Save Time with this New Employee Orientation Checklist

Have you ever had another manager in your company come running to you requesting a PC for a newly-hired employee who just started with the company?

This manager may not even have a place for their new employee to sit, but the employee won’t be productive until he or she has a working PC. Even though this emergency clearly is not your IT organization’s fault, you and your team still get blamed if you can’t deploy a PC immediately.

What’s worse is that the manager who failed to prepare for the new employee has created a morale problem within his own organization. Other employees are joking and talking among themselves about how poorly prepared the IT department is to onboard a new employee.

Don’t let this happen to you or one of your managers! Instead, take charge of the situation by organizing and preparing a Standard Operating Procedure to follow when a new employee joins your team.  To get prepared quickly and easily, use a New Employee Orientation Checklist.

Make the list, work the list

When it comes to setting up equipment for a new employee, there are several things you want to accomplish such as:

  • Getting a cube or office set up and ready for the employee to move in, including a working PC and a connection to a printer
  • Ordering equipment and supplies
  • Scheduling first day orientation sessions and a meeting with Human Resrouces for new employee paperwork
  • Introducing the employee to key components of the business
  • Bringing the employee up to speed on what’s going on within the company and the IT support organization
  • A quick tour of the building facilities

Using a checklist like the one I have used will help you start a new employee quickly and productively. As an added bonus, this checklist sets the tone that your organization is organized and focused.

Having a working PC on Day 1 is a big deal for employee morale, both for the new employee as well as your existing employees who see what’s going on.

Download the New Employee Orientation Checklist Here:

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Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Managing the dangers of IT support

Many years ago, when I was head of a regional IT support team for a very large corporation, I was asked to swap out a router card in one of our larger warehouses. Normally this would not have been a problem. We kept spare cards for all the routers and it was easy to schedule a 30-minute downtime while the work was done. However, this warehouse was different. For some reason, long before I took over support, the network center was installed in a box that hung from the ceiling, 30 feet up. To make physical changes, a tech had to stand in a cage while a forklift raised the cage to the top of the highest shelf. Once there the tech would step out of the cage and straddle an open area about three feet wide.

Fear versus Phobia

Some people refer to a fear of heights as a phobia. I think that is just wrong. Phobias are baseless fears. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure falling from a 30-foot high rack to a concrete floor would have an adverse affect on my ability to keep the few brain cells I have left trapped in my head, not to mention what it would do to my limbs, neck, and spine.  I really did not want to change that card so I asked if any other team members were willing and got a volunteer right away. That might sound like problem solved, but the volunteer had a head, limbs, neck and spine as well, and even if he wasn’t worried about them, I was. I had no sleep the night before the scheduled change.

Research your Risks

The card change went off without a hitch and everyone laughed at me for being such a wimp, but I was not happy. As a team leader I felt like my first responsibility was to make sure that no one on the team was killed in the line of duty.  I know that sounds like an easy task, since we were in a suburban office building and fighting computer viruses instead of the Taliban, but when a regional manager demands people travel by fork lift, it becomes a problem. I needed to do some research.

Put Safety First

I found that, like all large companies, we had a corporate safety policy and we were not following it. I was able to arrange for special training in working in high places and safety gear. We still had to go up in the cage, but the cage was chained securely to the fork lift first. Also we got safety straps and hooks to secure us to the racks before we stepped out of the cage.   It made things a great deal safer.

What I learned from that experience is being prepared for potential danger and protecting your team is just as important for an IT manager as it is for beat cop. It may not come up as often but when it does you want to be ready. That’s true about everything in management. Few managers are prepared the first time an employee must be fired or when large numbers of assets are discovered missing.  We never forget a lesson we learn the hard way, but sometimes it’s better to learn from the experience of others. Mike Sisco has that experience and offers it to us in The Practical IT Manager Gold Series, 10 books can get an IT manager though any crisis. I highly recommend it to any and all IT managers. I also think it’s a great investment for the IT tech who would like to manage. IT’s never too early to learn to think like a pro and learn to lead a team practically.

What’s your danger zone?

Have you or members of your team had to deal with dangerous situations while trying to provide IT support? Post a comment below and tell us what you think about workplace dangers for IT professionals. Are your people at risk?

Assess your IT capability and capacity with our IT Employee Skills Matrix

If you’re the new IT manager or consultant on the block, one of the first things you should do in your IT organization is conduct an IT skills assessment. A key component of this discovery process, determining the capability and capacity of your IT staff, will tell you what your organization can do and how much it can do in terms of providing IT support.

Failing to understand the “supply side” of IT support makes it impossible to manage your client’s expectations and achieve IT success.

An IT employee skills inventory can be accomplished quickly and easily using a simple tool–an IT Employee Skills Matrix.

This simple tool helps you quantify the skills you have and quickly identify the skill gaps that exist so you can prioritize training and education for your team.

The tool is completely customizable to add any skill type you want to list as a need in your organization, from soft skills like communication or presentation skills to very specific technical skills like Cisco router configuration or Crystal Reports writing.

Click here to download Mike’s Employee Skills Matrix


Quick steps:

  1. List your employees by name and responsibility in the first two columns. I like to group them by function (Programmers, Help Desk, PC Techs, etc.) so I can focus on each group.
  2. List the skills you need on your team in the columns at the top. You can be as specific or as general as you want. You should also list both technical and non-technical skills.
  3. If you have conducted an IT assessment, you should have gained a perspective as to how many resources you need for specific skills. If you haven’t done an assessment, now is a good time to look at it. Insert a row at the top of the template and call it “IT skills needed”. For each skill, put the number of people you think need to have this skill.
  4. Now, do your inventory. Work through each employee and put the number “1” in each cell reflecting he or she has the skill.
  5. The Total Row at the bottom will keep a running total of the total number of people you have in place with each skill.
  6. The GAP Row highlights where you lack sufficient number of people with each skill.

You can conduct an IT employee skills inventory quickly with this tool. You can use the results to assist in managing your support business. Even better, this assessment provides insight on where you have skills gaps so you can focus training or new hiring to address mission critical skill gaps.

Download Mike’s Employee Skills Matrix for Free!

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4 between-the-sheets tips for Excel users

Do you manage, support, or train users who use Microsoft Excel?  If so, in this edition of Jeff’s Quick Tips, here are four quick tips you can share that are life-changing time-savers for spreadsheet users of all skill levels who need Excel help.

Tip #1: The syntax is Sheet, Exclamation Point, Cell Reference (e.g., Sheet2!A1)

Here’s how you remember how to reference a cell that’s in a different worksheet: It’s sheet (worksheet name), exclamation point (!), cell reference (column letter/row number combination).  To illustrate this syntax, open a new workbook in Excel and click on Sheet2. Type 10 and press [Enter] to put the value 10 in cell A1. Click on Sheet3, type 20 and press [Enter] to put the value 20 in cell A1.

Now click on Sheet1 and type =Sheet2!A1+Sheet3!A1 and press [Enter]. Did the value 30 appear in cell A1? Congratulations! You’ve figured out the syntax that you can use in all kinds of calculations “across the sheets” when you’re building a Dashboard Sheet or an Executive Summary Sheet.

This formula calculates the sum of  the values in cell A1 in two worksheets, Sheet2 and Sheet3.

Tip #2: If the Sheet name contains a space, you must delimit that name with apostrophes (e.g., ‘July 2013’!A1)

To demonstrate this rule, use the same demonstration workbook you created for Tip #1.  Double-click on the worksheet tab Sheet2, then type July 2013 and press [Enter] to rename the worksheet from Sheet2 to July 2013.  Now click on Sheet1, cell A1, and you’ll notice that the result calculated in cell A1 is still the same, but the formula has been changed to =’July 2013′!A1+Sheet3!A1, as shown below.


This change made by Excel automatically tells us that when our worksheet names contain spaces, we must — when we reference cells in those sheets from some other sheet — delimit that space-infested worksheet name with apostrophes.  It’s not a big deal. It’s just required punctuation, like dots in IP and email addresses.

Tip #3: Don’t use apostrophes in your worksheet names.

Say you keep a workbook with 12 different worksheets, one for each month of the year. Don’t name them January ’13, February13, and so on. Based on Tip #2, the fact that Excel itself uses apostrophes to delimit sheet names internally, spell out the year! Make them January 2013, February 2013, and so on.

Tip #4: Hard-code (type) your multi-sheet references instead of clicking

I love mouse shortcuts, but when it comes to building formulas and adding cell references using the mouse in Microsoft Excel, I recommend that you hard-code your references to cells in different sheets by typing them out rather than trying to click on the same cell in 12 different worksheets.  Maybe it’s me, but the formula bar seems to get a little whacky when I try to build a simple =SUM function by clicking on different sheets. I find it’s much easier to just key the worksheet names, even if they contain spaces.

To illustrate this tip, suppose you have a workbook with 13 worksheets. The first worksheet is named “Summary” and the other 12 are named January 2013 through December 2013. Each of the monthly sheets are identical except for the user-provided input.

There’s a critical number in cell B14 of each monthly sheet.  How do you write a formula in the Summary worksheet that sums the values in cell B14 of each of the monthly sheets? Type

=SUM(‘January 2013′!B14+’February 2013′!B14+’March 2013′!B14+’April 2013′!B14+’May 2013′!B14+’June 2013′!B14+’July 2013′!B14+’August 2013′!B14+’September 2013′!B14+’October 2013′!B14+’November 2013′!B14+’December 2013’!B14)

It looks like a lot of typing, and it is. But once you get a full set of 12 sheet references entered, you can copy and paste and edit the formula in other cells in your Summary sheet.

Tell us what you think

Did you like these tips? Share your feedback by posting a comment below or send an email to [email protected]

If you liked these tips, check this one out.

Motivate employees with an IT Training Plan

Experience tells us that training and education are two of the most powerful motivators for IT employees. “Training and Education” always rank in the top reasons why IT people stay with their company, while money usually ranks 7th or lower.

What does this mean to you and the way you manage your IT shop?  You should have a training focus for every employee in your organization!

A focused training plan will do a lot for your IT organization:

  • Reduce or eliminate knowledge silos and technical skill gaps
  • Develop skills depth
  • Motivate employees

Employees are motivated by the fact you are investing in their professional development and doing things that will make their job easier when you create more depth.

It helps if you have an overall game plan and a tool that helps you see your entire training focus. One of the tools I used recently in a management consulting engagement is the IT Training Plan below.

Download Training Template for Free!


IT Training Plan

Using a template like this is simple and it highlights exactly what you want to see:

  • Training you need to prioritize
  • Who needs to receive the training

Quick steps:

  1. List the training you want to focus on in the first column.
  2. Highlight the high priority training classes.
  3. List your employees in across the top row.
  4. For each class, identify those who have functional knowledge by shading the appropriate cell green.
  5. For each class, identify each employee you want to target training for by shading the appropriate cell red.

It’s that simple. Now you can easily see what will be trained and who will receive the training. The final step would be to determine who should develop and deliver training for each class, and then target the training dates.

One recommendation is that when you actually deliver the training classes, you should consider recording the class so it can be used again for other employees in the future.

Invest in your people by providing a focused training curriculum that hits every employee in your organization.It’s time invested that will pay real dividends in the long run.

Download Training Template for Free!

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Jeff’s Quick Tips: 5 things techies should NEVER do or say (in sales presentations)

 Do you manage techies who participate in sales presentations for your company?  If so, this rant is for you.

 Slice and dice THIS!

I recently spent six hours listening to three different companies trying to sell “enterprise” software to a   high-profile, highly-successful company. All three companies blew it, and it wasn’t because the software sucked.  They failed because the techies who did the talking and clicking during the demos were terrible speakers. Here are the top five (5) things they did wrong.  The “techies” who represented their companies included a software support engineer, a project manager, and a programmer.

1. The techies couldn’t stop using jargon.  By “jargon,” I mean definition #2 from “unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing; gibberish.”   Out of boredom, I started writing down the number of times the vendors used tech jargon or sales buzz words.  In one session, the sales person used the phrase “level set” five times and the phrase “go to market strategy” four times in the three minutes it took to introduce the techie who would run the demo and explain the system.

One speaker had an annoying habit of using “literally” and “actually” every time he talked about a feature. “You can literally just type that right there and the dashboard will actually resonate in real time!  Really? The dashboard will resonate? I think he meant “be refreshed in real time,” but who knows.

Other crazy jargon used in the sales pitches included “modular maturity curve,” “differentiator between us and other vendors,” “et cetera, et cetera, et cetera,” “blah blah blah,” “under the hood,” “drill down,” “bubbled up,” “time suck,” and “deeper dive.”

In all three sessions, the phrase “slice and dice” was used so many times I stopped counting. To everyone in the IT world, I beg you: Stop saying “slice and dice your data.”  It’s meaningless gibberish. Speak English, people. The only place we should be hearing “slice and dice” is on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.

2. The techies admitted they weren’t prepared.  This sin is possibly the worst of the lot. One presenter apologized for a typo in the demonstration by saying, “Sorry but I literally just put this together last night!” Do you know what the potential client heard?  “I’m so pathetic I waited until the night before this big presentation to start working on it!” People snickered. And they tuned out on the presenter after that.

If you’re going to show up at a place of business and help your company land a 5- or 6- or 7-digit sale for software and professional services, start getting your act together before the night before.

3. The techies were late, without a good reason. There is no excuse for being late. “Oh sorry I’m late,” one presenter said.  “I couldn’t find the building!” 

Really? If you’re going to show up at a place of business and help your company land a 5- or 6- or 7-digit sale for software and professional services, get up early and get to the location early. Looking around at the people in the room, I figured that the 15 minutes of sitting and doing nothing the potential client several thousand dollars in nonproductive time.

Another vendor arrived on site five minutes early to connect his laptop to the host’s overhead projector, but then had to get on the phone and call someone back in the office to get the demo environment set up. Really? The back office support team didn’t know there was an important sales call scheduled for 2:00 – 4:00 PM?


4. The techies didn’t thank their guests.  I hope you don’t accuse me of being too picky on this one, but not ONE of the techies and not ONE of the sales people who accompanied the techies said “Thank you for having us here today.” To be fair, everyone thanked the guests for their attention at the end of the presentations. But no one said “Thanks for having me” or “Thanks for giving us the chance to show you our cool software.” It’s just common courtesy, folks.

5. The techies didn’t use industry-appropriate examples.  The subtitle for this mistake is, “The vendors didn’t know the audience.” 

As the project manager helping coordinate these demonstrations, I had conversations with all three presenters in advance. I said, “Please make sure you use examples of how the software can help people in this client’s industry.”  What happened?  While talking to a group of hospital administrators and risk managers and medical records supervisors, one of the presenters came up with this gem:  “For example, one of our clients using the system is a bank, and they’re concerned with blah-blah-blah and et cetera, et cetera, and…”  Really? You couldn’t think of one, single, solitary example that pertains to hospitals or the healthcare industry?  Do you know what the potential client heard?  “We’re so pathetic we don’t have any hospital experience, so we’re going to tell you how our software helps some industry totally unrelated to yours!” 

Takeaway – Give a listen

As IT managers, you may be more concerned with keeping the network up and secure than you are about sales presentations. But if your people are going to work with the sales people to demonstrate software, in person or via the dreaded “call-in” teleconference, you owe it to your people and to your company to pay attention to what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. 

How can you help? Make your techie give you a preview or dress rehearsal of the product demonstration BEFORE the techie leaves on the trip or joins the meeting by teleconference.  Tape-record the dress rehearsal or the presentation itself so that you and the presenters can listen to it later and critique the content.  It’s hard to listen to yourself, I know. I spent many years as a stand-up comedian and one of the hardest things in the world is to listen to yourself on tape and be objective about assessing how you did.

If you fail to manage what your company’s techies say in sales presentations, don’t be surprised when the team comes home without the sale.

Join the discussion
Have you attended a software demonstration where the presenter was just awful? Add your suggestions to the list of “things techies should never say or do” by posting a comment below.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Call Me Maybe: A simple solution to a temporary phone outage

Often IT folks are expected to fix more than computers. If it plugs in, the computer geek is supposed to fix it, right? That can be good when you get paid by the hour, but it requires quite a bit of versatility, not to mention quick thinking.

If customers can’t reach you, they won’t stay your customers

A few months ago, a small company I work with lost phone service. So naturally they called their IT support person! Apparently the phone system was set up by a contractor several years ago, and  no one knows how to reach him now. I have some telecom experience, but not much.  Fortunately it was pretty easy to determine that the problem was their provider. The company’s internal phone system worked, but somehow service to the office was cut off.  The good news was that the provider was called and started working the issue immediately.  The bad news was that the estimated time to repair (ETR) was about 24 hours.

For this client, 24 hours without a phone was completely unacceptable, but there’s not much a small company can do to hurry up repairs by a Big Provider, is there?

How many phones line do you need?

It seemed like a much bigger problem that it was.  The 20 or so employees had no way for customers to reach them, but it occurerd to me that really only one phone number needed to be restored. The company has a main number with call routing to each employee’s phone.

Years ago a company was just out of luck when their local phone service was down. It didn’t matter if it was one number or 100.  There was only one provider, and if something happened to the lines, well, you just had to wait until the phone company fixed it. Now we have options. Obviously every employee could make their outgoing calls on their own cell phones.  They could send and receive email, as Internet access was still working. But customers could not call in.

Thinking outside the telecomm box

Since Internet access was working, the obvious answer was to switch them to VOIP. However, number transfers can take days. Forwarding call, though, takes minutes. Here’s how I solved the problem: I gave them permission to forward their main number to my personal home number, which is on Vonage.

The Vonage box is portable. It will work on any Internet connection anywhere. The best part, though, was that the Vonage box could also be connected to the company’s call routing system. The only flaw in the plan was that I was out a home phone, and anyone who called me got a recording thanking them for calling and telling them what numbers to press to reach certain people. Frankly, it was no great loss. Let’s face it–the only people who call my home phone any more are spammers and parents. I just warned the parents.

The entire fix took 20 minutes, only because I live 15 minutes away. OK maybe it was 25 minutes. The firewall had to be tweaked. As promised, the local service provider had the problem fixed the next day. I took my Vonage box home and phone spammers could, once again, reach me. Everyone was happy.

Join the discussion
What do you think of this tip for restoring temporary phone service using VOIP? Please post your comments or questions for Pat below.

Jeff’s Quick Tips: Comparing two Excel lists

In this edition of Jeff’s Quick Tips, I’ll tell you how Excel’s COUNTIF function made me the hero for a client who needed to analyze a lot of data in a hurry.

The Dilemma
I got an email with a workbook attached and one sentence:  “I need to know any duplicates and keep those.”

Translation:  The client had a list of tens of thousands of marketing account codes in one column, and another list of only a few thousand similar-looking marketing codes in another column. What the client really wanted to know was:  “How many of the codes in the second column appear in (are duplicated in) the first column?”

The Solution
This solution I used was a formula that looks at each value in column B and says, “How many times does that value appear in column A?” Ladies and gentlemen, I give you that formula:  =COUNTIF(A:A,B2). The following screen shots show how it works on some dummy data.

Which records in the first list are also in the second list?

The user wanted to know which records in Control List appeared in the Big List.


The solution used was the formula =COUNTIF(A:A,B2), which says “Count how many times what’s in B2 appears anywhere in Column A.”


The COUNTIF funtion tells how many times each entry in column B appears in column A.


Use Data | Filter to un-check the records in the second list that weren’t found (the ones where COUNTIF returned 0).

The Final Report

I’m not sure why the client needed to compare these lists or what he would do with the “duplicates,” but I was 100% sure he had the right result.


Here’s what the final output looked like: The COUNTIF function told us not only which records were “duplicated” in the big list, it told us how many times the value appeared.


ToolTalk BackDid you find this tip useful? We’d love to hear your feedback in the Comments section below.