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Effective socialization of employees: socialization content perspective.

Organizational socialization is the process through which organizational culture is perpetuated, by which newcomers learn the appropriate roles and behaviors to become effective and participating members (Louis, 1990). The topic has been discussed from various perspectives including socialization stages (e.g., Feldman, 1976, 1981; Wanous, 1992), socialization tactics (Van Maanen and Schein, 1979), person-situation interactionism (Jones, 1983), newcomer sense making (Louis, 1980), symbolic interactionism (Reichers, 1987), and stress (Nelson, 1987).

Despite the large amount of research on organizational socialization, considerably less attention has been given to the socialization content and its use in evaluating the success of the socialization process, raising four research questions: (1) "What" information is transmitted during organizational socialization (socialization content)?, (2) "How" is the information transmitted (socialization tactics)?, (3) How do you evaluate whether the information was acquired successfully by the newcomers and/or transmitted successfully by the organization (socialization effectiveness)?, and (4) What is the relationship between effective socialization and behavioral and attitudinal outcomes? The first and second research questions are addressed in relation to the third research question - socialization effectiveness - which is the main focus of this study.

No empirical study to our knowledge has examined socialization effectiveness. Theoretical papers have associated effective socialization with the achievement of individual and organizational outcomes (Schein, 1978), but their relationship has not been investigated empirically. Although more recent studies are beginning to focus on socialization content (Morrison, 1993, 1995; Ostroff and Kozlowski, 1992, 1993; Chao et al., 1994), only Chao et al. (1994) have specifically developed some measures for the construct. Socialization tactics (Jones, 1986) have not been studied in relation to socialization content and socialization effectiveness. In general, empirical research in organizational socialization is sparse and fragmented (Bauer and Green, 1994; Chao et al., 1994; Fisher, 1986).

The two major gaps identified in the literature are: (1) there is a lack of empirical studies evaluating socialization effectiveness based on the socialization content (Fisher, 1986), and (2) the relationship between socialization tactics and socialization effectiveness has not been examined empirically (Chao et al., 1994). The present study addresses these gaps and utilizes a relevant set of criteria - task mastery, work group functioning, knowledge and acceptance of culture, personal learning, and role clarity - based on the socialization content to evaluate socialization effectiveness. It examines empirically the relationship between socialization tactics and socialization effectiveness.

The purpose of this article is twofold. First, it extends prior studies in organizational socialization by developing a comprehensive measure of the effectiveness of the socialization process that matches the conceptual definition of organizational socialization. Secondly, it contributes to empirical research in the socialization literature by examining the relationship between socialization tactics and dimensions of socialization effectiveness. The remainder of this article is organized as follows: the theoretical background, hypothesis development, method, results, discussion and conclusions.


Effective Socialization

Effective socialization has been discussed in the literature (e.g., Feldman, 1980, 1981; Schein, 1978) and it has been used interchangeably with other related constructs, such as effective adaptation (Louis, 1980). Other researchers view it more narrowly as a change in basic attitudes and beliefs that suggest an internal commitment to the organization, rather than just compliance with organization practices. Wanous (1992) considers effective socialization to be synonymous with organizational commitment. He focuses on the internal processes of the individual, not on the socialization process.

In the present study, effective socialization is defined as the criteria through which the success of the organization's socialization programs and the newcomer's success through the entire socialization process is evaluated. It is conceptualized as the primary "outcome" of the socialization process that will enhance the achievement of individual and organizational outcomes. The organization teaches the newcomer the skills of the new job, and the norms and values or organizational culture that guide behavior and enhance the newcomer's performance. The information that is transmitted through different socialization programs and informal processes is the socialization content, and how successful newcomers are in acquiring it determines socialization effectiveness.

Socialization Content

Socialization content refers to what is learned during socialization (Chao et al., 1994) or what is being imparted to the newcomer in the organization (Louis, 1980). Four content categories have been identified in the literature: task, group, organizational, and personal. Although commonalities exist among the authors in their discussion of socialization content, they differ in their emphasis or focus on specific content categories. For instance, consistent with Louis (1990), and similar to Feldman (1981) and Schein (1980), Fisher (1986) specified four content categories: (1) organizational values, goals, and culture, (2) work group values, norms, and friendships, (3) how to do the job, needed skills and knowledge, and (4) personal change relating to identity, self-image, and motives. Within the socialization literature, measures of socialization content were developed in only one empirical study (Chao et al., 1994) where the content categories identified were performance proficiency, people, politics, organizational goals, values, and history.

A general typology of the information that newcomers must acquire upon entry into the organization is nonexistent (Morrison, 1995). Building on previous studies in socialization and related areas (Chao et al., 1994; Feldman, 1981; Fisher, 1986; Louis, 1990; Morrison, 1995; Ostroff and Kozlowski, 1993; Schein, 1980), the content categories utilized to evaluate socialization effectiveness include: (1) task mastery, (2) functioning within the work group, (3) knowledge and acceptance of organization's culture, (4) personal learning, and (5) role clarity. These categories represent indicators of socialization effectiveness and they reflect salient aspects of information newcomers are expected to acquire in any organization. Indicators of Socialization Effectiveness

Task Mastery. Task mastery involves learning the tasks of the new job, gaining self-confidence, and attaining a favorable level of job performance (Feldman, 1981). Fisher (1982, 1986) noted the importance of task mastery to successful newcomer adjustment. Newcomers upon entry seem to focus most of their attention on task relevant information which have been found critical to their adjustment and continued membership in the organization (Morrison, 1995).

Functioning Within the Work Group. When employees join the organization, they need to learn and understand the way things are done within their work units/groups that is consistent with that of other relevant employees. Indicators of successful functioning within the work group include getting along with coworkers and superiors, coming to feel liked and trusted by peers, understanding the group norms and values, and making a satisfactory adjustment to group culture (Feldman, 1981; Fisher, 1986). As such, learning how to function within the work unit is necessary for effective socialization.

Knowledge and Acceptance of Organization's Culture. Knowledge reflects employees' understanding of the organization's culture. Acceptance relates to how fully the employees have internalized the culture of the organization. Every new employee has to be familiar with the organizational culture. The adjustment to organizational norms and values is beneficial when it leads to the internalization of pivotal norms and development of a new self-identity (Schein, 1988; Van Maanen and Schein, 1979). Learning the culture enables newcomers to develop a definition of the situation, and a scheme for interpreting everyday events (Louis, 1980).

Personal Learning. This entails the newcomer learning about himself or herself (Fisher, 1986). Personal learning has been identified by Fisher (1986) and Schein (1978) as an important component of the socialization process. Schein (1964) emphasized the importance of personal learning to new college graduates. According to Schein (1964), college graduates enter the work place with personal doubts about their competence in job performance and ability to cope with the anxieties and tensions of the work world. As such, the newcomer needs to learn the type of person he or she is and how he or she will function within the organization.

Role Clarity. The absence of role ambiguity or role clarity has been studied as one of the outcomes of newcomer adjustment in the organization (Fisher, 1985, 1986; Jones, 1986). Achieving role clarity suggests that the newcomer is clear or certain about the expectations of members of his or her role set as well as the scope and responsibilities of his or her new job (Rizzo et al., 1970).


Socialization Tactics and the Dimensions of Effective Socialization

Socialization tactics have been described as the "ways in which the experiences of individuals in transition from one role to another are structured for them by others in the organizations" (Van Maanen and Schein, 1979: 250). Jones (1986) developed measures of six socialization tactics, each of which is conceptualized as a continuum: collective versus individual (provision of common learning experiences), formal versus informal (e.g., set training programs), sequential versus random (structured career progression), fixed versus variable (timetables for career progression), serial versus disjunctive (provision of role models), and investiture versus divestiture (support from experienced organizational members).

Jones collapsed the six organizational tactics into one major continuum - institutionalized versus individualized tactics. The institutionalized tactics represent collective, fixed, sequential, serial, and investiture tactics at one end of the continuum. These tactics suggest a systematic and/or planned set of activities designed by the organization to transmit the socialization content to the newcomers. The individualized tactics represent individual, informal, variable, random, disjunctive and divestiture tactics at the opposite end of the continuum, and they place the acquisition of the socialization content on the newcomer.

Jones (1986) found that the more institutionalized the form of socialization was, the greater were job satisfaction and commitment, and the lower was intention to quit. Individualized tactics were associated with high levels of role conflict and role ambiguity. Jones and other socialization researchers (e.g., Allen and Meyer, 1990) found that socialization tactics, which relate to social aspects of the situation (investiture versus divestiture and serial versus disjunctive) are particularly important for personal adjustment. A more institutionalized socialization strategy results in higher attitudinal outcomes.

Although, the relationship between Socialization tactics and the effectiveness of the socialization process was not investigated by the above studies, the present study builds on their findings. Institutionalized socialization tactics suggest that the presence of a formal orientation program designed to teach or familiarize newcomers with the expectations of the organization, history, norms and values or culture of the organization will increase the likelihood of new members making friends and seeking out more informal interactions. According to Feldman and Weitz (1990), research suggests that although newcomers may prefer the social aspects of a casual orientation, the uncertainty and confusion created by unstructured programs may counteract the supposed benefits of a one-on-one training arrangement as in the individualized socialization strategy.

It is predicted that a more institutionalized socialization strategy will enable the newcomer to: master the tasks of his or her new job by providing greater instruction and guidance, function better within his or her work group by fostering support through experienced organizational members, learn and accept the organizational culture through interaction with significant others, learn more about the self through the reinforcement of the socialized self, and achieve more clarity in carrying out his or her role. Since institutionalized socialization tactics in this study are represented by experienced cob leagues, training, and co-workers, we delineate three hypotheses.

Hypothesis 1: Experienced colleagues will be associated with positive (a) task mastery, (b) work group functioning, (c) knowledge and acceptance of culture, (d) personal learning, and (e) role clarity.

Hypothesis 2: Training will be associated with positive (a) task mastery, (b) work group functioning, (c) knowledge and acceptance of culture, (d) personal learning, and (e) role clarity.

Hypothesis 3: Co-workers will be associated with positive (a) task mastery, (b) work group functioning, (c) knowledge and acceptance of culture, (d) personal learning, and (e) role clarity.



A sample of 200 new employees who have been working with a Fortune 200 company for between three months and three years and are participants in the Centralized Career Development Program (CDP) were invited to participate in the study. The firm designed the CDP for newly hired college graduates who have not had extensive prior work experience. It is not a structured program but rather is a rotational program whereby newcomers are provided with actual work experience in different operations within the company. Each assignment can last up to ten months and each employee may undertake up to three assignments before completing the program. The CDP provides the employee participants with guidance and support in making appropriate assignment selection and ultimately securing a permanent position in a functional area of the company.

Two separate surveys were administered to the 200 employees at the company premises and through the mail, and to their respective supervisors. While the employee survey included all the study variables, the supervisor's survey included only items assessing employee task mastery.

One hundred and seventy-eight matched responses were obtained resulting in a total response rate of 89%. Data from 131 respondents still in the program at the time the surveys were administered were used for the analyses. Hence, information reported in retrospect was not used for data analysis. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents were male (87) and the sample averaged 25 years of age. All the respondents had a college degree, and 28% had a graduate or professional degree. Seventy-nine percent of the respondents were Caucasian and 19% were non-caucasian and 2% did not indicate their race. The respondents' average organizational tenure was 16 months (standard deviation = 8.5 months).

Over 90% of the supervisors who responded were males and the sample averaged 40 years of age. Eighty percent of the respondents had a college degree, and 63% had a graduate or professional degree. Ninety-four percent of the respondents were Caucasian and 6% were non-caucasian. The average organizational tenure for the supervisors was 166 months (standard deviation = 66.6 months).


Socialization Tactics. This variable was assessed with a 35-item scale that consists of 27 items slightly modified from the original 30-item scale developed by Jones (1986). Six support items assessing supervisor's support from scales developed by Greenhaus et al. (1990) were added to the scale as were two new items assessing coworkers' support and newcomers' access to informal networks.

Three interpretable factors - experienced colleagues, training, and co-workers - obtained from a factor analysis with varimax rotation of the 35 items were retained for data analysis. Alpha coefficients of .83, .69, and .64 were obtained for experienced colleagues, training, and co-workers, respectively. These three factors reflect three dimensions of socialization tactics categorized as institutionalized versus individualized tactics.

Experienced colleagues relates to aspects of the institutionalized versus individualized tactics that focus on the extent to which newcomers' supervisors and experienced members of the organization provide support and also act as role models. Nine items loaded on this factor including four items from the investiture versus divestiture dimension, four items from the serial versus disjunctive dimension, and one item from the fixed versus variable dimension.

Training relates to aspects of the institutionalized versus individualized tactics that focus on the extent to which training or other learning experiences the organization provides to the newcomers are formalized. This factor consists of four items including two items from the sequential versus random dimension, one item from the collective versus individual dimension and the last item from the formal versus informal dimension.

Co-workers relates to aspects of the institutionalized versus individualized tactics that focus on the extent to which coworkers are involved in newcomers' early organizational experiences. The scale consists of three items. Two of the items were from the investiture versus divestiture scale, and the third item is new - "I have learned about accepted norms or code of conduct related to such matters as dress, speech, attendance, etc. at Company A from my co-workers."

Dimensions of Socialization Effectiveness

Task Mastery. The respondents' respective supervisors, utilizing a 14-item scale developed for this study, assessed this variable. Items were generated from the performance evaluation form used by the participating company. Examples of items in the supervisors' scale include, "I am confident in the employee's abilities to solve problems related to his or her job." and "The employee has mastered all aspects of his or her job." Responses were anchored on a five-point format ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." based on the results of a factor analysis with varimax rotation and a reliability analysis, a one-dimensional scale was retained consisting of the fourteen items with an alpha coefficient of .94.

Functioning Within the Work Group. This variable was assessed by a 12-item scale. The questions assess acceptance, fit, trust, and feeling of belongingness to the group which implicitly reflect adjustment to the group culture. The first six items were taken from Greenhaus et al. (1990). The remaining seven items were drawn from or developed from previous studies (Feldman, 1976, 1981; Levine and Moreland, 1990). Items in the scale include, for example, "I feel that I am really a part of my work group." and "I get considerable cooperation from the people I work with." Responses are indicated on a 5-point scale anchored from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." based on the results of a factor analysis with varimax rotation and a reliability analysis, one composite scale including the 12 items with an alpha coefficient of .88 was retained.

Knowledge and Acceptance of Organizational Culture. These variables were assessed through a 44-item organizational culture survey generated from the culture literature (e.g., Cooke and Lafferty, 1989; Hofstede et al., 1990; O'Reilly et al., 1991) and input from company employees. Twenty employees (five members from each of the company's four product groups) designated as "experts" were selected based on their knowledge of the culture and their experience in the company to participate in developing the measure of culture.

A 39-item survey was sent to the experts and responses were anchored on a 5-point Likert format ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." The employees were requested to individually examine the organizational culture survey, indicate unclear or ambiguous items, and add any aspect of their culture not reflected or contained in the list of items. Upon such feedback, a revised 44-item culture survey was sent back to the experts. Each was asked to respond to each culture item the way it exists in his or her particular product group. Upon receipt of the surveys from the experts, individual responses within each group were compiled. Items in which experts within each group had similar or different scores were identified. Group interviews were conducted to clarify issues of agreement or disagreement for each of the culture item among the experts.

For each of the culture items, the "experts" score was calculated as an unweighted average of each expert's score. After the interview process, a final revision was made to the Organizational Culture Survey, which was included in the survey administered to the sample of CDP employees.

The knowledge and acceptance of organizational culture were measured as two separate constructs since conceptually they are assessing different aspects of culture. Two scores were obtained for each culture item. Employees were asked to respond to each culture item from two different perspectives: as they exist in their company group and as they prefer them to exist in their group. As such, for each culture item there were two responses with each anchored on a Spoint Likert scale ranging from "To a very great extent" to "Not at all." Items in the scale include, for example, "The employee's first priority is to respond quickly and effectively to customers' needs.", "Employees must take chances if they aspire to significant reward and recognition." and "Low cost solutions are stressed over quality work and solutions (R)." The 44 culture items were factor analyzed with varimax rotation resulting in seven interpretable factors and a 26-item scale. However, consistent with the focus of this study, one composite scale including the 26 items with an alpha coefficient of .81 was retained.

Knowledge of culture was determined as a mean of the participant's perception score. The acceptance score was determined as the absolute difference between the participant's perception score and the participant's preference score.

Personal Learning. An 8-item Self-Information scale developed by Callanan (1989) was used to measure this variable. An alpha coefficient of .85 was obtained comparable to the reported alpha of .80 in the original scale (Callanan, 1989). The scale was designed to measure the level of understanding a person has about his or her interests, abilities, values, talents, and aptitudes. The scale directly assesses the respondents' agreement or disagreement with respect to the items on a S-point scale.

Role Clarity. This variable was assessed with eight items from the role conflict and role ambiguity instrument developed by Rizzo et al. (1970), and were slightly reworded to reflect the focus of this study. Items in the revised scale include "I know exactly what is expected of me." and "I have to feel my way in performing my duties." Respondents indicated their agreement or disagreement to the items on a S-point scale. One item was deleted based on the results of the reliability analysis. A composite scale with 7 items with an alpha coefficient of .72 was retained.


Table 1 provides the means, standard deviations, reliabilities, and intercorrelations of the study variables. The results of the regression analyses are presented in Table 2. We controlled for organizational tenure in each analysis. Organizational tenure was not associated with any of the outcome variables.

Hypothesis 1 predicts that experienced colleagues will be associated with (a) task mastery, (b) work group [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED] [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 2 OMITTED] functioning, (c) knowledge and acceptance of culture, (d) personal learning, and (e) role clarity. Experienced colleagues was significantly related to task mastery (r = .25, p [less than] .01), success in functioning within the work group (r = .37, p [less than] .001), knowledge of culture (r = .37, p [less than] .001), acceptance of culture (r = -.16, p [less than] .05), and role clarity (r = .37, p [less than] .001). Consistent with the correlation results, a significant regression coefficient is indicated for experienced colleagues ([Beta] = .27, p [less than] .01) when task mastery is regressed on the three measures of socialization tactics. A significant regression coefficient is indicated also for experienced colleagues ([Beta] = .31, p [less than] .001) when success in functioning within the work group is regressed on the three measures of socialization tactics. A significant regression coefficient is indicated for experienced colleagues ([Beta] = .42, p [less than] .001) when role clarity is regressed on the three measures of socialization tactics. Thus, there is support for most of the predicted relationships in Hypothesis 1.

Hypothesis 2 predicts that training will be associated with (a) task mastery, (b) work group functioning, (c) knowledge and acceptance of culture, (d) personal learning, and (e) role clarity. Training was related significantly to knowledge of culture (r = .16, p [less than] .05) and acceptance of culture (r = -.16, p [less than] .05). None of the regression coefficients were significant for any of the six outcome variables. Hence Hypothesis 2 was not supported.

Hypothesis 3 predicts that co-workers will be associated with (a) task mastery, (b) work group functioning, (c) knowledge and acceptance of culture, (d) personal learning, and (e) role clarity. The role of co-workers is related significantly to success in functioning within the work group (r = .22, p [less than] .01) and knowledge of culture (r = .25, p [less than] .01). The regression coefficients were not significant for any of the six outcome variables. Hypothesis 3 was not supported.


Findings from the correlation and multiple regression analyses suggest that of the three measures of socialization tactics, experienced colleagues play the most prominent role in predicting effective socialization. As predicted, experienced colleagues was significantly related to task mastery, success in functioning within the work group, knowledge and acceptance of culture, and role clarity. They reveal that experienced colleagues represent an important source of information regarding job knowledge, the norms and nuances of the work group, culture of the organization, and role expectations. Hence, they contribute to newcomers' learning the ropes. The findings extend the works of Ashforth et at (1996), Jones (1986), and Allen and Meyer (1990).

Co-workers, another measure of socialization tactics, was positively related to newcomers' success in functioning within their work group and knowledge of culture only in the correlation analysis. A possible explanation for the weak relationship is that the items in the coworkers' scale reflect a broad perspective such as the sample item: "My coworkers have gone out of their way to help me adjust."

Training was related to two of the six predicted relationships, knowledge and acceptance of organizational culture. However, inconsistent relationships between training and indicators of socialization effectiveness in the regression analyses suggest the existence of a more complex relationship.

Research Implications

This study has explored a line of research that will contribute to greater understanding of early organizational experiences of newcomers. By focusing on the socialization process and examining its effectiveness, the study highlights relevant variables that have been linked to achievement of individual and organizational outcomes and early career success. Future research should extend the present study by incorporating relationships between indicators of socialization effectiveness and traditional outcome variables such as organizational commitment, job satisfaction, etc. that have been the focus of previous socialization studies.

Task mastery and personal learning have been noted as "metaskills" essential for career success in the 21st century (Hall, 1996). Although, no significant relationship was found between the socialization tactics and personal learning in this study, expanding items in the coworkers' scale and including more training items could provide insight into management of these skills.

Managerial Implications

The study highlights implications for managing successfully the transition and effective socialization of new employees. Experienced colleagues contribute to successful early organizational experiences, which have been attributed to long-term career success (Berlew and Hall, 1966). Similarly, mentorship programs both formally and informally have been associated with positive organizational experiences and career success. (e.g., Van Slyke and Van Slyke, 1998). With the increasing proactive career management of the 20th and 21st centuries, newcomers are advised to seek mentors at different levels of the organization (Loeb, 1995). Organizations should make effective use of their supervisors, experienced members, and coworkers formally through mentoring programs or informally.

Further, organizations can benefit from distinguishing among the sources of information, especially since newcomers tend to seek job-related and role-related information from supervisors and emotional information from co-workers during the socialization process (Miller, 1996; Morrison, 1995). Hence, the present finding suggests that experienced members of the organization represent sources of different types of information for newcomers as well as contribute to their successful acquisition of such information. Although co-workers are identified as sources of particular types of information, their role in newcomers' acquisition of the information was not validated in this study.

Limitations and Needed Research

The use of a cross-sectional design to study the socialization phenomenon makes it difficult to capture time effects. Future studies should use a longitudinal design to examine the relationships predicted in this study on college graduates employed in more than one company. The generalizability of the findings will be enhanced by including non-participants in a career development program in future studies. Future research could also examine the content areas validated by Chao et al. (1994) and those used in this study.

The reliability of Jones' (1986) measures of socialization tactics has been problematic especially in cases such as this where revised or shortened versions were used (e.g., Black, 1992). A recent study (Ashforth et al., 1996), has tested new measures of one aspect of socialization tactics - investiture - and has also emphasized the need for further development of Jones' (1986) measures of socialization tactics. Future research will benefit from developing more distinct measures of socialization tactics.


This is one of the first studies that develops a comprehensive set of indicators that matches the conceptual definition of the socialization content identified from the socialization literature (Feldman, 1981; Fisher, 1986; Schein, 1978). This study makes a unique contribution to the socialization literature by developing measures of effective socialization, and testing empirically the relationship between socialization tactics and socialization effectiveness. The results suggest that availability of experienced organizational members and supervisors during newcomers' early organizational experiences would contribute to their effective socialization and long-term career success. Implications for research and managers were examined as well as limitations and needed research.

We sincerely thank the editor and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions on an earlier version of this manuscript. We also thank Lu Liu for her research assistance.


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Author:Anakwe, Uzoamaka P.; Greenhaus, Jeffrey H.
Publication:Journal of Managerial Issues
Date:Sep 22, 1999
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Security and Loss Prevention: An Introduction, Fourth edition. (Reviews).
Post-hire human resource management practices and person-organization fit: a study of blue-collar employees.
People and their opinions; thinking critically about public opinion.
Organizational socialization from a content perspective and its effect on the affective commitment of newly hired rehabilitation counselors.

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