Anticipatory Socialization and Intelligence Analysts
Stephen H. Konya
I know it sounds silly, but I had this image of James Bond before I started working here. The truth is, I just sit in a cubicle, and I write reports.
Every organization has a unique culture that is defined partly by its individual members and partly by its structure, history, and policies. For that culture to endure, it must be transmitted from current members to new members. This process, known as organizational socialization, is especially important in organizations with strong, insular cultures, as those with weak cultures have less to transmit and will tend to experience culture changes as members come and go.
Although socialization begins prior to a person’s first day on the job and is a continuous process, it is experienced most intensely by new employees. The cultural symbols acquired and interpreted during their initial interaction with the institution create potent and lasting impressions. For them, socialization is the process of learning the ropes; training; and becoming formally and informally acquainted with what is actually of value within the organization. It is also the time when one learns the organization’s norms and taboos and the extent of its social capital. In sum, formal and informal socialization are types of control mechanism for maintaining the norms, or status quo, within any organization.
According to Daniel Feldman, organizational socialization is “the process through which individuals are transformed from outsiders to participating, effective members of an organization.” As shown in Figure 1, Feldman divides this process into three stages: getting in (or anticipatory socialization), breaking in (or accommodation), and settling in (often referred to as role management). During the getting-in stage, potential employees try to acquire information about an organization from available sources, such as Web sites, professional journals, and corporate annual reports. The breaking-in stage includes orientation and learning organizational as well as job-related procedures. The settling-in stage concludes when an individual attains full member status in the organization.
See Figure 1: Feldman's three stages of organizational socialization.
While each of the three stages of socialization is important, the focus of this chapter is on the first, or anticipatory, stage. There are several reasons for this. Clearly, the expectations people develop about an organization they are joining are important to a new recruit’s eventual satisfaction, retention, and performance. Moreover, because it can control several aspects of the recruitment process, this stage is often the easiest for an organization to change. This chapter will take both a descriptive and prescriptive approach to easing the socialization of new employees.
Anticipatory socialization encompasses all of the learning that occurs prior to a recruit’s entering on duty. At this stage, an individual forms expectations about the job and makes decisions about the suitability of fit between himself and the organization. What a person has heard about working for a particular organization, such as an intelligence agency, provides an idea of what to expect if hired. Conversely, individuals who do not believe they would fit in may decide not to apply.
There are two variables that are particularly useful for tracking a potential employee’s progress through the anticipatory stage: The first is realism, or the extent to which an individual acquires an accurate picture of daily life in the organization. Realism is influenced by the level of success recruits achieve during the information-sharing and information-evaluation part of their recruitment. The second is congruence, or the extent to which the organization’s resources and the individual’s needs and skills are mutually satisfying. Congruence is influenced by the level of success an individual has achieved in making decisions about employment. Although it cannot directly influence congruence, which is an inherently personal experience, an organization can present relevant information in order to provide a realistic and accurate description of the work performed and the work environment.
Organizations often use interviews to begin the socialization of new recruits. For example, an interviewer will attempt to provide an accurate description of what to expect from the job and the organization, the purpose being to reduce the likelihood that a recruit will be disturbed by unanticipated situations. Interviewing is also used to determine the degree to which there is a match between the values of potential recruits and the values of the organization. New recruits with personal values matching those of the organization have been found to adjust to the organization’s culture more quickly than recruits with nonmatching values.
Organizations also send cultural messages to new recruits during interviews. When there are several rounds of interviews with progressively senior members of the organization, for example, the message conveyed is that finding the best person for the position is important. In contrast, hiring for a part-time job at the lowest level of the organization is often accomplished quickly, to the extent that a person having minimally acceptable qualifications may often be hired on the spot. The cultural message in this case is that such employees are easily let in to and out of the organization.
Another, particularly pertinent example is intelligence work, which requires that recruits undergo employment screenings unlike those found in most civilian jobs. Potential CIA analysts must submit to a thorough background investigation, a polygraph examination, and financial and credit reviews. Further, a battery of psychological and medical exams must be passed prior to a formal employment offer. The timeframe for the background check eliminates the possibility of a rapid hiring decision. Even more important are the nonverbal messages sent to the recruit that this is a position of secrecy and high importance.
Several sources of information contribute to beliefs about any organization. Friends or relatives who are already part of the organization might share their experiences with the person considering employment. Information might also be acquired from other sources, such as professional journals, magazines, newspaper articles, television, governmental and private Web sites, public statements or testimony, and annual reports. While these sources of information about an organization are far from perfect (all may contain positive and negative hyperbole), they are still useful from the point of view of forming preliminary ideas about what it might be like to work for that organization.
Because competition for highly qualified employees is fierce, successful recruitment usually involves a skillful combination of salesmanship and diplomacy. Recruiters tend to describe their organizations in glowing terms, glossing over internal problems and external threats, while emphasizing positive features. The result is that potential employees often receive unrealistically positive impressions of conditions prevailing in a specific organization. When they arrive on the job and find that their expectations are not met, they experience disappointment, dissatisfaction, and even resentment that they have been misled. In fact, research findings indicate that the less employees’ job expectations are met, the less satisfied and committed they are and the more likely they are to think about quitting or actually to do so.
These negative reactions are sometimes termed entry shock, referring to the confusion and disorientation experienced by many newcomers to an organization. In order to avoid entry shock, it is important for organizations to provide job candidates with accurate information about the organization. Research supports the notion that people exposed to realistic job previews later report higher satisfaction and show lower turnover than those who receive glowing, but often misleading, information about their companies. Moreover, having realistic expectations helps to ease the accommodation stage of the socialization process.
Consequences of Culture Mismatch
When I got here, I felt like a rabbit stuck in headlights. Now, I feel like a deer.
It took me a while to figure out that this place runs more like a newspaper than a university.
It’s pretty solitary work. I spend all day in my head. I really wasn’t expecting that.
There are several consequences of a cultural mismatch between an employee and an organization. Among these consequences are culture shock, low job satisfaction, low employee morale, increased absenteeism, increased turnover, and increased costs.
Culture Shock. People often have to be confronted with different cultures before they become conscious of their own culture. In fact, when people are faced with new cultures, it is not unusual for them to become confused and disoriented, a phenomenon commonly referred to as culture shock.
Beryl Hesketh and Stephen Bochner, among others, have observed that the process of adjusting to another culture generally follows a U-shaped curve. At first, people are optimistic about learning a new culture. This excitement is followed by frustration and confusion as they struggle to learn the new culture. After six months or so with the organization, people adjust to their new cultures, become more accepting of them, and are more satisfied by them. For those who enter a mismatched culture, the productivity issue is clear: the several months required to adjust and accept the new work style results in several months of even lower productivity than is obtainable with those who fit in right away.
Job Satisfaction. Job satisfaction is defined by one scholar as “people’s positive or negative feelings about their jobs.” It is hardly surprising that dissatisfied employees may try to find ways of reducing their exposure to their jobs. This is especially significant when one considers that people spend roughly one-third of their lives at work.
Interestingly, research suggests that the relationship between satisfaction and task performance, although positive, is not especially strong. Thus, while job satisfaction may be important to the longevity of any individual career cycle, it is not a major factor in individual job performance. It does, however, increase absenteeism, which has a negative effect on overall organizational productivity.
Absenteeism and Turnover. Research indicates that the lower an individual’s job satisfaction, the more likely he or she is to be absent from work. As with job satisfaction and task performance, this relationship is modest but also statistically significant. An employee may even choose to leave an organization altogether. This voluntary resignation is measured as employee turnover and has fiscal consequences for both the individual and the organization.
Fiscal Cost. Employee turnover is a critical cost element. The expense of recruiting and training new employees, along with lost productivity from vacant positions and overtime pay for replacement workers, increases operating costs and also reduces employee organizational output.
A 2002 study by the Employment Policy Foundation found that the estimated turnover cost is $12,506 per year per full-time vacancy for the average employee with total compensation (wages and benefits) of $50,025. As the average annual turnover benchmark within the Fortune 500 is 23.8 percent, one can clearly see how critical it is for organizations to lessen the number of employees who leave voluntarily. Even unscheduled absences can be expensive—averaging between $247 and $534 per employee, per day, according to the same study.
Anticipatory Socialization in the Intelligence Community
The secrecy is strange. I thought it would be romantic, but it turns out that it is just strange.
I was sold on the cool factor. It’s still sort of cool, I guess.
Accepting a job with one of the 14 members of the Intelligence Community differs from other professions in that it is difficult for new employees to have a clear and precise understanding of the roles and responsibilities they are about to assume. This is all the more pronounced because, for the most part, the Intelligence Community organizations lack a civilian counterpart.
Occasionally, the anticipatory socialization of people entering the intelligence analysis discipline will derive from accounts of current or former practitioners. More generally, however, a newcomer’s initial impressions stem from the fictional media portrayals, which tend to emphasize the supposed glamour of operational tasks and pay little attention to the reality of research-based analytic work. The absence of hard knowledge about intelligence work is attributable, in part, to the organizational secrecy of the Intelligence Community and, in part, to the actual socialization process that occurs after one has been accepted for employment and has passed the required background investigation.
A newcomer’s experience is often contrary to initial expectations. Employees are discouraged from talking about the specifics of their work outside of the organization or with those who have not been “cleared.” On an individual level, this experience translates into professional culture shock and social isolation. Organizationally, an intentionally closed system of this kind has a number of potential performance-related consequences, among them perpetuation of the existing organizational culture by hiring familial legacies or those most likely to “fit in,” job dissatisfaction, low morale and consequent reduction in employee readiness, increased employee turnover, greater likelihood of “groupthink,” and strong internal resistance to organizational change.
Since the attacks of 11 September, the Intelligence Community has become more open about its role in government, its day-to-day working environment, and its employees’ functions and responsibilities. While this openness is an extension of an ongoing trend toward public outreach—an example is the CIA’s Officer-in-Residence program established in 1985—the community has accelerated this trend toward openness in an effort to help the public, and its representatives, understand the missions and value of the Intelligence Community.
This trend toward openness has improved employee retention by counteracting the culture shock of misinformed anticipatory socialization and resultant employee turnover. This trend also helps prepare the organization for the inevitable changes to come by increasing the potential recruitment pool, expanding the intellectual diversity of its staff, and fostering better relations with its broader constituency, the American public.
Conclusion and Recommendations
As noted, there is something of a disconnect between the largely fictionalized portrayal of the Intelligence Community in the popular media and the actual experience of intelligence analysts. This disconnect can be exacerbated once a recruit is on the job and can lead to negative consequences and behaviors, such as organizational culture shock, employee dissatisfaction, and increased employee absenteeism and turnover. This has an obvious effect on individual analysts, but it has a direct effect on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Intelligence Community.
Since the September 2001 attacks, some members of the Intelligence Community have acted to change the socialization process by providing accurate and realistic career information. One of the most widely used media for this is the Internet. For example, the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Web site contains a section on “Life at the CIA.” This section contains information about the Agency and its culture, several analyst profiles and job descriptions written in the analyst’s own words, and information concerning employee benefits and social and intellectual diversity. Although the “Employment” section of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Web site is less detailed than the “Life at the CIA” section of the CIA Web site, it does illustrate a typical first assignment. In contrast, the “Careers” section of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA) Web site contains detailed information on current job openings and the application process, but it provides no information about the actual work of a DIA analyst. Steps such as these are encouraging, but they are still insufficient. There are more active things that can be done to facilitate the socialization of new employees.
To begin, Intelligence Community components should accept that what most people know about a job is often false and that it is incumbent on the organization and its recruiters to present accurate pictures and to work diligently to dispel myths. This will help to counteract the effects of culture shock. Instead of overselling a particular job or organization, recruiters should focus on facilitating the anticipatory socialization of potential employees by providing accurate information about the job and about the culture of the organization itself. Early in the selection process, applicants should be provided with realistic job previews, presented in either written or oral form. Previews should contain accurate information about the specific conditions within an organization and the specific requirements of the job. Research has shown that providing accurate descriptions of tasks is important in increasing job commitment and job satisfaction, as well as decreasing initial turnover of new employees. The job preview allows candidates to make an informed decision to continue with the recruitment process or to withdraw from it if they feel the job is not appropriate. Realistic previews also lower unrealistically high expectations. A particularly good example of such an effort can be found on the CIA’s Office of General Counsel Web site. This Web site includes a section titled “Misconceptions about working for the CIA,” which tries to dispel prejudices and biases about employment at the CIA by addressing them in a straightforward manner. In addition, the authors explain the benefits of having work experiences with the CIA for future employment endeavors in other areas.
Interview screenings of applicants should be reviewed and improved where needed. Hiring interviews are not very effective predictors of job performance; even so, there are ways to improve their reliability and validity. Numerous cognitive measurement instruments are available that help predict a match between an individual’s knowledge, skills, and abilities and specific behavioral, cognitive, and psychomotor tasks. In addition, the use of structured interviewing - posing the same questions to all applicants - is more effective than unstructured interviewing. Structured interviews allow for consistent comparisons among applicants. Organizations should also consider using panel interviews. Differences among individual interviewers may result in inaccurate judgment of an applicant, but the overall decision of a team of evaluators may improve reliability.
The use of situational exercises should be included in the recruitment process. These exercises usually consist of approximations of specific aspects of a job. They can be used to evaluate candidates’ job abilities and to provide candidates with simulated work tasks. The former can facilitate organizational evaluations of candidates’ performance on a job-related task; the latter may help candidates to decide whether the job would be a good match.
A desirable additional step would be the creation and expansion of academic degree programs with a focus on intelligence and intelligence analysis. Further, an enhanced effort to improve public awareness and understanding of the Intelligence Community through greater community outreach, internships, research fellowships, professional workshops, and academic forums will help to facilitate better employee relations by providing potential employees with a clearer perspective on what to expect after receiving their badge.
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