Newcomer learning and adjustment in small firms : social networks as a mechanism underpinning the socialisation process : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Management to Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Recognition of the increasing importance of organisational socialisation for individuals and organisations needs to be viewed against the background of the current challenges and changes facing employees and employers that include global competition, economic uncertainty, restructuring, labour mobility and attempts to attract and retain a talented workforce. The nature, scope and speed of these challenges are affecting the world of work and changing the nature of the employment relationship between employee and employer. These factors have resulted in a greater number of newcomers requiring more frequent socialisation to their new environments and organisations having to socialise newcomers more often, in ensuring newcomers learn and adjust to their new environment and are able to contribute to individual and organisational outcomes.
Small firms that represent the majority of businesses in most developed countries such as New Zealand and make a major contribution to economic development and employment generation are not immune to these challenges and changes. Given the capacity of the small firm sector to make a contribution to employment and economic growth and the importance attached to the effective and efficient socialisation of newcomers on individual and organisational level outcomes, from a small firm perspective it is argued that the key role of socialisation is just as, even if not more important and challenging in achieving desired outcomes. Underpinning the socialisation process is an implicit understanding that social networks formed through the interactions and relationships between newcomers and organisational insiders are a key factor influencing newcomer learning and adjustment and resultant individual and organisational outcomes.
The primary purpose of this study was to examine the role of social networks underpinning the socialisation factors influencing newcomer learning and adjustment and resultant outcomes in small firms. The research design adopted for the current study was a mixed methods approach that consisted of two phases. The first phase of the study adopted a qualitative approach to explore the role of social networks during the pre-encounter and encounter phases of the socialisation process and made use of semi-structured, face-to-face interviews with newcomers and socialisation agents in small firms. The second phase of this study adopted a quantitative approach, using a survey questionnaire as the data collection method to examine the impact of social networks on the
relationship between the individual socialisation factor of newcomer proactivity and socialisation outcomes in small firms from a newcomer perspective.
Overall, the findings of the qualitative phase of the study provide evidence of the important role of social networks during the pre-encounter and encounter phases of the socialisation process in small firms. More specifically, during pre-encounter socialisation social networks consisting of individuals from newcomers’ social and familial milieu play a key role in initiating newcomer socialisation. In addition, social networks contribute to facilitating information exchange during the selection process that contributes to newcomer learning and adjustment. During the encounter phase, social networks contribute to establishing and developing effective workplace relationships that facilitate socialisation and providing access to informational sources that influence newcomer learning and adjustment.
The findings for the quantitative phase of this study suggest that social networks do not significantly mediate the relationship between the individual socialisation factor of newcomer proactivity and socialisation outcomes. These findings raise the likelihood that there might be additional situational and contextual factors that play a role in determining the role of social networks as a mediator of the relationship between socialisation factors and socialisation outcomes.
The study is fairly unique in that, in contrast with most socialisation research being undertaken in large firms, the context of the study was the small firm sector. This study is also one of the first to integrate the socialisation and social network literatures and makes an important contribution by examining how social network and socialisation variables are linked, and what the possible effects of this are on newcomer learning and adjustment and resultant socialisation outcomes. A number of implications that can support newcomer learning and adjustment are outlined. Various limitations are identified and opportunities for future research that can assist in increasing understanding of the important role of social networks during socialisation that can be of benefit to researchers, organisations and society are discussed.