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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