Organizational Culture and Socialization

Take a look at the organizational chart below. It represents the reporting relationships, including the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) for a small firm.

The lines on the above chart also represent channels of communication through which information may flow, both downward (often in the form of directions) and upward (often in the form of feedback) through the firm. There will also be horizontal communication, often related to task performance.

Of course, communication may follow paths that cross traditional reporting lines. The actual organizational communication networks may diverge from formal reporting relationships and departmental structuring. Suppose an outside observer tracked the interaction patterns in this firm. Or, more simply, suppose each of the 16 members were asked, “Whom do you talk to every day?” Mapping the results may yield the something like the following network:

Communication Network of Most Frequent Communications for the Same Organization

Note the similarities and differences between the two depictions of this firm. Employees 5, 6, 7, 8 (who are in the same formal work group) do indeed tend to interact regularly. But they do not interact much with their boss (2), who communicates more frequently with the remaining group member, 9. The boss (2), also does not interact much with the CEO of the firm (1). In fact, the CEO only interacts regularly with group member 5.

Look at the other things going on in this firm. What might account for the differences between the two charts? For example, perhaps employee number 11 needs to interact regularly with members of a different work group because he needs information from them in order to perform his tasks. On the other hand, perhaps 11, 6, 7, and 8 all like to play golf together, and eat lunch together regularly to discuss their game and other interests. Why might employee number 5 have a unique connection to the CEO; why is manager number 3 isolated on the network chart? Make up stories to account for these maps.

The communication patterns in the firm may reflect the impact of formal structuring and task interdependence, but they may also be shaped by physical proximity, personal likes and dislikes, personality, and trust. Whatever the causal factors, the resulting network will shape organizational functioning. Employee 5 may be much more influential than you would have guessed given the formal chart. Manager 3 may be less influential. More subtly, employees 8 and 15 may play a particularly helpful role in this firm, serving a bridging function between two work groups, especially since the managers of those two work groups (2 and 4) do not regularly interact with each other. Employee 13 is important in acquiring and disseminating critical information from the environment (maybe she interacts regularly with consumers of the firm’s product). Her ability to connect with key members of the firm is also important in helping the firm to adapt to changing demands. Recall the “Organizational Metaphors” section in Chapter 15, and the discussion of organizations as cognitive systems. Information, interpretation of events, and learning is shaped by these networks (of you prefer a biological metaphor, think of the nervous system of the firm). In addition to shaping “who knows what” in a firm, other behaviors are affected by networks. For example, employee turnover is related to communication networks, as employees who communicate regularly in a network share their feelings about the firm, and influence each other’s intention to stay or quit.


A manager should have a sense of the communication networks in the firm; working with, and developing them. For example, if an employee with the technical knowledge necessary for a particular project is an isolate, the manager can take special steps to integrate the employee into the communication networks for the duration of the project. In your additional reading for next week (“How to Invest in Social Capital”), you’ll read about the 300 pounds of M&Ms that SAS lays out every Wednesday to bring people together. This is an attempt to help build and reinforce social connections, one the three components of Social Capital discussed by Prusak and Cohen. For some reason I can’t get those M&Ms off my mind.

Think of the firm in which you work (or have worked). What are your connections in firm networks? One of the recommendations in the “Skills and Best Practices” box on page 386 (back in Chapter 15) was to practice “Management by Wandering Around” (MBWA). That is, a manager needs to get out of his or her office and interact with other employees and managers. Table 1-1 on page 7 noted that a manager’s influence is now based on technical and interpersonal knowledge rather than just on formal authority. So whom do you connect with to get task related information? Who connects with you? Whom do you trust? Who trusts you?

The Organizational Iceberg

As you can see, what happens in an organization is not simply determined by the formal structuring of the firm. As a matter of fact, one can depict the organization as an iceberg, with the formal organization (the designated reporting relationships, codes, rules and procedures) above the waterline, and the informal organization (socialrelationships, trust, likes, dislikes, perceptions of one’s role, shared values and expectations) represented by the larger mass below the surface.


Organizational culture, which involves the set of key values, beliefs, understandings, and norms that members of an organization share, is a good example of all this. Your text’s definition of culture is taken from Edgar Schein, a key writer on culture (and organizational socialization as well). Here is Shein’s full definition.

Organizational culture is the pattern of basic assumptions that a given group has invented, discovered, or developed in learning to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, and that have worked well enough to be considered valid, and therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems.

Any social system (Micron, Google, a native tribe in Borneo) has two fundamental problems: (1) How can we best survive in our environment (external adaptation), and (2) How do we interact and get along with each other (internal integration). External adaptation involves performing tasks (like developing new products andmarketing, or if you are the tribe, hunting, gathering, and defending against competing tribes). Internal integration involves ensuring that each member understands their role in the social system and acts in reasonable harmony with other members. As a given social system interacts over time, members develop and share their understandings about “how things should be done around here.” These understandings are passed on to new hires (or new members born into the tribe).

Organizational culture is often shaped by the values of the founder (think of Sergey Brin and Larry Page at Google, Herb Kelleher at Southwest Airlines, Sam Walton of Wal-Mart fame, and Walt Disney). It may also be shaped by the firm’s industry (Frito Lay has a very different set of demands to adapt to than Boeing), and by the culture of the country in which the firm is founded. Look again at the means by which organizational culture can be shaped (pages 46-48 of your text). This includes attending to the type of people hired, the reward systems in the firm, training programs, as well as the basis for rewards and promotion. It also includes the type of things that leaders measure and pay attention to. Dave Packard of HP was famous for flying out to branches of his company to make a show of firing managers who skirted ethical lines. This embedded a certain kind of culture. In fact, look at the listing on pages 32-33 regarding “How to Improve the Organization’s Ethical Climate”. These actions help to shape the culture of the firm, developing a common understanding of “the way things are done around here.”

A company’s culture may be a tremendous asset to the firm. It may be a detriment. I once worked for a large firm in the telecommunications industry that had developed its culture under conditions of regulation and no competition. “Our culture is killing us”, bemoaned our V.P. And while we’re on the subject of problematic cultures, don’t forget your “Enron Ethics: Culture Matters More than Codes” reading. Look at how culture was embedded at Enron, and how it meshes with your text’s discussion in Chapter 2 and the Ethics Learning Module.

What a strong culture (in which certain core values are widely shared and deeply held) does do is provide social consistency. It is easier for everyone to be rowing in the same direction if we share the common values and assumptions. Indeed, a strong culture can take the place of some of the bureaucratic control mechanisms discussed in chapter 15. To the extent that firms are developing more organic designs, some mechanistic practices could be replaced by cultural control.


Goal of control approach

Employee compliance

Employee Commitment

Degree of Formality

Strict rules, formal controls, Rigid hierarchy

Group norms, culture, Self control

Performance expectations

Directed toward minimum levels of acceptable performance

Directed toward enhanced performance above and beyond the minimum

Organization design

Tall structure, top-down influence

Flat structure, shared influence

Reward system

Directed at individual performance

Directed at group performance


Limited and formal

Extended and informalAs your text points out, culture is embedded and perpetuated through organizational socialization. (Remember the last part of Schein’s above definition of culture about teaching the embedded assumptions to new members). Your text (page 48) defines socialization as “the process by which individuals learn an organization’s values, norms and required behaviors.” If you are tired of definitions, here’s a picture.

Summary Diagram of the Organizational Socialization Process

This picture represents a “coming together” of the individual and the company as they (hopefully) achieve a mutual fit. The individual brings his/her own abilities, values and attitudes. Imagine that individual is you. You are seeking out a place of employment that will meet your needs and fit your abilities. At the same time, organizations are seeking employees to accomplish required tasks. Each has expectations, which may or may not be met. The selection process is, of course, a critical first step. Through a valid selection process, the organization hopes to be able to acquire employees who will substantially contribute to the firm’s success.

Ideally, the selection process also allows the opportunity for both parties to share their expectations, and to ensure that expectations are realistic. One practice related to this is called realistic job previews (RJPs). RJPs involve providing the applicant with information about both the positive and negative aspects of working for the firm. The clearer the applicant’s understanding of the firm and his role in it (“the job will require at least 1 week’s travel a month”, or “in this firm teamwork is emphasized, and employees are evaluated by their peers”) the better he or she will be able to judge if the job is a good fit. RJPs may also help to inoculate against unrealistic expectations and lead to individual to develop coping strategies to be successful in the new setting. RJPs will be mentioned in the next chapter (page 77).

Once hired, the “encounter phase” of organizational socialization (page 50) is underway. Throughout this process, the provision of information is critical. In addition to the aforementioned RJPs, this information could be provided through:


Socialization Process


Self- concept Values Attitudes Behavior Patterns

Learning mutual expectations and making adjustments

Taking roles

Developing expectations about the effort-rewards- satisfaction relationship

Feedback on performance

Developing new self-concepts

Internalization of group norms and values

Resolution of competing role demands

Mastery of critical tasks


Internal work motivation

Search & Selection

Needs and Abilities

Expectations about the organization

Task & other requirements

Expectations about the individual

Goals, Values Technology Structure Relationships Managerial SystemProvision of specific (hopefully challenging) goals Feedback (don’t forget positive feedback as well) Mentoring

In achieving person-organization fit, socialization provides the fine tuning, complementing the selection process. I have only two last points about this process. Though we most often think of socialization as applying to new hires, there is likely to be some socialization process whenever the individual moves across the boundaries (internal as well as external) of the firm. This includes changing functional areas, moving to a new location, or being promoted to a higher level of the firm. Last, while we often think of socialization as “molding” the new hire into the culture of the firm, the coming together process can potentially lead to changes in the organization itself. One way to alter the culture of a firm is to bring in a critical mass of people with differing values (and to make sure that those new values are supported).

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