Socialisation refers to the process by which persons acquire the knowledge, skills, and disposition that make them more or less able members of their society”. We have all undergone this process many times. Certainly, significant socialisation occurs during infancy and early childhood. We are born into this world with potential for a very wide range of behaviour, but we learn from our parents and other close associates to behave within a narrower range that is customary and acceptable. People face re-socialisation on entering the first grade, joining and athletic team or the scouts, matriculating into college, and learning their first job. With all of these early socialisation experience it might be thought that the adult should easily adapt to new social situations.

Actual and anticipatory socialisation are vitally important in all our lives. However, we can look in greater depth at one important segment, organizational socialisation. A person will be directly involved in this process when he/she leaves college and start working career. Eventually, as managers and professionals, the person will be responsible for the socialisation of newcomers and subordinates in his/her organizations. 


The individual joining any organization develops new values, attitudes, and behaviour appropriate for membership. The problems associated with entrance into and adaptation to work organizations are issues of adult socialisation. In complex societies with rapid technological and sociological changes, it is impossible to socialise the young child to all future roles. Every individual must face continuing resocialisation to new situations throughout his or her life.

One of the most important periods of adult socialisation is when the individual is on the boundary of a new organization ready to become a member. Figure 1 illustrates the individual moving through the boundary to become a member. The diagram is simple but the process is complex. There is a great deal of difference between being an outsider looking in and being a full-fledged and accepted member. Most organizations select individuals who can become members – and require newcomers to behave in appropriate ways.

Socialisation Process1

Figure 1: The Socialisation Process

Organizational Socialisation—the process of becoming an accepted member is a reciprocal process; the individual adapts, but so does the organization. Every time an organization takes in a new member too, is subject to new influences increasing likelihood of change. For example, the opening up of business and others organizations to greater participation by women and minorities not only results in the need to socialise these groups, but also require change in the organizations themselves. 

Self-image and Membership

Individuals hold a certain image of themselves when entering the organization. This undergoes changes and they interact with the organization and learn new tasks and roles. The new lawyer is likely to have a significantly different self-image after she has been in the law firm for six months than when she started. Organizational life gives opportunities to test her knowledge and skills and to assess her own strengths and weakness.

Membership often requires the development of new values appropriate to the position. To become a successful members, the individual must accommodate, at least to some degree, the goals, value and practices of the organization. The new CA fresh from examination in accounting theory and practice, may have to modify his approach significantly to fit actual organizational practices.

We have stressed here the initial process of integrating into the organization. But, just as in the world at large, the process is never complete. Later on the individual may be transferred, promoted, move to another organization, or even change careers. Technological and structural shifts may occur, task requirements may be modified, and social groups may change. All of these changes may require the resocialisation of the person into a new situation. 

Interactions Between Individual and Organization

How many organizations are you member of? How many affect your life in important ways? These are simple questions but require some though. If you consider all organizations that have an influence, (direct or oblique) on your life and behavior, the list would likely be in the hundreds and still probably would not be complete. For example, in driving to school (an organization of which you are voluntary member) your behaviour is influenced by the speed limit (a product of governmental institutions). 

Never the Total Person

Although we recognize that we are in constant interaction with organizations, we should remember that they never encompass the total person. Organizations are designed to accomplish specific purposes, and they engage only a segment of a person in accomplishing these objectives. They are most interested in the specific behaviour that affects individual performance in meeting these goals. A person may be a champion bowler, a great husband and father a member of the church choir, and a subscriber to Playboy, but these affiliations are likely to be irrelevant to the organization if his task is to put two bolts on the left front door of the cars coming down the assembly line. Managers are interested in having individual adapt their behavior in organizationally relevant matters. Furthermore, the work situation requires that the individual shape a vast repertoire of potential behaviours to a narrow range of specific actions. It seeks to utilize only part of a person’s skills and abilities.

This implies that there is always limited integration or socialisation of the total person into the organization. “People who perform organizational tasks must be sustained by factors outside the boundary of the organization. The organization is not the total world of the individual; it is not a society. People must fulfil other social roles; besides, society has shaped them in ways which affect their ability to perform organizational tasks. A man has a marital status, ethnic identification, religious affiliations, a distinctive personality, friends, to name only a few …. Daily, people come contaminated into the organization”. (Perrow, 1970). 

Never the Total Organization

Just as the Organizational never encompasses the total, the individual does not comprehend and experience the total organization. The individual’s “organizational horizon” is limited (Porter, Lawler, & Hackman, 1975). People in organizations have limited perspectives of the total organization because of differences in hierarchical level, tasks assigned, departmental affiliations, and interpersonal contacts. Moreover, different people subject to the same organizational influences may have different perceptions. It is often starting for professors who receive evaluations of their courses to find vast differences among individual responses. Some students may rate their course and instructor as excellent, while others rate it a disaster. Similarly workers performing the same task and receiving approximately the same rewards sometimes have significantly different perceptions about the leadership style and quality of the work environment. It is quite obvious that we perceive and react to new situations in different ways because of past socialisations to life and our own personalities. 


When joining an organization you are not just selling your physical and mental abilities. Like it or not, you are also brining along your psychic self in the bargain. Your own self-concept plays a major part in the socialisation process.

Self-concepts is the way you perceive and judge yourself. It is your way of thinking about the kind of person you really are. Do you see yourself as a leader or follower?

Do you have high need for power, achievement, or social affiliations? Are you aggressive or passive? People have the unique capacity for thinking about their own behavior and their impact on others.

Self-concept is of vital importance in the process of organizational socialisation. When the self-concept is compatible with one’s organizational role and requirements, the person is likely to be motivated, oriented to task performance, and satisfied. However, when self-concept and organizational role are not compatible, then integration is difficult and motivation, performance, and satisfaction are likely to be low.

This does not imply that self-concept is totally fixed. Indeed, one of the important aspects of organizational socialisation is the potential modification in self-concept. The MBA graduate who thought of herself in passive terms may be thrust into a leadership position where she is effective and gratified.

Part of the organizational socialisation process may be learning to develop a self-concept appropriate for the new situation. “Each of us learns to construct somewhat different selves for the different kinds of situations in which we are called on to perform, and for the different kinds or roles we are expected to take” (Schein, 1974).

It is unlikely that we can change our basic personalities and value systems substantially, but we can develop new social selves in terms of new attitudes, competencies, behavior patterns and ways of relating to others in different situations. To some extent, we can redesign ourselves to fit the role requirements of new situations. 


The idea of role comes from sociology and it is the pattern of actions expected of a person in his activities involving others. It arises as a result of the position one occupied in the social structure as he/she interacts with other people. In order to be able to coordinate his work with others in an organization, one needs some way to anticipate their behaviour as one interacts with them. Role performs this functions in the social system.

A person functions in roles both on the job and away from it, as shown in Figure 2. One person performs the occupational role of worker, the family role of father, the social role of club president, and many others. In his various roles he is both buyer and seller, boss and subordinate, a father and son, and an advisor and seeker of advice. Each role calls for different types of behaviour. Within the work environment alone, a worker has more than one role. He may be a worker in group A, a subordinate of foreman in B, and machinist, a member of a union, and a representative on the safety committee. Undoubtedly role is the most complexly organized response pattern of which a human being is capable. Activities of manager and workers a like are guided by their role perceptions, that is, how they think they are supposed to act in a given situation. Since managers perform many different roles, they must be highly adaptive in order to change from one role to another quickly. The factory foreman’s role particularly requires that he be adaptive in working with the extremes of subordinate and superior, staff and line, technical and non-technical, and education and uneducated.

Socialisation process2 - employee different roles

Figure 2: Each Employee performs many roles

A role set is the entire configuration of surrounding roles as they affect a particular role, such as the foreman’s role just described. That is, all the different persons with whom the foreman interacts in this role of foreman have role expectations concerning the way in which he should act, and these expectations collectively make up the role set for his role as foreman, this role set arises partly from the nature of the job itself, because managers in equivalent jobs but in different companies tend to perceive and play their roles in about the same way.

The existence of role expectations means that a manager or other person interacting with someone else needs to perceive three role values, and shown interacting with someone else needs to perceive three role values, as shown in Figure 3 First, he needs to see his own role as required by the function he is performing. Then he needs to see the role of the person he contacts. Finally, he needs to see his role as seen by the other person. Obviously he cannot meet the needs of others unless he can perceive what they expect of him. Research shows that where there is wide variance in a manager’s role perception of his job and the employee’s role expectations of that job, there tends to be poor motivation and inefficiency. They may even have difficulty communicating because they will not be talking about the same things in the same way. For example, difficulties may arise because a manager sees his role as that of a hard boiled pusher, but his employees expect the opposite.

Socialisation Process - Role Perception

Figure 3: Role Perception of a Manager and an Employee make a Complex Web as they Interact

When role expectations of a job are materially different or opposite, the incumbent in the job tends to be in role conflict because he cannot meet one expectation without rejecting the other. A president in one company faced role conflict, for example, when he learned that both the controller and the personnel director expected him to allocate the new organizational planning function to their departments. Regarding the existence of role conflict research suggests that a manager bases his decision primarily on legitimacy (which expectations he thinks is more “right” and reasonably) and sanction (how he thinks he will be affected if he follows one expectation in preference to the other).

In case role expectations are substantially unknown because of poor communication or are inadequately defined, role ambiguity exists, and it is more difficult to predict how a person in that role will act.

From a manager’s point of view, a fuller understanding of roles should help him know what others expect of him and how he should act. Knowing this he should be more adaptable to each unique role relationship. His decision making should improve because he will understand why other people are acting the way they are. He will also recognize the variety of roles each employee plays and will try to provide motivations and satisfactions for those several job roles. 


Some people believe that the period of early organizational socialisation is not particularly important. The newcomer is there to get acquired with the organization, to learn about the task requirements, and to size up the situation without too much involvement. The organization should look the newcomer over and really not expect much. The newcomer should play it cool and not make too many commitments to the organization.

There is very strong evidence that this approach is inappropriate for the individual and the organization. The first year is one of the most significant periods in the work career of the individual. The development of values, attitudes, and behaviour patterns during this period strongly influences future career development.

Why is this so? There is a law of primacy which holds that the earlier an experience, the more important its effect because it influences how later experiences will be interpreted. The newcomer entering the organization is uniquely subject to new influences. When he enters the organization he is uncertain about the role that he will play and his concept of himself is thrown into question. Finding himself in a stressful and “unfrozen” situation, “he is motivated to reduce this stress by becoming incorporated into the ‘interior’ of the company. Being thus motivated to be accepted by this new social system and to make sense of the ambiguity surrounding him, he is more receptive to cues from his environment than he will ever be again, and what he learns at the beginning will becomes the core of his organizational identity” (Berlew & hall, 1966). This is the very period when recruits can best test their own self-concepts and expectations of organizational life. It is during this time when the most important components of the psychological contract will be negotiated, thus determining the new recruit’s organizational commitment. The researches have shown that very early in his organizational career an individual will develop enduring attitudes and aspirations which will have development of performance standards and job attitudes. From the moment he enters the organization, a new manager is given cues about the quality of performance that this expected and rewarded. A few studies have confirmed that managers given challenging initial jobs with high expectations jobs. They were socialised to have higher aspirations and performance standards. The moral seems to be that “success breeds success”; numerous other studies seem to confirm the findings (Buchanan, 1974). Newcomers should thus be given challenging but obtainable goals rather than “snap assignments.” They should be involved in the establishment of these goals and be given honest feedback on performance.

The Organization Sizing up the Individual

We have emphasised the importance of the initial socialisation process in establishing the individual’s values, expectations, behavior patterns, and achievement orientation. The other side of the coin is also apparent. It is during this period that other members of the organization are making key judgment about the personal characters, behavior, and performance of the new individual. Initial impressions (which may be based in limited evidence) are long lasting. Just as in Hollywood, there is a danger that the individual may become type-cast and it is often difficult to break out of this role in the future. The new instructor will often be judged by faculty colleagues as to classroom effectiveness early in her career. Quite often these perceptions are based on limited information, but they are enduring and difficult to change. The first day and the first few months really do count in the individual’s organization career. 

Matching of Individual and Organization

In view of the large variations in individual personality characteristics and almost equally wide different in organizational climates, it is understandable that there are many problems in appropriately matching and integrating the individual and the organization.

Frequently both the individual and the organization have some influence in the selection process. The corporation recruits, interviews, tests, and selects from a number of candidates. The individual investigation has the most say in the matching process, the individual investigates and evaluates various job opportunities. In some situations, the organization has the most say in the matching process, the individual, little.

In most cases, however there is a potential opportunity for selection and matching on the part of both the individual and the organization to increase the probability of more effective socialisation and integration. 

People Do Change Organizations

Socialisation is a two-way process. It is fairly obvious to new parents, for example, that their lives have been changed significantly when they bring the first baby home from the hospital. And they continually modify their behaviour as the infant passes through various stages of childhood. The teacher makes certain attitudinal and behaviour adjustments for each new class. The manager adapts to the new employee. All agents of socialisation are therefore themselves subject to change as a result of this process.

The degree of change effected in organization and in their agents of socialisation is directly related to the novelty to the situation with which they are presented. The first child is much more likely to change the parents than the tenth. The young teacher is more likely to be changed than the veteran. However, even the long-established organization member may face a period of significant re-socialisation when presented with new circumstances. Examples of the introduction of women and minorities into higher position in work organizations illustrate that the established managers also undergo major readjustments. The first women in the military academies were not only called upon to change themselves but occasioned substantial change that affected other recruits and the entire organization.

Agents of socialisation (parents, peers, teachers, mangers, etc.) faced with different types of human inputs into the organization will themselves have anxieties and apprehensions about the process; they may behave much like the newcomer. They are facing a new social situation and to an extent are unfrozen from their past attitudes and behaviour patterns. They, too, are more receptive at this time to information inputs and cues about how they should perform their role as socialiser. 

Individualization is the reciprocal of socialisation. While the organization is attempting to modify the individual to its requirements, “he in turn is striving to influence the organization so that it can better satisfy his own needs and his own ideas about how it can best be operated” (Porter, Lawler, & Hackman, 1975). This individualization process is of vital importance to the long-term survival of organizations: particularly those facing rapidly changing environments and internal circumstances. It is one of the primary sources of organizational change and adaptation.

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