All of us have heard, and likely uttered something like the above. Short phrases which say so much, and yet convey so little. What is meant by “fit,” how is it used, and is its use code for other issues?
The area of “job fit” is significant enough to have its very own – albeit short – entry in Wikipedia. Called by various names, including Person-Environment Fit and Person-Organization Fit, job fit is an important hiring criterion in many HR departments. I personally think that the most important job of school administrators is finding, hiring, and retaining the best people. Hiring represents a huge investment of time, talent, and treasure, not to mention that which is subsequently invested in professional development of new employees.
At the other end of the spectrum, firing is likewise an expensive proposition, and it can have the further effect emotionally taxing faculty and staff, people who in many schools are generally non-confrontational and emotionally sensitive. The person who is deemed “unfit” or who decides that organization is not the right place for them, also pays an emotional and economic toll.
“Fit” is a word with multiple and nuanced meanings, such as these plucked from the New Oxford American Dictionary:
- of a suitable quality, standard, or type to meet the required purpose
- (of a person) having the requisite qualities or skills to undertake something competently
- possessing or conferring the ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment: survival of the fittest
- suitable and correct according to accepted social standards: a fit subject on which to correspond
- having reached such an extreme condition as to be on the point of doing the thing specified
- in good health, esp. because of regular physical exercise: I swim regularly to keep fit
- figurative the measures would ensure a leaner, fitter company
- Brit., informal sexually attractive; good-looking
- to be of the right shape and size for: the shoes fit better after being stretched
- be of the right size, shape, or number to occupy a particular position or place: Angela says we can all fit in her car
- to fix or put (something) into place: they fitted smoke alarms to their home
- to be in agreement or harmony with; match
- the particular way in which something, esp. a garment or component, fits around or into something
- the particular way in which a thing matches something else
- the correspondence between observed data and the values expected by theory
and includes such phrases as:
- fit as a fiddle
- fit the bill
- fit like a glove see glove (anyone remember “if the glove don’t fit, you must acquit?”)
- fit to be tied
- fit to bust informal with great energy
- fit in
- to have (or throw) a fit
- in fits ( of laughter)
- in (or by) fits and starts
Which of these definitions in play when the subject is organizational fit? I posit that the closest definition at play in schools is “suitable and correct according to accepted social standards.”
When someone in a school is fired, human resources documents may list reasons such as poor communication, insufficient job skills, lack of teamwork, attitude problems, and so on. And indeed these causes may even be true and constitute just cause for dismissal. But there may be times when these are after-the-fact justifications for a judgment of “poor fit.” When someone is judged to be “fit” for a particular jog, there’s more unsaid than said, and it is what is unsaid that is ripe for exploration.
Digging into “fit”
“Fit” is one of those words that has so many meanings and nuances that in and of itself it is meaningless. It can be used as a way to curtail further conversation about the dismissal of an employee and indeed I have even used it myself in such a way. Granted, discussion about personnel matters is a private matter, yet even when discussing shortcomings with the employee being dismissed too many of us may fall back on the the word “fit” as if that single, meaningless word constitutes an adequate explanation of their shortcomings.
It’s only when we begin to peel back the layers of what we mean that we may begin the real work of discovering our meaning of “fit” and how it applies to the particular employee in question. Such introspection may sometimes lead to uncomfortable areas in our own lives as we try to understand just what is it about this person we don’t like? What buttons do they push in us? Do they represent (as Jung suggests) our shadow-selves? Do we feel threatened in some way? Angry? Humiliated?
I don’t want to get overly analytical. My point is just that when we sense an employee is a bad (or even good) fit, that this represents an opportunity for managers to reflect on how and why they are passing that value judgment. Ultimately, if you surround yourself with employees who represent only your own belief-system within your own comfort zone, your organization will stagnate and fail. Too much “fit” may not always be a good thing. We need the right mix of friction and fit in order to keep the gears of our schools moving smoothly.
People who “fit” your organization probably don’t make waves, don’t challenge you. People who “fit” are incrementalists, not revolutionaries. Perhaps this is what you want, but maybe it’s not what you need.