Canadian Consulting Engineer

New Staff

December 1, 2003
By Pat Goodberry-Dyck

The first few days on the job for any new employee can make or break your working relationship. We all know in theory that orientation and training are important, but in consulting engineering firms t...

The first few days on the job for any new employee can make or break your working relationship. We all know in theory that orientation and training are important, but in consulting engineering firms these practices are not always done well, or are even ignored altogether.

From the start, make your new employee feel special. Encourage the partners and managers to come over and meet the person, and if they are in another location, ask them to send an e-mail or call. On the new employee’s first day, invite them to lunch with the rest of the staff, or arrange a special breakfast at the office. In other words, make their first day with you the best day of work they have ever had.

Set aside an entire day to cover orientation and training by all the key individuals with whom the new person will closely work. Choose wisely who should do the training. If it’s possible that the employee who is leaving has a less than 100% good attitude about the job or your company, limit the time they spend with the new recruit. It’s imperative that positive influences and experiences surround your new person and that the appropriate tone is set for their career with your organization.

Training checklist

Prepare a training checklist of items you need to go over with the new person. Include touring the office, meeting all staff, reviewing the filing system, learning standard operating procedures, and becoming familiar with equipment. Spend time describing your business in terms of its history, successes, awards and publications. Explain the firm’s present situation and where you are heading. Systematically walk through the appropriate resources. Ensure that all of the new employee’s questions are answered along the way.


Most employees have the same questions when they start. Anticipate and answer these as part of a New Hire Orientation booklet. In it you should cover items such as salary, benefits, performance reviews, pay days and timesheets. Give vacation entitlements and explain the procedures for submitting expense accounts. Describe policies on overtime, hours of work, flextime, sick time, breaks, dress code, etc. Explain the parking entitlement and office logistics.

You might also consider including details about your major clients and the people that you deal with on a regular basis to ensure your employee always has this information at their fingertips. It’s better to be proactive and ensure that your employee becomes productive and efficient as soon as possible.

Job description

Every position requires a detailed job description. It becomes the measuring stick for performance reviews and is a checklist to ensure all performance areas are being covered. It is also a way to determine the amount of time required for the duties of the position and to ensure the person is being paid appropriately. Job descriptions should be reviewed at yearly performance appraisals and updated regularly as positions continue to change and grow.

Administration policy manual

It’s important to capture details of how your company does business. The Administration Policy Manual should contain all pertinent information about organizing your office and how to deal with everything from couriers and equipment, to office supplies and security. Also include information on records management, computer systems, contracts, banking and bookkeeping. The administration policy manual represents the big picture of your company’s policies and in essence becomes a quick reference tool.

Standard operating procedures manual

Another important tool is a Standard Operating Procedures Manual, or “SOP.” This type of manual gives step-by-step instructions on how to do anything that you can systematize. It is a valuable resource for everyone, especially for tasks they don’t do every day but must know how to do.

Standard operating procedures can be created for many administrative functions, such as ordering supplies, requesting maintenance for office equipment, or mail distribution. They can set out internal procedures for travel, for staff meetings (frequency and attendance) or for banking. They may include details about the annual business review process and professional development policies.

A standard operating procedure might also apply to a client-prospect database and follow-up processes, contracts, client retention procedures and any other systems you already have in place. As procedures change, those who use them most should be responsible for updating the applicable sections of the manual. Including the task of updating standard operating procedures as part of the employee’s job description ensures that the latest and most accurate instructions are available.

Business and professional development

A critical element for any employee is to understand exactly what your company does and what it is capable of. In order for them to be a good ambassador for you and to service your clients, they need to understand your business. Encourage them to read the industry’s trade publications as well as follow the news on your clients and their industries. Advise them to attend whatever networking events are appropriate. Invite them to interview other staff members, partners and business associates to understand their role within the company. By supporting professional development for your employees, you continue to raise the bar for skill and professionalism within your organization.

Hands-on modelling

The best way for your new employee to learn about your company and the way you want the business run is to ask them to watch you and other valued staff members model tasks. Whenever possible, invite the employee to be part of your meetings and interactions with a client. Afterwards brief them on what took place, why you said or did certain things, and what the next steps will be.

While training new employees might seem a tedious task, the rewards of proper orientation will far outweigh the time commitment. The individual will quickly understand what you, their co-workers and clients need, and how it is delivered. The orientation will help them build a satisfying career with you, and they may become your most valuable asset.

Pat Goodberry-Dyck is vice-president of client services, for the training and consulting company Custom Learning Systems Group in Calgary. E-mail


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