July 4, 2014

Do You Orientate or Indoctrinate New Hires?

Businessman holding a pocket watch and swinging it in the fashion of a hypnotistI have been experiencing a growing disquiet with the all prevailing and almost universally accepted practice of culture fit based hiring. Why? Because it is regarded as the magic wand of hiring yet its flaws are regularly overlooked. Flaws, such as it limiting diversity and creating homogeneous teams that may struggle to question the status quo and which could stifle innovation.

But, don’t get me wrong; I am not here to assassinate cultural fit hiring as it has many benefits, especially around team cohesion. I do, however, think that there is a lack of balance in reporting and more air time should be given to the drawbacks or even benefits of an anti-culture fit hiring paradigm.

And a recent article making the case for anti-cultural fit hiring was a research piece by Francesca Gino, associate professor in the Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit at Harvard Business School. She looked at the a series of new employee orientations and found that the process was more of an indoctrination, (my words, not hers), than an orientation and it was leading to less happy and less productive workers. She highlighted the idea that even companies that “talk the talk” about hiring new blood and new ideas have a tendency to start ‘downloading’ the corporate culture to new hires, are shut off to the new employee and simply transfer the culture over to the employee. And that the employee’s individual identity is eroded in that process.


Well, this identity squashing/indoctrination style of orientation was shown to have a negative impact on employee engagement in the HBR study. In their field study at WiPro they created two batches of new hires. This consisted of an individual identity group whose orientation was focused on showing how they could express their individual personalities and skills. As part of this individualization strategy, they had fleece sweatshirts embroidered with their names and a name badge and they wore them throughout training. There was also an organizational identity group where orientation was based more around fitting into the company culture, the sort of opposite of the individual identity scenario.

You can probably guess the results. Seven months later, turnover was 26.7 percent higher in the organizational group than in the individual identity new hire group. This fascinating study shows that allowing employees to express their individuality during orientation and showing them that this individuality will be valued will result in more engaged and loyal employees.

So, what’s the takeaway from this? In my opinion, whether you are adopting a cultural fit or anti-cultural fit policy, it’s clearly important that you create a new hire welcome process, which of course acknowledges that there is a group identity and culture that they need to follow to be effective. (They can’t be a total loner/maverick.)

But, it is doubly important that you don’t indoctrinate them and encourage drone-like thinking by making sure there is an immediate and prominent emphasis on individual expression and thinking in the workplace and that there is a celebration and valuing of each person’s individual, signature strengths.

Read more in Organizational Culture

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.