Have you ever had this experience? You move to a new city where you don’t know anyone, so you set about finding a new social life: new friends, a new place of worship, new hobby groups. It isn’t always easy. Some just don’t feel right; they don’t fit. But over time, you find people and groups who are a good match—who make you feel more complete. And your new environment seems a little more like home.
We’ve all felt this satisfaction when we “fit” well with a group or in a family, in a club or a relationship. But what about achieving a good fit at work?
Much of what I hear from my clients is that fit matters but it’s a little elusive—they know it when they see it, but they have a hard time articulating exactly what they mean by fit. However, having the language to make this concept concrete will help you bring in the right talent for your organization—and retain it. So let’s take a look at what we mean by fit at work and why it’s so important.
Two Types of Fit
For our purposes we’ll look at two kinds of fit. The first is an alignment between what the job requires and the intelligence, personality and interests of the employee. The second is an alignment between the organization’s culture and the employee’s values. When both types of fit are achieved, you have a good overall compatibility between employee, job and organization—and better chances of a successful outcome.
The first type of alignment is known as person-job fit. How well do the skills, behavioral traits and interests of a person align with the job requirements—the tasks associated with the job? For example, one of the tasks associated with a sales job is to explain complex information, which requires a high degree of verbal fluency. In contrast, the tasks associated with an engineering job require a high degree of spatial and mathematical reasoning.
While people do have diverse skills sets, we all have certain strengths, different personalities and preferred interests that together form the “trait complexes” that make us who we are. These trait complexes help draw us toward various careers and vocations, explaining why one person is drawn to a career in sales and another to a career in engineering.
The idea of fit between an individual’s strengths and job requirements is not new; organizations have long paid attention to it because of the benefits for both employee and company. We often see the implementation of person-job fit in pre-employment assessment tools like the PXT Select. Or in other types of interview processes like job-specific technical assessments, such as a software test for developers or a live presentation for a sales professional.
The second type of fit—less commonly used in talent selection—is person-organization fit, or cultural fit. It’s used less regularly because culture, while a critical dimension of organizational life and health, is an elusive concept. It’s often hard for organizations to define, and fewer tools are available to assess cultural fit than task- related fit. But the science confirms that a good person-organization fit makes a difference in performance, retention and employee satisfaction. It’s worth the effort to gain clarity on how to incorporate cultural fit.
The essential research in this area is focused on how and why people are attracted to different organizational cultures. The concept of organizational culture is formulated using a variety of disciplines from the social sciences such as social psychology, sociology and even anthropology.
One way to think about culture is to examine what an organization values, what it reinforces and what it rejects. This shows up in shared behavior, common stories and symbols that hold meaning for its members. Culture is powerful, and its mostly unwritten rules provide clues for decision-making, promotion and other aspects of organizational life.
A simple example would be expectations around working hours. The employee manual might state that work hours are between 8:30 and 5:30, but in reality, 8:00 a.m. meetings are an accepted norm.
Cultural Fit in Practice
Organizations attempt to select recruits who share their values, and individuals tend to be drawn to organizations that they see as having similar values to their own. When the cultural fit is good, the employee more readily finds meaning and connectedness, two major factors in employee retention.
Defining and being able to communicate your organization’s culture helps both your organization and prospective employees figure out what’s important to them, and whether they are a cultural match.
Here’s a real-world example of how not paying attention to cultural fit can lead to poor outcomes for both employee and organization. Several years ago, “Jim” graduated summa cum laude with a degree in philosophy from a top university. While still in his senior year, he was recruited by a large financial services firm and offered a job as an analyst. Being conscientious and recognizing that his parents had just paid a small fortune to put him through school, and that prospects for a job in philosophy were not promising, he accepted.
The financial services firm liked bright, conscientious graduates from top universities. But the pace was fast and the intensity high. It was a results-driven culture; people were measured by how much they accomplished in a day, definitely not the culture of a philosophy department in a university. Philosophers think, ponder, wonder and then they write. It wasn’t long before Jim began to experience work-related stress and anxiety. He left the firm after nine months. Neither party was successful due to the lack of cultural fit.
Fit Is Money—and Time and Success
Because it takes considerable time, effort and cost to attract, select and retain talent, developing methods for determining person-job and person-organization fit becomes a paramount task for executives.
You have a number of tools available to assess person-job fit, but judging cultural fit is a bit trickier. An important first step is to identify and define your organization’s cultural profile. Then, incorporate an interview approach that provides a good preview of your organization’s culture to prospective employees, developing interview questions that uncover whether there is a fit between what your organization values and the behavioral preferences and values that the candidate holds dear.
It’s worth the effort!