Focusing on the individual may be better for everyone

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Shifting the focus of the employee onboarding process from the inducting company to the inductee could have serious implications for employee retention and customer satisfaction, according to new research reported in Forbes.

This is the conclusion of a paper published in this month’s edition of Administrative Science Quarterly. “Organisations will talk about recruiting from outside the company because they need new ideas and new blood, but then there is this tendency to shut off the new and basically transfer the corporate culture over to the new employee,” Francesca Gino, associate professor at Harvard Business School and co-author of the paper, told Forbes.

While previous research has shown that employees are happier and more productive when encouraged to use their peculiar strengths, little attention has been paid to how this plays out during onboarding. The authors of this paper set out to test their hypothesis that an emphasis on employees’ individual skills and attributes during orientation would improve performance.

In the course of their research, they conducted a study at Wipro, a business process outsourcing company in Bangalore, India. Call centre employees at Wipro were historically inducted using a process that expressly discouraged elements of their individuality, for example their accents. At the same time, Wipro had a turnover dilemma: more than half of its call centre employees left only a few months after training.

The researchers set up an experiment whereby Wipro inductees were divided into three groups: the control; the ‘individual identity’ group; and the ‘organisational identity’ group. Members of all three groups went through the traditional process, but the latter two had an additional hour of training. In the ‘individual identity’ group this included activities designed to reveal their personal strengths, such as discussing what keeps them happy and productive at work. In the ‘organisational identity’ group the focus was, instead, on the organisation’s strengths and members were asked to consider which of these they might share with their family.

As the researchers had hypothesised, the ‘individual identity’ group was the most successful of the three. “Considering we just changed one hour on the first day of orientation, the results were amazing,” Gino said.

After seven months:

 

  • Turnover in the ‘individual identity’ group was 47.2% lower than in the control group.
  • And it was 26.7% lower than in the ‘organisational identity’ group.
  • Turnover in the ‘organisational identity’ group was 16.2% lower than in the control group.
  • Employees in the ‘individual identity’ group had higher performance scores than those in the control group.

Key HR Takeaway:

 

  • Research has shown that employees are happier and more productive when encouraged to use their peculiar strengths.
  • Shifting the focus of employee orientation away from the inducting company to the individual employee could have serious, positive implications for retention and customer satisfaction.
  • When researchers conducted a field experiment, those employees who were encouraged to reveal and discuss their individual strengths during orientation had a lower rate or turnover, and higher performances scores, than those who were not.

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