First minutes are critical in new-employee orientation

A brilliant article published in the Harvard Business Review
The first few minutes of new employee orientation, if done right, can lead to happier and more productive workers and, ultimately, increased customer satisfaction. Unfortunately, a lot of companies do it wrong.
In many firms, employee orientation focuses solely on corporate culture and identity of the new workplace. There’s a lecture about the firm’s history and another about standard operating procedures. There’s a packet of information from human resources, emblazoned with the firm’s logo, and maybe a coffee mug to match.
The underlying message: Welcome. You should be proud to work here. Please fit in accordingly.
But research suggests that employee orientation ought to be less about the company and more about the employee. A research team finds that shifting the focus to an employee’s personal identity leads to an increase in both employee retention and customer satisfaction.
“The researchers hypothesized that companies would see positive performance results by emphasizing employee individuality from day one, testing their hypothesis through a series of field and lab experiments.
For starters, they conducted a field study at Wipro, a major business process outsourcing company based in Bangalore, India, that provides telephone and chat support for its global customers. Traditionally, Wipro’s orientation for call center employees consisted of an informational session about the company, followed by several weeks of training in which new call agents) must demonstrate proficiency in English, as well as an aptitude for following standard procedures during customer calls.
Individuality was not just discounted; in some ways it was expressly discouraged. “As a service role, the job can be stressful, not only because employees must help frustrated customers with their problems, but because Indian call center employees are often expected to ‘de-Indianize’ many elements of their behaviour—for example, by adopting a Western accent and attitude,” the paper explains.
Wipro was dealing with a big dropout dilemma; more than half of its call center employees quit only a few months after training. “Wipro presented us with the problem of figuring out whether there was anything we could do to reduce turnover,” Gino says. “We thought it was the perfect environment to test whether we could make a difference just by changing something minor in the onboarding process.”
IDENTITY EXPERIMENTS
In the field experiment, the researchers divided batches of new call agents into a control group , individual identity group, and an organizational identity group, individual identity group
The control group went through the traditional process, focused on firm awareness and skills training. The two identity groups received the same training as the control group, but also an additional hour-long presentation, which varied according to the group.
For the individual identity condition, a senior leader at Wipro spent 15 minutes discussing ways in which working at the company would enable the newcomers to express their individuality. Next, the new call agents completed an exercise ranking the individual strengths they would exhibit if stranded on a life raft at sea; they also spent time considering how their responses might differ from their colleagues’. Then, the agents answered a series of questions about their individual strengths such as, “What is unique about you that leads to your happiest times and best performance at work?” Finally, the agents shared their strengths with their future office mates.
At the end of the session, employees in the individual identity group received fleece sweatshirts embroidered with their individual names, along with a name badge. They were asked to wear them for the duration of employee training.
For the organizational condition, new employees spent 15 minutes listening to a senior Wipro leader and a “star performer” at the company talk about why Wipro was a singular place to work. Next, the newcomers spent 15 minutes writing answers to questions such as, “What did you hear about Wipro today that you would be proud to tell your family about?” Finally, the group members discussed their answers with each other.
At the end of the session, employees in the organizational identity group received fleece sweatshirts embroidered with the company name, along with a badge. They were asked to wear them for the duration of employee training.
Seven months later, the researchers looked into whether the orientation changes affected how long the newcomers/agents chose to stay with the company. “Considering we just changed one hour on the first day of orientation, the results were amazing,” Gino says.
The turnover rate in the control group was 47.2 percent higher than that of the individual identity group, and 16.2 percent higher than that of the organizational identity group. And turnover was 26.7 percent higher in the organizational identity condition than in the individual identity condition. Additionally, employees in the individual identity group had garnered higher customer satisfaction scores during the seven months than those in the control group.
LESSONS FOR BUSINESSES
For employers, the implications of the findings are pretty clear: “Given that the standard, organization-focused approach of employee socialization is so common, it would benefit managers to think about an alternative approach where there’s more room for newcomers’ self-expression, Gino says. “This is a pivotal stage of the employee/employer relationship, and there are ways to emphasize people’s individuality so they can bring it out into their jobs. To Wipro’s credit, after seeing the results of the study, the company redesigned its employee orientation process such that personal identity socialization is a part of it.”
Read the entire article here: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7193.html
4