A New Approach to Person-Organizational Fit





Vic Napier






















Walden University


February 16, 2006


The importance of fit between employee and organization culture is an increasingly common topic in the study of organizational development.  However, significant problems of measurement and definition have plagued research in this area.  This paper proposes a new method to predict Person-Organizational fit based on measurement and definitions that are well known and statistically reliable. 


The process by which businesses and employees find each other is familiar to most people.  Businesses post job announcements, screen the responses, interview the remaining applicants and hire those who most closely meet criteria for the position. 

The goal of the recruitment process is not to simply find workers with the appropriate skills.  Finding skilled candidates is easy because are living in an era of highly skilled workforce that embraces training and education.  About 45% of the adult population in Tucson Arizona has some college or an associate’s degree, and about one quarter has earned a bachelors degree (US Census Bureau 2008).  Not only do these people already possess a range of skills, but also they have proven to be very trainable.  If they do not have the skills needed to perform a particular job, they clearly have the ability to learn them.

The challenge facing businesses contemplating hiring new workers is decreasingly one of finding people with the right skills, and increasingly related to finding employees with the right “fit” – people whose traits and idiosyncrasies will easily blend into the social milieu of the business.  New employees who fit become more productive in less time, remain with the firm longer, and their morale will be higher than those who do not fit (Chatman 1991).

The goal of this research is to introduce a method that can be used by job seekers and employers that will increase the both the chances of finding a positive fit and to increase the strength of that fit.

The concept of “fit” is challenging.  We know it when we see it, but defining what we are seeing is difficult.  Fit is something more than simply being similar to others in a work setting.  Compatibility with co-workers is certainly part of fit, but other things are also very important.  How a worker relates to authority and supervision, the ability to endure the level of structure a specific setting offers, and whether a need for clear and precise directions exists are just a few things that might affect fit.  To be maximally productive the traits and values of both the employee and the organizations must compliment each other as closely as possible (Westerman, & Cyr 2004).

According to a recent survey commissioned by The Conference Board (Feb. 23, 2007), about half of US workers say they are not satisfied with their jobs; of workers under the age of 25 the number of satisfied workers clients drops to 39%.  The people surveyed, cited the following as the least satisfying aspects of the job:

·         review processes

·         workload

·         work/life balance

·         communication channels

·         potential for future growth


These work dimensions relate to culture and shared values in an organization.  About half the workers in the United States are dissatisfied with aspects of work that relate to culture and shared values.  Dissatisfaction on the job contributes to employee turnover, a costly result of poor person-organization fit. 

In a study of the cost of turnover in public agencies, Graef & Hill (2000) estimated the average per vacancy cost at $10,000 in 1995 dollars.  Clearly, poor person-organizational fit accounts for a significant waste of resources for private business as well as public agencies.  Only a little foresight, knowledge and preparation by job seekers and employers would make a large difference in the number of people who report dissatisfaction with their work.   

Research Review

Person-organization fit is receiving increased attention in the last decade.  However, there are a number of challenges in measurement.  Rentsch & McEwen (2002) summarize some of the different approaches.  Researchers have focused on applicant characteristics such as personality, goals, and values in order to determine attractiveness of the organization.  However, as Chatman (1989) points out, no matter which of these approaches is used the idea of “fit” gets complicated very quickly.  For instance, to what extent does socialization affect fit?  Do new employees who deviate from the organization in some way come into line because of socialization?  In a culture that values cooperation, will competitive people become cooperative after working with cooperative people?

The use of subjective definitions is an ongoing problem when attempting to construct a predictive tool for person-organizational fit.  This is especially true for studies that focus on the interview process itself.  Cable (1997) found that interviewers can estimate employee -- organizational value congruence very accurately, but objective definitions of exactly what was being compared was limited.  Further research (Cable, Aiman-Smith, Mulvey, & Edwards, 2000), found that organizations tend to describe their culture in favorable rather than accurate language, complicating the issue of definition and measurement. 

In a survey of 209 people employed in a variety of settings, Piasentin & Chapman (2007) found that perceived similarity with organizational culture – “subjective fit” – correlated with higher job satisfaction and commitment to the organization.  However, measurement and definition continued to present problems.

 Despite a general consensus in the literature that P-O fit may also occur from

complementarity between individual and organizational characteristics (i.e. when an individual’s characteristics ‘serve to “make whole” or complement the characteristics of an environment’; Muchinsky & Monahan, 1987, p. 271), this type of fit has been subjected to minimal empirical investigation and what entails a ‘complementary’ fit remains elusive (Kristof, 1996).  In fact, many researchers do not distinguish complementary fit from needs-supplies fit (i.e. when an individual’s needs are met by the organization) or demands-abilities fit (i.e. when an individual’s characteristics meet the demands of the organization) and, often, the construct pertains to fit with the job (i.e. person-job or P-J fit) as opposed to fit with the organization (e.g. Cable & DeRue 2002; Cable & Edwards, 2004).

(Piasentin & Chapman, 2007, pp. 341-342)


In a study consisting of 285 MBA students Chatman, Polzer, Barsade, & Neale, (1998) found that the advantages of demographic diversity increased in importance in organizations whose members categorize each other on congruence with the values of the organization.  In other words, the findings of Chatman et. al. suggests that employee attraction and retention is contingent to some degree on alignment of values of other individuals within the organization.

Correlations of personality and organizational culture have also been investigated.  Unlike Chatman (1989) who studied the role of values, Judge (1997) studied the relationship of Big Five personality traits and organizational culture.  He found a correlation between the two, but had methodological challenges in objectively defining the values of an organization.

 Hofstede, Neuijen, Ohayv & Sanders (1990) applied research on cultural differences between countries to organizational culture and has met with the same difficulties.  Although applying the method of defining national cultures met with some success in defining constructs around organizational culture, it resulted in little understanding of the interaction between organizational cultures and individuals in them.  Hofstede concluded that, “After having done both a large cross-national and a large cross-organizational culture study, we believe that national cultures and organizational cultures are phenomena of different orders:  using the term “cultures” for both is, in fact, somewhat misleading…”, (Hofstede, 1990, p.313).

The common theme through these studies is that while it is easy to measure the values, goals, or personality traits of people it is very difficult to define and measure correlative constructs in organizations.  Is there a way to measure the character of organizations that makes comparison with the values of job applicants possible?

There may be.  By using measures designed and used specifically for organizations and individuals, then correlating the results between the two, shared person-organizational values can be calculated, making possible predictions about person-organization fit.  Measurement tools for both organizations and individuals exist and are readily available.

Measuring Organizational Values

Researchers have studied the values and traits of humans for decades, but measurement of the shared values and culture of organizations has received little attention.  Fredrick Taylor was the first to suggest that skills and abilities should match organizational needs, and championed the ideas of vocational aptitude, training and motivation.  He introduced the concept of “Scientific Management” at the end of the 19th century as a means to bring professional organization methods to manufacturing (Taylor 1911).  What we now think of as Human Resource Management began as structure and measurement applied to hiring and training employees in early 20th century factories. 

Max Weber was a contemporary of Taylors who analyzed a form of organization called bureaucracy then used to administer public policy.  Primitive bureaucratic systems had existed for some time by the late 19th century, in hospitals and similar institutions, but Weber was the first to analyze them and describe their form, structure and operations.  Weber articulated bureaucratic concepts like narrow functional specialties, focus on established procedures, and a hierarchy of authorities (Weber & Eisenstadt 1968).  

The ideas and concepts advanced by Taylor and Weber is a fundamental part of modern thinking in Industrial/ Organizational Psychology, Business Administration and Public Administration.  The ideas that they laid down at the turn of the century are what researchers and academics expanded upon over the last century.

In the latter half of the 1950’s psychologist Tom Burns and sociologist Gerald Stalker were studying how Scottish firms managed innovation and change.  They discovered that differences in the way firms approached change and innovation related to the values and mission of the firms.  In 1961, Burns and Stalker wrote what became a business classic called The Management of Innovation (Burns & Stalker 1961).  In it, they made a distinction between “mechanistic” and “organic” organizations. 

Mechanistic organizations are also called bureaucracies, steeped in procedure and rules, and are governed by a hierarchy of authorities.  Instead of mission and vision statements, mechanistic organizations depend on known process and established rules for guidance, they measure success by the degree to which staff conform to process and procedure and they motivate employees with the promise of aversive consequences in response to lack of obedience or conformity.

Organic alludes to a living creature, and Burns and Stalker use this metaphor to illustrate the behavior of organizations on the cutting edge of new technologies who must be vigilant of changes in the environment and be poised to change when the competitive environment changes.  Organic organizations are orientated towards results, have a flat organization structure instead of a hierarchy, and little structure in terms of process and rules.  They focus on results and employees receive positive rewards for creative and pragmatic contributions.

Burns and Stalker constructed a template with six dimensions, (Task, Organization, Environment, Authority, Communications and Commitment) and four conditions, from most mechanistic to most organic, for each dimension.  Entering the degree of mechanistic/organic on each dimension and doing a little math will deliver a number representing where the organization is located on a continuum.   

Here are the six dimensions of Burns and Stalkers model, with a brief description of the two extreme conditions for each:


Nature of environment



Nothing much changes in the setting in which the organization operates.  Competition is stable and technology is well understood and static.  Production is often a commodity.


Rapid technological advances that constantly create new market opportunities, competitors and challenges demand that the organization be in a constant state of change. 




Nature of task facing the firm



Efficient delivery of standard service, steady demand, consistent and reliable availability of raw materials, compliant workforce


Creativity and a focus on opportunities provided by technological  changes coupled with development  of emerging markets




Organization of work



Narrowly defined functional specialties arranged in an authoritarian hierarchy; motivation through  threat of punitive reaction to deviations from procedure


Jobs defined by focus on quality and outcome; authority grows from functional results; flat egalitarian organization; motivation through social and tangible reward




Nature of authority



Authority and status defined by position in hierarchy; seniority and tenure important


Pattern of authority informal, constantly changing; roles become redefined to meet emerging challenges






Communications system



Information flows up hierarchy, directives flow down; rigid rules of communication; all communication documented


Communication seen as fundamental to efficacy of organization; unrestrained, informal, unending and Omni-directional





Nature of employee commitment



Commitment to responsibilities defined by narrow functional specialty; loyalty defined by compliance and tenure; compliance and obedience are behavioral measures of loyalty


Commitment is to the organization as a whole defined by quality of results; loyalty defined by ability to deliver tangible results; creativity and innovation are behavioral measures of loyalty





By asking people familiar with an organization to rate each of these six dimensions on a Likert scale and averaging the results, it is possible to calculate where the organization lies along the mechanistic/organic continuum.  This would produce an objective measure of organizational values.  This method is not restricted to entire organizations; it also be applied to component parts of organizations, such as departments and divisions.

This tool brings objective definition to the abstract concepts of organization that Taylor and Weber articulated almost a century ago.  For the first time a tool exists that can measure the traits and “behavior” of organizations in much the same way that psychological tools measure the traits and personality of individuals.  The Burns and Stalker continuum addresses the main challenge of person-organizational fit -- lack of an instrument that measures organizational culture.

This method addresses cultural values in organizations, but similar traits in human beings need measurement as well.  Psychologists have measured personality traits for many years and have developed many measurement tools.  Before discussing specific tools, a brief discussion of personality is necessary.

Measuring Personality Traits

Personality surveys generally return values on five major dimensions, Extroversion, Agreeableness, Consciousness, Neuroticism, and Openness.  Taken together these Big Five dimensions produce a general definition of personality traits and supplies some predictive value of general behaviors, preferences and proclivities.  Each of these traits is relevant to the Burns and Stalkers method of analyzing organizational culture.

Here are the Big Five dimensions of personality and their relevance to Burns and Stalkers tool:   

Extroversion (also called Surgency)

Extroverted people tend to be energetic, enthusiastic, dominant, sociable, and talkative, making them good candidates for organic originations.  Introverted people tend to be shy, retiring, submissive, and quiet, traits that would fit well with mechanistic environments.


Agreeable people are friendly, cooperative, trusting, and warm, making them compatible with organic organizations.  People scoring low on this dimension are aloof, suspicious of others, and distrustful.  One of the characteristics of mechanistic organizations is a tendency towards impersonality people low in agreeableness would tend to fit well there particularly in supervisory or mid level management positions.

Conscientiousness (also called Lack of Impulsivity)

Conscientious people are generally cautious, dependable, well organized and responsible making them very compatible with process orientation and detail intensive mechanistic organizations.  Impulsive people tend to be careless, disorderly and undependable, but also have a skill for finding relationships among disparate data and “seeing” abstractions and networks, making them an asset to organic organizations.

Neuroticism (also called Emotional Instability)

Neurotic people tend to be nervous, high-strung, tense, and worrying.  Emotionally stable people are calm and contented.  Neurotic people would likely find comfort in the structure and predictability of mechanistic organizations.

Openness (also called Culture or Intellect)

Open people generally appear imaginative, witty, original and artistic, making them a good match for work where ambiguity is present and creativity is valued.  People who score low on this dimension are better suited for the repetitive nature and lack of intellectual stimulation that is generally prevalent in mechanistic organizations.

Personality surveys are commonly paper and pencil questionnaires addressing preferences and discrete behaviors.  For years, the gold standard of personality surveys has been the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), a massive 567-question survey that takes several hours to complete.  Over the years a host of other personality testing tools have been developed that are much shorter and less comprehensive than the MMPI. 

These surveys target specific areas of personality, such as attitudes toward authority, the need for creative outlets, and preferred styles of work.  Unlike the MMPI these surveys are free or reasonably priced, and available on the internet.  The most promising online sources are located at, available at, and, available at  

Establishing organizational culture and selecting workers with personality traits that are compatible would increase the accuracy of person-organization fit.

Hypotheses #1

A stronger correlation exists between the Burns and Stalker organizational score of an organization and personality traits of long-term employees than the traits of unsuccessful job candidates.

Hypotheses #2

The correlation will be consistent across organizations and the mechanistic/organic continuum.

Hypotheses #3

The correlation will be positive.


This is a correlation study, intended to measure the relationship between two variables:  the degree to which successful candidates and unsuccessful job candidates match the Burns and Stalker Index. 

Participants -- Organizations

Five organizations in the Tucson Arizona area will be selected that represent a range of positions on the Burns and Stalker index.  Selection of organizations will be made on criteria of size, longevity, service or product maturity, and extent of government regulation.  These organizations will range from small, young companies in early stages of service or product maturity, with little regulation, to large, older companies in the later stages of product or service maturity, that are subject to a wide range of regulation.  In other words, these companies will range from small entrepreneurial firms to large organizations executing public policy.

Inducement to participate will be a compelling argument that finding candidates with specific skills is becoming easier, while finding a better social fit among job candidates is more difficult and is becoming increasing important.  The results of this study will be directly applicable to the hiring process, making it easier to identify candidates who have a potential to be productive long-term employees.

Raw data from the Burns and Stalker Organizational Analysis will be collected using simple paper and pencil scoring sheets adapted from the Burns and Stalker Organizational Analysis Worksheet.  At least three individuals from each targeted department will be asked to complete the scoring sheet.  The researcher will tabulate the results 

Participants -- Job Candidates

Job candidates selected for interview by company officials for positions within the departments for which the Burns and Stalker Index have been calculated will be asked to complete personal surveys by the hiring staff.  Generally, organizations select three to seven individuals for interview; however, the researchers will accept data from everyone interviewed for each position.   

Materials -- Organizations

Individuals in the organizations or departments surveyed for the Burns and Stalker Index will be asked to complete the Burns and Stalker Organizational Analysis.  This simple paper and pencil survey form will take less than ten minutes to complete.  Managers will complete the survey themselves and administer it to their staff.

Note: It is unclear how large some of these organizations will be.  If it is not practical for everyone in an organization to complete the Burns and Stalker Organizational Analysis, only top executives and selected departments will be asked to complete the survey. 

Materials -- Job Candidates

Candidates selected for interview will be asked to complete online versions of either an abbreviated MAPP Assessment, or the ACT survey at the time the interview is scheduled.  Candidates will be asked to email results to the researcher.


1.      Companies in the Tucson Arizona areas will be solicited via broadcast mail to participate in the study.  Five companies meeting the criteria described in Participants/Organizations will be selected.

2.      Researchers will contact these companies and schedule a time to administer the Burns and Stalker Organizational Analysis, (for small companies), or to train managers to administer the survey to their staff, (for larger companies).

3.      Researchers will tabulate results from the Burns and Stalker Organizational Analysis.

4.      Researchers will contact hiring managers and explain the use of MAPP Assessments and/or ACT surveys, leaving instructions for accessing the online testing sites that will be via email or snail mail to job candidates chosen for interview.  When job candidates are contacted to schedule interviews, they will be given the instructions.

5.      Job candidates will complete the online surveys and send them to the researchers, via email or snail mail.

6.      Researchers will tabulate results of surveys form job candidates and establish correlations between successful and unsuccessful candidates and the Burns and Stalker Index for the company or department for which they were considered.

7.      Informed consent will be assessed at all times, according to procedures established by Walden University, Arizona Board of Psychologist Examiners, and the organizations involved.  There is no need for deception, distortion, or misrepresentation, and all participants will receive full disclosure of all aspects of the research, and an invitation to examine the results.

8.      Results of the research will be published without restriction on the researchers’ web site, and an offer to deliver the results personally to organizations and participants will be made.


Measurement and definition problems hampered previous studies addressing questions of Person-Organization fit.  The method described here solves the measurement problem by using tools that were developed specifically for what they purport to measure.  Personality tests are the product of human oriented research and the Burns and Stalker Index is the product of research on organizations. 

The major implication for other studies and further research is the internal validity that the Burns and Stalker Index provide.  It brings an objective approach to the study of organizations that has previously been a qualitative analysis of abstract ideas.  Finally, the work of Taylor and Weber can be tested and described with objective analysis.

Pursuing this project would answer questions about the dynamics of recruitment and retention of staff in various types of organizations. 


Career counselors and job placement specialists often tell job seekers to research companies before applying to them, but only rarely can they offer actual tools and procedures.  The Burns and Stalker Index would give them a tool to use in this research.  Asking a few simple questions from the Burns and Stalker Index would reveal organizational values that job seekers could consider in their decision to apply to the company.  Access to online personality surveys would provide insights into their own personality and traits, while the Burns and stalker Index would provide an objective description of organizational culture.  Using these tools together would give an indication of compatibility.   Job seekers using this system could eliminate some potential employers from their job search and conserve resources for use on matches that would be more compatible. 

Business has shown an intense interest in group dynamics and team work in recent years, and social trends among young people share this interest. (Strauss & Howe 1997; Greer, Plunkett, & Plunkett 2003).  The system proposed here would be useful in many settings in which individuals interface with a group.

Directions for future research

There is need for more research to establish internal and external validity, efficacy, and best use practices.  Inexpensive, accurate and easy to use online personality surveys must be identified, and the Burns and Stalker Index needs to be modified to make it compatible with the needs of job seekers and functional level employment counselors.






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