Organizations Beware: Don’t Ignore Fit

There was something ‘not right’ about this candidate for this organization – even though this person looked best on paper.

He was confident, poised, and skilled – an outsider with the most impressive leadership experience and credentials.

But in the end, the Board chose a different candidate to lead the organization. Because of ‘fit.’

This turned out to be a great decision. The new leader was an insider who had already been tested with regards to fit with the organization.  With on-the-job experience and with mentoring from the outgoing leader, she grew in talent, maturity and leadership effectiveness. This person became hugely successful in leading the team to the next level.

Unfortunately, organizations too often do NOT consider fit carefully enough. And it can cause major problems and much unnecessary cost in the form of quicker and higher attrition, less productive teams, and unreached business objectives. Not to mention extra time, energy, and angst for all involved.

Here are three questions to ask when considering someone’s fit in hiring, staffing, and forming teams:

  1. How will this person fit with the team they are joining? If it’s an executive leadership team, how will their work habits and approach mesh (or not) with the existing team’s? Yes, you want some differences and balancing across the team. But if you have a significant outlier from the group norm, just know you’re likely in for a bumpy ride. If it’s a junior team where they’re doing the same role, what are the work habits and behavioral norms of the best performers in the group? For the best results, bring in people who will match these.
  2. How will this person fit with the customers they will serve? It’s not enough that a person is ‘great at customer service.’ Which customers have they been great at serving? Find out about the specific individuals who were their primary customers and compare those to the ones they will be serving in their new role. Whether internal clients or external clients, a person and a client-facing team will be most effective if they fit with the habits and behavioral tendencies of the clients they serve. For example, consider if key customers expect high responsiveness, collaboration, friendliness, and discipline and staff accordingly. One sophisticated and powerful tool that is great for helping to ensure behavioral fitness in the selection and teaming process is Shadowmatch.
  3. Will this person fit with the mission and direction of the business? Even if the organization is looking to switch directions or make a big change, they would do well to consider the most prominent behaviors and habits in the current organization. Disregard those at your peril. Most organization changes are not successful, and one reason is because organizations don’t consider carefully the ‘fitness’ of those they choose to lead those changes.

Think about the last time you saw a new hire not work out. Or a team blow up.  Or a strong performer in one context who performed poorly in another setting.  Let me know if fitness played a big role.

Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. You can reach him at or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.