Promising Practice Monthly Feature: COMPASS - Orientation and In-Service Training

Workforce | July 18, 2019 | by Susan Hildebrandt

In 2015, the incoming CEO of the Whitney Center in Hamden, CT learned that new employee orientations were being canceled so that more people could participate. Not only did he wonder how welcoming that felt to new staff – but he thought that while the current program provided a lot of information, it didn’t include the chance for much interaction.

Like many CEOs, he and an HR colleague started by asking the question, “What do we want to gain from this program?” Their answer: orientation and onboarding were part of a much larger engagement strategy for all employees.

This change in perspective led to a brand-new program of twice-monthly, full-day sessions with new and current employees, quarterly coaching conversations, regular staff meetings, and an overhaul of their performance appraisal program.

  • The full-day program is called Compass and, in the morning, the CEO and COO spend 3 hours with about a dozen staff talking about why they chose Whitney, their values and the organization’s mission.
  • The afternoon program is run by the HR head and features a few minutes eating lunch as it would be experienced by an older person, roundtable conversations with residents, and a dementia simulation.
  • Day 2 is for new employees only and includes the usual paperwork, tours, etc.

What makes the program successful?

  • Leadership is integrally involved and committed to spending a few hours getting to know their employees.
  • There is an understanding that the goal of the program is to build relationships with staff.
  • The discussions are opportunities to hear about issues in the community -- and address them immediately.

The program made a difference. Staff received an engagement survey during the reorganization that showed they were even more positive than previously.  One certified nursing assistant said the program was the most “impactful thing she’d done in her life.” Read more about the program here.