Dresser & Associates

When the Fit Is Not Good

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As people, we are all unique, and we each display a unique set of behaviors that define us as individuals. Some of these behaviors are recurrent and stable across time. We don’t display them in all situations, but we do display them in most situations. These recurrent and enduring behaviors comprise the picture that others have of us when they hear our name. These behavioral tendencies are what we refer to as personality traits.

In the world of work, if you take a particular job on the one hand and an employee’s personality traits on the other hand and if you put the two together, there is a certain degree of compatibility. This is what we refer to as person-position fit. And the better the fit is, the more likely an individual is to like the job, the better the individual is likely to perform in the job, and the longer the individual is likely to stay in the job. So, it is in everyone’s best interest for the person-position fit to be as good as possible. The individual wins out, and the company wins out too as better performance and lower turnover contribute to the bottom line.

But what happens when the fit is not so good? In other words, what happens when the employee’s personality traits are not compatible with the day-to-day demands of the job? It’s sort of like what happens when a right-handed person is required to write left-handed (or vice versa for you lefties). Sure, they can do it, and they get better at it over time, but it never feels natural or comfortable, and it can become quite irritating over time. Perhaps a better example is what happens when a reserved person is required to interact continuously with people all day in a position like sales or customer service? Or when a person who likes variety and creativity is required to accomplish mundane, routine tasks?

My experience with these sorts of business situations leads me to conclude that one of three things typically happens.

  • The first possible result is for the individual to leave the position. Some take longer than others, but they either ask for transfers or leave the company and look for work elsewhere.
  • The second possible consequence is for the individual to stay in the job but to give up trying to meet the incompatible demands of the job. They in essence say “the heck with it; I’m not doing this anymore” and then resort to behaviors they are more comfortable with. These individuals end up as subpar performers and are eventually terminated.
  • The final possible result of poor fit is for an individual to stay in the job and to do their best over long periods of time to meet the demands of the position even if it means acting in ways they are not comfortable with. These individuals have a variety of reasons for doing this, some personal and some financial. They intentionally expose themselves to persistent stress due to the prolonged mis-fit. As a result of the stress, they begin to display stress-related behaviors which are not typical of them and also not consistent with the demands of the position. Eventually, these individuals are terminated or transferred to other more compatible positions.

In addition to poor results for the individual, lack of person-position fit has several negative repercussions for the company.

  • First, individuals are less likely to perform at their best in positions they don’t fit.
  • Second, individuals who don’t fit their positions are more likely to leave or be terminated than those that do fit.
  • Third, those who don’t fit their positions are less satisfied with their work experiences than others, and their discontent can spread and negatively influence others, be they team members, direct reports, or customers.
  • Finally, lower performance, higher turnover, and job dissatisfaction eventually impact the bottom line of an organization.

Fortunately, poor fit and its negative results for individuals and companies can be avoided. The key is a 4-step strategy.

  • The first step is to identify the critical functions of a position.
  • The second is to identify those personality traits that are related to the critical job functions.
  • The third is to use high-quality psychological tests to measure the critical personality traits.
  • Finally, the fourth step is to select those candidates who display the traits in question.

Poor person-position fit and its associated consequences pose risks to organizations. These “human performance risks” can be reduced and managed, however, with a well-constructed psychological testing program. Sure, such a program requires a little extra effort and cost on the front end, but it can prevent a host of expensive problems later on. At a time when companies are beginning to hire once again, it is more important than ever to make sure the fit is good.

Contributed by:

Kevin S. Hickey, Ph.D. Management Psychology

Posted in Human Resources, Recruiting, Talent management | Comments Off on When the Fit Is Not Good

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