Texas Speech Communication Journal, Vol. 29, No. 2, Winter 2005, pp. 118-130
Narrative as a Tool in Organizational Socialization:
Secular Sermonic Rhetoric in Employee Orientation Programs
Organizational narratives can be useful as organizations socialize new hires.
They are especially
useful for imparting an organization's history, mission, goals, and values to organizational
Some of these narratives can function as secular sermonic rhetoric when (1) the
rhetor takes the role of prophet, (2) the rhetor exhorts the audience to act on shared beliefs, (3)
the audience participates in message creation, and (4) the discourse uses monologic narratives to
illustrate morals and values.
Along with a discussion of these characteristics, this essay also
presents a brief discussion of narrative’s importance to organizational communication, especially
in socialization situations and provides a case study of how an organization uses secular sermonic
rhetoric in its new employee socialization program.
Recent psychological research has examined the role that storytelling takes in socializing
young children into their culture. It has found that adults tell children stories to teach them what to
believe and how to behave. Although this research focuses mainly on the storytelling practices of
middle class European American children, Miller and her colleagues’ (1997) findings extended
that practice to include children in other cultural groups and people of all ages being socialized
into a variety of organizations. For instance, Pribble (1990) examined the narrative based
orientation program used by a pacemaker company to integrate new employees into the
organization, much like children are introduced into their culture. Brown (1985) argues that
"Organizational socialization consists of the methods through which members learn the behaviors,
values, and norms appropriate to their positions with in the organization" (p. 27).
Chao and her colleagues (1994) divide socialization research into two schools (p. 730).
One of these schools focuses on the content, or actual information learned by newcomers (C.
Fisher, 1986; Brown, 1985). Much of the research belongs to the other school, which examines the
process of socialization, including the stages through which newcomers pass en route to becoming
organizational members (Feldman, 1981; Louis, 1980) and the information seeking behaviors they
use to pass through those stages (Miller & Jablin, 1991; Comer, 1991). Yet, surprisingly little
research has examined the forms that socialization practices take to move organizational members
through the stages of socialization and give them the information they need. Jablin (2001)
comments on this gap in the literature:
[A]lthough a considerable amount of research has been directed at testing typologies of socialization
strategies and tactics, few studies have explicitly focused on unpacking the communication attributes
and the specific kinds of messages associated with the enactment of the strategies and tactics… [The