Person-Organization Fit

By Kathleen Iverson

A family friend developed a software program that helps people buy shoes online that cinderella_stepsisterfit  properly the first time. Based on shoes brands and styles that have been comfortable in the past, it can predict how a new pair of shoes will feel. The company, Shoefitr, was so successful that it was recently bought by Amazon.

The same principals of fit can also be applied to people and organizations. The study of how well individuals and groups “fit” with organizations and job demands, known as person-environment fit, has been around for many years and has far reaching implications. Person–job fit (PJ fit) is the match between the individual’s knowledge, skills, and abilities against the task requirements of the job and person–organization fit (PO fit) is the match between the candidate’s personal characteristics and the organization’s cultural characteristics. We often focus on PJ fit, but the importance of PO fit is gaining momentum. According to research studies, PO fit relates to key indicators of success including retention, work attitudes, citizenship, ethical behavior, stress, and work performance. Good fit is a prerequisite for maintaining well-being at work due to its effect on satisfaction, self-esteem, belonging, usefulness, and employee identity.

When trying on a new pair of shoes, we know almost immediately how they fit. But how do we know if our organization is a good fit? One instrument developed by Cable and DeRue (2002) measures PO fit with three simple questions. To test how well you fit with your current or past organization, think about how you might answer the following questions on a scale of 1 to 5 (1=strongly disagree, 5=strongly agree).

  1. The things that I value in life are very similar to the things that my organization values.
  2. My personal values match my organization’s values and culture.
  3. My organization’s values and culture provide a good fit with the things that I value in life.

If your score is between 12-15, you’ve got a very good fit. If your score is 8-11, your fit is moderate, and below 8 indicates that your organization is not a very good fit.

Low fit doesn’t necessarily mean that you should leave your current organization, but it is red flag indicating that something isn’t working. If you feel stressed at work, tP-O fithink about leaving, your performance is not what it should be, or you just have negative feelings about your job or company, poor PO fit could be the cause. Just like purchasing shoes, it’s much easier to prevent poor fit than to rectify it. A large body of research is focusing on the role of PO fit in the selection process, from both the perspective of the employer and the job applicant. Organizations are looking at ways they can predict good fit during the interview process and, in turn, how applicants can use knowledge of their fit needs to make the right career choice. As a job seeker, first reflect on your personal values and your commitment to choosing environments that support these values, and then find organizations that are congruent with your values. As a potential employer, pay attention to how you communicate the culture of the organization both directly and indirectly. Be sure to let serious candidates know about the organization mission, leadership strategy, and commitment to areas of social justice and inclusion. To some candidates, these factors could be equally or even more important than salary and benefits.

Questions for discussion

  1. What factors and values are important to you in an employer?
  2. How might you go about finding organizations that share your values?
  3. If you are in an interview situation, how might you decide whether an organization is a good fit for you? What questions might you ask? What information might you gather?

References

Cable, D. M., & DeRue, D. S. (2002). The convergent and discriminant validity of subjective fit perceptions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 875– 884.

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24 comments

  • krubinszymanski

    Kathy Iverson did an excellent comparison with her friends on-line shoe company!

    Person and Organization Fit is all about “finding the right match”. The entire “courtship” of identifying whether “it’s a right fit” for both the person and the organization is really no different than those processes of self and introspective discovery we go through in our personal relationships. I call it my “Blind Date Theory”. When you meet someone by happenchance, introductions through mutual acquaintances, or on-line dating sites, we all have our checklist of likes, dislikes, dealbreakers, etc. During the initial courtship, each party brings their lists of questions to get to know the other person. At the end of the first meeting, each person will determine if there should be a “next meeting”. The same process holds true when an employee and organization meet for the first time (starts at the application stage, first phone or in-person interview) and both parties determine if they should or should not move “forward” in the process. At some point, like in a personal relationship either party or both will determine “do I want to stay in the process or have I determined it’s not the right fit?” Assuming, in a personal relationship, both parties agree to move forward and take the next step and “get married”. In a business environment, the equivalent holds true by a job being offered by the organization and the employee accepting the position. Now, the true test of time unfolds. Will this be the right relationship for now, or forever? In our personal relationships core beliefs and values, the ability to grow together, foundations of trust, credibility, and reliability are some of the necessary to sustain the “happily ever after” and withstand the test of time. The same holds true in an employee organization relationship. Are the employee and organization’s core beliefs and values still in agreement? Can the employee grow within the organization and does the organization provide those growth opportunities (or does the employee need to “say goodbye” and go elsewhere)? Is their mutual respect and trust between the employee and organization (and leadership)? Nothing stands still forever and this holds true during personal and professional relationships when determining “right match”.

  • The subject matter of this article is exactly the reason why working adults are heading back to college and online learning, to work on their degrees because they do not feel that their PO (person–organization fit) fit is not where it should be. Whether the work is not rewarding enough or they do not feel valued by the organization, or the organization and the individual have separate values when it comes to completing the overall goal of the organization. Many individuals apply and work at organizations that are totally at odds with their moral values for the experience (in hopes to land a better opportunity), or because they are in financial need.
    It has been my experience that organizations will have a mission statement that is completely opposite of how they operate to attract the best and the brightest talent to their organization, and then the truth comes out when the individual has accepted the employment offer from the organization. Leaving the individual to feel trapped or in a state of hoping that things get better, and hopefully in line with their own value system. Neither occurs, and most likely contributes to employees having to measure or rate their PO with their current organizations, probably on a daily basis, leading to low morale, and high turnover rates for the organization that affects its bottom line. Maybe organizations that have these symptoms will help their employees gauge their PO with them and try to help them meet a compromise that will help those employees stay with the organization.

  • This is a really great article and very relevant to what is happening today. We hear so much about employee satisfaction and engagement and how that drives performance and productivity. All this is true and if there is poor organizational fit, then I don’t think that there can be strong engagement or satisfaction going on. Turnover rates are bound to increase and the organization and its client/customers will suffer. Companies would do well to invest a lot of time making sure there is good PO fit prior to hiring. It will pay off in the long run.

    When searching for a new job I will definitely research the company’s mission/vision/values to see if that match my personal ones but will go beyond what it says on their website. We are lucky today to have the easy accessibility of information via the internet and social media and networking sites like LinkedIn to research organizations. I would look for posts or articles written by current and former employees to gage the real story behind the webpages. I would also look for articles written about the organization in respected business journals or industry related publications to understand how the it is viewed in its community, by its competitors, and the customers it serves.

    • Your statement about how employee satisfaction and engagement drives performance and productivity is quite accurate. I work for Walgreen’s in the pharmacy and it amazes me how little the corporation seems to understand what goes on behind the counter. We have so many tasks and numbers we have to achieve all while stilling taking care of customers and yet we still get cut hours so there is little help. I am baffled as to why Walgreen’s does not understand that by cutting hours they are cutting help, which stresses out the employees to no end. This in term has a huge impact on customer service, either the employee may snap at a customer a bit rudely, or the wait times are so tremendous that the patient is frustrated (which is understandable). I couldn’t agree with you more about companies needing to invest time and money in making sure there is a good PO. It DOES pay off in the long run as a happy employee leads to a happy customers, which in my opinion will lead to a happy employer.

  • When making the attempt to align the values of an individual to that of an organization, there must be clear expectations in place. I seek full explanations around the importance of work and life balance within their structure, what they do to create cross-sectional employees, and what effort is placed in conscious supervisions that do not imply micromanaging.

    In order to ensure I capture this information that is necessary for me to gain employment, I take a few action steps. My initial approach is to take a look at their external publications and communications to see how they are perceived. I then seek out how relevant they are to my current field of work and if there is shared language I see.

    When interviewing, I am determined to understand an organization’s work culture, how a specific role impacts the strategic vision, and if a most recent employee is willing to share their on-boarding process.

  • An employer that places emphasis on work life balance for their employees is important. Understanding that employees want time to relax and enjoy life is the ultimate sign of respect. More often than not I hear of companies that talk about work life balance but then do not approve vacation requests or expect employees to check email and voicemail when the employee is “off” work.

    Thankfully with the help of the internet, it can be easier to companies that align with your values. Websites such as glassdoor have company reviews from previous employees. I have also always found success in using LinkedIn. While I might not know someone personally who works for the company, I often knew a friend of a friend who I was able to contact to gain insight about the company and their values and work ethic.

    In scenarios where I made it to a face to face interview, I actually ask the hiring manager how they perceive the organizational culture and if they believe there is work life balance. In scenarios where I meet with multiple people, I ask the same question. I look for consistency in their responses. As I walk around the office from the reception area to the interview area, I try to observe the employees and their interaction with each other. I ask myself, do they look happy? Do they look stressed? Does it physically look like an environment that would be enjoyable? Piecing together the responses from the questions above has always given me a fairly accurate assessment of the organization.

  • This is a great article and certainly hits home with me. For the past couple years, our management team has been talking about both PJ fit and PO fit. It’s always good to find the people with the right skills that the company needs to produce and be profitable but as we have come to discover, it’s just as important to find the people who share the same vision as the company.

    1. In regards to the first question, there are several factors that are important to me and my employer and it’s actually an acronym that spells out our company’s name (its our company “values”):

    P = Performance
    A = Accountability
    I = Integrity
    N = Never sacrifice safety
    T = Teamwork
    E = Empowerment
    R = Respect God and each other
    USA

    I can say with confidence that our company truly upholds these values. Of course we are not perfect with all of them all the time but we certainly talk about them all the time when in meetings or in training or just in conversation. Four years ago marked a significant change in Painters USA after the company did an internal review. Ownership saw the need for a major culture change and 4 years later, we are seeing some great results. In terms of hiring individuals, we use our company values as a good indication of whether or not they will be a good fit. Fortunately for use, we have found a lot of individuals who do fit the mold and it’s been a great relationship.

    2. As far as finding an organization that shares my values, I would do my research on them. I would see if they have a mission statement, vision statement and company values. If I felt those were in line with my own personal values, I would reach out and talk to people who work for the organization. They would give me some good insight into what really happens at their organization and tell me if they really do what they say they do.

    3. If I was in an interview, I would ask for examples of how the people in the organization live out their values. It’s one thing to have it printed in a job ad or simply talk about it in discussion but without some concrete examples, it doesn’t mean much. For example, if I was interviewing at my organization, I would ask about the value “N = Never sacrifice safety” and would ask for examples of what the company is doing to make sure no one gets hurt. Do they have a safety manual? Are there classes for safety? How do the employees stay safe on the job? What kinds of jobs are unsafe? Asking questions like these would elicit the kind of information that would help me as an interviewee determine if the company stands behind their values.

    – Micah

    • This is great stuff Micah and almost a blog post! Thank you for your detailed responses. It is interesting to think of fit in terms of safety–something that doesn’t always come to mind. Also, I love the painter acronym.

  • I really liked this post, considering I get asked a lot of these questions from candidates in interviews. When people have the opportunity to ask me (the employer) questions, they will often focus in on aspect of the job/organization that are important to them, that point to things such as ethics and values. They want to know if they will be happy with our company and if the culture is a good fit for them. Often times it is a little heavy on the culture questions, and I want to remind them that they have to be fulfilled doing their work too 🙂

  • Prior to my interview I would definitely look into the mission, values and culture of the organization. I often google companies and read employee comments on sites like Indeed.com. Now I wont say that I will follow the comment posted by current or ex employees but I will take them into consideration on a case by case basis and find some of them to be very informative.

  • Kathy,
    I LOVE this post.
    In response to your questions:
    1.What factors and values are important to you in an employer?
    I value transparency, honesty, and positivity; work like harmony; employee or customer centric; humanistic.
    2.How might you go about finding organizations that share your values?
    The website will promote what they want you to think. The best way is to try and connect with someone in the organization already and let them talk about their experience as it relates to culture.
    3.If you are in an interview situation, how might you decide whether an organization is a good fit for you? What questions might you ask? What information might you gather?
    I might ask about a recent change they experienced; how that was handled and how the employees reacted, and how they dealt with resistance. I also might ask what core values they have in place and to give me an example of how they are working and how they align with the organization’s mission.

  • What factors and values are important to you in an employer? Well first let me say that I love this post because it resonates with my current feelings. The values, within an employer, that are important to me are embracing diversity, employee investment ( inclusion of changes, decisions, etc. where appropriate), growth opportunities and investment opportunities to name a few.

    Seventeen years ago, I,like most, didn’t really focus on my fit with the organization or vice versa. However, as I have mentally matured, PO fit is probably the most important trait to utilize as a deciding factor in one’s job search.Recently, over the past year or so, I carried a multitude of stress and started to dis-like my current position. Why? the organizations culture just didn’t seem to fit my characteristics. My personal beliefs didn’t seem to mimic that of the organization which became very frustrating for me; specifically in the area of training. Many employees were hired and/or transferred without proper training and entry level skills to succeed in the role assigned to them. The culture of the organization is one that you either jump in and get it or not. Well, instead resigning and walking away from what I really loved, I decided to figure out what it was that I didn’t like and what if anything could I do personally to change it. I decided to create and showcase a change to the training process and methods. As you stated Kathy, “like purchasing shoes, it’s much easier to prevent poor fit than to rectify it. I choose to rectify it.

    Camille

  • I find that the mission, values and culture of an organization are important to me. It is important to me that an organization has sound business practices, are concerned with the overall well-being of their staff and those they serve. I am currently working at a company that I am not a good fit for the company. My core values are not aligned with the overall values and culture of the organization. Reading this post made me truly think about how I am going to avoid this pitfall with my future employment. I will make sure to research the values, mission, employee satisfaction rate, retention and any other information that I am able to obtain to know more information before accepting a position. During my interview process I will be sure to ask question about the organizational structure, culture and examples about how the mission and values are being executed.
    Jeanae

  • I really found the analogy to the shoe fitting to be appropriate. Maybe it’s a “girl thing,” but I think most of us have really fallen in love with a pair of shoes, whether because of price, brand, or style. We try them on, and think that they will stretch, or that we’ll find something that we can wear them with. Meanwhile, they languish in our closet–reproaching us every time we see them, unworn.
    Fit with an organization can be much the same–the money is good, the title is great, it’s an organization that I should WANT to work at. But for some reason, it doesn’t fit. I think there are ways to tease out culture and values in an interview, and it’s also a good way to answer the “Do you have any other questions for us?” part of the interview. To achieve good fit, perhaps interviewees should create a question or two that will help discern culture and values. For example, “If you could describe your organization’s culture in three words, what would they be?” “If the organization had to choose between being a leader in the field financially or a leader in the field in innovation, which would more closely describe the leadership philosophy?”

  • Hi Kathy,
    Great article that really provided me some great things to think about!
    I must say that what initially caught my attention was the Shoefitr website and it intrigued me to see how does it correlate to organizations. I really like the questions that were mentioned in the article and they made me stop and think about my personal situation. I like how it states “Low fit doesn’t necessarily mean that you should leave your current organization, but it is red flag indicating that something isn’t working.” I think to often some people don’t stop to think and just act. This will encourage me personally when I get in a situation like this in the future or I can also provide others the questions to stop and think to make sure that the PO fit is right as well as the PJ fit.
    Thanks for the great read!
    Peg O.

    • Thank you Peg. I’m glad you caught the nuance of the article with relation to job change and fit. Sometime poor fit is situational and if you remain in an organization, things can improve or change for the better.

  • Kathy,

    What a great article and the images to accompany it are a perfect fit.

    Tara Hawkins | Coordinator – Graduate Program in Training and Development| ROOSEVELT UNIVERSITY
    1400 N Roosevelt Blvd. |Schaumburg, IL 60173 | •: 847. 619. 8734 | Ê: 847. 619. 8750 | •:thawkins@roosevelt.edu
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  • I could not agree more with this blog posting. Recently I talked to a friend who applied for a job at a start-up company. He was surprised to learn that “comfortable clothes and a warm sweater” were required for the all-day interview. It turned out the founder/owner took him on a hiking trip. I often hear about new and creative ways to interview someone to learn about this person way beyond the resume. That requires a new prep for the job seeker. A solid value statement and a life mission are often cloudy, not thought through. I see it a lot in younger job seekers, but also in disenchanted and seasoned job seekers. Job search is a two-way street. Both sides need to make a good matching decision.

    Ute Westphal,
    MBA Candidate

    • Thanks for your comment Ute and the story about the hiking/interview was a perfect example of fit. I once had a job interview that was the polar opposite where I was asked to bring evening attire and had to attend a dinner dance as part of the interview process–equally unusual!

  • Finding an organization that shares your values is so important. I love this article. I have worked for companies where I just didn’t feel passion or excitement… something just didn’t click. Looking back, I realize that our values didn’t align. My current company loves innovation and boundarylessness. They invite those things AND they give us an excellent work/life balance AND they give us paid time off each year to volunteer for nonprofits. I mean, I couldn’t have found a better fit for me. If I were to now interview for a job, I would be sure to ask questions about what the organization states are its values. I would look for the little things that show that departments are held accountable to the core values of the company. This makes it so easy for me to have passion.

    • A perfect example of good fit Shelly! I realize that fit explains a great deal of what I enjoy about working at Roosevelt too. I also had not thought about including issues surrounding fit in the interview process until I started researching this area.

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