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The Value of Person-Organization Fit

Charles Handler

You don't have to have been hanging around the world of hiring
too long to have been exposed to discussions about how well an
individual "fits" in with an organization. If you think about it, the
idea of ensuring a good fit between a candidate and a job or
organization is pretty much the main idea of the entire hiring

But the term "fit" is a vague one that's tossed around so causally
and often that it means different things to
different people. While there is value in the
idea of fit no matter how you define it, when
the rubber meets the road during the actual
hiring process it's important that the meaning
of fit be clearly defined.

The purpose of this article is to help discuss
the concept of "fit" as we I/O psychologist
types have traditionally defined it. It's my
hope that this discussion will help to promote a
better understanding of the concept of fit and
its many positive outcomes, while also helping
readers think about how they might use it in
their own hiring processes.

Defining Fit

Organizational psychologists have traditionally
defined fit in two distinct ways. Both
definitions can play an important role in
providing the data needed to help make quality hiring decisions,
but they do so in different ways. This is not to say that one way
is any better then the other; in fact, in my opinion, there is value
in using both types to compliment one another. The exact way in
which each type of fit adds value to the hiring process will
become more apparent once they have been defined more clearly.

1.Person-Job Fit (or P-J Fit). The first type is what we refer
to as "Person-Job Fit." This is the type of fit you most often
hear me talking about when I advocate the use of
assessment tools in the hiring process. Indeed, it's the most
common way fit is defined by organizations. Person-Job Fit
involves the measurement of what we often refer to as
"hard" information about a candidate's suitability for the
tasks that are required for successful performance of a
specific job. "Hard" aspects of P-J Fit include things such as
a candidate's specific skills, their levels of knowledge about
specific subject matter, and their cognitive abilities. In many
cases, P-J Fit also includes "softer" measures such as the
examination of an applicant's personality traits relative to
specific job requirements. However, personality is kind of in
a no man's land when it comes to defining fit. That's
because it can provide information on both P-J Fit and the
second kind of fit I will be discussing in this article,
"Person-Organization Fit." However, for the purposes of this
discussion, I prefer to treat personality as a tool for
measuring Person-Job Fit only. This is because the
traditional definition of fit used by organizational
psychologists does not usually involve the use of measures
designed to assess personality traits.

2.Person-Organization Fit (or P-O Fit). The second type of
fit, the main focus of this article, is known as
"Person-Organization Fit." It is much less common for this
kind of fit to be systematically measured during the hiring
process using scientifically designed tools. Instead, this
type of fit is usually discussed conjecturally in hiring-related
conversations. For instance, how many times have we all
heard someone say "I think Sally is a really good fit for our
company. Let's hire her!"?

We all have a pretty good idea of what a good fit means in an "I
know it when I see it" kind of way, but it's often much more
difficult to break down the idea of a "good fit" into the elements
required for using it as a systematic part of the hiring process.
Doing so requires the use of measures of P-O Fit that are based
on the following definition:

"Person-Organization Fit is the congruence of an individual's
beliefs and values with the culture, norms, and values of an

One of the limitations that is immediately apparent from this
definition is the fact that the elements of P-O Fit are rather soft.
That is to say, it's much more difficult to examine the job-related
outcomes of a match between person and an organization as it
relates to abstract concepts such as "values" and "culture" then it
is to examine the outcomes of the match between harder traits,
such as a person's mathematical ability and the related aspects of
their job performance.

Just because it's softer in nature and involves less objective
constructs then P-J Fit, that doesn't mean P-O Fit is any less
important, and there are in fact many benefits to including it in
the hiring process (these will be discussed later in this article).
However, it is important to understand that the less objective
nature of P-O Fit often makes it harder for organizations to
demonstrate its relevance to real aspects of job performance and
to create ways to actually measure the ROI associated with a
good fit.

How Is P-O Fit Measured?

As I stated earlier, P-O Fit is most often measured in terms of the
congruence between a set of work-related values held by a
candidate and the culture of an organization. While it may be easy
to think of all kinds of work values that may be important,
research performed by psychologists suggests that P-O Fit can be
broken down into some very specific dimensions.

Although many folks have done research into P-O Fit, some of the
most useful work has been performed by Jennifer Chatman, whose
Organizational Culture Profile (OCP) identifies the following major

Orientation towards people (fair and supportive)
Orientation towards outcomes (results-oriented,
Easygoing vs. aggressive
Attention to detail
Team orientation

The OCP uses these dimensions to measure fit via the following

First of all, a baseline for the organization's culture is established.
This is done by having members of the organization make ratings
based on their opinions regarding which of the above dimensions
they feel are most and least characteristic of the organization.
These ratings are then aggregated to provide a profile that
defines the organization's culture in terms of these dimensions.
One really cool aspect of this process is that it can be used to
identify the culture of any aggregate group within the organization
(as long as members of that group complete the rating process).

Second, an individual's personal value profile is created. This
process involves having individuals rank their own personal values
on the dimensions listed above in terms of their most and least
preferred work environment.

Finally, the individual's ranking of the above work values are then
compared with the aggregate values profile that was created by
the organization in order to summarize its culture. This comparison
process yields detailed information about the overlap between the
values of an organization (or one of its many groups) and those of
an individual. These outcomes provide a data-based estimate of
the fit between an individual and the group or organization.

As you can imagine, this information can be very useful for helping
organizations make all kinds of important decisions.

Outcomes of Fit

While the softer nature of the dimensions of P-O Fit means that
they are often not the best tools to use when trying to predict
hard, objective aspects of job performance, research has
demonstrated many ways in which fit can have value for an

Probably the most notable outcome of a good P-O Fit is increased
tenure. It makes perfect sense that the greater the fit between
the values of an individual and those of the organization, the more
likely they will be to remain with that organization. There has been
a good deal of scientific research that has provided support for
this relationship. An understanding of the hard costs associated
with turnover makes the idea of increased fit an attractive

Fit has also been shown to have many less tangible outcomes as
well. For instance, fit has been linked to increased worker
satisfaction, organizational commitment, and organizational
identification. Although they are hard to measure objectively,
these benefits often form the foundation for intangibles such as
employees "going the extra mile" for the company or doing things
such as recruiting others to join the organization.

An understanding of an individual's work values relative to those
of groups within the organization can also have value that goes
well beyond the selection process. This type of data can be very
useful for optimizing the configuration of work groups and teams,
as well as helping to evaluate the suitability of an individual for
promotion into a new area within the organization.

In short, there are many positive outcomes of a good P-O Fit.
Unfortunately, the subjective nature of many of these outcomes
may make it hard for organizations to completely understand the
value of fit beyond that provided by the benefits of increased

Potential Problems With Using Fit

While there are many great benefits to using measures of P-O Fit
as a part of your employee selection process, there are also
several potential issues that anyone thinking of using it must fully

First of all, the softer, less objective nature of the dimensions
that make up P-O Fit — and the fact that they often transcend
the actual duties associated with a specific job — means that it
can be hard to link P-O Fit measures directly to job performance.
This is especially true of jobs in which performance is evaluated
using highly objective measures (sales jobs for instance).

There are two implications of this. First of all, it's important to
understand the difference between measures of P-O Fit and
measures of P-J Fit. One is not a substitute for the other; rather
they are complimentary measures that should account for
different aspects of job performance.

Secondly, when used as part of the employee selection process
P-O Fit measures are still subject to the same standards as all
other parts of the hiring process. This means that organizations
using fit as part of their selection process are still obligated to
document clear linkages between these measures and job
performance requirements.

In my opinion, the quickest and easiest path to satisfying this
requirement is to link P-O Fit measures directly to a competency
model. Most competency models are global in nature and often
include constructs that are similar to those that make up P-O Fit.
Innovation is a good example. A good competency model should
include examples of how the trait of innovation applies to
performance for a job or family of jobs, thus providing the
documentation needed to ensure legal defensibility.

Another potential issue with the use of P-O fit measures lies in the
fact that the meaning of fit is entirely dependent upon the culture
of the organizational group with which an individual is compared.
This can be a problem because many organizations have a large
number of groups and each may not share the same values. For
this reason, it's critical to ensure that the cultural standard to
which an individual is compared is reflective of the group that he
or she will be working with. Failure to do this can result in
mismatch that could negate the value of using the tool in the first

Finally, the "softer" nature of the concept of fit means that there
is even more opportunity for unscrupulous vendors to pass off low
quality products that are supposed to provide good measures of
fit. We have seen this occur time and again with assessment
products, but the softer nature of fit provides even more leeway
for vendors to introduce "fluffy" test content that is essentially
worthless. So if you do plan to use P-O Fit as part of your hiring
process, it's useful to do some research to be sure you have a
good understanding of what this concept is all about before
looking for a vendor. Letting a vendor who claims they can
measure fit drive your decision to use it as part of your hiring
process can end up being a big mistake.

Practical Tips About Fit

I want to close my discussion with a quick overview of some of
my ideas for how companies can use P-O Fit to their advantage:

Build fit into your employment brand. There is lots of
value in taking the time to understand the values held by
your organization in terms of P-O Fit and then
communicating these values in your recruitment brand. This
provides a very good initial screening mechanism because it
will send a clear message to those sharing the same
values — the very same people you are interested in having
on board!

Use P-O Fit data to compliment P-J Fit data. Both of
these types of information can have lots of value to
organizations. In fact, because they address different
aspects of job performance, they can actually provide a
situation in which the whole is greater then the sum of its
parts in terms of making hiring decisions. As always, it's
important not to use P-O Fit data as the sole criteria when
making hiring decisions. Good hiring decisions should always
be based on multiple sources of information.

Use fit to optimize teams when making internal
assignments. One of the greatest things about P-O Fit
data is that is has lots of value for helping organizations
determine which individual is the best choice for an internal
assignment. An inventory of values collected during the
hiring process can be used to help ensure that an employee
is not assigned to a work group that has a culture that is
not in line with their values. This type of evaluation can
have a major impact on the productivity of work groups
within the organization.

Study the impact of P-O Fit. Fit has been shown to be a
great predictor of tenure. Tenure is typically one of the
easiest ways to investigate the ROI of a selection tool. This
alone should make adopting measures of fit an easy sell to
those controlling the purse strings. While this is a good
thing, many of the other things fit has been shown to
impact are much harder to measure. It's important that
organizations choosing to use fit should really challenge
themselves to try and collect some data regarding its
impact on objective criteria other than tenure.

Organizations choosing to include P-O Fit in their hiring process
stand to benefit from both tangible outcomes such as reduced
turnover and less tangible, but no less important, outcomes —
such as increased commitment to the organization and its mission.


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