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September 12, 2023

There Is A Right Fit Company Waiting for You

By Dr. André Martin

The following post is an excerpt from the New book Wrong Fit, Right Fit: Why How We Work Matters More Than Ever by Andre Martin.

Have you ever tried to write with your nondominant hand? If not, try it now. Grab a piece of paper and a pen, and write the following sentence first with your dominant hand and then your nondominant hand: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Take a look at the two sentences. How did it feel to write each sentence? Did one take more effort than the other? Is one better quality? Unless you’re ambidextrous, writing with your nondominant hand likely took a lot more effort, required more concentration, induced more stress, resulted in much lower quality, and left you feeling less successful and satisfied with your work.

This metaphor is an apt descriptor of what many of us feel as we maneuver through our careers and choose the companies we join—it can often feel as though we are spending our days writing with our nondominant hand, leaving us less engaged, less confident, and more stressed. This is a shared experience, and it has a real impact on both our personal commitment to companies and the meaning we derive from work, as shown by the 2022 Gallup State of Global Workplace report. Gallup finds that businesses have lost an estimated $7.8 trillion in productivity due to disengagement in the workplace and estimates that 60% of workers are emotionally detached at work. If we need further proof, we need look no further than phenomena like languishing, the Great Resignation, and quiet quitting (more on these later) that have permeated our workplace conversations as of late. Additional studies have found that workers who are unhappy at work tend to experience poor health at twice the rate of satisfied workers and that a lack of job satisfaction can lead to long-term mental and physical health problems. It’s clear that something isn’t working at work.

The well of talent—all of the creative minds and capable knowledge workers who fuel the engines of businesses—seem to be increasingly disconnected from their companies, and companies are struggling to fuel the higher levels of dedication and commitment needed to succeed in these dynamic and uncertain times. Many have come to the conclusion that the only way to solve the issue is to transform the company culture or create new ways of working. Though this is a laudable idea, it requires more change and energy from talent and companies that are already above their cognitive and emotional limits. What if it isn’t about changing how we work, but rather simply improving our chances of creating and finding better fit?

A Theory of Fit

It was the statistics from Gallup that first caught my eye and spurred my research for this book. As an organizational psychologist, my first impulse when reading something about productivity and engagement, or lack thereof, is to immediately consider what in our workplace cultures needs to change. This book originally was going to be about workplace culture in this new era of work—how to assess it, envision a better version of it, and transform it to create a better experience for all of the creative minds and capable individuals that fuel our companies. But, that isn’t what happened.

Like any good researcher, I decided to gather data and insights. I began my process by interviewing talent within my immediate professional circle to help inform my working thesis and questionnaire. We talked about the places they worked, their thoughts on engagement, and what kind of cultures allowed them to thrive. Interestingly, those conversations weren’t conclusive, meaning they didn’t directly point to culture as the culprit—or at least not a single type of culture. What each person keyed in on or described was slightly different, subtly nuanced. These early conversations led me away from changing culture and toward this thing that kept popping up: fit, or more specifically, right fit.

The spark of something important was there, a potential space in the conversation that was not being talked about. So, I revamped my interview questionnaire to include right fit and wrong fit experiences at work. Once the questions were clear, I sought out over sixty-five in-depth interviews with talent ranging from twenty-two to fifty-five years of age, from CEOs to early career talent, from talent working in start-ups to global multinationals, and from talent working in Asia-Pacific to Europe to the US, all to see if my hypothesis was correct:

Could right fit help talent discover more meaning and satisfaction at work and help companies find lost productivity?

What is fit? For the purposes of the book, fit is defined as a deep and authentic connection to how a company works day-to-day. To return to the metaphor, right fit feels like you are writing with your dominant hand the moment you walk through the door and most days after. When right fit is there, the days feel easy, the work is more meaningful, and our connection to our company grows exponentially. As one interviewee described it, “In my right fit experience, it felt like putting on my favorite outfit. I was more me.” Another interviewee said, “You are putting in the hours, but it doesn’t feel like work.” Perhaps even more compelling are the feelings talent have when fit isn’t there. One of our interviewees described wrong fit as if “everyone has a secret decoder ring for success, except for me.” Another was much rawer about the feeling when they said “it was like being punched in the face every day in a different way.”

Where talent looks at right fit from the perspective of the alignment of their personal way of working with that of the company they have joined, companies must view right fit as the clarity, communication, and practice of a consistent way of working that showcases the company at its best. This, unfortunately, is where many companies fail. You see, while companies have become adept at defining their mission, articulating their strategy, sharing their values, and crafting inspiring leadership expectations, few have put in the effort to understand and train talent on how work, done well, happens day in and day out at the company. How does the company actually run? How does the company prioritize work, solve problems, innovate, manage conflict, or socialize projects? Each company does this in a unique and natural way at its best. Those ways of working are innate in the fabric of the company and often emanate from the early days of its founding.

Not surprisingly, I found right fit to be elusive among the interviewees, meaning it was hard to find and then retain over time. From a talent perspective, the way a company works is often undervalued during recruitment compared to brand, bigger titles, better pay, or even a little flattery. Further, the current approach to everything from job descriptions to employer branding to recruiting makes it nearly impossible to assess how the company works day-to-day. So, many talent end up in experiences that are vastly different from their early interactions and expectations of the company.

On the company side, a lack of clarity, consistency, and transparency about the company’s work principles, practices, and platforms during the hiring process and onboarding tamps down fit for extended periods. To complicate matters even more, companies do not often require newly acquired leaders to adopt the ways of working that drive the rest of the company, which becomes a recipe for a bureaucratic, slow, and confusing hairball of coordination costs, context shifting, and confusion. 

Remember that $7.8 trillion of lost productivity? I am guessing a lot of it lies right here.

Something else became clear early on as I explored right fit with the interviewees: the pressure many of us feel to “fit in.” “Fitting in” is about a person trying to become something they aren’t in the hopes of one day being successful. In this context, “fit” has a negative connotation, especially among diverse or marginalized groups who have often been overtly told (due to their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) that they don’t “fit in” or who have been subtly biased against when they try to find a place in any established community—neighborhoods, schools, companies, etc. This exploration of “fitting in” is important, and many tremendous minds have written about and are working on the subject through the lens of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and how to create unbiased and equitable systems. I applaud that work and believe it is vital for all organizational leaders to lean into it as we create the future of work. For the purposes of this book, I am asking you to hold a new and nuanced definition of fit that is focused on helping talent and companies align on how work gets done day-to-day.

Finding right fit inside a company has three key dimensions. Fit is fully realized when who talent is (all of the characteristics and experiences that make them unique) and how talent prefers to work aligns with what the company values are and how the company works day-to-day. If there is only alignment on two of the three circles, then, at some level, talent is being asked to “fit in.” That feeling of “fitting in” centers around three key misalignments:

  • Total mismatch: The company does not value who the talent is or how they prefer to work. At the most simple level, talent might feel this mismatch as, “Nobody at the company ‘looks’ like me or works like me.”
  • Person Mismatch: The company values the way the talent works but does not value who they are as a person. The talent might experience this mismatch as, “Nobody at the company ‘looks’ like me, but many people I have met work how I prefer to work.”
  • Way of Working Mismatch: The company values who the talent is, but doesn’t value how the talent prefers to work. The talent might experience this mismatch as, “People at the company ‘look’ like me but nobody here works the way I prefer to work.”

Though much work is being done to understand and alleviate the “fitting in” related bias and inequitable practices, very little attention has been paid to the misalignment of how work gets done on a daily basis. This book attempts to shed light on this subject and offer strategies to find right fit with greater frequency. When you have right fit, doing your best work comes easy, with seemingly little effort. When you are in a wrong fit experience, much of your available creative energy goes to context (fitting in) over craft (the core skill or capability you’ve built up over time).

Many gifted and motivated talent have lost the opportunity to show their full potential due to ending up in a wrong fit situation where they are left endlessly trying to gain the “secret decoder ring” to success. The cost is staggering both to talent and to the company. The company doesn’t get the lift of captured discretionary effort (the extra productivity that comes with deeper commitment or engagement) or the unique brilliance of the person they hired. Even worse, talent walks out of these “fitting-in” experiences feeling less confident, less capable, less cared for, and less themselves.

Is Right Fit the Cure for What Ails Us?

From the interviews combined with over twenty-five years of leading culture, engagement, and talent initiatives in and with some of the most revered companies in the world, I have come to the conclusion that there is no one silver bullet to the crisis of commitment we are facing in the modern workplace—where talent doesn’t fully feel seen or valued by their employers and company leaders struggle to get the level of engagement and commitment they need from their talent to sustain growth. There truly might not be one silver bullet, but right fit does offer a step in the right direction.
Let’s start by looking closely at our companies. 

Who a company says they are rarely matches how that company works day-to-day. That’s not to say the ways of working are bad or misguided or nefarious. No, they are simply different from what is expressed through formal communication channels, expertly crafted mission/vision/values statements, breathtaking career sites and employer brand campaigns, and inspiring leadership town halls. A 2020 study by MIT and Culture 500 found zero correlation between the cultural values a company publishes and how well the company lived up to those values in the eyes of their employees.

This divergence happens because actual ways of working evolve organically out of the preferences of leaders who are hired from different companies, the nudges of HR and business processes that are built on the best practices of other places, the complexity and distance that often accompanies scale, and the human nature to interpret vision/values/expectations in a way that most beneficially serves ourselves or our teams. The end result is two versions of the company—what we once were or aspire to someday be and what we actually are day-to-day.

As a result, what a company says about who they are and how they work no longer matches the felt experience of talent. So, talent is forced to bump into ill-defined ways of working, use their creative energy to understand how things actually get done, and struggle, for longer than they should, to feel settled and fully committed.

The company isn’t alone in making right fit elusive; talent plays a role as well. In my interviews, it became clear that landing in a right fit experience seemed to be the hiring equivalent of hitting a bullseye while throwing a dart blindfolded after being spun around three times super fast. It happens, but not frequently nor consistently enough. Upon reflection, many of the interviewees admitted that they hadn’t thought hard enough about how they prefer to work nor had they asked questions in the interview process that would help them better understand the ways of working in the company. Further, in the wrong fit experiences, most admitted to knowing “something was off” during the process but found themselves being swayed by other signals—company reputation, pay, life circumstances, savvy recruiters, bigger scope, flattery, inspiring leaders, and the allure of a beautiful campus. Then, once they found themselves in a wrong fit experience, talent admitted to working harder and longer hours to make up for the feeling of misalignment, leaving them more stressed, less productive, disengaged, and lacking confidence.

Our solutions to this crisis, from companies and talent alike, have either been to simply make the best of an imperfect experience, refresh culture from the ground up, or cut bait and try our hand at the disoriented, blindfolded dart toss again—all of which are emotionally and cognitively draining, complex, and limiting to the productivity, growth, and impact our companies have. Maybe we could talk less about aspirational culture and talk more about how the company works day-to-day. We could seek to know ourselves better and our preferred ways of working before we look for a new gig or hire more talent. We could make the interview process more vulnerable and authentic by showing who we are on most days, not simply our best. We could hire for who we are today and develop everyone for who we need to be tomorrow.

What Wrong Fit, Right Fit Is About

So, what does all this mean? What is happening? Is work really that universally dissatisfying, or is something else afoot? In moments like this, I always turn to a theory that was introduced to me way back in 1997 by Jodie Foster in the movie Contact (yes, I am a bit of a sci-fi buff). That theory was Occam’s Razor, and it states that all things being equal, the simplest answer is probably the right one.

As you will see in Wrong Fit, Right Fit, and through the stories of the interviewees provided within, much of this mass dissatisfaction is attributable to fit. This book works off a simple premise. If talent can find right fit companies and roles more often, then less of their creative energy will go to context and coordination cost and more to their craft (what they are brilliant at doing) every day. Thus, they will naturally experience higher energy and engagement, less languishing burnout, will do better work in less time, and hold a stronger sense of meaning and mission. Once this occurs, the company, in return, will regain lost discretionary effort, more capability to learn, higher levels of coordination and collaboration, and higher levels of innovation and performance. Companies will have a more stable climate from which to pivot, transform, and grow. This symbiotic relationship only works if both talent and companies take a step out of the habits we have built and toward a new way of finding fit such as using an applicant tracking system etc. If they do, the end result will be healthier, stronger companies filled with content and committed talent. Oh, and remember that pesky $7.8 trillion? That just might be found as well.

For the remainder of the book, each chapter will take on an aspect of right fit, and attempt to provide mindsets and tools that can help both talent and companies. In Chapter 1, I’ll explore the trends that have contributed to this crisis of commitment and the need to reorient everything around fit. Chapter 2 examines the psychology that guides our actions and why they matter in the search for right fit. Chapter 3 provides insight into why self-reflection is an important place to start the journey to find right fit, while Chapter 4 provides some reflective exercises to help you down that path. Chapter 5 walks talent and leadership through how to assess a potential company and job with fit in mind, while Chapter 6 assesses the ways a company works and its alignment to your work preferences. Chapter 7 and Chapter 8 show how to embark on a longer fit journey through inspirational and relational buffers to keep right fit intact or make a wrong fit experience palatable. In Chapter 9, we explore how companies should rethink their work practices and how they preview themselves to prospective talent, while Chapter 10 examines how companies could reimagine the recruiting and (re)recruiting of talent for right fit. Finally, we wrap up all of the bits and pieces in the Conclusion.

To ensure the book has practical application, peppered throughout the text are insights, excursions, and real stories of right fit and wrong fit:

  • Company & Talent Insights: Tips, tricks, questions, and takeaways that can help talent find right fit and company to create it.
  • Reflective Excursions: In-depth exercises or activities that will aid talent and companies to reflect more deeply on right fit and how to achieve it given their circumstance.
  • A Fit Assessment: An assessment tool that can help talent assess how well their natural preferences for work match their current company.
  • Real Stories of Fit: Real stories pulled directly from the interviews, these are narratives that describe how right fit or wrong fit feels and the outcomes that result from having either. 

Who Should Read This Book?

This book is written for anyone who is attempting to build a career and find a place where they can practice their craft—the emerging investment banker straight out of university looking to learn and be mentored, a seasoned HR practitioner who’s ready to apply their experience to a job in a new industry, the marketer looking to make a jump into sales, or any number of other knowledge workers who want to further their career and feel like their work is meaningful. The aim is simple—to help all talent, the creative minds and capable individuals that fuel our companies, to find right fit.

What if you’re a manager or leader who is responsible for shaping and designing the company culture and its ways of working? This book is written for you as well. Because right fit is fundamentally about the match between the way a company works and the preference of talent, neglecting to mention tools, tricks, tips, and better practices to help leaders and managers would leave the conversation incomplete.

So, I’ve designed the book to speak to readers who might be wearing one of three hats:

If you’re focused on your own career and finding a place to work where your fellow employees value what you value and work how you work, then this book will give you tools to find those companies, make subtle shifts to be successful in those companies, and build buffers to retain fit when you move teams or are undergoing a significant transition.

If you’re a people leader who is responsible for creating an inspiring and engaging day-to-day climate, this book will provide you insight into what matters to your talent, direct your attention to places where engagement and commitment might be at risk, and offer some simple strategies to find the right team members and help them be successful.

If you’re a founder of a company, an enterprise leader, or the head of HR tasked with creating a strong and distinct culture, this book will help you see the world through the lens of right and wrong fit versus good or bad culture. It will give you a way to uncover how the company works “at its best” and create touchpoints for your talent that help you to select those who work like you work, re-recruit everyone to a more consistent way of working, and create buffers to keep the talent you want inside the company and fully committed to your purpose.

So, you might read this book today as you search for your first role in your first company. Later, you might pick it up again when you become a team leader, or, better yet, CEO. Regardless of who you are, this book is particularly valuable if you find yourself in one of the following situations :

  • You are currently interviewing for roles at new companies.
  • You have recently joined a new company and are trying to figure out how to be successful.
  • You have recently moved teams or changed roles inside your current company.
  • You are in a role where you are struggling to stay engaged.
  • You feel like you can’t practice your craft or do your best work.
  • You’re thinking about leaving a place where you once had right fit.
  • You’re in a right fit experience and want to stay there.

A Call to Right Fit

We have all faced wrong fit or hard fit experiences in our careers (whether it was moving to a new team in our current company or a new role in a different one). Why does this happen? How can talent better assess the company/team they’re joining before they join? How can you more quickly identify the real ways of working once you’re there? How can you stay where you are and jump out of bed every morning excited to go to work? As leaders of companies, how do you better align who you say you are to how it feels to work at a place every day? How do you rediscover the ways of working that are your company at its best?

If you are a leader or executive in any company, the ultimate question is, “Are we clear and consistent about how work gets done, so the right talent will choose us and thrive?”

If you are a talent in a company, the ultimate question is, “Do our ways of working really fit the way I prefer to work?” It’s important to take a moment to note here that there will be times in our lives when right fit has to take a back seat—when our choice of where we work, the job we take, or the talent we hire is driven by other factors. Sometimes we just need a paycheck, medical insurance, or skilled individuals filling empty seats so we can produce our product or provide our service. That’s okay. More than okay, actually—it is essential. And, as long as we understand the trade-offs we make and the strategies to create fit over time, this book can still help more of us be more committed in more moments of our days.

As you’ll discover in the upcoming chapters, fit and finding right fit are game changers, and there is no better time to focus on them than right now. Now is the time to boost engagement, inspiration, well-being, and meaning in the work we do. Now is the time to increase the value of work for ourselves and our organizations. Now is the time to level the playing field and balance the power held in the choice of where we work, how we spend our days, and why we stay. Now is the time to make work feel less like work. Now is the time to find right fit.

Let’s begin.

Continue reading in the new book Wrong Fit, Right Fit: Why How We Work Matters More Than Ever by Andre Martin. Available now!

- About The Authors
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Dr. André Martin

Andre Martin is an organizational psychologist and talent management executive with 20+ years of experience in talent development, executive team development, employee engagement, culture change, c-suite assessment & succession planning, innovation/design thinking, strategy development, and employee experience design. He is also a father, a husband, and a wildly curious learner who is dedicated to ensuring iconic brands become iconic companies.

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