Monday, September 27, 2010

Starting From Scratch

Recently we have been blessed with a flood for new applications for membership. Why this happened we are not sure because each new prospective member has a different reason and path for finding us. About half of these have applied for a new program we started, but the other half is just a mystery. We have enough newbies to up our ranks by a two digit percentage if they all pass muster. Just amazing!
 While the approval and vetting process goes forward, I have the duty of coming up with an orientation program for these folks. Usually we get one new member at a time and I spend a Sunday morning at the main station with the individual to go over all the little things that they should know. I base my discussion on all the things I SHOULD have been told when I joined, and instead had to learn the hard way, by getting yelled at. Much of this stuff I have put in a written form over they years to make sure I cover all the important stuff. Having a one-on-one with the newbie also allows me to feel them out and find out what hidden skills they may have and any weaknesses we might work on as their growth progresses.
 Each time I do an Orientation, I review my notes and try to add anything new that has popped up since the last time. The goal is to get them comfortable with how we operate so that they don't freak out or get their feelings hurt when they begin 'doing stuff' with us.
 Because I have so many this time, I am thinking about doing a slightly more formal classroom presentation and getting a few others involved in sections where I have less knowledge (such as the incentive plan and voting system) to mix it up.
 At any rate, as I have been going over my notes, I again began to realize the vast amount of information one needs to know just to respond and arrive at a call safely. Looking at it from a total newbies eyes, this can be a frightening experience: not knowing what everyone else is doing, or why, not knowing what they can do, or how, not understanding what the incremental goals are, or how to select them in order, and the worst of not understanding why, in what appears to be total chaos, everyone is calm and moving quickly toward the same goal without discussing it too much.
In the past I have had good success with my orientation program, based on the feedback I received. Two members told me that had I not prepared them as I had, they probably would have made an early departure, but knowing what was coming, and WHY, made it much easier to understand and work within.
 So I'm going through the whole program again with that in mind and trying to jazz it up a little as well as focus on the important stuff like safety, ethics, professional appearance and actions, and an overriding basic emphasis on why we exist in the first place. I leave out specifics that will be covered in their focused training later. The point here is to keep them safe and somewhat comfortable so they can get through the training and probation. We also pull no punches on what is expected of them to make sure they haven't gotten the wrong idea about what we do (i.e.: if you came for the beer, there ain't none here. We have no alcohol on the premises, sorry).
 Does your department do a new member Orientation? Is it formal or a one-on-one? What information do you include, and what do you leave for later? How long is it? Do you have a new member book or package? If so, what is in that package? I'd really like to know so that I can give our new folks a better leg up on the long climb to competence. This job is tough enough without wasting a lot of time trying to figure out what the rules are.

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