Is there evidence that Catherine experienced the categorization–homogenization–differentiation process? What details support your conclusion

FROM LIPPERT-JOHANSON INCORPORATED TO FENWAY WASTE MANAGEMENT

Lisa V. Williams , Jeewon Cho , and Alicia Boisnier , SUNY at Buffalo

Part One

Catherine O’Neill was very excited to finally be graduating from Flagship University at the end of the semester. She had always been interested in accounting, following from her father’s lifelong occupation, and she very much enjoyed the challenging major. She was involved in many highly regarded student clubs in the business school and worked diligently to earn good grades. Now her commitment to the profession would pay off, she hoped, as she turned her attention to her job search. In late fall she had on-campus interviews with several firms, but her interview with the prestigious Lippert-Johanson Incorporated (LJI) stood out in her mind as the most attractive opportunity. That’s why Catherine was thrilled to learn she made it to the next level of interviews, to be held at the firm’s main office later that month.

When Catherine entered the elegant lobby of LJI’s New York City offices, she was immediately impressed by all there was to take in. Catherine had always been one to pay attention to detail, and her acute observations of her environment had always been an asset. She was able to see how social and environmental cues told her what was expected of her, and she always set out to meet and exceed those expectations. On a tour of the office, she had already begun to size up her prospective workplace. She appreciated the quiet, focused work atmosphere. She liked how everyone was dressed: Most people wore suits, and their conservative apparel supported the professional attitudes that seemed to be omnipresent. People spoke to her in a formal but friendly manner and seemed enthusiastic. Some of them even took the time to greet her as she was guided to the conference room for her individual interviews. “I like the way this place feels, and I would love to come to work here every day,” Catherine thought. “I hope I do well in my interview!”

Before she knew it, Catherine was sitting in a nicely appointed office with one of the eight managers in the firm. Sandra Jacobs was the picture of a professional woman, and Catherine naturally took her cue from her about how to conduct herself in the interview. It seemed to go very quickly, although the interview lasted an hour. As soon as Catherine left the office, she could not wait to phone her father about the interview. “I loved it there, and I just know I’m a good fit!” she told her proud father. “Like them, I believe it is important to have the highest ethical standards and quality of work. Ms. Jacobs really emphasized the mission of the firm, as well as its policies. She did say that all the candidates have an excellent skill set and are well qualified for the job, so mostly they are going to base their hiring decision on how well they think each of us will fit into the firm. Reputation is everything to an accounting firm. I learned that from you, Dad!” 5. Several studies have reported that self-serving bias occurs in corporate annual reports. What does this mean, and how would it be apparent in these reports? Provide hypothetical examples of self-serving bias in these documents. 6. Describe how a manager or coach could use the process of self-fulfilling prophecy to enhance an individual’s performance. 7. Describe a situation in which you used behavior modification to influence someone’s behavior. What specifically did you do? What was the result? 8. Why are organizations moving toward the use of experiential approaches to learning? What conditions are required for success?

After six weeks of apprehensive waiting, Catherine’s efforts were rewarded when LJI and another firm contacted her with job offers. Catherine knew she would accept the offer from LJI. She saw the firm as very ethical, with the highest standards for work quality and an excellent reputation. Catherine was grateful to have been selected from such a competitive hiring process. “There couldn’t be a better choice for me! I’m so proud to become a member of this company!”

Catherine’s first few days at LJI were a whirlwind of a newcomer’s experiences. She had meetings with her supervisor to discuss the firm’s mission statement, her role in the firm, and what was expected of her. She was also told to spend some time looking at the employee handbook, which covered many important policies of the firm, such as dress code, sick time, grievances, the chain of command and job descriptions, and professional ethics. Everyone relied on the handbook to provide clear guidance about what was expected of each employee. Also, Catherine was informed that she would soon begin participating in continuing professional education, which would allow her to update her skills and knowledge in her field. “This is great,” thought Catherine, “I’m so glad to know the firm doesn’t just talk about its high standards—it actually follows through with action.”

What Catherine enjoyed most about her new job were her warm and welcoming colleagues, who invited her to their group lunches beginning with her first day. They talked about work and home; they seemed close, both professionally and personally. She could see that everyone had a similar attitude about work: They cared about their work and the firm; they took responsibility for their own tasks, and they helped one another out. Catherine also got involved in LJI activities outside work—like baseball and soccer teams, happy hours, picnics, and parties—and she enjoyed the chance to mingle with her co-workers. In what seemed like no time at all, Catherine started to see herself as a fully integrated member of LJI.

Before tax season started, Catherine attended some meetings of the AICPA and other professional accounting societies. There she met many accountants from other firms who all seemed impressed when she told them where she worked. Catherine’s pride and appreciation of being a member of LJI grew as she realized how highly regarded the firm was among others in the accounting industry.

Part Two

Over the past seven years Catherine’s career in New York had flourished. Her reputation as one of the top tax accountants in her company was well established and was recognized by colleagues outside the firm as well. However, Catherine entered a new chapter of her life when she married Ted Lewis, an oncology intern, who could not turn down an offer of residency at a top cancer center in upstate New York. Wanting to support Ted’s once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity, Catherine decided it was time to follow the path of many of her colleagues and leave public accounting for a position that would be more conducive to starting a family. Still, her heart was in the profession, so she took an available position as a controller of a small recycling company located a few miles from Catherine and Ted’s new upstate home. She knew that with this position she could both have children and maintain her career.

Fenway Waste Management was small—about 35 employees. There were about 25 people who worked in the warehouse, three administrative assistants, two supervisors, and five people in management. Catherine found that she had to adjust to her new position and surroundings. Often she found herself doing work that formally belonged to someone else; because it was a smaller company managers seemed to “wear many hats.” This was quite different from what she had experienced at LJI. In addition, the warehouse workers often had to handle greasy materials, and sometimes they tracked the grease into the offices. Catherine both laughed and worried when she saw a piece of paper pinned to the wall that said, “Clean Up After Yourself!” She supposed that the nature of the business was why the offices were functional but furnished with old pieces. She couldn’t imagine having a business meeting there. Also, for most of the employees, the casual dress matched the casual attitudes. But Catherine continued to wear a dressed-down version of her formal LJI attire, even though her new co-workers considered her overdressed.

With all the changes Catherine had experienced, she maintained one familiar piece of her past. Although it was not required for her new position, Catherine still attended AICPA meetings and made a point of continually updating her knowledge of current tax laws. At this year’s conference, she told a former colleague, “Being here, I feel so much more 96 like myself—I am so much more connected to these people and this environment than to those at my new job. It’s too bad I don’t feel this way at Fenway. I guess I’m just more comfortable with professionals who are similar to me.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Discuss the social identity issues present in this case.
  2. What indicated Catherine’s positive evaluation of the groups described in Part 1? How did her evaluations foster her social identity?
  3. What theory helps us understand how Catherine learned about appropriate behaviors at LJI?
  4. Compare and contrast LJI and Fenway.
  5. What was Catherine’s reaction after joining Fenway Waste Management, and why was her level of social identification different from that at LJI?
  6. Is there evidence that Catherine experienced the categorization–homogenization–differentiation process? What details support your conclusion?