Alignment at Work: Accommodation and Enculturation in Corporate Communication

Alignment at Work: Accommodation and Enculturation in Corporate Communication

By Gabriel Doyle, Amir Goldberg, Sameer B. Srivastava, Michael C. Frank
October 24,2016Working Paper No. 3481

Cultural fit is an elusive construct that is often assumed to play an important role in individual, group, and organizational success. Most existing approaches to measuring culture are static, making it difficult to understand how cultural dynamics relate to success. By contrast, we develop a directed, dynamic measure of “linguistic alignment,” which estimates the extent to which one person’s word use is influenced by another’s, and use this measure to trace employees’ enculturation trajectories across a large, multi-year corpus of corporate emails.

We show that the employees’ changes in language use, especially pronouns, are consistent with changes in their status; new hires’ word usage moves toward the organization’s average behavior as they assimilate, suggesting that directed linguistic alignment is an appropriate measure of cultural fit. This interpretation is further supported by the finding that predictive classifiers trained on the first six months of an employee’s communication can predict eventual employment outcomes (i.e., leaving the company voluntarily or involuntarily) at levels above chance. Finally, we use the employment outcome classifiers to better understand the nature of alignment, compare the predictive quality of the traditional, lexical formulation of linguistic alignment against a novel semantic alignment scheme, and find that the semantic formulation is even more informative.