All Aboard!!!


Here at the University things don’t stop just because most of the students go home.  Classes are very much in session, and we also change from being a not-for-profit educational institution to a not-for-non-profit conference operation during the summer months.  We are currently in the midst of designing the training for our summer student staff.  Which brings us to on-boarding.

This Harvard Business School article on employee orientation is giving me some things to thing about.  Our student orientation very much follows this example:

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.

We just recently interviewed 100 students for 30 or so positions.  Our particular interview process consists of speed interviewing, where each candidate is interview by 5 people for 5 minutes on one of 5 behavioral competencies.  After each round (there were three) the professional staff would debrief, rate, and rank the applicants.  At the conclusion of the speed-interviewing we would then reach consensus as to which candidates made the cut and then deciding what roles they would play during the summer.  We truly do demand much of our student staff and the selection process selects top-shelf candidates, even though this is just a student summer job.  The researchers indicate that focusing on the individual employees rather so than their place in the organization or the organization itself garners the best results.

The researchers took an Indian customer service employer and designed an on-boarding process that reflected three conditions.  The first condition was the typical on-boarding that focused on the firm and skills training.  The second condition highlighting the new employee as an individual and discussed ways for the new staff to express their individuality at work.  The third condition focused on the organization, encouraging new staff to reflect on their part of the whole.  The second and third conditions were reinforced through clothing.  Those in the individual group received shirts embroidered with their names while the organizational group received shirts embroidered with the company name.  They found that on-boarding tactics matter:

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.

Although the researchers selected turnover as their key metric, I wonder how employee on-boarding and a focus on the individual employee can impact individual and organizational performance?  The actual research paper concludes with the following:

More than just a theoretically meaningful phenomenon, socialization is serious business for organizational leaders. The process of recruiting, hiring, and training new employees is expensive and time consuming, and quitting is a likely outcome of unsuccessful socialization (Fisher, 1986; Bauer, Morrison, and Callister, 1998). Failed socialization puts leaders right back where they started after months of investment: trying to recruit new employees. Conversely, successful socialization results in productive, committed employees who are excited to come to work and proud of their role in helping their organization succeed. We found surprisingly large and valuable changes in employees’ work quality and retention when organizations made relatively small investments in socialization practices that focus on newcomers’ personal identities.

You can find the paper here.