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Jamie Lawrence


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News: onboarding requires radical shake-up


Organisations must radically rethink their onboarding approaches to reap new benefits, according to a leading academic from the London Business School.

Dan Cable, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, studied the onboarding procedures of various organisations – including Oracle and Disney – with colleagues at the LBS.

The team found that onboarding processes share a common goal – to ‘indoctrinate’ new employees into the organisational culture.

Professor Cable said: “We found that organisations often get it wrong. Based on our field research, we suggest that organisations should replace their traditional approach to onboarding with a new approach we call ‘personal-identity socialisation’.

“Rather than imposing organisational culture onto employees, ‘personal-identity socialisation’ involves giving newcomers the opportunity to express their unique perspectives and strengths on the job from the very start, and frame their work as a chance to do what they do best every day.”

Based on their findings, the academics have identified four principles organisations should follow so that newcomers can identify their strengths and discover how these can be used to strengthen the existing corporate culture.

The authors cite many benefits of this approach, including improved relationships with colleagues, lower stress, less emotional burnout and greater employee retention. They argue that, ultimately, integrating authenticity into socialization processes could help organisations remain agile across time.

The four principles are:

1. Break out of the traditional employment trap

  • This is the hardest step, because the normal way managers think about jobs is that they are clusters of activities, and the goal is to pay employees a market rate to complete pre-scripted activities. The employees do not have to care about the activities, and will not likely want to do the activities; after all, “that’s why it’s called work!” The implication of this mindset is that work is what people do to fund their “real lives.” Given that we spend most of our waking lives working, in today’s world people are starved for places to express their authentic identities.
  • Break out of this thinking trap by remembering that organizations are made up of people, and all people have an innate need to use and be known for their signature strengths. When you frame the workplace as a setting where people can express their authentic best selves, work becomes a place where people bring the best of themselves. This implies a quiet revolution where organisations seek to fulfill employees’ basic human desires instead of merely serving as a transactional employment relationship to give employees money to fund their ‘real lives.’ This view of employment is so rare that it is very noticeable and palpable to employees.

2. Help newcomers identify their authentic strengths

  • Before introducing newcomers to their team or even describing a specific job, start by giving them dedicated time to get in touch with their unique strengths. For example, encourage employees to answer personalized questions such as “what is unique about you that leads to your best performance and happiest times at work?”
  • Help newcomers construct a Personal Highlights Reel, where they focus on 2-3 events or activities where they were at their best.
  • Sponsor or help new employees conduct the Reflected Best Self-analysis, a form of 360-degree exercise where they gather moments when they were at their best across a wide range of friends, family, mentors, coworkers who know them well.

3. Facilitate introductions to other colleagues around authentic strengths

  • When it’s time for newcomers to meet each other and their new colleagues, structure this introduction such that each person has time to introduce him or herself along the lines of their Authentic Strengths. As they meet their team, each newcomer can discuss the conditions that activate his or her best-self, and the conditions that inhibit his or her ability to bring your best-self to life
  • By talking about who they are when they are at their best, people can affirm their self-integrity in a new setting and construct a social identity around their Authentic Strengths.

4. Ask newcomers to reflect on their authentic strengths and how they can be helpful on the job

  • When introducing the organization’s needs, the specific tasks, and the function of the newcomer’s job, allow them to reflect on and formulate ways they can actively use their signature strengths on the new job.
  • This allows people to frame the job as an opportunity to use their best strengths at work, and ladder their own purpose and motivation into the job.

“By making authenticity a core value that is communicated to newcomers, organisations may not only inspire greater attraction and inputs, but may also strategically allow for positive deviance that keeps them fresh and agile”, say the authors.

“For example, firms like Southwest Air and hire new employees based on their willingness to be themselves at work and solve problems using their unique perspectives and strengths, with positive results both for employee engagement and organisational success”.

Professor Dan Cable conducted the research alongside Dan Cable, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, London Business School and his colleagues, Francesca Gino, Associate Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School and Brad Staats, Assistant Professor of Operations, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

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