Cable, Gino, & Staats (2013). Breaking Them in or Eliciting Their Best: Reframing Socialization around Newcomers’ Authentic Self-expression

Daniel M. Cable – London Business School
Francesca Gino – Harvard Business School
Bradley R. Staats – UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

Dana Kanze – Columbia Business School
Beth Devine – INSEAD

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Question 1. The results of this paper are remarkable in several ways: first, for being significant in both psychological and behavioral outcomes as a result of condition group; second, for being potentially generalizable to multiple work contexts; and third, for being of significant importance to both the individual and to the organization. This level of impact is often unattainable through laboratory experiments alone, illustrating how field experiments can play a pivotal and complementary role in organizational behavior research. However, finding viable field sites to conduct experiments can be challenging. What advice would you give young scholars interested in incorporating this method into their research efforts?

Field experiments require a very strong partnership between academics and a company. We have had the good fortune to run a number of different field experiments over time. In each case we have found the same ingredients (albeit in different proportions): 1) mutual interest in an interesting question; 2) a high degree of curiosity from the partner on the business side; 3) persistence, since things often go wrong on the path to actually implementing an intervention; 4) a strong relationship between ourselves and the company. This last piece is probably where the best advice can be given. Occasionally someone might get lucky with a company that wants to run a field experiment without a relationship. That hasn’t been our experience though. Recognizing that time has to be spent to build that up. We’ve often had good fortune starting with other projects (e.g., an archival data based project). Then as the relationship builds it grows easier to implement a field experiment. Given the many demands on young scholars’ time it becomes important to include this kind of field work as part of one’s research agenda, along with other approaches, since timing is often quite unpredictable.

Question 2. Pitfalls cited in field experiments include such potential hazards as the “Hawthorne Effect” motivating individuals to modify performance when interest is shown in them (Landsberger, 1950) and an “elite bias” in the selection of informants and in the evaluation of statements whereby fieldworkers spend more time collecting information from the elites and end up giving greater weight to their viewpoints than lower-level participants (Sieber, 1973). Can you address the potential biases that you sought to overcome in your particular study?

These are two different and important concerns. On the elite bias point, we were able to avoid this concern by studying an entire population of workers. In particular, we studied all workers who joined the company to work for the identified accounts, during the time period of study. The Hawthorne effect concern is a very important one in field experiments. This was part of why we wanted a focused-organizational intervention. This created a different type of control for us. It was similar to the company’s existing approach to on boarding (company-focused), but individuals were still being shown interest and so then we can think about the difference between individual and organizational conditions as a much more conservative test since it differences out any potential Hawthorne effect.

Question 3. Debate endures within the authenticity literature over the existence of a true self. For those in favor of a true self, authenticity is the congruency between the self and personal values, observable actions, or both (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ybema, Keenoy, Oswick, Beverungen, Ellis & Sabelis, 2009). For those dismissive of a true self (Butler, 2006; Erickson, 1995; Gergen, 1991; Goffman, 1959; Ibarra, 1999; Markus & Nurius, 1986; Roseneil & Seymour, 1999), authenticity is a fleeting match between a transient self-concept and a particular experience. This issue is important to authenticity because it shapes the way that individuals assess their own success in acting authentically. Your work draws on/contributes to the existence of a true self. How did your data inform your understanding of this concept?

This is a great question. I’m not sure our data, per se, can speak much to this question other than to show that people ‘perceive’ that they have a true self, and they can tell themselves and others stories about time when they were at their personal best true self. In other words, it is a meaningful question to which people have an answer, and there is strong evidence that getting them to consider and reflect on this true self energizes them to develop better relationships with others, to bring that best self to work more often, to be less likely to quit. One ‘middle ground’ position is to echo Walt Whitman who said ‘Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” The idea is that we may have a true self that is not simplistic, that is not easily encapsulated, and is not uni-dimensional, but is nevertheless very real to us.

Question 4. The quintessential desire to discover one’s authentic self and live one’s “true calling” has implications for readers that transcend the realm of academia. How has your exploration of this subject matter perhaps informed your respective personal and professional lives? What external applications do you see for your research?

For us, it’s clear that we spend most of our waking hours at work, and that it’s somewhat sad humanistically that many or most people don’t feel like work has much of a purpose other than ‘paying the bills’ of housing, transportation, and food. The privilege of deeply purposeful work is not something that many people have, which is why we should be very aware of and grateful for this privilege. In terms of implications, it is very interesting to help organizations still get to their desired ends, but get more engagement of employees by allowing vehicles for self expression at work, such as creating their own job titles, sculpting their jobs to do more of the tasks that feel meaningful to them, allowing more input into their work design. These are basic ideas from the 1960s but most organizations and leaders don’t practice them much, which means that human potential is lost and people are less fulfilled at work, at organizations have high quitting and worse quality and lower customer service.

Question 5. Can you comment on any surprising effects that differed markedly from your initial predictions and perhaps did not make their way into the published report? This can be an opportunity to also elaborate on your paper’s references to future research endeavors, suggesting potential extensions of your study to uncover mediating mechanisms, explore moderators, examine additional settings, investigate cultural boundary conditions, or incorporate additional methodologies.

One of the key issues is why the large effect sizes emerged after such a long time. Although we found the effect of authentic self expression in the lab study was the best mediator, we did not examine other possible (likely) micro mediators, such as the type of identity that newcomers negotiated with their new peer network. It is possible that the long-term effects that we found were due to a new type of story that newcomers told each other and themselves about their selves (as discussed in Tim Wilson’s book ‘Redirect’). This means that our specific manipulation actually became woven into the relationships they formed with others, such that the effect continued for far longer than an experimental manipulation would have created alone.

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