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Stanford Report, June 28, 2000

New employees to benefit from revamped orientation


New employees soon will find it easier to get settled into their jobs thanks to an expanded orientation program scheduled to roll out Aug. 7.

Called Stanford 101, the daylong program will feature services that include a free 15-day C parking permit, a benefits enrollment lab, an introduction to "Who Does What" at Stanford and a virtual campus tour.

A second program, called Stanford 120, will offer follow-up training for administrative and financial staff. This will run as two half-day programs starting Aug. 8 and 9.

Stanford 101 is the result of 2-1/2-year-long collaboration between Human Resources, the Controller's Office, the University Management Group (UMG) and the Team for Improving Productivity at Stanford (TIPS). Dozens of volunteers across campus also worked to make the program as useful and user-friendly as possible.

New employees attending Stanford 101 will learn, for example, that the university has three calendars and five financial systems. Stanford's hierarchy, its academic life, campus traditions, sports and culture will be described. Attendees will learn about logistics -- from how to use the blue emergency towers on campus to how to tour the Stanford web. They will go to a computer lab to set up their SUNet and Leland accounts and learn how to find the online directory called Stanford.Who.

A benefits and retirement demo will teach employees how to do online enrollment. They will learn about staff perks such as discounted performance tickets and services provided by the WorkLife Center, the Help Center and the Health Improvement Program. Staff will learn how computer systems relate to one another and how to use telephones, e-mail and ID mail. A virtual tour will help new people navigate the university's sprawling campus.

Amy Balsom, associate dean in the School of Earth Sciences and a Stanford 101 advisory group member, says the collaborative effort has paid off. "This will give people some context before they start work," she says about the revamped orientation. In a decentralized bureaucracy like Stanford, she says, "it's easy to get lost in the sauce."

Previous attempts to institute formal training for new employees were stymied by lack of support from senior management and faculty, say organizers. But this time, both UMG and former Human Resources Director Peggy Hiraoka acted as project sponsors. "The thinking has come around that we have to do this," Balsom says. "It's hard to recruit, and it's hard to retain [staff]."

Stanford has 7,000 staff members, not including SLAC and hospital employees. About 1,600 people are hired each year, of which 600 are administrative and financial staff.

At the moment, the university offers a half-day orientation for employees that focuses mostly on health and welfare benefits. After that, only 50 minutes are allocated to tell participants "everything else about Stanford," says Marilyn Smith, Stanford 101's coordinator and a training specialist in Human Resources. A lot of basic information -- such as when paychecks are sent out -- gets left unsaid, she says.

Until spring 1997, orientation took a day. It was cut back as information sources moved to the web. "People are generally pleased with the half-day session," says Smith, an orientation instructor. "It's only when they're working do they realize they need to know more."

Unless staff are trained up front it can be difficult for them to get help when they're on the job, says Balsom: "It takes a very long time to get people up and running. Most of the employees I have seen be successful have had a buddy or a close relationship with a supervisor," she says. "If not, they're sunk."

Steve Olson, finance and management analyst for the School of Education, says in such a tight job market the university has to focus on employee retention. "There's a huge expense regarding turnover," he says. Jobs may go unfilled for months, and when people fill positions a large backlog of work may be waiting for them. If they don't know how systems operate because they haven't been trained, Olson says, a new hire will feel incompetent. "That's a pretty lousy way to start a job," he says.

Eleanor Antonakos, director of finance and administration in Structural Biology, was hired less than two years ago. Although she had experience working in another private academic institution -- Princeton University -- she says that Stanford is organized differently.

"There was a learning curve for me," she says. "My experience has been pretty good. The School of Medicine assigned me a mentor, but that's impossible for all hires."

Antonakos and Olson, who were involved in the new employee training project, say the improved orientation will give staff a jump-start in their jobs.

"When they enter the workplace they'll have a comfort level at a stressful time," Antonakos says.

After taking Stanford 101, new hires will be able to perform simple but critical tasks -- from making a telephone call to sending e-mail. They'll also know some of the jargon used on campus -- from what MemChu stands for to what Form SU-18 is and why every employee has to sign it before starting work. (The form deals with patents and copyrights.)

Balsom says that training new employees is critical as the university's administration becomes increasingly complex. "Before, [new employees] could just sit down and start working," she says. "Now, we have so many systems that require electronic authorization."

Unless approval is arranged in advance, it can take up to a working week before an employee is able to perform all the functions of his or her job. Under the new program, supervisors will be encouraged to approve an online transaction called a Personal Action Form (PAF) up to two weeks before an employee's start date to allow hires to receive their university ID (not the photo ID) and PIN (personal identification number) during orientation. Supervisors also will be asked to coordinate orientation with the person's hire date, to streamline the process. It will be offered weekly, with additional sessions during the peak hiring period in August and September.

Olson says the investment in time -- up to two days in job training -- will pay off for supervisors in the long run.

"We're not keeping people here with salary," says Olson. "Stanford won't go public. And you could work for the government if you wanted to work for a big bureaucracy." To attract and retain staff, Olson says, the university must instead focus on offering a positive job environment.

"When you start working here, you lose the big picture," he says. "There are a lot of benefits to being at Stanford, but a lot of people don't know about them."

Balsom says it will take time before the university can gauge whether the new program is a success. "We will reap the benefits six months down the road," she says, in terms of improved hiring and retention.

Details about Stanford 101 and 120 can be found online at: SR