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“Orientation – Smart Starts, Part III”

Bert Troughton, MSW, Director, SFSPCA / ASPCA Strategic Alliance


Smart Starts, part 3
Orientations That Advance Individual Performance, Team Work, and Organizational Achievement

Orientations are designed to help new employees and volunteers make sense of what they see and hear around them. Tours are usually a basic ingredient of orientations – but they can be anything but basic and boring – and they should be designed. Well designed tours can accomplish multiple objectives in addition to orienting new staff (and board & volunteers). Well orchestrated tours build staff morale and team work, connect the mission to your day to day work, and develop a lively and effective community education tool.

To design tours that meet multiple objectives, break your facility down by service area. Each group of people working within these areas can then be given the challenge of creating meaningful tours of their area in such a way that they convey:

  1. who the people are in this area and how they’re special,
  2. what the people in this area actually do, and
  3. how “what” they do achieves the mission and vision of the organization.

Additionally, their challenge is to be creative, to build-in opportunities to engage the person(s) on tour, and to have fun.

The possibilities here are virtually endless. Encourage your staff to visit museums, classrooms and other inter-active learning environments to develop their ideas.

At the Upper Valley Humane Society in Enfield, New Hampshire, the staff recently created a facility tour that includes:

  • a video tour of the daily (pre-public hours) routine in the adoption wards narrated by a mischievous feline resident,
  • a live demonstration of fitting gentle leaders and using clicker training with shelter dogs,
  • a spay “surgery” (on a stuffed animal) in the hospital complete with vet and staff in scrubs narrating the procedure and explaining overpopulation,
  • personal introductions (with treats) to the pot bellied pigs and a tour of their condos,
  • snazzy poster boards with fun facts and quick “quizzes” related to animals and shelter operations (for example, how many pounds of dog food they consume in a year),
  • a self-guided power point virtual demonstration of shelter animal exams and routine health care,
  • a wall-sized pictorial time-line of the organization’s history, and
  • several photo displays of volunteers in action, animals available for adoption, past humane society events, and distinguished animal alumni (such as a recent lab/rottie honors graduate of the US Customs team).

All of these stops on their tours were designed keeping in mind their space limitations, the health and safety of both people and animals, and the staff’s individual personalities, strengths, and preferences. (Note that with this kind of a tour, even shy staff members can actively participate in the creation of exhibits of their areas without being responsible for public speaking.) The result at UVHS is a lively tour that was created as a group effort which helps visitors to feel welcome and informed, while instilling in every staff person the importance of their daily work as it relates to helping animals and fulfilling the organization’s mission.

Work smarter not harder. Use your employee orientations and your tours as opportunities to build team work, to underscore your mission, and to be active learning experiences for employees, volunteers, and visitors.

Creating Tours – a group worksheet

Step One: Divide your facility into service areas: for example – animal care, adoptions, behavioral evaluation and treatment, administration, development, humane education, etc.

Step Two: Each area team answers the BIG “why” of the entire area. (In other words, what’s the ultimate purpose of the adoptions department? How does adoptions accomplish the mission?)

Step Three: Each area team then analyzes the day to day of the department by answering the typical five “w” questions:

who? what? when? where? why?

Step Four: Now each team decides which things that take place in their area are the most important to convey in order for people to understand the BIG “why” of the department. [Hint: Narrowing this list to no more than three things will help to chunk your tours into digestible learning units.]

Step Five: Explore other learning environments to get ideas. Visit children’s museums, nature centers, and open class rooms, talk with teachers, visit interactive web sites, tune into Sesame Street and other creative learning programs, etc.

Step Six: Brainstorm creative ways to engage people in the activity (from step four) of the department. Choose a couple of the group’s favorite ideas, develop them, and try them out on other staff.

Remember! We retain roughly 20% of what we hear, 40% of what we see and hear, and 80% of what we do.
This means that tours that provide the most teaching value are those designed with an activity in each area.

Activities don’t have to be complicated: for example,

  • Development: Ask the group, “does anybody have a quarter that we could use?” Say “thank you” as you take the quarter, and proceed to tell the group about asking for money on behalf of animals. (And if you want to be really savvy, be prepared with a quick fact about what that $.25 could actually pay for at your shelter – some cat’s breakfast? – a post card reminder to license a dog? – a vaccination?)
  • Animal Care: ask people to squat down or sit on the floor, then walk around them – walking very close to them, as you continue talking about cats. Then ask them to stand back up. Now you and the group can talk about what it’s like to be small and to have to watch out for being stepped on from above. Participants gain a deeper appreciation of a cat’s point of view (and why they choose the snooze spots that they do).
  • Volunteers: start your tour by asking everyone to help carry a bag of donated food from your donation bin to the storage area. Once the task is accomplished, thank them all for volunteering and run through some fun facts about how much gets accomplished at your facility every day thanks to volunteers.

© 2001 Bert Troughton
Re-prints with permission. Contact Bert at

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