Each community changes, when new members join it. Newcomers shape the community with their thoughts and skills and by doing so change the distribution of labor and the atmosphere.

You will get the best out of new employees, when they are guided to find their own niche, where self-expression is combined with utilization of their strengths and meeting the needs of the company. Regardless of this, the orientation practices at organizations often emphasize more how newcomers can socialize themselves in the company and adopt its values. This paradox was the point of departure in a study conducted by Daniel Cable with his colleagues for London Business School.

Best orientation practices tested

Research into personnel development can rarely come up with experiment designs familiar from medical research where a randomly selected group will get the actual medicine and the other half placebo. This design would allow filtering away the effect of other factors and recognizing the effect on operations of the development measure in question.

Cooperation partner in Cable's study was Wipro, a large company providing outsourcing services, on the new employees of which a largely randomized test was performed. One third of new employees received the typical orientation provided in the company.  One third received orientation that emphasized the internalization of the company's values and the newcomers adaptation to the operating model of the company. Lastly, one third received orientation that expressed interest in how the newcomers could best apply their own strengths in their future job. The second group received as a welcoming gift a shirt with the company logo, while  those in the third group got a shirt with their own name.

Orientation method significantly affects behavior

The results were astonishing.

The turnover of the participants whose orientation focused on their own strengths was smaller, work satisfaction higher, and even their customers' satisfaction was higher than those of other groups.

Of course, it is possible to criticize the research outcome by saying that the focus group was apparently low-educated call center employees and the same would probably not happen with Western-educated experts. One could also think that the results have been affected by the Hawthorne phenomenon, in other words, knowledge of being part a privileged research subject group has affected the behavior of the test subjects.

Even after these reservations, the results are one demonstration of the unused potential of the orientation stage, which may have a great effect on business performance. People have a need to carve out their own space. It is a waste, if a new employee merely aims to assimilate in the company culture instead of molding and questioning it. Starting at a new job is a unique situation in that the strengths of the newcomer have been discussed and assessed in a comprehensive manner during the recruitment process. A natural continuation to orientation is to help the newcomer to recognize how best to utilize their strengths and mold their duties in the same direction.  There were good experiences about this at Wipro, and the idea could be introduced more in other orientation programs as well.