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SHRM Foundation Research

     

A Dynamic Social Capital Model of The Organizational Socialization Process

Funded: June 2008     Completed: September 2011  

Michelle K. Duffy, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management
Jason D. Shaw, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management
Ruolian Fang, Ph.D. Student, University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management

Executive Summary
New employees acquire the attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge needed to participate as organizational members through organizational socialization. It is important to understand the socialization process given that ineffective socialization is one of the primary drivers of newcomers quit and discharge, an issue that is problematic not only from cost-based perspectives, that is, opportunities to recoup investments in recruitment, selection, and training, but also in terms of work disruptions and productivity losses. 

This study applied the social capital perspective and sought to understand the socialization processes by which newcomers access to and mobilize social capital embedded in their informal networks of relationships with organizational insiders (e.g., peers and supervisors) to achieve effective socialization. Specifically, it examined how social capital granted by newcomers’ communication network influences their learning and assimilation. Furthermore, this study investigated that newcomers, depending on their personality characteristics (e.g., core self-evaluations), differentially mobilize the accessible social capital for effective adjustment. Overall, this study indicated that on the one hand, organizational insiders (e.g., peers and supervisors) play an important role in facilitating newcomers to learn and assimilate after their organizational entry, and on the other hand, new employees are proactive at building informal networks for self-socialization.

KEY FINDINGS

• Newcomers developed different network structures of communication relationship with organizational insiders—some developed dense (versus sparse) networks; some developed strong (versus weak) ties or connections to insiders; and some developed more connections with high-status insiders (e.g., supervisors and managers) than with low-status insiders (e.g., peers).
• Social capital significantly influenced newcomers’ effective socialization—having ties to high-status insiders enabled newcomers to acquire more political knowledge, more effectively integrate into workgroups, and more strongly identify with organizations; newcomers with strong ties to insiders were more socially integrated and better identify with organizations.
• Newcomers, depending on their personality characteristic of core self-evaluations (CSE), differentially capitalized on strong ties to insiders for effective adjustment—high-CSE newcomers better mobilized strong ties to insiders to acquire political knowledge, social integration, and organizational identification.
• High-status insiders (e.g., supervisors and managers) play a particularly important role in newcomers’ effective socialization. Newcomers, despite their different levels of core self-evaluation, do not differ in mobilizing ties to high-status insiders for effective adjustment. In other words, both high- and low-CSE newcomers recognize the importance of high-status insiders.
• Having ties to high-status insiders can compensate some newcomers’ lack of personal resources (e.g., motivation and agency) needed to mobilize strong ties to insiders for effective socialization.

IMPLICATION FOR PRACTICE

Organizations often adopt socialization programs or practices to ease newcomers’ transition. The findings of this study suggest that organizations should recognize the important role that informal networks of relationships with organizational insiders play in newcomers’ learning and assimilation. On first entering an organization, new hires must build their communication network so that they can acquire insider information that will reduce their uncertainty about organizational life. Therefore, organizations may want to adopt some programs and practices that help newcomers build an effective communication network so that they can easily approach peers and supervisors for information, develop connections with high-status contacts (e.g., supervisors, managers, and mentors), and build strong relationships with contacts.

Specifically, the programs and practices may include: (1) formal mentoring programs in which experienced organizational insiders act as role models, mentors, or trainers and thus enable newcomers to build connections with high-status contacts, (2) formal training classes that enable newcomers to form relationships with others in their cohorts as well as to meet people from different parts of the organization, (3) regular or frequent social gatherings that create networking opportunities for newcomers, and (4) formal organizational channels that provide newcomers with positive feedback as they adapt to their new environment. All of such programs and practices help newcomers increase their accessibility to and mobilization of social capital. More specifically, the findings of this highlight the necessity of organizational HR programs and practices to cultivate socialization climates which convey positive attitudes toward helping newcomers socialize.

Study Methods
This study was designed as a multi-wave study. With a sample of new employees, we collected data on personal characteristics from 248 participants before their organizational entry. Six months after their organizational entry, 153 of these participants participate in the second survey on social network development. Nine months after their organizational entry, 146 of the participants completed the third survey on effective adjustment in terms of learning and assimilation.

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