Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Socialization and Organizational Outcomes in Large Public Accounting Firms

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Socialization and Organizational Outcomes in Large Public Accounting Firms

Article excerpt

Organizational socialization describes the preparation of individuals for service as participants in business enterprises. This process entails mastery of critical skills required for effective performance, as well as the assumption of the attitudes that must accompany these activities. The organization plays a vital part in the learning and adjustment made by the new member (see Fisher, 1986; Chao et al., 1994). Experienced organizational members selectively provide reinforcement, communicate the approved range for action, and serve as examples of achievement.

Public accounting organizations ultimately depend upon the caliber of the professional services their members can deliver. The importance of human resources partially explains public accounting's concern with recruiting high quality students (Collins, 1987; Holdeman et al., 1996), and training them to act professionally (Bedford, 1988; Goetz, et al., 1991). The socialization issue also manifests itself as concerns with staff commitment (Shaub et al, 1993; Edelstein and Aird, 1988), performance (Hunt, 1995) and undesired turnover (Doll, 1983; Robson et al., 1992). While these issues have been studied as discrete topics, they relate, at least in part, to whether or not socialization has been adequate. Although socialization pertains most directly to training, it is also effected by the expectations held by recruits. Well-socialized firm members are more likely to be committed to the organization, willing and able to act effectively on its behalf, and less likely to initiate a departure. However, beyond the tec hnical information that is communicated to new staff members, very little is known about socialization in public accounting.

Previous work in accountant socialization has either been nonempirical (e.g., Fogarty, 1992) or has ignored the critical role of the organization in shaping experience (e.g., Blank et al., 1993). This article develops specific hypotheses that link firm choices to the critical outcomes of socialization. An empirical study was designed using audit staff employed in the major international firms.

This article is organized into four subsequent sections. The first reviews the literature with the purpose of developing testable hypotheses. The second section describes a study of public accountants. The final two sections report the results and discuss them, respectively.


Upon entry into the firm, the recruit assumes a role that has explicit and implicit connections to other people in the organization. These linkages have been found to be important to socialization in a number of ways. By prioritizing some types of communication, these social paths limit the interaction of organizational members (see Reichers, 1987; Miller and Jablin, 1991). By bringing the recruit into contact with specific others, this structure tends to define the scope of the sense-making requirements of recruits (see Louis, 1980). Ultimately, this interaction creates an informal currency that expresses organization values (see Becker, 1964). Van Maanen (1976) suggests that how firms structure the experience of new recruits communicates the importance of socialization outcomes. Katz (1975) and Ostroff and Kozlowski (1992) illustrate how organizational design creates differing degrees of reinforcement and personal stress for newcomers. Despite variations in its specific characterization, how the organizati on defines newcomers' experiences appears to be rather consequential.

Van Maanen and Schein (1979) formulate a theory of socialization that depicts six dimensions of organizational variation. New organizational members can be subjected to experiences that are (1) collective or individual, (2) formal or informal, (3) sequential or random, (4) fixed or variable, (5) serial or disjunctive, and (6) investitive or divestitive. The first two dimensions are self-explanatory. Socialization is often thought of as an inherently group experience conducted in a highly self-conscious way. …

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