Matching People and Organizations: Selection and Socialization in Public Accounting Firms
Academy of Management Proceedings
To investigate how the fit of an employee with his or her organization as a whole is established and maintained and what the consequences are in organizations, this study tracked the early careers of 171 entry-level auditors in eight of the largest U.S. public accounting firms and assessed the congruence of their values with those of the organization. Person-organization fit is shown to be created, in part, by selection (assessments of who the person is when he or she enters the organization)
... the organization) and socialization (how the organization influences the person's values, attitudes, and behaviors during membership. Results show some support for three general hypotheses: First, recruits whose values, when they enter, match those of the firm adjust to it more quickly; second, those who experience the most vigorous socialization fit the firm's values better than those who do not; and third, recruits whose values most closely match the firm's feel most satisfied and intend to and actually remain with it longer.' Organizations devote substantial resources to establishing and maintaining a "good fit" between people and their jobs because they assume that certain people are better suited to perform some jobs than others (Caldwell and O'Reilly, 1990). Numerous fit theories have been advanced, focusing on careers (Holland, 1985), job choice (Hackman and Oldham, 1980), and organizational climate (Joyce and Slocum, 1984). These theories draw on interactional psychology in that they consider how individual and situational characteristics combine to influence a focal individual's response in a given situation. Pervasive influences on individual behaviors and attitudes may also arise from the organization's social environment, specifically from its central values. Conceptualizing the situation as the organization's values and considering person-organization fit is thus a meaningful, yet less-researched level of analysis. Person-organization fit is defined as the congruence between patterns of organizational values and patterns of individual values, defined here as what an individual values in an organization, such as being team-oriented or innovative (Chatman, 1989). Although multiple aspects of organizations and people influence behavior and attitudes, person-organization fit is a meaningful way of assessing person-situation interaction because values are fundamental and relatively enduring and because individual and organizational values can be directly compared. Person-organization fit focuses on how the patterning and content of a person's values, when juxtaposed with the value system in a particular organizational context, affect that individual's behaviors and attitudes. Values are a fundamental element in most definitions of organizational culture (e.g., Barley, Meyer, and Gash, 1988). Although culture researchers disagree about many aspects of its definition and measurement, they agree that culture plays an important role in determining how well an individual fits into an organizational context (Rousseau, 1990). Past research and even simple intuition suggest that when our values and priorities match the values and priorities of a 459/Administrative Science Quarterly, 36 (1991): 459-484 particular organization we are happier and more likely to maintain an association with that organization (Meir and Hasson, 1982). Value systems provide elaborate and generalized justifications both for appropriate member behavior and for the activities and functions of the system (Enz, 1988). Organizational values are often considered a group product (e.g., Schein, 1985: 7), and although all members of the group may not hold the same values, typically a majority of active members are aware of the support for a given value. A central value system is said to exist when a number of key values concerning behaviors and the way things are in an organization are shared across units and levels (Weiner, 1988: 535). Strong organizational values are those that are both intensely held and widely shared (Van Maanen and Barley, 1984). One issue that culture researchers disagree on is the level at which values are meaningful to individuals. Enz (1988) and Hofstede et al. (1990) conceptualized and measured values at the subunit level, while O'Reilly, Chatman, and Caldwell (1991) and Weiner (1988) did so at the organization level. In this paper, the central value system, at the organization level, is considered a relevant and important unit of analysis; however, this is not to deny the existence and importance of subunit values. Individual values within an organization are relatively enduring beliefs that a specific mode of conduct or end-state is preferable to its opposite. Although people's values in an organization better enable them to make sense of organizational situations, values transcend any particular situation. Thus, values guide actions, attitudes, and judgments beyond immediate goals to more ultimate goals (Rokeach, 1973: 18). Person-organization fit is influenced by the organizational values existing at the time of membership and by changes in individual values following membership and tenure. This study focuses on how person-organization fit is established and maintained and its consequences in organizational settings. It examines the selection process, or the initial match between individual and organizational values; the socialization process, or how the organizational context influences an individual's values over time, and the consequent attitudes and behaviors. By recruiting employees who will be responsive to organizational practices, by transmitting the significance of prevailing values, and by dismissing those who do not fit, organizations hope to establish a robust and stable attachment among members. Recruitment, Selection, and Organizational Choice People choose to join organizations and organizations choose to hire individuals on the basis of already-formed characteristics (Schwab, Rynes, and Aldag, 1987). According to traditional views, selection processes assess job-related characteristics, such as past experience, intelligence, knowledge, skills and abilities, and greater selectivity leads to such desirable outcomes as high performance (for organizations) and satisfaction (for organization members).