1: “In the late 2000s, WIPRO found itself facing a persistent problem,” Daniel Coyle writes in The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups.
WIPRO (pronounced WHIP-row) is one the leading Big Tech companies in the world. As part of its business, it runs highly successful call centers. “
“It is organized. It is highly efficient,” Daniel writes. “The days consist of the same work that happens in call centers all over the world: A caller phones in with issues about a device or a service, and WIPRO’s agents attempt to remedy it. WIPRO is by almost every measure a nice place to work. It features competitive salaries and high-quality facilities. The company treats employees well, providing good food, transportation, and social activities.”
What was the problem the company was struggling to solve?
“Its employees were leaving in droves, as many as 50 to 70 percent each year,” Daniel writes.
“They left for the usual reasons—they were young or taking a different job—and for reasons they couldn’t quite articulate.”
How did WIPRO’s leaders respond?
They did what leaders typically do. They increased financial incentives: “They boosted salaries, added perks, and touted their company’s award as one of India’s best employers,” Daniel writes.
All of these actions make perfect sense.
The only problem?
They didn’t work.
Team members kept leaving at exactly the same rates as before.
So, in the fall of 2010, company leaders decided to do something new. With the help of researchers Bradley Staats, Francesco Gino, and Daniel Cable, they designed an experiment.
“Several hundred new hires were divided into two groups, plus the usual control group,” Daniel writes.
“Group one received standard training plus an additional hour that focused on WIPRO’s identity,” he shares. “These trainees heard about the company’s successes, met a ‘star performer,’ and answered questions about their first impressions of WIPRO. At the end of the hour, they received a fleece sweatshirt embroidered with the company’s name.”
Group two also received the standard training as well as an additional hour. However, this hour was focused on the individual new hire.
They were asked: “What is unique about you that leads to your happiest times and best performances at work?” They were prompted “to imagine they were lost at sea and to consider what special skills they might bring to the situation.”
When the additional hour of training was over, they were also given a fleece sweatshirt, but this version had their name embroidered alongside WIPRO’s.
2: Researchers Bradley Staats’s expectations were low. After all, “high attrition is the norm in the call center world, and WIPRO’s attrition rates were firmly in line with industry averages.”
How much difference could a one-hour experiment make anyway?
“I was pretty sure that our experiment was going to show a small effect, if any at all,” Bradley recalls. “I saw the onboarding process in a rational, transactional, informational terms. You show up at a new job on the first day, and there’s a straightforward process where you learn how to act, how to behave, and that’s all there is to it.”
Bradley was wrong.
Seven months later, the results came in. “Trainees from group two were 250 percent more likely than those from group one and 157 percent more likely than those from the control group to still be working at WIPRO,” Daniel writes.
“The hour of training had transformed group two’s relationship with the company. They went from being noncommital to being engaged on a far deeper level.”
Bradley was “completely shocked.”
3: What exactly was happening here?
“The answer is belonging cues,” Daniel writes.
Which creates psychological safety.
The new hires had received “a steady stream of individualized, future-oriented, amygdala-activating belonging cues,” he notes.
“All these signals were small—a personal question about their best times at work, an exercise that revealed their individual skills, a sweatshirt embroidered with their name. These signals didn’t take much time to deliver, but they made a huge difference because they created a foundation of psychological safety that built connection and identity.”
The trainees in group one received information about WIPRO, its star performers, and a nice company sweatshirt, but none created a connection between the person and the company.
“My old way of thinking about this issue was wrong,” Bradley reflects. “It turns out that there are a whole bunch of effects that take place when we are pleased to be a part of a group, when we are part of creating an authentic structure for us to be more ourselves. All sorts of beneficial things play out from those first interactions.”
Daniel spoke with Dilip Kumar, one of the WIPRO trainees who had participated in the experiment. He expected Dilip to share vivid memories of the session, but “he’d basically forgotten that the experiment had ever happened,” Daniel reports.
“To be honest, I don’t remember much about that day, but I remember it felt motivating,” Dilip says, laughing. “I guess it must have worked, because I am still here, and I definitely like it.”
Reflection: What groups or teams have I been part of that excelled and performed at a very high level? Reflect on how that team interacted with each other.
Action: Focus on creating psychological safety today in my interactions with my team.