“The first rule of holes: when you’re in one, stop digging.” Molly Ivins
A few years ago, I worked with subject matter experts in a state transportation agency to redesign their new employee orientation program. The Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) had three different bureaus, and new hires for all of the bureaus attended the same program.
The program was two days. We wanted to reinforce the idea that the three bureaus were all part of the same team, Team DMV, so we thought of ways to motivate the attendees to get to know employees in other bureaus.
We decided to assign seating so that the new hires got to sit and work with employees from different bureaus.
I created a Getting to Know You worksheet, with spaces for the name, title, location, job duties, and how the employee might support or interact with the person filling out the worksheet. We made it a competition- the person who had met the most people by the end of the second day would win a prize.
Then I thought about what we could do to make it easier for the new hires to locate people in bureaus other than their own. My “brilliant” idea was to purchase different colored dot stickers and assign each color to a specific bureau. As the new hires came into the training room on the very first day and signed in, we would greet them, find out which bureau they were from, and give them the appropriately colored dot to put on their name badges.
It seemed to work very well for a year or two. The colored dots stood out on the white name badges, so people could locate each other pretty quickly and easily at breaks and over lunch time.
Then hiring in the three bureaus became uneven, so that, rather than having a good representation from each of the bureaus, one bureau started to dominate. The new hires could still meet each other and find out how they might interact on the job, because the bureaus were large and provided a variety of different services. However, when almost everyone had the same colored dot, the dots became less useful.
We also noticed something else. When there are 40-50 people trying to get into a room at the same time, stopping them so they can get a dot sticker and then sign in creates a terrible bottleneck that delays the start of the program.
We discussed the dot/sign in situation and realized that the dots served no useful purpose any more. It also made more sense to have the participants sign in throughout the day, rather than all at once at the beginning of the day.
We have retired the dots and changed the sign in process. We have continued to assign seating. The first day of orientation now starts much more smoothly.
The morale of the tale? What may be a wonderful idea or solution at one time may cease to be so wonderful and might even cause a problem at a later time. It helps to have someone who is newer on the scene and, therefore, more objective, to assess what is working and suggest what needs to be revised or eliminated.
May your learning be sweet.