When Employees Stand Out, They Stick Around

Conformity is bad for business.
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Thursday’s edition of the Harvard Business Review Daily Stat highlighted a new Administrative Science Quarterly study, “Breaking Them in or Eliciting Their Best? Reframing Socialization around Newcomers’ Authentic Self-expression.”

Warning managers not to make new employees conform, but instead focus on their individual strengths, the Stat said:

UntitledNewly hired employees of an Indian call center were at least 60% less likely to leave within a period of a few months if they went through an onboarding process that, instead of emphasizing conformity, focused on their individual strengths, for example by highlighting what was “unique” about them, says a team led by Daniel M. Cable of London Business School. In a related lab experiment, new hires whose55697_ASQ_v58n2_72ppiRGB_150pixW individual strengths were highlighted ended up performing more efficiently and making fewer errors. Thus the best way for an organization to develop early organizational commitment may be to encourage employees to make daily use of their unique strengths, the researchers say.

Click here to read the original article by Daniel M. Cable of London Business School, Francesca Gino of Harvard University, and Bradley R. Staats of the University of North Carolina. In conclusion, the authors write:

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. 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.

Both existing research and anecdotal evidence suggest that it is rare for organizations to take an authenticity perspective on socialization, despite the fact that it appears to be valuable for newcomers and causes them to want to commit longer to the organization and do higher-quality work. Our research indicates that when organizations find a way to balance this tension—or, even better, use the tension to differentiate themselves to employees as a great place to invest their energies—they appear to have a line on sustained competitive advantage.

The paper was published in the March 2013 issue of Administrative Science Quarterly. Click here to see more articles in OnlineFirst.

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