Differential Effects of Institutional Socialization on Value Orientations in Naval Academy Midshipmen

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Organizations are thought to influence the values, attitudes, and behaviors of members through processes of indoctrination and socialization. Military organizations also are believed to influence members by essentially "transforming" individuals from civilian life into part of an effective fighting machine. However, the process by which that occurs and the relative outcomes have not been fully understood. This problem is important because of the role the military plays as a professional, work, and social context for millions of people. The problem is addressed by analyzing the professional socialization to military service of midshipmen attending the United States Naval Academy. This research occurs at the nexus of organizational and professional socialization, the effects of college, identity theory, and the occupational or work orientations of youth. A model of organizational socialization and value congruence predicted the orientations of incoming midshipmen and compared them to groups of civilian high school seniors as well as to groups of midshipmen with greater time in the organization. Significant differences in the orientations of incoming midshipmen and civilian peers were observed, indicative of the self-selection and anticipatory socialization effects associated with organizational entry. In addition, incoming midshipmen differed significantly from midshipmen with greater tenure in the organization, highlighting a trend from newcomer idealism toward more realistic occupational orientations in seniors about to graduate and begin military work. The findings are important because greater congruence or "fit" in organizational and indivdidual orientations produced the most positive outcomes, including the most certain military career plans. Longitudinal evidence of greater congruence or "fit" occurred in midshipmen who possessed a strong personal identity associated with work and military service. The most significant predictors of this identity or "professional military career orientation" were strong work beliefs, high officer role identity, and the belief that military service is important. Midshpmen with better organizational "fit" expressed the most positive attitudes about the military, were more likely to see themselves working in the military at age 30, expected greater satisfaction with military work, and expressed greater certainty in their plans for a military career. Recommendations to foster a "professional military career orientation" in midshipmen are provided.