“Breaking them in” or “Revealing their best” [Cable, Gino & Staats]

Every company reaches a stage, usually very early on in its life as an organization, when it realizes that setting up a new employee up for success doesn’t stop with hiring the right people and then just letting them “figure it out.”

Usually, the next employee touch-point that gets thoroughly thought out and designed is the employee’s first few weeks on the job, often referred to as “onboarding.”

Typical onboarding aims to ramp up new employees as quickly as possible on “how we do things around here” and making them feel “part of the team,” so they have a solid operational and relational understanding of how to get work done in the new company.

An interesting paper by Daniel Cable, Francesca Gino, and Brad Staats suggests that often a powerful positive component is being left out of that experience:

Breaking them in or revealing their best? Reframing socialization around a newcomer self-expression.

In their paper, they argue that “helping employees frame their new role and its necessary tasks as opportunities to use their signature strengths and unique perspectives at work, thereby bringing more of their authentic best selves to the job.” leads to a more positive attitude, improved performance and stronger retention.

They present a field study and a lab study to support their conclusions. The field study in particular is quite impressive.

The authors partnered with a large Indian call center company to run the study and measure its result on the participants’ on-the-job performance and duration of retention. Different onboarding cohorts were given one of three treatments:

  1. Control group — standard onboarding focused on skills training and general company awareness.
  2. Individual-identity group
  3. Organization-identity group

Both individual and organization identity treatments consisted of augmenting with standard onboarding by adding a 1-hour presentation during the first day of onboarding, giving participants two fleece sweatshirts and a badge.

In the individual-identity group, participants were given sweatshirts and badges with their names on them, and the presentation consisted of:

  • 15 min discussion on how working at the company would provide
    each new agent the opportunity to express himself or herself and generate individual opportunities.
  • 15 min to individually complete an exercise that would permit self-reflection in the next part of the orientation session.
  • 15 min thinking about how the decisions they had made in the exercise may have compared with other people‘s responses and answering a few reflection questions.
  • 15 min introducing their best selves to their future work group.
    and discussing their answers and the approach they took to solving the exercise.

In the organization-identity group, participants were given sweatshirts and badges with the company logo on them, and the presentation consisted of:

  •  15 min discussing the company’s values and why it is an outstanding
  • 15 min discussing the company values and why it is an outstanding
  • 15 min individually answering reflection questions on the information they just heard about the company
  • 15 min discussing their answers as a group.

The statistically significant results were quite impressive: participants in both the organization-identity and control groups were more likely to leave the company, compared to those in the individual-identity condition. The odds of turnover increased x2.5 in the organizational-identify and x1.5 in the control group, compared to the individual-identity group.

The work done by the authors suggests that augmenting/tweaking “traditional” onboarding programs, by adding a relatively small “best self” component, can have an outsized positive impact on employees’ tenure at the company.

“Breaking them in” or “Revealing their best” [Cable, Gino & Staats]

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