What a creative way to evaluate new employee orientation and training programs! It’s a combination of mystery shopping, investigative reporting, and participant observation. Alex Frankel, over the course of two years, took entry-level jobs in four companies: Gap; Starbucks; UPS; and Apple. He wrote an article about his experiences for Fast Company and his book, Punching In: The Unauthorized Adventures of a Front-Line Employee, was recently published by Collins. All organizations could learn from Frankel’s experience. For example, in contrasting the attitude conveyed on day-one, he writes in the Fast Company article:

Many companies fail from the start by talking down to their new hires and using training materials geared for the lowest common denominator. Gap started employee orientation on the wrong foot by showing us a video about the perils of employee theft. Starbucks handed out Orwellian handbooks telling us to “Be Authentic.” Such approaches produce cynicism and engender a fake sense of belonging, if any at all. Apple treated us like adults.

Although fascinating reading, this approach to evaluating and comparing programs is problematic for organizations to use as an ongoing method for performance improvement. First of all, there is an ethical issue. The trainee-reporters must misrepresent (i.e., lie) themselves to their workplace trainers, coaches, and supervisors. Secondly, it would be an expensive undertaking to have people (you should have more than one perspective) who are skilled in doing this kind of reporting work at an entry level for several months for the sole purpose of assessing how well new hires are brought into the company. And third, organizations can’t afford to wait months for feedback. However, I think stories about these experiences from a number of different people are quite useful. The Success Case Evaluation Method is a good alternative for getting these stories. This method uses elements of investigative reporting in an efficient way to capture and understand the experiences of employees and how those experiences affect the bottom-line. The method certainly could be used with new-hires.