Social psychologist Kurt Lewin, established the idea of Person-Environment fit when he summarized the complete breadth of human behavior in 1951 with a very simple equation:
B = f(P, E)
Meaning, behavior (B) is a function (f) of both the person (P) and their environment (E).
But to describe it as an equation is misleading. In truth, it’s a heuristic, or a loosely defined rule, and one that was a landmark for understanding human behavior, and for understanding how a person fits into a workplace environment. Since 1951, researchers have greatly expanded the Person-Environment fit literature into a comprehensive field of study, and now consider there to be three separate categories: Person-Job, Person-Organization, and Person-Group.
- Person-Job fit is the match between an individual's abilities and preferences with the demands and attributes of the job. Person-Job fit is the most basic type of fit and best established by first conducting a job analysis to determine the specific demands and attributes of the job, and then using that analysis to match the applicant’s abilities and preferences to the job. A job analysis is a formal process to determine the tasks involved in the job, and the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to be proficient at those tasks. Job analysis has both practical and legal implications, and will be discussed in greater detail in a future article on Person-Job fit (so stay tuned!).
- Person-Organization fit is the match between individuals’ values with the norms and values of the organization, but does not involve only a simple matching of values. Many different potential interactions can affect the degree of Person-Organization fit. For example, an individual can fit into organization with differing values, if the individual lacks strong personal values, or in another example, an organization without strong values will adopt the values of the people who comprise it.
- Person-Group fit is the degree of fit between an individual and their immediate team or coworkers. Similar to Person-Organization fit, Person-Group fit also involves a layer of complexity. Fit must be both supplementary (individual shares goals values or abilities of its team) and complimentary (individual compensates for team member’s weaknesses). An individual must match a group, but also be able to add to the group. Person-Group fit is the youngest child in the fit family but has received increased attention as many organizations have restructured to harness the increased productivity of teams over individuals.
Together, the three categories of fit illustrate the complexity that underlies matching applicants to jobs, and supports the idea of the Attraction-Selection-Attrition (ASA) framework.
Benjamin Schneider, a professor of Industrial/Organizational Psychology at the University of Maryland, proposed the ASA framework as a theoretical model in 1987. Research has since supported the model, and it has become as fundamental to organizational behavior as the Lewin equation is to all human behavior. The model bases the cause of organizational behavior on the collective norms, values, abilities, preferences of the people in the organization, especially company leaders. An organization attracts potential candidates, selects the ones that it believes will be best, and then encourages attrition for those who do not ultimately fit. What is left is a collection of people who define the nature of the organization, and its structure, processes, and culture.
In the following weeks, I will review the research on Person-Environment fit and the associated ASA model. I will dive into the details of each category of fit, investigate the methods and importance of determining fit and propose practical implications for the recruitment industry.
About the Author:
Daniel is a former Ohioan transplanted to the blissful bay. He received his BA in German and Psychology in 2010 from Ohio State and then served two years with AmeriCorps in San Jose. Now he is a graduate student in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at San Francisco State University, where he assists with NASA research that will help put a man on Mars, and dreams of one day owning a dog.Check out his website, follow him on Twitter, circle him on Google, or connect with him on Linkedin.