Memorable Messages and Newcomer Socialization

Article excerpt

MOST ORGANIZATIONAL socialization theorists and researchers agree that the entry point, or what is typically referred to as the encounter stage, is a key moment for people as they construct their relationship with an organization (Hess, 1993; Jablin, 1987; Miller & Kramer, 1999; Porter, Lawler, & Hackman, 1975). The encounter stage represents the initial point of entry into the new organization where newcomers may begin perceiving discrepancies between their preconceptions of the organization, and actual job demands and other organizational realities (Nicholson & Arnold, 1991). Research exploring the encounter stage has typically overemphasized the organization's role in constructing the individual-organizational relationship at the expense of studying both macro-level ideological influences and marginalized jobs that do not fit within the traditional definition of working for an organization (Clair, 1996).

In the current study, we continue to focus on organizational jobs, but we also consider the possibility that macro-level implications of socialization can be drawn from studies that emphasize the organization. Most socialization models begin with the assumption that individuals and organizations are the analytic starting points, which moves researchers to explain how individuals take on organizational roles (Bullis, 1999). We begin with the assumption that discourse is the analytical starting point, which moves us to explore how newcomers are constituted by the discursive formations in which they participate and engage. Adopting a view of socialization through a discursive lens facilitates examining how cultural discourses about labor may migrate in and out of organizations and intersect with organization specific and professional occupational discourses to constitute unique individual-organizational relationships.

By exploring the message activity of organizational members, we can examine how messages within organizational life connect with larger cultural discourses and explain how they create and sustain particular patterns of individual-organizational relationships. Using the notion of memorable messages, we explore what kinds of messages newcomers attune to during organizational entry and how this influences the way they construct their relationship with an organization. First, however, a review of existing theory and research regarding organizational socialization is conducted and a description of the relationships among memorable messages, discourse, and socialization follows.

Traditional and Discursive Views Toward Socialization

Several important features characterizing the encounter stage--change, contrast, and surprise--lead to special sense-making needs and move organizational newcomers to be highly receptive to messages (Louis, 1980). During the encounter stage, newcomers are busy developing work skills and abilities (Feldman, 1981), establishing their situational identity (Katz, 1980; Wanous, 1980), and making sense of or attaching meaning to organizational events, practices, and procedures (Louis, 1980). Since newcomers experience uncertainty in their new surroundings, Jablin (1984, 1987, 2001) concluded that they are very interested in obtaining as much new information as possible from others and are most attentive to others' messages during the encounter stage. These messages are particularly salient to newcomers because they socialize individuals into the appropriate values, expected behaviors, and essential knowledge for effectively performing an organizational role (Brim & Wheeler, 1966).

One line of organizational entry research has focused on identifying the tactics organizations use to acculturate newcomers and the impact they have on newcomer adjustment. Jones (1986) refined the work of Van Maanen and Schein (1979) by developing a classification system of six "people processing" strategies that reflect how collective (collective, formal, sequential, fixed, serial, investiture) or individualized (individual, informal, random, variable, disjunctive, divestiture) an organization's socialization program is for newcomers. …