Socialization, Resocialization, and Communication Relationships in the Context of an Organizational Change

Article excerpt

It is generally held that organizations seek to socialize newcomers so that they will conform to prescribed norms and values, perform their roles efficiently, and exhibit commitment to the organization (Van Maanen & Schein, 1979). Indeed, organizations at times specifically design a set of experiences to instruct newcomers in the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to perform their new role (Chao, O'Leary, Wolf, Klein, & Gardner, 1994; Jones, 1986; Van Maanen & Schein, 1979). However, relationships between socialization efforts and their outcomes are not easily discerned as most studies to date only consider the impact of socialization tactics and neglect other notable influences such as communication messages and relationships that provide direct meaning to employees' socialization experiences. Messages from role set members are critical because supervisors, coworkers, and subordinates can clarify, reinforce, and/or contradict organizational messages (Jablin, 2001) and have considerable influence on employees' attitudes about their job and the organization (Salancik, 1977).

In addition, socialization research typically only considers newcomers, neglecting incumbents undergoing fundamental changes due to restructuring or shifts in organizational priorities (Feldman, 1989). Socialization is a part of all work role transitions both into and within organizations (Van Maanen & Schein, 1979), and firms expend considerable time and effort on training programs that seek to resocialize their current employees (Feldman, 1989).

This investigation examines the socialization of new hires and the resocialization of incumbents as part of an organizational change. Specifically, this study focuses on the relative impact of communication relationships and organizational socialization tactics on newcomers' and incumbents' organizational commitment and two key role outcomes, role ambiguity and role conflict. The perceived socialization experiences of newcomers and incumbents, characteristics of their communication relationships with role set members, and socialization outcomes are measured following an introductory training session and 4 months later. Following a review of socialization tactics and the influence of communication relationships on employees' role ambiguity, role conflict, and employee commitment and the study's methodology, we report the results of the study, discuss the results, and suggest directions for future research.


Faced with uncertainty about how to perform a new role, unfamiliar colleagues, and new practices, employees need to obtain information that will enable effective role performance and adjustment to organizational norms (Jablin, 2001). Through socialization tactics, organizations determine individuals' access (or lack thereof) to information sources, their length and nature of training, and interpersonal treatment (Van Maanen & Schein, 1979). Van Maanen and Schein's (1979) socialization tactics represent a continuum of experiences that employees may encounter.

Collective tactics put a group of individuals through a common set of experiences while individual tactics provide members with unique experiences in isolation from other employees. Formal tactics segregate targeted employees from other members and provide materials designed specifically for them while informal tactics offer learning by trial and error. Sequential tactics offer discrete and recognizable steps leading to full membership while the steps to full membership are ambiguous and unknown with random tactics. Employees experiencing fixed tactics have a specific timeframe for completion of a boundary passage while those experiencing variable socialization tactics do not have a specific timeframe. Serial tactics offer access to prior role occupants or others' role expectations. Prior role occupants are unavailable or the role is newly created in disjunctive tactics. …