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  • Writer's pictureAlejandro Buriel Rocha

Safety and belonging. On talent retention.

The one-hour intervention:

In the late 2000s, WIPRO call center in Bangalore, India was facing a problem: its employees were leaving at a rate of 50-70% annually, and the company's attempts to solve the problem with incentives and awards failed. Nor money or promotions seem to be strong enough motivations for employees to stay. So, with the help of researchers Bradley Staats, Francesco Gino, and Daniel Cable, they decided to embark on a small experiment at WIPRO with new hires.

The experiment involved three groups of trainees:

  1. Group one received standard training, plus an extra hour focusing on WIPRO's identity.

  2. Group two received standard training, plus an hour focusing on the trainee's identity, and group three was the control group.

  3. Group two was asked questions that activated the amygdala and created belonging cues like: "What is unique about you that leads to your happiest times and best performances at work?" This question is future-oriented and encourages trainees to think about their personal strengths and qualities that they can bring to the workplace. By considering their unique contributions, trainees were more likely to feel a sense of belonging and connection to the company. As we mentioned before the amygdala is not only in charge of the fight or fly response. It is also the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions and social cues, so this experiment lead to a deeper sense of engagement and commitment to the organization.

Trainees in this group were 250% more likely to continue working at WIPRO than those in group one and 157% more likely than those in the control group. The belonging cues created a foundation of psychological safety, built connection and identity, and created a deeper engagement with the company. It turns out that when individuals feel pleased to be part of a group and are part of creating an authentic structure to be themselves, many beneficial things play out from those first interactions.

Let us take a look to another example to identify further the elements at play.

Magic Feedback:

A few years back, a team of psychologists from Stanford, Yale, and Columbia had middle school students write an essay, after which teachers provided different kinds of feedback. Researchers discovered that one particular form of feedback boosted student effort and performance so immensely that they deemed it “magical feedback.” Students who received it chose to revise their papers far more often than students who did not, and their performance improved significantly. The feedback was not complicated. In fact, it consisted of one simple phrase.

I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.

That’s it. Just nineteen words. None of these words contain any information on how to improve. Yet they are powerful because they deliver a burst of belonging cues. Actually, when you look more closely at the sentence, it contains three separate cues:

1. You are part of this group.
2. This group is special; we have high standards here.
3. I believe you can reach those standards.

These signals provide a clear message that lights up the unconscious brain:

Here is a safe place to give effort.

Belonging cues have to do not with character or discipline but with building an environment that answers basic questions:

Are we connected?
Do we share a future?
Are we safe?

They can be fostered and developed in your organization one by one.

Therefore, companies should focus on creating belonging cues and fostering psychological safety to build deeper engagement with employees.

If you want to create Belonging and Psychological Safety in your organizational culture, contact us!

References: “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups”. By Daniel Coyle.

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