rather than wait until the end.
  3. If a protege doesn’t feel comfortable stating feelings or asking such a question about orientation, the protege should write a letter stating what he/she feels and offering ideas for improvements.
  4. A fourth alternative is to copy this web page and offer it to those who are leading the orientation experience. It may be that they do not know all the best practices they need to know and you can help them learn them.

Whatever you do, do not just accept what IS when it ought to be better.

Implications of Orientation for Protégés & Mentors

In most mentoring relationships, it will frequently be the mentor who would need to provide theon-going orientation the protege deserves. This would typically happen when the protege is approaching a new responsibility, assignment, or some other significant change in their work or career, or even just a new step in a process in which they are engaged.

The problem is that mentors know a great deal about such situations and processes, do NOT need to be oriented themselves, and may not consciously realize that proteges DON’T know something that they need to know, and that they need orientation to be successful. Specifically, such orientation may need to be several weeks in advance of the actual event to allow proteges to use the knowledge gained in orientation in their work and to adequately prepare for any upcoming event.

If you are a protege and are concerned about an upcoming step in a process or event, and the mentor has not done what you hoped he/she would to adequately prepare you for that event, become proactive. ASK the mentor a few questions about what is coming. ASK to be oriented to the anticipated event, especially ask how to prepare to go through it successfully the first time.By doing so in that exact way, you are:

  • Teaching the mentor to think and prepare in advance
  • Prompting the mentor to think consciously about what may have been only an unconscious thought in his/her mind.
  • Helping the mentor to realize what your needs are relating to the anticipated event or next step.
  • Setting a standard (first time success) toward which mentoring assistance should work.
  • Clarifying the definition of “orientation”