Paying ‘the price of membership’

I've been working on a piece on joining an organization – which took me back several years to the time I was doing the research for my thesis on organizational socialization. (Incidentally this is about to be published in total by VDM Publishing. They contacted me – I don't know their processes for finding potential work – anyway, they "publish academic research worldwide – at no cost to our authors".)

What I was working on yesterday was the 'price of membership' – the cost to the new joiner of being culturally assimilated. It marks the point of transitioning, or crossing the boundary, from being an outsider to an insider. It's an intriguing concept in that everyone taking on a new role – both to a new company and as a job move within their current company – has to pay. It's a recognition of acceptance by others in the group.

It seems to me that sometimes the price paid is obvious and perhaps costly, and sometimes it is barely noticeable as payment at all. Talking with new joiners it appears that the price is 'paid' in various ways and can be an all at once payment, an 'installment plan' with an end point, or an ongoing 'tax' that, in fact, everyone pays – the type of due that is extracted from all employees regardless of whether they are new or not. The most common types of 'price of membership' mentioned by new joiners are:

• An initiation test: This is not usually the consciously set 'head in lavatory pan' hazing type of trial, but it can feel like it as it is usually a high profile make or break event often related to the completion and presentation of a first task or project that has to be successfully achieved quickly.

• An endurance and/or proving process: Often this is about showing that the joiner can 'play the game' in the approved way (even although the rules are usually not that clear), or as one person said 'proving, over a certain time period, that you're a safe pair of hands, capable of handling certain projects'.

• Gradual personal change and/or adaptation: People described all the adjustments to style and approach that they had to make within the first days and weeks of starting the new role – as they quickly learned that what worked in their previous role was not necessarily appropriate in their new role.

If a joiner chooses not to, or simply can't – through personality, inability to adapt, etc. – pay the price of membership the usually inevitable outcome is that he or she is frozen out, ostracized and/or quits the organization. In other words, without social acceptance – achieved after paying the price of membership – a new joiner can't do the job. I'd be interested in hearing any stories people have on their price of membership experiences.

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