Beating “B-orientation”


Why do we need a better on-boarding/orientation programme?

Giving adequate support to new hires is crucial to the success of any organisation. Research demonstrates that such on-boarding improves both staff retention and on-the-job performance (see for instance, hereOpen a new window, hereOpen a new window or hereOpen a new window).

At MSF, our operating model of hiring more than 90% of our field staff locally, where contexts can differ dramatically from one place to another, requires a highly adaptable on-boarding process. Furthermore, the remaining 10% of field personnel come from abroad to work generally for 6-12-month periods, generating high staff turnover. There are strong operational reasons for MSF to manage its human resources in this way; however, these twin considerations make our on-boarding process even more important to our overall effectiveness.

It is accepted wisdom across MSF that our briefings do not satisfy our needs. To respond, Operational Centre Paris requested the MSF Japan Innovation Unit to work on a Field On-boarding/Orientation Project and focus specifically on newcomers’ first month in their new field role.

What have we done so far?

In 2019 we interviewed 14 staff members from a range of field backgrounds to understand how they brief newly recruited members of their team, and how they were briefed when they first join MSF. It immediately became clear that there is a huge difference in information communicated to national staff compared to international staff recruits. National staff briefings appear exclusively job focused, whereas international staff have additional, lengthy briefings about project context. We therefore broadened our interviewees to ensure we captured specific difficulties national staff members have faced when first joining MSF projects.

Next, we analysed the data collected in our interviews in reference to existing academic literature about orientation and on-boarding processes. This led us to three principle insights about briefings in MSF:

We incorporated these 3 insights into an ideation phase in which we slowly narrowed down the number of possible orientation solutions. Of the possibilities remaining, the most promising to build on these insights was a proposal to “gamify” briefing preparation. This seeks to maximise incorporation of briefers’ expertise while minimising information duplication, inconsistency and the burden of preparation. Gamification could make the on-boarding process simpler, more methodical, more efficient, more flexible and more enjoyable for both briefers and newcomers. It further promises to be flexible enough for adaption to all field locations as well as HQ offices.

What is our next step?

We are on-track to complete our first prototype of the game by the end of March 2020. We shall then do initial testing in two office and two field locations. Based on the data gathered during testing we shall review and refine our solution.


MSF Japan Innovation Team

MSF Japan Innovation Team is providing innovative ideas of solutions to the MSF activities. If you, either as a company or as a professional, have an idea that would be beneficial to our projects as well as patients, please contact us. Your innovative proposal is always appreciated.