Person-organization (PO) fit is defined as the compatibility between people and organizations, which occurs when at least one entity provides what the other needs; they share similar fundamental characteristics; or both. This definition includes examples of mutual need fulfillment, value congruence between individuals and organizations, personality similarity between individuals and other members of the organization, and shared individual and organizational goals. PO fit has also been called person-culture fit.
Based in the interactionist perspective, in which both personal and environmental characteristics interact to predict individual outcomes, PO fit gained greatest prominence in the early 1990s. Since that time more than 100 studies have been conducted that emphasize the match between individuals and organizational cultures, not just the jobs within those organizations. In the text that follows, a brief history of the concept and its theoretical underpinnings, antecedents, and consequences are described.
A History of Person-Organization Fit
In 1958 Chris Argyris proposed that organizations were characterized by particular types of climates, which played an important role in the attraction and selection of organizational members. This view that companies hire the right types suggests that there is differential compatibility of individuals and organizations. In 1987 Benjamin Schneider elaborated on these ideas in what has become one the most respected theories of interactionist psychology—the attraction-selection- attrition (ASA) framework. At its core the ASA framework proposes that the three aforementioned processes result in organizations characterized by homogeneous members, and structures, systems, and processes that reflect the characteristics of the people who make the place. Although principally concerned with predicting organizational-level outcomes and characteristics, the ASA framework has become the theoretical cornerstone for much of the research on PO fit.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s PO fit gained further prominence in the organizational psychology literature. This was in part because of the growing recognition of the importance of organizational cultures. Jennifer Chatman changed the focus from the ASA model that predicted organizational-level consequences to PO fit, because it affected individuals’ attitudes and behaviors at work. Her definition of PO fit as individual/organizational (I/O) value congruence became the commonly accepted definition of the concept. This was coupled with the introduction of a measurement tool, the organizational culture profile, by Chatman and her colleagues Charles O’Reilly and David Caldwell, which has become the most widely used tool for operationalizing PO fit. In 1993 an Academy of Management Executive article by David Bowen and colleagues articulated the importance of selecting applicants for PO fit, as well as the traditional person-job (PJ) fit based on skills. In my review of the literature in 1996, I proposed the comprehensive definition that begins this entry to integrate the research on PO value congruence with other types of PO interaction such as need fulfillment, personality similarity, and goal congruence.
Theoretical Underpinnings of Person-Organization Fit
There are two fundamental processes underlying PO fit. First, there is the concept of need fulfillment. As in other theories of person-environment (PE) fit, psychological need fulfillment represents a complementary perspective on fit, in which fit is determined by the extent to which the person’s needs are met by the organizational environment or the organization’s needs are met by the capabilities of the individual. Theories of need fulfillment suggest that dissatisfaction results when needs go unmet, and may also be the consequence of overfulfilment, depending on the need. The second theoretical tradition in PO fit research is the concept of I/O congruence, a supplementary approach to fit. Theoretically, congruence affects attitudes and behaviors because people are more attracted to similar others. Similarity facilitates communication, validates choices, and socially reinforces personal identities. Taken together, these mechanisms provide alternative, but not competing, explanations for why PO fit influences individual outcomes at work.
Antecedents of Person-Organization Fit
Research has emphasized recruitment, selection, and socialization as antecedents to PO fit. These processes closely mirror the three components of the ASA framework: attraction, selection, and attrition. During recruitment, organizations seek to convey particular images of themselves to applicants. In turn, job applicants draw inferences about organizational culture based on all available information, including features of the compensation system, interactions with current employees, and recruitment materials. There is evidence that both job applicants and organizational recruiters consider PO fit during selection decisions, placing it only slightly behind fit with the job in terms of importance. Socialization mechanisms, both formal and informal, are then used to convey the values and other key characteristics of the organization.
Consequences of Person-Organization Fit
Person-organization fit has been found to have the strongest positive correlations with organizational commitment and organizational satisfaction, followed by moderate positive correlations with job satisfaction, trust, and satisfaction with coworkers and supervisors, and moderate negative correlations with intent to quit and strain. With regard to behaviors, PO fit is weakly correlated with task performance (positive) and turnover (negative), but moderately correlated with contextual performance or extrarole behaviors (positive). For all outcomes except tenure, direct measures of perceived fit have the strongest relationship with criteria, followed by indirect measures of the fit between personal characteristics and perceived organizational attributes, and then by indirect measures of the person and objective measures of the organization.
Research on PO fit has proliferated since the early 1990s. Despite debates over complementary versus supplementary conceptualizations, values versus other content dimensions, and how to best measure PO fit (see Person-Environment Fit for a more in-depth discussion of these issues), there is compelling evidence that individuals are differentially compatible with various organizations, and that this compatibility has important consequences.
- Cable, D. M., & Edwards, J. R. (2004). Complementary and supplementary fit: A theoretical and empirical integration. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 822-834.
- Chatman, J. A. (1989). Improving interactional organizational research: A model of person-organization fit. Academy of Management Review, 14, 333-349.
- Chatman, J. A. (1991). Matching people and organizations: Selection and socialization in public accounting firms. Administrative Science Quarterly, 36, 459-484.
- Kristof-Brown, A. L., Zimmerman, R. D., & Johnson, E. C. (2005). Consequences of individuals’ fit at work: A meta-analysis of person-job, person-organization, person-group, and person-supervisor fit. Personnel Psychology, 58, 281-342.
- Schneider, B. (1987). The people make the place. Personnel Psychology, 40, 437-453.