2018-07-06 / Viewpoint

IMCOM protects investment in its workforce

By Adriana King and
Matthew Margotta

The manner in which new employees are welcomed when they arrive at an organization should be a source of organizational pride and a clear reflection of its professionalism.

A new employee’s impression of, as well as their long-term desire to stay or leave the organization, is often determined within the first few weeks of arrival. Research has established a strong connection between how new employees are initially welcomed, integrated and prepared to perform their responsibilities, and their level of engagement, sense of belonging, and overall long-term productivity and effectiveness within the organization. In short, an effective onboarding process is like a great first impression: It can be impactful and lasting.

To ensure new team members feel welcomed, informed, prepared and supported, the U.S. Army Installation Management Command developed a comprehensive onboarding program as one of the pillars of its Service Culture Campaign. The guidelines under this program promote proud and engaged team members who demonstrate the values and principles of IMCOM, furthering the Army’s mission, goals and productivity.

In the same way that successful companies devote considerable effort toward employee integration and development, IMCOM’s Service Culture onboarding guidelines help IMCOM be proactive in protecting its investment in new team members across the command.

Lisa Passalacqua, Army Community Service information and referral coordinator at Fort Irwin, California, reflected on the importance of a deliberate and well-planned onboarding program. “Onboarding is the strategic process of welcoming new team members, establishing responsibilities and familiarizing them with the Army culture,” she said. “We need to start with a bang, grab our new team members immediately and welcome them to the wonderful world of civil service.”

“Studies show that 33 percent of employees decide to stay with an agency or start making plans to leave within the first 30 days of employment,” said Dr. Robin Ellert, chief, workforce development at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia. “Onboarding is the opportunity for IMCOM to give new employees reasons to stay engaged.”

Onboarding provides employers the opportunity to engage with new team members and make them feel valued, respected and a part of the team. Additionally, having a strong onboarding program also benefits the new team member in significant ways.

By emphasizing the importance of employee onboarding, we show that IMCOM is a caring organization that focuses on and cares for its people.

“That first month is a swirl of new names, procedures and a culture shock,” said Allie Vallery, workforce development program specialist at Fort Hunter Liggett, California. “When new team members realize that there is a plan to assist them, they will bond to IMCOM – a professional and caring environment.”

Success factors

The most critical component of a successful onboarding program is leadership’s active participation. Leaders set an example of caring. They communicate expectations and standards. They convey the mission, values and goals of the organization. They instill a sense of pride in serving within the organization. How they accomplish this is an indicator of genuine care and concern for the welfare of the IMCOM team.

“Our involvement is top-down,” said Brian R. O’Connor, training resource specialist at Fort Drum, New York. “Our Garrison Command Team makes it a priority to be at every Team Member Orientation. They are among the very first people to speak to the new team members.”

The experience of mature organizations in the private sector and anecdotal evidence support the value of allocating appropriate resources to an organization’s onboarding program. For example, the Disney Institute, which advises organizations – including IMCOM – on best practices, states that the onboarding process is critical because it reinforces the culture of the organization and sets the stage for the new employee’s experience with the organization in the future. Every employee must attend Disney’s onboarding program before they may contact any customer or perform any of their duties.

A few years ago, Keri Anne Smialek, commercial sponsorship coordinator at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, did not attend her orientation day as part of the garrison’s onboarding program because the presenter fell ill. Sometime later, a member of the leadership team insisted that she attend the next orientation day. Her perception of her importance to the organization changed completely.

“The orientation day created enthusiasm about the mission of my organization and showed development opportunities I was unaware of,” Smialek said. “I was improved both personally and professionally. Had it not been for the onboarding program and the tools it afforded me, I might have abandoned my employment altogether.”

Best practices

Since the operating environment varies from one IMCOM organization to another, the approach to establish a new or improve an existing onboarding program must take local circumstances into consideration. IMCOM garrisons, in many cases, are taking the initiative with unique and innovative ways to reach the hearts and minds of their new team members.

Megan O’Donoghue, chief service and support directorate at Fort Leonard Wood, said that new team members at her garrison leave a mark on the wall. “They literally leave their handprint (dipped in paint) on the wall,” she said. “The handprints signify unity, ‘One Team.’ We make a difference in Soldiers’ lives. We are here for each other, to lend a helping hand, anywhere, anytime.”

Installation tours are often considered a highlight in many onboarding programs. “On each tour, there is always someone saying, ‘Wow! I had no idea!’ It is as if a light switches on for them,” said Mike Alley, management analyst at Fort Leonard Wood. “Tours help new team members begin to understand our mission and learn to treat all customers with respect as a result.”

“We developed an onboarding program for both appropriated fund and non-appropriated fund employees,” O’Connor said. “We are ‘One Team.’ Our onboarding program provides them direction, guidance and purpose.”

Christine Donovan, workforce development specialist at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, stresses the importance of communication in a successful onboarding program. “Always ask for leaders’ and frontline supervisors’ feedback to improve the program. They will be the ones implementing and enforcing the system.”

Additionally, periodic assessment of programs is vital to keep up in a changing environment. “We follow the innovate-survey-adjust cycle to adapt dynamically,” said Travis Mobley, chief of the plans, analysis and integration office at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield. “This is because the operating environment is constantly changing and so is our workforce.”

Lt. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, IMCOM commanding general, highlights the importance of IMCOM’s robust onboarding program guidelines for new team members and the Army.

“Onboarding is vital to our success in taking care of our people, and creating and maintaining a professional and positive work environment,” Dahl said. “They need to feel appreciated by their leaders, co-workers and IMCOM as a whole. They need to understand why their work and their service are important to the Army and where they fit into the organization. Serving with IMCOM should be deeply satisfying – our IMCOM professionals should be proud of that service. Ultimately, this is about taking care of our workforce.”

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