February 5, 2020

Total Performance Leadership Blog Post #2: Unified Leadership-Onboarding

By Rob Andrews

If you intend to build a culture of peak performance, engaging your workforce, starting with onboarding makes a huge difference.

In his book, The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle uses 21st-century research and neuroscience to explain how great cultures are built. In our last post, we wrote about the three negative archetypes that adversely affect high-performance leadership teams.

Listening is key. Research shows that in powerful cultures, people are listening to each other. They tilt their heads toward the speaker, raise their eyebrows, and hardly blink. They interject words like “uh-huh, right, yes, and so on” to show they’re paying attention. Great listeners hold back until the time is right to interject or ask clarifying questions, as interruptions can disturb the smooth flow of interactions that foster a sense of belonging or safety. Salespeople who interrupt their potential buyers, for example, aren’t nearly as successful as those who spend more time listening.

Peak-performing teams have leaders who are willing to let their colleagues see their weaknesses. Demonstrating you’re aware of your own imperfections and admitting you make mistakes early on in an interaction lays a foundation for feelings of safety and connectedness.

Peak-performing teams are also hardworking, purposeful, and full of positive energy. They are built deliberately with people who are absolutely committed to the organization’s purpose, mission, vision, and values. They generate ideas and are constantly mindful of their responsibility to enhance their culture.

Proximity does make a difference, which can be a challenge in this modern workplace in which working from home, video conferencing, telephone, and text messages have replaced face-to-face interactions in many organizations. Proximity makes connection easier. Research shows that people in cities a couple of hundred miles away establish a meaningful connection easier than people across the country or across the world. Moreover, Coyne’s research shows that even opposing military units establish a kind of closeness and rapport, even as they try to kill one another.

Wipro Call Center, headquartered in Bangalore, India, is the model of an effective call center. Highly organized, efficient and effective. The company treats its employees well, with great compensation, nice facilities, good food, transportation, and social activities. Despite these perks, in the late 2000s, Wipro found itself with a persistent problem: 50 -70% workforce turnover each year. Upon closer examination, droves of employees were leaving because they didn’t feel a strong connection to the group. Wipro responded by raising wages, increasing perks, and touting its standing as the best place to work. None of these things helped.

In the fall of 2010, with the help of three consultants, Wipro conducted an experiment that was not expected to show much, yet it yielded profound discovery. Several hundred new hires were divided into three groups, one being the control group. Group 1 received the standard training plus an additional hour that focused on Wipro’s identity. These new hires were taught about the company’s successes, met a star performer and answered questions about their first impression of Wipro. At the end of the hour, they received a fleece sweatshirt, embroidered with the company’s name. Group 2 received the standard training and additional hour focused not on the company but on them. They were asked questions such as: What is unique about you that leads to your happiest and most productive times at work? At the end of the hour, they were given a fleece sweatshirt embroidered with their name alongside the company’s name.

Wipro’s leadership didn’t expect much. High attrition is the norm in the call center world, and Wipro’s attrition was firmly in line with the industry averages. They felt it was unlikely that a one-hour intervention would make much of a difference. Seven months later, the numbers came in, and everyone was shocked. Trainees from Group 2 were 250% more likely than those from Group 1, and 157% more likely than those from the Control Group to still be working at Wipro. The hour of training had transformed Group 2’s relationship with the company. They went from being non-committal to being engaged on a far deeper level. Trainees from Group 2 received belonging cues the other groups did not. They received a steady stream of individualized, future-oriented, amygdala-activating, belonging cues that altered the fundamental distance between the new hire and the company. All of these signals were small but had a huge cumulative effect in that they built a foundation of psychological safety that build connection and identity. The experiment proves that there is a transformation that takes place when we are pleased to be a part of a group when we are a part of creating an authentic structure to contribute to the organization while being more ourselves. Interestingly, trainees interviewed much later remembered little about their first day but felt a sense of belonging that eliminated any need to look elsewhere.