Saturday, May 31, 2008

The New Woman on the Block -- Or How to Fit In

As graduates are flooding the market and I am also training a new employee at work, I am reminded of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

Dorothy had to learn how to follow the yellow brick road before she could get help from the wizard and learn how to return home to Kansas. She had to learn that things were different in the land of Oz and had to learn some accepted behaviors as well as learn about the value of friends and what friends could do for her. Before she was accepted by the Munchkins, as well as the people of Oz, she had to prove herself. She had to learn the proper way to travel down her yellow brick road before she could reach Oz. She also had to determine the use of her magic slippers, a tool she already possessed before she could reach her goal of returning to Kansas.

The Land of Oz was a new world for Dorothy. She was accustomed to Kansas where she fit in and where she was familiar with her surroundings. Beginning with Munchkin land, all along the road to Oz, Dorothy was continuously learning new things about her environment. By the time she left to return to Kansas, she had made friends and felt comfortable in Oz.

When students graduate from college and take that big first job (or anyone switching to new jobs), the new company can be like Oz. Like Dorothy when employees first enter the organization, new employees need to learn how to fit into a new environment. They may possess necessary skills to accomplish tasks and learn to fit in, but nobody is going to tell them unless they ask.

Like Dorothy, any new employee needs to learn what behavior is acceptable and decide whether to conform totally, conform somewhat, or rebel. New employees should determine for themselves what behavior is acceptable and how to fit into the organizational scheme. Employees will possess many motives behind their behavioral decisions. Some of their motives are based on their backgrounds, needs and aspirations, attitudes, characteristics and a host of other factors.

As employees join new organizations, they undergo a socialization process. Socialization is the process by which individuals learn and acquire the habits, beliefs, values, norms, and accumulated knowledge of the culture around them. This is a dynamic learning process in which individuals interacting in a specific culture or organization can be active participants. Some of the individual or personal factors which influence the socialization process may be psychological, motivational, or ability related. Pulling on the organizational side are structural or systemic factors (ie., interdependence of subsystems, hierarchical positions, organizational policies) as well as social factors (ie., group acceptance, organizational culture and social relationships). These various factors intermix and become instrumental in the socialization of new organizational members.

Socialization and learning to fit in to groups is critical for new employees because the way their careers are managed by organizations influence the quality of their life. Also as the success of companies become increasingly dependent on the commitment of members rather than on traditional control systems, this learning process becomes increasingly critical to companies. The stability and productivity of companies depends a lot on the way newcomers to positions come to carry out their tasks. The socialization or learning process has impact for the newcomer as well as for the organization.

If socialization is optimally performed, new employees will not become too conforming and maintain creativity. New employees can be valuable contributors through informal as well as formal means. Read the office policy manual. Listen to the grapevine. Go to lunch with other employees and listen, listen, listen. Ask questions. Get to know management. Who are the winners and who are the goats in the organization? Why? Where is the company succeeding? Where are they struggling? Where is the opportunity to shine and help out?

Formal (do start-ups have time for new employee orientation?) and informal socialization process are important in bringing new employees along the yellow brick road and to the land of Oz--a new world. Like Dorothy, new employees may possess their magic slippers, but they need to learn how to use these slippers in the specific environment.

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