Several years ago, while working on a re-design project for a company’s onboarding, I became familiar with the work of John Van Maanen and Edgar H. Schein. In “Toward a Theory of Organizational Socialization” (1979), they identified 6 major dimensions that represent how organizations approach socialization – in other words how newcomers are introduced (“onboarded”) to an organization.
Today, as we near 2023 and leave 2022 in the rea-view mirror, companies – and HR teams – continue to
battle with tweak and adjust how to adequately ensure that outsiders (candidates/new hires) successfully become insiders (employees).
There are individual-specific characteristics associated with successful group integration of course; personality, work style, value-alignment, and all the assorted behaviors are, after all, the types of individual attributes we attempt to suss out (often unsuccessfully) during the interview process.
But from an organizational standpoint, Van Maanen and Schein identified the following 6 tactics/dimensions (in 1979!) as driving adjustment to ensure that newbies develop understanding, confidence, and acceptance. These remain a guide when planning onboarding, social acclimation and, ideally, employee satisfaction and retention:
- Collective or individual: the degree to which newcomers share common group experiences versus individual ones
- Formal or informal: formal tactics involve giving newcomers a set of officially prescribed and customized experiences apart from experienced employees, such as through an academy or internship, whereas informal tactics involve unplanned learning through trial and error, while working amongst experienced employees
- Sequential or random: the degree to which newcomers progress through distinct phases
- Fixed or variable sequencing: the degree to which the socialization process has a stated timetable
- Serial or disjunctive: the degree to which existing workers help socialize and mentor newcomers
- Investiture or divestiture: the degree to which a newcomer’s identity is affirmed versus stripped away
While these are all integral and must be given weight, it strikes me how “Investiture vs. Divestiture Socialization” is an indispensable component of an organization’s DEI&B lifeforce:
- The investiture approach affirms the individual’s identity – recognizing and celebrating the personal characteristics inherent to their personality. This occurs when organizations ask “what makes this person unique and how can we, the organization, support, empower and benefit from their skills, attitude and value?”
- The divestiture approach, on the other hand, disaffirms the personal identity of the newbie and requires them to eliminate, tamp down or change their personal characteristics to develop new habits (beliefs?) and a new ‘identity’ to fit in with the organization.
It’s the culture-add/culture-enhancement conversation which, over the last 5 years or so, has been “packaged” as a new and earth-shattering concept – perhaps to make the DEI&B conversations more palatable for resistant leaders? In much the same way out-of-touch companies were finally faced with dumping their dress codes when CROWN Act legislation passed?
It’s certainly worth asking when designing or revamping (or taking a good hard look at!) a company onboarding process and program:
- “do we REALLLY welcome outsiders as they are?” or
- “ do we strive to remold them into OUR image?”
Inclusion and belonging? We’ll see.