In the course of writing Chapter 8 of my forthcoming book I re-read Edgar Schein's article Organizational Socialization and the Profession of Management. It was published in 1968 but still reads as a vigorous, relevant, and, in my view, entertaining text on the topic. Briefly, it discusses "what happens to an individual when he enters and accepts membership in an organization."
Schein describes the "process of learning the ropes, the process of being indoctrinated and trained, the process of being taught what is important in an organization or some subunit thereof".
I was struck by several things as I re-read it. (I don't remember when I first came across the article although I know I read it in 1999 as part of some research I was doing then. This may have been the first time.)
1. A reminder that organizational socialization is a continuous process that we are going through all the time in our memberships of various organizations: I can think of many cases where people seem to be fitting in well in an organization and then, suddenly, something goes wrong and they leave, either by their own choice or by the organization's. What goes wrong may never be put down to anything explicit or obvious, like over-claiming on expenses – more usually they have contravened some unspoken 'rule' either knowingly or by mistake.
2. The concepts of a "stable organization", on which Schein based his research: in my experience there are few organizations that would call themselves "stable" – mostly they describe turmoil, flux, turbulence, chaos, and so on. That doesn't date the article because Schein has already made the point that people are socializing all the time. His original view seems to be that it as individuals join a new organization, but taking the view that organizations are in a state of continual renewal then individuals are continuously being socialized to them.
3. Schein's vocabulary is very male. He talks of "40 men". There's no disclaimer that 'men' means 'men and women'. It's evident that 40 years ago that women were scarce in both business schools and in the managerial workforce. Things have changed in that dimension. The Economist published an article last week on women in the workforce with statistics on the various levels of their presence. For example, In 1966, 40% of American women who received a BA specialised in education in college; 2% specialised in business and management. The figures are now 12% and 50%.
4. The discussion of 'unfreezing' old values in order to refreeze new values. Reading this word brought back shades of Kurt Lewin and the change cycle which again doesn't work very well now. Organizations may appear to be change resistant and need 'unfreezing' but, in fact, organizations are changing all the time in response to external and internal pressures. Similarly, with personal values: they seem stable and enduring but they are shifting – anyone who is the first child in a family can comment on the way the third or fourth sibling has a much easier time of things illustrating the fact that values around parenting change.
5. How people learn what is essentially the culture of the organization doesn't seem to have changed in the 40 years. Maybe methods of learning are relatively stable. Apart from using technology to access more information and stay in touch with more people I wonder if learning processes (accepting that people learn in different ways albeit using the processes) are relatively stable?
6. Having tackled the concepts of organizational socialization Schein turns to the question of whether management is a 'profession'. This debate is still current in more or less exactly the same terms that Schein discusses. Gary Hamel fairly recently (2007) wrote a book The Future of Management which continues the debate. Next action a re-read of that.