In the United States, a sophomore is someone in their second year in 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 onboarding process) is replaced by the reality of harder courses.
Given that two of the Klever Insight co-founders started our careers in higher education, it is no wonder we were reminded of the term sophomore slump when we reviewed the results of thousands of respondents of the Klever Insight survey.
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, for example, is “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 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 method to address these issues in a holistic way, with modern measures that matter. One lens we use to analyze the results 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, 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?
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 —the sophomore slump—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 onboard 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.”
We onboard new employees well. After the honeymoon period, we stop paying attention and leave them alone.
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 do 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. The 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 or not. 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. Look at the open-sourced de facto standard for customer support, and look at the resources there on how to improve.
Phil Verghis is the CEO and co-founder of Klever Insight and the author of
The Ultimate Customer Support Executive . In his long and distinguished services career, he and his teams have won numerous awards for service excellence. He is a longtime friend of HDI and has been chair of the Strategic Advisory Board. He also was instrumental in creating the Open Customer Metrics Framework, the de facto Open Metrics Standard for customer support leaders. Follow Phil on Twitter @phil_verghis.