Remembrance of Things Past: Individual Imprinting in Organizations

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Remembrance of Things Past: Individual Imprinting in Organizations

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Title: Remembrance of Things Past: Individual Imprinting in Organizations
Author: Tilcsik, Andras
Citation: Tilcsik, Andras. 2012. Remembrance of Things Past: Individual Imprinting in Organizations. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation seeks to understand how formative experiences during organizational socialization exert a longstanding influence on individuals’ performance. Although there is evidence that conditions experienced early in a career or in the initial period of organizational tenure can leave a lasting imprint on individuals’ work-related cognition and behavior, little is known about the performance implications that result from such imprints. Moreover, despite increasing interest in imprinting processes at the individual level, much research in this area has been narrow in scope, focusing mostly on the imprinted influence of early mentors and coworkers, and giving little attention to other factors that contribute to the formation of imprints. To address these gaps, I develop theory about the lasting performance implications of two key features of the context in which socialization takes place: (1) the intra-organizational resource environment upon a newcomer’s entry; and (2) the initial structural position that a newcomer occupies within the network of work relationships in the organization. My core proposition is that imprints created by these conditions enhance or hinder subsequent performance depending on the extent of fit between the imprint and current conditions. This proposition has novel implications for the determinants of individual attainment in organizations; for the paradoxical relationship between initial resource conditions and subsequent performance; and for the nature of network structures that produce individual advantage. Unique longitudinal data and qualitative interviews in two professional service firms provide evidence for this framework.
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