Attraction-Selection-Attrition

The discipline of organizational behavior focuses on the study of organizations and the people who populate them. Generally and historically, the field has been largely divided into those who study the attributes of organizations and their markets (macro organizational behavior) and those who study the attributes of people in organizations (micro organizational behavior). Typically, macro approaches have focused on explaining organizational performance and draw their intellectual heritage from sociology and economics, whereas micro approaches have focused on explaining and predicting individual behavior and performance and draw their heritage from psychology. Although the recent history of organizational behavior has seen attempts to integrate these two paradigms, the micro and macro distinction has led to a scholarly division with two largely non-overlapping, independent literatures. As a consequence, there is little cross-fertilization of ideas across micro and macro perspectives and little attempt to understand the processes that translate the characteristics and behavior of people to the performance of their organizations. In his 1985 presidential address to the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Benjamin Schneider noted this distinction in the literature and offered an attempt to bridge the micro and macro distinctions. In its most basic form, his model, the attraction-selection-attrition (or ASA) model, postulates that it is the characteristics of people in an organization that partially (if not largely) determine the organizational attributes typically studied by macro researchers.

Attraction-Selection-Attrition Model Overview

The ASA model delineates a framework for understanding organizational behavior that integrates both individual (micro) and organizational (macro) perspectives by explaining macro organizational attributes with micro person characteristics. The framework proposes that the outcome of three interrelated dynamic processes, attraction-selection-attrition, determines the kinds of people in an organization, which consequently defines an organization, its structures, its processes, and, ultimately, its culture.

At the core of the ASA model are the goals of the organization originally articulated (implicitly or explicitly) by the founder. Organizational goals, and the processes, structures, and culture that emerge to facilitate attainment of these goals, are suggested to be reflections of the particular characteristics (i.e., personality) of the founder and those of his or her early colleagues. Schneider suggests that founders are faced with a variety of decisions to make regarding whom to hire, how to compensate employees, how to structure reporting relationships, and even what industries or markets to enter. The decisions made are influenced by the underlying values, motives, and dispositions of the founder. So, for example, the ASA model would postulate that the cultural differences between Apple Computer and Microsoft had their origins in the personality differences of their founders, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. As Apple Computer and Microsoft grew, the policies and procedures established were a reflection of their founders’ early influence, and over time these policies and procedures created a culture that is somewhat unique for each company. So, the genesis of an organization’s culture can be traced to the initial decisions made by founders and the unique imprint they put on their organizations. This, too, is the beginning of the ASA cycle.

The ASA cycle begins with the attraction process, which concerns the fact that people’s preferences for particular organizations are based on some estimate of the fit or congruence of their own personal characteristics (personality, values, and motives) with the attributes of the organization they are evaluating. That is, people find organizations differentially attractive as a function of their implicit judgments of the congruence between those organizations’ goals (and structures, processes, and culture as manifestations of those goals) and their own personalities. For example, an IT engineer may choose to work for Apple Computer, as opposed to Microsoft, because she or he sees the company as innovative and flexible, which conforms to the engineer’s own values of creativity and independence. Ample research evidence suggests that job applicants make assessments of fit when choosing among employment alternatives.

The next step in the ASA cycle refers to the formal and informal selection procedures used by organizations in the recruitment and hiring of people with the attributes the organization desires. Many organizations explicitly use fit as a criterion in the hiring process. Based on ample research demonstrating that fit to an organization’s culture has implications for employee job satisfaction, turnover, and absenteeism, this criterion seems justified. The greater the degree of misfit, the more likely an employee will be to experience dissatisfaction with the job, be absent, and quit. Research also suggests that fit assessments affect hiring procedures not intended to assess fit. For example, research suggests that assessment center ratings and interviewer judgments are influenced by conscious or unconscious evaluations of applicant fit.

Finally, the attrition process refers to the idea that people will leave an organization they do not fit. The turnover literature is quite clear about the fact that people who do not fit an organization will tend to leave it. Of course, economics and job market prospects moderate the extent to which people leave an organization they do not fit. In summary, ASA proposes that three processes—attraction, selection, and attrition—result in organizations containing people with distinct personalities, and it is these distinct personalities that are responsible for the unique structures, processes, and cultures that characterize organizations. Organizational and personal characteristics are self-reinforcing. The characteristics of people in an organization determine the policies and practices, which, in turn, determine the people who are attracted to and remain with the organization.

Attraction-Selection-Attrition Model Implications for Organizations

As an outcome of the ASA model, Schneider and colleagues postulated that organizations will become increasingly homogeneous over time. In other words, they will come to be populated by people of a similar personality profile. To assess this hypothesis, Schneider and colleagues examined the personality profiles of approximately 13,000 managers from 142 organizations in the United States. The organizations in their sample represented a broad cross section of industries. Consistent with the homogeneity hypothesis, their results suggested that managers were more similar to managers in their own organization than they were to managers in the other organizations. This remained true when you looked within an industry. That is, even within an industry, managers were more similar to others in their organization than they were to managers in other organizations within their same industry.

Although we previously indicated that there are positive consequences of good fit for people and organizations (regarding satisfaction, commitment, and turnover), the ASA model suggests that the outcome good fit could be detrimental to the long-term viability of an organization, particularly if an organization experiences volatility in its market. The primary negative consequences of good fit or homogeneity are the potential inability for an organization to sense changes in its environment and adapt to those changes and the demise of competitiveness through easily predictable decision making. There is limited research on the consequences of homogeneity for organizational effectiveness, and the predictions made by the ASA model are complex. For example, the ASA model would predict that during the initial founding and early history of an organization, homogeneity breeds the commitment that is needed to retain people and grow the enterprise. Only after an organization matures and the market becomes more complex and turbulent does homogeneity produce negative consequences. Research does indicate that as the average tenure of the senior managers increases, the fit between the organization’s strategy and demands of the business environment decreases. Although not a direct test of the negative consequences of homogeneity, this finding is consistent with the logic of the hypothesis. Additionally, research in social psychology on the effects of homogeneity on group problem solving supports the notion that groups engaged in creative problem-solving tasks do better if they are heterogeneous. The conflict that is created by different perspectives is important in these ill-defined problem-solving situations—situations analogous to the strategic decisions made by top managers. As this research implies, the ASA model predicts that the negative consequences of homogeneity may only manifest themselves at the upper levels of the organizational hierarchy (where managers are faced with strategic decisions). Elsewhere the positive benefits of homogeneity may outweigh the costs.

Attraction-Selection-Attrition Model Implications for Organizational Behavior Theory

The ASA model provides an example of multilevel organization theory. Specifically, the psychological attributes of people (in the collective) are hypothesized to be the antecedents of important organizational characteristics. In this way, the ASA model offers a bridge between the micro and macro perspectives. Additionally, the ASA model provides insight into a long-standing argument within psychology— the person-situation debate. This debate seeks to determine which set of attributes (those related to the person, or the situation/environment) are the primary predictors of behavior. The ASA model suggests that the attributes of people shape their environments. The two sets of attributes are not mutually exclusive; rather, they are mutually determined. You cannot separate people from the situation.

References:

  1. Giberson, T. R., Resick, C. J., & Dickson, M. W. (2005). Embedding leader characteristics: An examination of homogeneity of personality and value in organizations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 1002-1010.
  2. Schneider, B. (1983). Interactional psychology and organizational behavior. In L. L. Cummings & B. M. Staw (Eds.), Research in organizational behavior (Vol. 5, pp. 1-31). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
  3. Schneider, B. (1987). The people make the place. Personnel Psychology, 40, 437-454.
  4. Schneider, B., Goldstein, H., & Smith, D. B. (1995). The ASA framework: An update. Personnel Psychology, 48, 747-773.
  5. Schneider, B., Smith, D. B., Taylor, S., & Fleenor, J. (1998). Personality and organization: A test of the homogeneity of personality hypothesis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83, 462-470.

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