Sophomore Slump at work – how do you compare?

In the US, a sophomore is someone who is in their second year of college, with two more years before they (hopefully) graduate. The term ‘sophomore slump’ refers to the significant drop in morale many sophomores feel after the initial excitement of college (and the elaborate on-boarding process) is replaced by the reality of harder courses.

First, some context. The survey is for internal customer-facing teams and consists of 14 questions that are based on sentiment –their opinions. One question asks respondents to rate the following “As an organization, we seem to improve what customers value the most.” The choices are on a Likert scale, from ‘Always’ to ‘Never’ . Our algorithms analyze the results through multiple ‘lenses’ which give us a sense of employee’s perspectives against people, process, culture, leadership, technology and metrics dimensions. This analysis then flows into into our flagship software – a digital coach for managers in customer support/success – which then guides the managers in a step-by-step way on how to address these issues in a holistic way, with modern measures that matter.

One lens is ‘the Alignment, Behavior, Capability’ lens.

Alignment gives a sense of the team’s perception of how well they know other adjacent group’s goals and how well aligned their own goals are to the other group’s — and that of the overall organization.

Behavior gives a sense of the team’s perception of how well you ‘walk the talk’ as opposed to just ‘talk and talk’. For example – do you claim to have a collaborative environment, while the results clearly show a hierarchical, command-and-control environment.

Finally, Capability is the team’s perception of whether you are capable of doing what you say you will do as an organization. Put another way – does your team roll their collective eyes when you launch a new initiative knowing it will simply be replaced by another new shiny object next year?

The results are stunningly clear. There is a consistent and pronounced Sophomore Slump for new employees. In company after company, in division after division, employees in their first year have far better Alignment, Behavior and Capability scores than any other cohort. By far. It drops dramatically in the second year onward and this often takes a few years to recover. In some cases, as in the example below, it never recovers.

This makes sense. Just like incoming college students, we on-board new employees well. They are wooed and recruited and after the honeymoon period, we stop paying any special attention and leave them alone. After all, they can ‘figure it out’.

As other data in our survey shows, they often can’t. We have other lenses that we use to analyze the data. One is the “Listening and  Learning” lens. It measures how well employees believe you listen to the needs of customers, employees and the business? How well they believe you apply what you learn?). No matter how we have sliced and diced the data, the Sophomore Slump seems to be real.

For more context: The bigger the column, the better. The bigger the number in the column, the better. And in general, Alignment, Behavior and Capability numbers should ideally be roughly equal within a column. Sample size of this particular data set is just under 2,000 employees.

Here’s what you can do.

  • Find out if the ‘sophomore slump’ is real for you. Ask your HR team if they can help you find this data – either with employee survey data they already have by tenure, or by including relevant questions about tenure in their next employee survey.
  • If the sophomore slump is true for you, ask your managers what they need from you in order to continue to succeed after the first year. Partner with HR or get their help in working with a professional organization to make sure you can extrapolate the difference between ‘what they want’ and ‘what they need’ to succeed.
  • Create a prioritized plan to make it happen. One of the easiest places to start is to change your measures. A specific measure that will help is looking at ‘Time to Competency’, by tenure. Time to competency is defined as how soon the team believes someone is able to work independently (as opposed to simply passing an exam). This is both for new employees as well as existing employees learning new skills.
  • If you’d prefer a data-driven software-based approach to solving this problem, contact us for a 30 day trial of Klever Insight. This includes the survey and 5 licenses for your managers to work on a ‘Leap’ that will make demonstrable progress in 30 days or less.

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