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Socialization Perspectives and Positive Organizational Scholarship

Abstract and Keywords

Research on socialization in organizational contexts has followed four relatively independent paths: socialization stage models, socialization tactics, newcomer proactivity, and socialization content (newcomer learning). We argue that these paths are actually intertwined, such that they jointly lead to newcomer adjustment (specifically, role clarity, task mastery, social acceptance, and role crafting). Although socialization research tends to assume that the process is somewhat negative—reducing uncertainty and anxiety—a positive organizational scholarship (POS) lens suggests that newcomers frequently view the process as a positive experience. Indeed, newcomers are apt to feel exhilarated and energized by the novelty and challenges of a new work setting. We examine how the process of socialization may foster not only the “conventional” outcomes of newcomer learning and adjustment, but greater psychological capital and a sense of thriving.

Keywords: Keywords, Socialization, thriving, psychological capital, proactivity, learning, adjustment

Although organizations are usually intended by their founders to be more or less permanent institutions, they are populated with individuals who regularly come and go. How do organizations continue to function in the face of a constantly changing roster of members? The answer is through socialization, “the process by which individuals become part of an organization’s pattern of activities” (Ashforth, Sluss, & Harrison, 2007, p. 1; see also Anderson, Riddle, & Martin, 1999). This broad definition accommodates the effect of the organization on the individual and the increasingly recognized effect of the individual on the organization, and it accommodates the fact that even organizational veterans may need socialization as they assume new responsibilities and transition into new positions. Given space limitations, we will focus on the socialization of newcomers to the organization.

Research on socialization in organizational contexts dates back many decades to various ethnographic studies of occupations, particularly those by members of the Chicago School of Sociology (see Barley, 1989, for a review). Numerous perspectives have since been offered to explain socialization, and numerous reviews of the literature have attempted to provided some order to the resulting sprawl (e.g., Ashforth, Sluss, & Harrison, 2007; Bauer, Bodner, Erdogan, Truxillo, & Tucker, 2007; Bauer, Morrison, & Callister, 1998; Bauer & Taylor, 2002; Cooper-Thomas & Anderson, 2006; Fisher, 1986; Saks & Ashforth, 1997a; Saks, Uggerslev, & Fassina, 2007; Van Maanen, 1976; Wanous & Colella, 1989).

Our discussion will be based on the integrative socialization model by Ashforth, Sluss, and Harrison (2007), which depicts complementary relationships among the four major socialization perspectives that have emerged thus far (see Figure 40.1): socialization stage models, (institutionalized) socialization tactics, newcomer proactivity, and socialization content (or newcomer learning). Socialization stage models refer to the sequence of phases through which newcomers progress as they transition from (p. 538) inexperienced outsiders to savvy insiders. Although these models have attracted little scholarly attention during the last 25 years, they provide a useful heuristic by suggesting the challenges that newcomers may face as they settle in (Fisher, 1986). (Institutionalized) socialization tactics are the formalized means by which organizations structure the experiences of newcomers in order to impart certain lessons. Researchers have consistently utilized Van Maanen and Schein’s (1979) typology of tactics, explained in more detail below. Newcomer proactivity is the means by which individuals actively engage with their work environment, largely as a means of seeking information about their role and work environment in order to reduce uncertainty. Typologies of proactivity focus primarily on behavior (e.g., observing, feedback-seeking, networking) and secondarily on cognition (i.e., positive framing; see Ashforth, Sluss, & Harrison, 2007). Socialization content (newcomer learning) refers to the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and abilities—the nature of what is actually learned—to transform the individual into an effective organizational member. While numerous typologies of socialization content have been proposed (see Ashforth, Sluss, & Harrison’s, 2007, review), most concur that “learning spans the job and role, interpersonal and group relationships, and the nature of the organization as a whole” (p. 17).

Finally, as Figure 40.1 also depicts, (proximal) newcomer adjustment is the outcome of these four socialization perspectives. Although there is little consensus on what specifically constitutes proximal adjustment, Bauer et al. (2007) and D. C. Feldman (1981) provide a three-fold formulation that articulates the broad range of adjustment challenges: role clarity, task mastery, and social acceptance. We add a fourth criterion: role crafting. Building upon job crafting (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001), Sluss, van Dick, and Thompson (2010) argue that role crafting is a meta-construct in which one defines, takes, makes, and “innovates” around his or her given role within the organization, ranging from minor adjustments to wholesale change to the role. Given increasing environmental complexity and dynamism, role crafting is becoming not only more common but normatively expected (Evans & Davis, 2005).

Proximal newcomer adjustment in turn predicts performance and various work-related attitudes (e.g., job satisfaction, organizational commitment, intentions to remain; Bauer et al., 2007; see also Saks et al., 2007), as well as group and organizational outcomes (e.g., cohesion, internal stability; Cooper-Thomas & Anderson, 2006; Myers & McPhee, 2006). These more distal forms of adjustment are not depicted in Figure 40.1 as our focus is instead on the proximal forms of adjustment; again, role clarity, task mastery, social acceptance, and role crafting.

Positive Organizational Scholarship and Socialization: Thriving and Psychological Capital

How does positive organizational scholarship (POS) fit into this integrative model? Although a “meta-theory” of POS relationships does not yet exist, we believe that newcomer learning and adjustment are particularly relevant to two major POS constructs: thriving and psychological capital (PsyCap) (see Figure 40.1). Thriving is “the psychological state in which individuals experience both a sense of vitality and a sense of learning … which communicates a sense of progress or forward momentum in one’s development” (Spreitzer, Sutcliffe, Dutton, Sonenshein, & Grant, 2005, p. 538). Although the tie between newcomer learning and “a sense of learning” is obvious, the notion of vitality—of “aliveness” (p. 538), the “physical or mental vigor that creates the capacity to live, grow, and develop” (M. S. Feldman & Khademian, 2003, p. 344)—is quite novel to the socialization literature. This literature has tended to cast the socialization process in somewhat aversive terms, as the reduction of uncertainty and its associated anxiety (e.g., Gallagher & Sias, 2009; Kramer, 2004; Morrison, 1993). Further, although Pascale (1985) writes that Americans “are intellectually and culturally opposed to the manipulation of individuals for organizational purposes” (p. 28), he goes on to note that some individuals in his study complained about working in organizations that did not do a good job of socializing newcomers to the culture, and that newcomers perceived that up to three-quarters of their time was spent just trying to interpret organizational expectations. In short, newcomers often desire and expect some socialization and, as we will see, newcomers in organizations that abnegate socialization tend to be poorly adjusted.

 Socialization Perspectives and Positive Organizational ScholarshipClick to view larger

Fig. 40.1 The socialization perspectives and positive organizational scholarship. Note: The dotted lines denote that socialization content does not fully mediate the links between socialization tactics/newcomer proactivity and newcomer adjustment. Adapted from Ashforth, B. E., Sluss, D. M., & Harrison, S. H. (2007). Socialization in organizational contexts. In G. P. Hodginson, & J. K. Ford (Eds.), International review of industrial and organizational psychology Vol. 22 (pp. 1–70). Chichester, UK: Wiley. With permission of the publisher.

Indeed, in terms of POS, the empirical convergence of learning and vitality onto a second-order thriving factor (Carmeli & Spreitzer, 2009)2 suggests that newcomers may in fact view the socialization process quite positively. And, indeed, there are certainly hints in the literature, particularly in ethnographic studies, that newcomers may positively anticipate the experience of socialization, may view surprises as pleasant rather than unpleasant, may (p. 539) experience joy and delight at what they encounter, and may embrace novelty rather than fear its unknown qualities (e.g., Hafferty, 1991; Louis, 1980; Myers, 2005). As a result, a sense of thriving seems quite likely during the socialization experience.

The second major POS construct, PsyCap, is a state rather than a trait,

[C]haracterized by: (1) having confidence (self efficacy) to take on and put in the necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks; (2) making a positive attribution (optimism) about succeeding now and in the future; (3) persevering towards goals and, when necessary, redirecting paths to goals (hope) in order to succeed; and (4) when beset by problems and adversity, sustaining and bouncing back and even beyond (resilience) to attain success. (Luthans, Youssef, & Avolio, 2007, p. 3; see also Avey, Luthans, & Youssef, 2010)

Saks and Gruman (2011) argue that the emphasis on information and learning in socialization models overlooks the critical need to develop the PsyCap of newcomers. Given an increasingly dynamic and complex environment and the growing prevalence of self-directed careers and team- and project-based work, individuals need to be able to adapt to diverse and challenging roles in real time (e.g., Bridges, 1995; Hall, 2002). Saks and Gruman argue that socialization practices such as realistic orientations, mentoring, opportunities for observational learning, and developmental assignments help foster enhanced newcomer confidence, expectations of success, motivation to realize goals, and desire to surmount problems. For example, Luthans, Avey, and Patera (2008) describe the salutary impact that a 2-hour web-based training intervention had on the PsyCap of working adults.

In the sections to follow, we will discuss the impact of the four socialization perspectives—socialization stage models, socialization tactics, newcomer proactivity, and socialization content—on one another (i.e., the arrows in Figure 40.1), as well as on (proximal) newcomer adjustment, thriving, and PsyCap. We will emphasize “best practices,” although our proposed links between socialization and the POS variables will necessarily be rather speculative due to a lack of POS-focused socialization research. We will begin with socialization content, since understanding what newcomers are being socialized to learn will clarify why and how they are being socialized, that is, the socialization processes of socialization tactics and newcomer proactivity.

Socialization Content (Newcomer Learning)

As depicted in Figure 40.1, what newcomers learn lies “at the heart of any organizational socialization model” (Cooper-Thomas & Anderson, 2005, p. 117; Saks & Ashforth, 1997a). As noted, the various typologies of socialization content collectively suggest that learning spans the role (including job or tasks), social (including interpersonal and group), and organizational domains (Haueter, Macan, & Winter, 2003; Morrison, 1995; Ostroff & Kozlowski, 1992).

(p. 540) Given that the POS construct of thriving suggests that the sense of learning and of vitality are closely linked, the attainment of learning is apt to strongly predict a sense that one is also adjusting well to the new situation. Indeed, newcomer learning has been associated with a wide variety of adjustment variables (although not always consistently), including three of our four forms: role clarity, task mastery, and social acceptance (Chan & Schmitt, 2000; Hart & Miller, 2005; Kammeyer-Mueller & Wanberg, 2003; Klein, Fan, & Preacher, 2006).

Regarding the fourth form, role crafting, Chao, O’Leary-Kelly, Wolf, Klein, and Gardner (1994) found that newcomer learning was associated with “adaptability” (sample item: “I like to try new and different things in my job,” Gould, 1979, p. 544). An argument could be made that the relationship between learning and role crafting is actually U-shaped. A lack of learning regarding the role and wider organization may force an individual to invent her own way of enacting the role. Indeed, she may be unaware of the assumptions and biases of veterans and try “naïve” ways that the veterans would never have considered—and possibly stumble on some more effective ways of enacting the role. Conversely, a large amount of learning provides the knowledge, PsyCap, and social credibility to try alternative ways of enacting one’s role (cf. Staw & Boettger, 1990; Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001). On balance, we expect the impact of high learning on role crafting to be stronger than that of low learning because the impact of the latter is somewhat random and fortuitous.

Further, newcomer learning and adjustment are very likely to contribute to PsyCap. As newcomers internalize lessons about their role, interpersonal relationships, and organization and attain at least some role clarity and task mastery, it is quite likely that their confidence, expectations of success, motivation to realize goals, and desire to surmount problems will increase. Additionally, the social support and validation that typically attend social acceptance may embolden newcomers to strive harder, as may the reinforcement garnered from successful attempts at role crafting (Ashforth, 2001).3 Finally, one’s PsyCap is very likely to facilitate both learning and adjustment such that a virtuous circle ensues.

Socialization Content as the Mediator of Socialization Processes

Figure 40.1 depicts socialization content as the mediator through which the socialization processes of socialization tactics and newcomer proactivity affect newcomer adjustment. Tests of these relationships have included various adjustment variables, but seldom one of the four focused on in this chapter. Klein et al. (2006) found that newcomer learning partially mediated the impact of socialization agent helpfulness (arguably a form of the “serial” socialization tactic, defined later) on role clarity, along with job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Ashforth, Sluss, and Saks (2007) report that newcomer learning fully mediated the impact of the socialization tactics (specifically, “institutionalized socialization,” defined later) and proactive behavior on performance, job satisfaction, and organizational identification, and partially mediated the impact of tactics and proactive behavior on intentions to quit. Cooper-Thomas and Anderson (2002) found that newcomer learning fully mediated the impact of (institutionalized) socialization tactics on job satisfaction and organizational commitment. And Klein and Weaver (2000) report that learning fully mediated the influence of an orientation program (“institutionalized socialization”) on organizational commitment. By inference, we strongly suspect that learning at least partially mediates the influence of both socialization tactics and newcomer proactivity on our four proximal adjustment variables.

In sum, newcomer learning is pivotal to newcomer adjustment, a sense of thriving, and the enhancement of PsyCap. The question remains, then: What socialization processes are likely to foster newcomer learning? We broach this question through discussions of socialization stage models, (institutionalized) socialization tactics, and newcomer proactivity.

Socialization Stages Models

Stage models tend to be more prescriptive than descriptive, in that each stage is predicated on resolving the challenges of the previous stage (prescription), although empirical support has been mixed (description; see Fisher’s, 1986, review). As such, stage models may be seen as useful heuristics, rather than rigorously predictive models, for thinking through the challenges that newcomers may face as they progress through the socialization process. Following Ashforth, Sluss, and Harrison’s (2007; see also Nicholson, 1987) review, four stages are relatively common to most models: anticipation, encounter, adjustment, and stabilization.

Stage 1: Anticipation

Anticipation includes actions through which individuals gain a sense of what to expect upon (p. 541) organizational entry. Individual actions range from reading organizational websites to asking questions of knowledgeable friends and family. Perhaps the most well-researched topic in this vein is the job search process, which indicates that job seekers who employ diverse sources of information and job search strategies, and invest more effort in the process, are likely to have more job offers and better person–job (P–J) and person–organization (P–O) fit (Kanfer, Wanberg, & Kantrowitz, 2001; Saks, 2005).4

Organizational actions range from the recruitment and selection process to internships and press releases. Organizations differ widely on two key dimensions. The first is realism–idealism. Although many organizations prefer to offer fairly idealized pronouncements about themselves, when it comes to potential organizational newcomers, research indicates the benefits of setting realistic expectations. Recruitment practices that emphasize the realities of entering a new job and organization in general, and of entering a specific job and organization—in contrast to traditional (overly positive) previews—tend to ultimately enhance distal adjustment, although our four criteria for proximal adjustment have seldom been examined (e.g., Morse & Popovich, 2009; Phillips, 1998).

The second dimension is whether individuals are hired for P–J fit and/or P–O fit. Given that contemporary organizations are less inclined to promise long-term employment, most likely hire individuals to fulfill a particular job vacancy (P–J fit), or, increasingly, a more or less organic role (Bridges, 1995). However, the less specialized the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to fulfill a particular job, and the stronger and more distinctive the culture of the organization, the more likely the organization will hire for P–O fit. Strong-culture organizations tend to believe that promising newcomers who “get it”—who understand and resonate with the culture—can be trained to fulfill particular jobs, but that individuals who don’t “get it” are unlikely to ever do so. In short, strong-culture organizations often select on P–O fit and then train for P–J fit. At Microsoft, for example, in addition to the normal round of interviews, applicants are interviewed by a person who is typically not associated with the department making the hire in order to assess whether the applicant fits the wider culture (Bartlett, 2001).

Stage 2: Encounter

The second stage, encounter, focuses on the actual entry of new members and how they cope with what they find and with the inevitable slippage between their expectations and reality. Given the marked uncertainty and need for learning that characterizes the encounter stage, this stage clearly resonates with the topics of socialization tactics (regarding the organization’s role) and newcomer proactivity (regarding the individual’s role), each discussed below. For example, Ashford, Blatt, and VandeWalle’s (2003) literature review indicates that feedback-seeking, a form of newcomer proactivity, tends to decline as newcomers gain experience (and exit the encounter stage). Further, as noted, the emphasis of socialization models on uncertainty and anxiety—including the encounter stage of stage models—has cast a negative pall on the socialization process. The POS notion of vitality (as a component of thriving), however, suggests that newcomers may experience this stage (at least at times) as exhilarating. The novelty of the new job, work-based relationships, and organization are very likely to make individuals more aware of their surroundings, more sensitive to the expressed views and nonverbal cues of their coworkers and manager (Korte, 2009), more receptive to sampling new experiences, and more inclined to actively process and internalize those experiences. Newcomers, in short, are likely to be highly engaged, experiencing both the highs as well as the well-researched lows of their new world.

Stage 3: Adjustment

This stage involves resolving the challenges of the new situation, such as becoming task proficient and integrated into work-based relationships, and adhering to the organization’s norms and values, leading to a sense of actually fitting in. In terms of Figure 40.1, this stage is reflected in newcomer adjustment, along with concomitant increases in PsyCap; that is, this stage is an outcome of the other socialization perspectives. It should be noted that most newcomers experience a significant decline in their attitude toward the organization after an initial “honeymoon period” (e.g., Boswell, Shipp, Payne, & Culbertson, 2009). The honeymoon itself is likely attributable to most organizations overselling themselves and to newcomers romanticizing their new employer (as the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence). The subsequent drop in attitudes is likely attributable to the honeymoon ending and to inadequacies of the socialization process. Appropriate job search practices and realistic previews, discussed above, along with appropriate socialization tactics and newcomer proactivity, discussed below, can substantially mitigate the drop in (p. 542) attitudes—although the honeymoon may well remain the high-water mark for attitudes.

Stage 4: Stabilization

The final stage, stabilization, includes actions that signal that individuals are bona fide organizational members, such as terminating formal mentoring and learning organizational secrets (e.g., C. M. Anderson et al., 1999). As such, stabilization typically demarks the conclusion of the organization’s formal socialization efforts. The encounter and adjustment stages can be regarded as a liminal period (Turner, 1969) during which newcomers are seen as (and perceive themselves to be) neither outsiders nor true insiders, not yet “real” organizational members. Liminality can be disquieting, and newcomers typically look eagerly to its resolution. Thus, research on role transitions indicates that rituals and markers that clearly signal, to the newcomers and veterans alike, that the newcomers are accepted as bona fide members help facilitate their sense of inclusion and worth (Ashforth, 2001). For instance, novice firefighters are transformed into “real” firefighters when they graduate from the training academy and can trade their red shirts for blue shirts (Myers, 2005). Nearly as important is the day when they are no longer probationary firefighters, signifying the completion of their first year, and can shed the derogatory label of “booters” and stop performing “grunt” chores.

In sum, socialization stage models regard the socialization process as a sequential series of challenges in which the resolution of each set leads to the next stage. As noted, these models are better viewed as a heuristic than as an empirically valid description of a lock-step progression. Specific elements may not occur (e.g., unmet expectations), and the stages are likely very fluid as elements of one may bleed into the next and events may induce one to recycle through the stages (e.g., Hess, 1993). The remaining process models—socialization tactics and newcomer proactivity—focus on the roles of the organization and newcomer.

Socialization Tactics

Van Maanen and Schein (1979) wrote what is arguably the most influential socialization article to date. They organized otherwise disparate socialization practices into an overarching framework that has clear implications for the effects on newcomers. The framework consists of six bipolar tactics: the collective (vs. individualized) tactic entails putting newcomers together and having them share the same developmental experiences, formal (vs. informal) involves separating newcomers from veterans, sequential (vs. random) includes a lock-step series of developmental experiences, fixed (vs. variable) entails a preset timetable for progressing through developmental experiences, serial (vs. disjunctive) involves learning from more experienced individuals, and investiture (vs. divestiture) entails affirming the newcomer’s incoming self and capabilities, rather than tearing them down so that the newcomer can be reconstructed in the organization’s image.

Jones (1986) argues that the collective, formal, sequential, fixed, serial, and investiture tactics comprise a gestalt of practices that encourage newcomers to accept and replicate the status quo.5 Accordingly, Jones dubbed this set of tactics, institutionalized socialization. A meta-analysis by Saks et al. (2007) indicates that institutionalized socialization is indeed negatively associated with role crafting (“role innovation”). Conversely, the opposite set of tactics—individualized socialization—leaves newcomers to their own devices and thereby may implicitly encourage more idiosyncratic views and behavior. That said, socialization tactics describe only the process of socialization, not the actual content that is imparted via that process. Although organizations typically use institutionalized socialization to impart the message that role conformity is preferred, there is no reason why these same tactics cannot be used instead to extol role crafting (Ashforth & Saks, 1996).

A paradigmatic example of institutionalized socialization is formal training (Kozlowski & Salas, 2009). Newcomers are grouped together in a training room (collective); separated from regular employees (formal); put through a series of instructive experiences that shape knowledge, skills, and abilities (sequential) according to a preset schedule (fixed) involving experts as trainers (serial), and in a manner that builds on the incoming competencies of the newcomers (investiture). Precisely because such training is off-the-job, the effectiveness of the “transfer of training” depends on the relevance and reinforcement of what is learned in the actual work context (Holton, Bates, & Ruona, 2000). Indeed, formal training is typically supplemented with on-the-job training to crystallize how the lessons apply to the local context. In fact, most training is on the job as individuals learn informally as issues arise (Chao, 1997). The point, then, is that the formality of institutionalized socialization is often supplemented by informal means that are more sensitive to the actual tasks that the newcomer will perform.

(p. 543) Impact of Institutionalized Versus Individualized Socialization

Because institutionalized socialization represents a relatively structured set of practices intended to carefully shape the nature and sequence of developmental experiences and the lessons drawn from those experiences, it is likely to predict newcomer learning, a facet of the POS construct of thriving. The few studies that have assessed this prediction have generally been supportive (Ashforth, Sluss, & Saks, 2007; Cooper-Thomas & Anderson, 2002; Takeuchi & Takeuchi, 2009). Also, studies of specific tactics, such as the use of formal training, an orientation program (formal), and mentors (serial), have also been supportive (e.g., Hart & Miller, 2005; Klein & Weaver, 2000; Sluss & Thompson, 2009; Sonnentag, Niessen, & Ohly, 2004). (The impact of institutionalized socialization on the other facet of thriving, vitality, may depend largely on the motivating potential of the practices. Structured practices can ignite a sense of aliveness by exposing the individual to intrinsically interesting activities that foster a sense of possibility, whereas practices that involve uninteresting, tangential activities can prove psychologically deadening.)

As noted, newcomer learning is likely to substantially mediate the impact of socialization tactics (and newcomer proactivity) on newcomer adjustment. The dotted lines between socialization tactics and newcomer adjustment (and between newcomer proactivity and adjustment) denote that the process of socialization has direct, substantive effects (e.g., the collective tactic provides a cohort of peers, facilitating social acceptance), and direct, symbolic effects, whether intended or unintended (e.g., although orientation programs appear to be only moderately helpful ([Nelson & Quick, 1991], newcomers may view the absence of such programs as a signal that the organization does not care about them [Salzinger, 1991]). Thus, Ashforth, Sluss, and Saks (2007) found that institutionalized socialization and proactive behavior directly affected facets of newcomer adjustment (although the four criteria listed earlier were not included), while controlling for the indirect effects via newcomer learning (see also Takeuchi & Takeuchi, 2009).

Indeed, far more research has been conducted on the links between the tactics and newcomer adjustment than between the tactics and learning. A meta-analysis by Bauer et al. (2007; see also Saks et al., 2007) found that institutionalized socialization is positively related to three of our forms of newcomer adjustment: role clarity, task mastery (self-efficacy), and social acceptance (as noted earlier, institutionalized socialization has also been found to be negatively related to role crafting). Just as institutionalized socialization shapes learning, so it reduces uncertainty, builds task competencies, and provides opportunities for newcomers to bond with those “in the same boat” as well as with their socialization agents (Bauer et al., 2007; Gruman, Saks, & Zweig, 2006). This form of socialization, in short, grounds one in a well-defined role, among personalized and valued colleagues, and provides the wherewithal for negotiating one’s way within the organization. Thus, institutionalized socialization is likely to foster each of the elements of PsyCap: confidence in one’s capabilities, optimism about one’s future as a contributing organizational member, motivation to persevere toward one’s goals, and a certain resilience in the face of inevitable setbacks. Further, returning to our point about indirect symbolic effects, the very fact that socialization is structured by the organization conveys the message that the organization is concerned about and attentive to newcomers’ development. This message reinforces newcomers’ growing sense of psychological safety.

In contrast, individualized socialization, as the absence of structure, forces newcomers to “sink or swim” when used without the benefit of prior institutionalized socialization. The less incoming work experience a newcomer has, the more problematic this absence becomes. Although individualized socialization may implicitly foster self-reliance and almost mandates role crafting, it tends to render learning quite haphazard and it undermines adjustment. A newcomer’s initial months can be described as a succession of critical incidents that he or she must “decode” to make sense of the organization and his or her role within it (Gundry & Rousseau, 1994). Institutionalized socialization helps order the sequence of such incidents and cues the meaning to be derived, so that newcomers’ knowledge, skills, and abilities gradually accumulate; conversely, the haphazardness of individualized socialization means that a newcomer may be confronted with an almost random array of incidents, inhibiting sequential learning, and the lack of experienced guides may make decoding the incidents very problematic (Ashforth, 2001). For example, a realtor left to her own devices may be very unsure how to interpret gruff comments from her manager or whether to take the pleasant overtures of another realtor (and potential competitor) at face value. Further, although the “survival mode” that typifies individualized socialization may certainly foster a sense of (p. 544) aliveness—akin to that of a soldier at the front—this is not the psychologically safe and positively valenced aliveness discussed in the POS literature (e.g., Kark & Carmeli, 2009). Thus, individualized socialization may thwart both facets of thriving: learning and vitality.

Finally, individualized socialization provides a very rocky path toward PsyCap. To be sure, if one surmounts the haphazardness of the process, one may reap enhanced confidence, optimism, intrinsic motivation, and resilience; as the aphorism puts it, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. However, the risk of floundering and failure are very high indeed. In short, if a newcomer succeeds in learning and becoming adjusted, with a concomitant sense of thriving and enhanced PsyCap, it is probably in spite of individualized socialization, not because of it.

We have thus far discussed the socialization tactics as a monolithic set. Two tactics in particular, however, shed some unique light on the dynamics of socialization.

Investiture Versus Divestiture

Following Van Maanen and Schein (1979), investiture was defined as affirming a newcomer’s incoming self and capabilities. When investiture is measured according to this definition (rather than simply as social support, following Jones, 1986), it tends to correlate weakly with the other tactics (Ashforth, Saks, & Lee, 1997). Bourassa and Ashforth (1998) suggest that, although investiture is positively correlated with the other institutionalized socialization tactics in most organizations, it is negatively correlated in organizations that actively use divestiture as part of a structured socialization effort. The classic example is military boot camp, where new recruits have their heads shaved and civilian clothes replaced by a uniform, are instructed to march in unison, are subjected to a grueling physical regimen and relentless barrage of verbal harassment from drill sergeants, and must refer to themselves in the third person (i.e., “This recruit”; e.g., Ricks, 1997). The stronger and more distinctive the culture of the organization, the more likely it is to practice some degree of divestiture alongside institutionalized socialization. Other examples include medical schools, athletic teams, police academies, religious groups, firestations, coal mines, and trawlers (e.g., Bourassa & Ashforth, 1998; Conti, 2009; Hafferty, 1991; Myers, 2005; Vaught & Smith, 1980).

The links between investiture and positive newcomer adjustment, thriving, and PsyCap are readily apparent: Investiture builds on the very strengths for which the individual was hired (e.g., the creativity of the graphic artist). What, then, is the impact of its antithesis, divestiture? Paradoxically, we speculate that divestiture also tends to be associated with each of these outcomes, at least after the actual divestment practices have ceased (as in the earlier example of graduate firefighters eagerly trading in their red shirts for blue ones; Myers, 2005). This is because pronounced divestiture—like pronounced investiture—tends to be normative for its particular context and therefore expected and even desired by organizational applicants. Applicants to the army usually know roughly what to expect in boot camp and often look forward to being remade into a soldier. This is not to say that the grueling exercises, constant harassment, and so on are experienced as pleasurable; rather, it’s the anticipation of successfully completing boot camp and being sanctified as a true soldier that gives meaning to the ordeal. The implication for POS is significant: Whereas POS focuses largely on the virtuous circle of positive inputs–positive outputs, the notion of normative divestiture suggests that thriving and PsyCap can also stem from marked adversity, depending on the personal development that is fostered and the meaning one imputes to the ordeal.

Serial Versus Disjunctive

A meta-analysis by Saks et al. (2007) found that the serial and investiture tactics, jointly, were the most strongly associated with all the adjustment variables included in their analysis: role clarity (reverse of role ambiguity and role conflict), performance (arguably a proxy for task mastery), role crafting (reverse of custodial role orientation), intentions to quit, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and perceived fit.

Why might these so-called “social” tactics (Jones, 1986) be so important? Ashforth, Sluss, and Harrison (2007; see also N. Anderson & Thomas, 1996; Moreland & Levine, 2001) argue that “socialization is not so much ‘organizational’ as ‘tribal’” (p. 35). Ostroff and Kozlowski (1992) found that newcomers are more interested in acquiring information about their role and local dynamics than about the wider organization. The distal and abstract organization is relevant insofar as it provides the context for the “tribe”; indeed, the organization is rendered concrete through localized enactments. Although orientation programs and formal training provide a generalized sense of the organization and a somewhat context-free sense of the work, much of (p. 545) the everyday tacit knowledge needed to enact a specific role is learned by ongoing social learning processes—observation, imitation and trial, and feedback (Bandura, 1977)—in the relevant context. Peers and supervisors are particularly likely to be viewed as credible social referents because they are knowledgeable about the work and localized context, share a social identity as members of the same group, are interdependent with the newcomer, and physically proximal (Ashforth, Sluss, & Harrison, 2007; Sluss & Ashforth, 2008). And, because much learning occurs from spontaneous interaction around emergent events, the ongoing accessibility of these social referents is very important.

Further, social referents play a central role in providing instrumental and expressive social support for the tensions and frustrations that inevitably accompany “breaking in” (Katz, 1985), and in validating the newcomer’s adoption of identity markers (e.g., dress, jargon), behaviors (e.g., role enactment), and performance (Ashforth, 2001; Ibarra, 1999). As noted, social support and social validation reinforce the newcomer’s PsyCap, emboldening future role enactment. Indeed, Saks and Gruman (2011) go so far as to state that “social support is probably the most important socialization resource for the development of PsyCap” (p. 21). Finally, the social bonds that may be facilitated by serial socialization help address the fundamental need for belonging, contributing to a sense of human connection and vitality (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Dutton & Heaphy, 2003). It is not surprising, then, that Nelson and Quick (1991) report that newcomers ranked their interactions with peers as the most helpful of various socialization practices. And, regarding our adjustment facets, Morrison (2002) found that newcomers with stronger and denser informational networks had higher role clarity and task mastery. Indeed, Korte (2009) found that new engineers were surprised by the necessity of building relationships with coworkers and supervisors in order to attain task mastery.


The use of mentors is a particularly important and well-researched form of serial socialization (Kammeyer-Mueller & Judge, 2008; Underhill, 2006). Mentors are usually senior colleagues (peers, supervisors, and/or individuals outside the chain of command) who, whether formally appointed or informally emergent, facilitate a newcomer’s adjustment through coaching, counseling, and role modeling, and by providing opportunities, social support, and protection (Kram, 1988; Wanberg, Welsh, & Hezlett, 2003). For example, among a sample of hospital employees, mentoring predicted learning, which in turn predicted role clarity (Lankau & Scandura, 2002). Indeed, given the intricacies of communicating tacit knowledge and sensitive information (e.g., about self, feedback, organizational politics), and the gradual nature by which some skills and abilities are shaped, mentoring relationships often add distinct value beyond traditional training programs (Hale, 2000; Swap, Leonard, Shields, & Abrams, 2001). Further, we suspect that the strong interpersonal bond that often forms between a mentor and protégé can put a “human face” on the organization for the protégé, thereby personalizing and invigorating her relationship with an otherwise abstract organization (Sluss & Ashforth, 2008). Thus, mentoring may contribute to a sense of vitality. As Quinn (2007, in Kark & Carmeli, 2009, p. 786) put it: “The higher quality of the connection between two people … the more energy those people will feel.” Given the importance of this personal connection to the efficacy of mentoring, it is not surprising that informal mentoring relationships tend to be more effective than formal ones since participants self-select into the former (Underhill, 2006; Wanberg et al., 2003).

In sum, newcomers are largely socialized via interactions with peers, supervisors, and mentors, which are grounded in a particular context and focus largely on that context and the newcomers’ roles within it. More generally, the socialization tactics provide a parsimonious framework for analyzing the impact of a variety of specific practices, from orientation programs to the use of mentors. It is equally clear that the tactics have a large impact on newcomer learning and adjustment, and thus, newcomer thriving and PsyCap.

Newcomer Proactivity

If socialization tactics pertain to what the organization does for and to the individual, newcomer proactivity pertains to what the individual does for him- or herself. As noted, newcomers seek to reduce the uncertainty they encounter upon entering a new role and organization. Unfortunately, newcomers often conclude that they need more information than the organization actually provides through its socialization tactics (Jablin, 1984) and that the information that is provided is relatively generic, prompting questions about how it might translate into newcomers’ particular situation. Thus, newcomers tend to obtain more useful information (p. 546) from relatively proactive, self-directed means (Morrison, 1995; Teboul, 1994).

Research on newcomer proactivity explores how neophytes actively seek information about their role and organization (Ashford & Black, 1996; Crant, 2000). Miller and Jablin (1991; see also Miller, 1996) proposed essentially social means, including observing, asking questions, eavesdropping (“surveillance”), testing limits (e.g., breaking rules), disguising conversations (e.g., joking to subtly raise an issue), and using secondary sources (e.g., company website). Ashford and Black (1996) focused on means of securing a sense of control, including information-seeking, feedback-seeking, positive framing (seeing things optimistically), relationship-building, general socializing (participating in social events), networking (socializing with people outside one’s unit), and role crafting (“job-change negotiating”; although Crant, 2000, also includes role crafting in his definition of proactive behavior, he notes that other scholars exclude role crafting from proactivity and that it remains an “unresolved issue,” p. 457). Information- and feedback-seeking essentially collapse Miller and Jablin’s (1991) social means. Jablin (2001) concluded from a literature review that newcomers use observing and direct means most frequently, but use more indirect means as the social costs increase (e.g., looking uninformed, burning goodwill). However, Finkelstein, Kulas, and Dages (2003) found that indirect means are negatively related with role clarity, suggesting they may generate unreliable information.

With the exception of positive framing, all the means are behavioral, raising the question of whether cognitive means have been largely overlooked (Ashford & Black, 1996). Ashforth, Sluss, and Harrison (2007) suggest several promising possibilities. One is self-regulation, the “modulation of thought, affect, and behavior” in the service of “goal-directed activities” (Porath & Bateman, 2006, p. 185). Manz (1983; Saks & Ashforth, 1996), for example, discusses self–goal setting, self-observation (monitoring one’s own behavior and its causes), rehearsal of desired behaviors, and so on. Another possibility is proactive coping, including preemptive cognitive appraisals and preliminary coping, in which potentially stressful incidents are recast as challenges that spur personal growth (Folkman & Moskowitz, 2004). The upshot is that newcomer proactivity is as much a mind-set—a cognitive orientation—as a set of specific behaviors. Indeed, this cognitive orientation may be an integral newcomer resource, given the usual constraints on behavior during the newcomer adjustment process.

Socialization Tactics and Newcomer Proactivity

Figure 40.1 depicts that institutionalized socialization positively influences newcomer proactivity. Although it could be argued that the provision of institutionalized socialization encourages individuals to learn passively, Ashforth, Sluss, and Harrison (2007) speculate that just the opposite tends to occur. By providing structured opportunities for learning, institutionalized socialization underscores the importance of learning and affords opportunities to ask questions of experienced colleagues, to observe, and so forth. For example, Teboul (1995) found that institutionalized socialization reduced the perceived social costs of information-seeking, which encouraged proactivity. Thus, institutionalized socialization has been found to be positively associated with newcomers’ proactive behaviors (e.g., Gruman et al., 2006; Mignerey, Rubin, & Gorden, 1995; Saks & Ashforth, 1997b). Further, by fostering a solid basis of learning, formal socialization programs, such as training centers, likely equip newcomers with the tools they need to subsequently engage their work environments in a proactive manner (e.g., Scott & Myers, 2010).

At the same time, precisely because institutionalized socialization represents structured learning, it appears to reduce the need for newcomer proactivity, suggesting that institutionalized socialization may serve as a substitute for proactivity (Gruman et al., 2006; Kim, Cable, & Kim, 2005). However, Ashforth, Sluss, and Harrison (2007) argue that “synergies” between the two socialization processes are common, such that “organizations have little to lose from encouraging proactivity in the context of institutionalized socialization” (p. 30). For instance, Kim et al. (2005) found that positive framing strengthened the relationship between institutionalized socialization and newcomer adjustment, presumably because positive framing led newcomers to interpret institutionalized socialization as helpful rather than intrusive.

Impact of Newcomer Proactivity

Given that newcomer proactivity involves actively seeking information, often to fill in the gaps left by socialization tactics and to address issues that arise spontaneously in the enactment of one’s role, it is not surprising that proactive behaviors are associated with newcomer learning (Kraimer, 1997; cf. Chan & Schmidt, 2000). For example, Ashforth, Sluss, and Saks (2007) found that newcomer proactive behavior measured at 4 months (p. 547) predicted newcomer learning measured at 7 months. Indeed, proactivity was more strongly related to learning than was institutionalized socialization, consistent with Morrison’s (1995) research suggesting that active means of socialization affect learning more strongly than passive means.

Regarding adjustment, newcomer proactivity has been linked to role clarity (Holder, 1996; Menguc, Han, & Auh, 2007; Morrison, 1993), task mastery (Morrison, 1993), and social acceptance (Chan & Schmitt, 2000; Gruman et al., 2006; Menguc et al., 2007; Morrison, 1993; Wanberg & Kammeyer-Mueller, 2000). What about role crafting? Although newcomer proactivity connotes activism, scholars have tended to treat the status quo as a given that newcomers endeavor to learn about and adapt to (the exception, of course, is the actual inclusion of role crafting in Ashford and Black’s, 1996, typology, noted above). However, the activist stance of the construct suggests that proactivity may influence the nature—or at least one’s enactment—of the role (Mignerey et al., 1995). For example, Ashforth, Sluss, and Saks (2007) also found that newcomer proactive behavior predicted role crafting (“role innovation”).

Given the strong ties between newcomer proactive behavior and learning and adjustment, it seems likely that proactivity is also strongly related to PsyCap and newcomer thriving. Often, the absence of PsyCap (especially optimism and hope) is a product of one’s ignorance of an otherwise munificent situation rather than an actual thwarting of one’s efforts. Because organizations increasingly expect newcomer socialization to be at least somewhat self-directed (Frese, Garst, & Fay, 2007), self-efficacy, optimism, hope, and resilience are likely to build as one actively engages the work environment and learns more about how it operates and one’s particular role within it. Regarding thriving, Spreitzer et al. (2005) argue that “agentic behaviors constitute the engine of the thriving process” (p. 538). At first blush, it might appear that activism would deplete one’s energy, much as spending money depletes one’s capital. However, we speculate that such engagement actually renews energy as individuals come to feel more engaged in their role and work setting, and through their activism acquire learning, credibility, and resources. Indeed, some conceptions of employee or work engagement (as a state) include such terms as enthusiasm, passion, and energy (Macey & Schneider, 2008). Just as exercise ultimately develops physical prowess, newcomer proactivity may contribute to the sense of vitality (and, in turn, may be galvanized by vitality) that is the hallmark of thriving. That said, if proactivity is not encouraged by the organization—or worse, is actually discouraged—individuals may well burn out from having their exertions go unrewarded.6


Although research on socialization in organizational contexts has proceeded along four relatively independent paths—socialization stage models, socialization tactics, newcomer proactivity, and socialization content—our review suggests that these paths are intertwined and lead to a common destination: an abiding sense of adjustment to the workplace. Viewed through a POS lens, it becomes clear that socialization is not simply about allaying anxiety and providing a mechanical “adjustment” to one’s role and organization, but also about positively galvanizing one and providing the PsyCap for crafting and embracing one’s future in the organization.

Our review suggests several overarching directions for research. First, we argued that structured socialization, in the form of institutionalized socialization, is far more likely to foster newcomer learning, adjustment, thriving, and PsyCap than is unstructured (individualized) socialization. This raises questions regarding how best to sequence developmental practices (e.g., when should novice consultants be exposed to demanding clients?), how best to realize the potential synergies of institutionalized socialization and newcomer proactivity when a structured program seemingly obviates the need for proactivity, and when best to relax or phase out the structure so that newcomers can become fully contributing members. Second, in terms of ties between socialization and POS, we characterized vitality (a facet of thriving) as a concomitant of the process of socialization, and learning (the other facet of thriving) and PsyCap gains as outcomes of that process. Important research questions here include how best to foster a sense of vitality within the context of a structured and therefore potentially stultifying program, and the impact this sense may have on both newcomer learning and adjustment, as well as on PsyCap. Given Fredrickson’s (2003) broaden-and-build model (see Note 2), we suspect that a sense of vitality greatly facilitates effective socialization and may lubricate the virtuous circle noted earlier, where enhanced PsyCap in turn facilitates learning and adjustment (both proximal and distal). Third, we argued that the grueling nature of divestiture actually facilitates positive outcomes (at least when that divestiture is expected), suggesting that (p. 548) POS outcomes (in this case, thriving and PsyCap) can flow from seemingly adverse experiences. This raises questions concerning when “negative” socialization experiences such as “tough love” may be more effective for the newcomer and organization than “positive” ones, whether (and if so, how) negative and positive experiences may be blended (e.g., is there a socialization analogy to “good cop/bad cop”?; cf. Bourassa & Ashforth, 1998), and what other POS constructs might follow similar dynamics.

In closing, research connecting socialization and POS may be in its infancy, but it is readily apparent that there is tremendous scholarly and practical potential to be realized from actively considering how the process of socialization facilitates—and is facilitated by—an orientation to positivity.


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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                (1.) The authors are listed alphabetically. We thank Gretchen Spreitzer for her very helpful comments on an earlier draft.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                (2.) The broaden-and-build model indicates that positive emotions—a likely concomitant of vitality—induce individuals to enlarge their awareness and engage in novel and exploratory behavior (Fredrickson, 2003), suggesting that vitality may predict learning. At the same time, a sense of learning—of progress—is likely to encourage and energize the newcomer, such that learning predicts vitality.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                (3.) Even unsuccessful attempts may promote PsyCap if the individual derives important and actionable lessons from the failures.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                (4.) Ironically, however, some research suggests that the very success of an extensive job search may heighten expectations of the work and organization to unrealistic levels, thus undermining adjustment (e.g., Takeuchi & Takeuchi, 2009).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                (5.) Van Maanen and Schein (1979) argued that the fixed and investiture tactics actually inhibit a “custodial orientation” (p. 253), but research generally supports Jones’ contention (see Ashforth, Sluss, & Harrison’s, 2007, review).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                (6.) The fact that newcomer proactivity has been consistently linked to positive outcomes bodes well for POS, as it suggests that organizations tend to be quite receptive to proactivity.