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Is an Individual’s Fit with an Organizational Culture Just as Important as with the Job?

Is an Individual's Fit with an Organizational Culture Just as Important as with the Job?

Although we still have four generations in the workplace, within the next 18 months or so, the millennial generation (those born in 1990) will become the largest cohort in the US economy (and the largest in many countries around the world). And apart from sheer size they will be the most mobile group when it comes to job moves. This means that they are not only much more willing to move to a new job than the older “Generation X” or “Boomer” cohorts but they will expect to have as many as 30-40 jobs over their working lifetime and some of these will be at the same time. For this generation in particular this means that ensuring we have a good fit between the person and the job that we ask them to do is even more critical, particularly if we want both higher performance in the short time we have them or longer tenure. But as the chart below on “what millennials look for in employers” illustrates, concentrating only on technical or task-based person-job fit alone may not be enough. Top of this list in terms of a good match from their perspective is a good fit with people or the team with whom they will work and the wider organization culture. In this brief article we therefore want to explore this need (and others on this list) a little further and assess the overall significance for our person job matching efforts.

What Millennials Look for in Employers Chart

In the above chart, career potential, work/life balance, challenging environment, innovation, the target audience and the organization’s alumni and friends are all much more to do with the wider culture of the organization than with the narrow aspect of the job itself. To ensure the distinction is well understood let’s therefore describe the difference between pure job and individual fit and the fit between an individual and an organizational culture.

Person-Job Fit is the congruence of an individual’s skills, experience and knowledge as it relates to the need of a given job. Person-Job fit is therefore about asking questions like:

  • Does the candidate have the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary for this job?
  • What past experiences have prepared this person for the job?
  • Do the person’s strengths or clear competencies match the job requirements?

Person-Culture Fit, on the other hand, is the congruence of an individual’s beliefs and values with the climate, norms, and values of an organization. Person Culture fit is therefore about asking questions like:

  • Is the organization’s work meaningful to the applicant/candidate?
  • Are the applicant/candidate’s values in harmony with the values of the organization?
  • Will the person naturally perform in ways that are consistent with how we do things here?

So, in summary, although it is a little simplistic, we can say that person-job fit is all about a good match at ability level and person-culture fit is all about a good match at a social level.

A lot of guidance is generally available on the person-job fit side of the equation, with job descriptions, targeted interviewing, skill and knowledge-testing, other assessments and even referencing checking being widely used and recommended as a way of ensuring that better job-fit results at the ability level are achieved when hiring new people or even selecting people to be moved or promoted internally. Some of this may touch on the social fit side of things but typically not nearly enough to be helpful.

By comparison to person or ability job fit, there is much less guidance available on the person-culture side of the equation and yet the chart above suggests that we need to devise new strategies to start to better appreciate the contribution that each candidate might make and how well they are likely to fit in. In essence, this means that we have to find ways to determine not only what a candidate values most but what exactly are the values that make up the organization’s culture. Some businesses have done this well (think Apple or Zappos or South West airlines for example) but many have not done this well enough or in some cases at all! These organizations therefore need to clearly identity what are those few shared beliefs and values that serve as the foundation of why they are in business and the framework for how they do their work?

One simple way to approach this whole culture fit side of the equation is to think about the 3 P’s:

  • Our Purpose – why is the work that we do important or meaningful?
  • Our Philosophy – which values are fundamental, distinguishing and enduring to us?
  • Our Priorities – how specifically do we intend to achieve our goals?

This helps to quickly discover what is important in the culture and allows this to start to be written down and communicated in clear ways to future applicants (internal and external) and fit issues at the social and cultural level to become possible.

So what’s the benefit of focusing on cultural fit more than we do? Research consistently shows that people who understand the company culture and are aligned with it outperform the competition significantly. In other words, culturally well-aligned employees:

  • Are happier and more satisfied in their work
  • Stay longer (because they are more enjoyably socially bonded)
  • Are more committed to achieving better service and results (for themselves and the organization)

In graphical terms, as the chart below simply illustrates, we can say that such far-sighted organizations are simply more aligned and more engaged in what they are doing at task and social level (being both passionate and driven) and are therefore higher performing. This very positive outcome is therefore well worth trying to achieve for your organization.

Employee Alignment and Engagement Chart

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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  1. Sue MatsonDecember 15, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Good thoughtful article on the importance of fit. Still I believe that the future job mobility of millennials is overstated. Undoubtedly they are a more mobile generation now than previous cohorts were at the same age, for a variety of economic, social and technological reasons. But as they age into the prime marriage/child-raising years, they will have the same disincentives to change jobs as previous generations have had–e.g., family stability, home ownership, etc. Therefore recruiting great millennials now and providing a career path that meets their needs is more important than is sometimes realized…they are likely to settle in at some company for an extended period of time in the future. It’s important to be sure it’s yours.

  2. Jon WarnerJanuary 5, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    I agree that we don’t want to overstate the difference in the millennial generation Sue but as a generalization values and culture play a much more significant role for them in who they work with than Gen X or Boomers by some margin and at a much younger age.

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Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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