Employee Orientation at AEP – Not Just for New People

Gen Tuchow
Vice President of Human Resources
American Electric Power

When you have a big company, you have a lot of people who need to know “the big picture.”

AEP ranks among the nation’s largest generators of electricity, owning nearly 38,000 megawatts of generating capacity in the U.S. We also own the nation’s largest electricity transmission system, a nearly 39,000-mile network. Our 22,000 employees are spread across 11 states, seven operating companies, and multiple locations. This vast, diverse network of operations created the challenge of providing an engaging and consistent view of AEP for our employees – especially those who are new to the company.

Our new employee orientation process includes a wide range of information, but our HR offices used different approaches to present this information. As a result, new employees’ understanding of the company was sometimes inconsistent and often incomplete.

We also wanted a better way to convey the company’s culture – “how we do things around here” – to help new employees feel welcome and more readily become a part of the organization. We wanted to share our rich 100-year history of innovation and technology, along with our vision of what it will take to succeed in the future.

Because we had completed previous projects with Root Learning related to safety, we concluded that the visually engaging methodology would enhance our orientation program across the company and make it a more consistent process.

Basically, we wanted an educational yet entertaining way to showcase and summarize the entire AEP Corporation without totally overwhelming new employees. The object was for new employees to be able to answer the questions: “Who is AEP?” “What do we do?” and “Where are we going?” And we wanted them to be excited about becoming a part of the AEP family.

The solution was a paper-based Learning Map® module. AEP leaders chose this application because we believe that a critical component in establishing a strong relationship with new employees is to “have a conversation” about the company. In this way, the experience would feel welcoming and personal, rather than simply academic and “required.”

To accommodate the large number of our locations that may hire only one or two people at a time, we also developed an electronic version of the module. This allowed us to invite new employees from remote locations to participate in a web conference, which provided a positive group experience in a virtual learning format. It also saved time and travel costs.

The initial plan was to roll out the module for employees who had been with AEP less than a year. However, focus groups recommended that more people in the organization could benefit from the learning. As a result, the module is mandatory for new employees but is also available to others who want to use it.

Overall, the feeling was that these solutions created not just engagement but “epiphanies,” even for more tenured employees. Some people noted that some of the information about AEP was “news to them,” even though they had been with us for years. In all, the “new employee” project benefited our entire workforce.