Who to Choose?


Judith M. Bardwick, Ph.D.

The increased breadth of organizational conditions and desired behaviors that were created by the advent of wartime organizations means there are no Best Companies or Best Practices. There’s no one size that fits all.  Instead, there’s Best Fit—a match between an individual’s values, priorities and behaviors and those of an organization.

How do organizations successfully attract, motivate, involve and retain people? They achieve Best Fit.  They select people who have the personal characteristics which are likely to result in their being successful within the organization as it is or will be, and whose most important needs and desires can be met. Ideal outcomes are achieved when there is a Best Fit between the requirements and opportunities of the organization and the capacities and priorities of the employee.

Best Fit, compatibility between what the organization requires and the employee desires, leads to high motivation, comfort and success.  Bad Fit leads to discomfort, high stress and failure.  Without Best Fit, the chances for success and retention plummet; with Best Fit, the chances for success soar.

Some people love the meteoric growth and absence of precedent and bureaucracy in a start-up while others need the clarity that’s provided by formal structure and detailed processes. The perks of bigness and deep pockets—secretaries, well-furnished large offices, imposing buildings, company planes and cars—appeal to lots of people who would be very unhappy in the garage-sale furniture and cramped cubicles of a start-up.

Leisure, down-time, time off… are gaining in value because they’re getting scarce.  While some people are drawn to the pressure-cooker heroics of a wartime start-up, others find working in an organization that sees an eight-hour day as a day’s work as really important. There’s an enormous difference between being responsible for a whole project that often happens in a start-up and being one of many who contribute which is normal in a Fortune 500 company.

Even today, there are organizations that offer almost all their employees a career for decades, if not for life.  Many people prefer job security, dependable compensation and benefits, a slower pace and few surprises. Lots of people still prefer tenure, implicit or contractual, to the potential of options.  As long as there are peacetime conditions and people who prefer that, there is also a peacetime best fit.

There are, then, two very different populations: one group perceives itself as Ferraris and the other group is content to be Fords. The incompatibility in values, perspectives and personalities of Ferraris and Fords is easily observed.  It usually becomes obvious when a peacetime organization brings in wartime leadership in order to hasten change or the peacetime organization enters wartime businesses, especially start-ups. The utility industry is an excellent example of a low margin, regulated commodity business entering high margin/high risk unregulated businesses.  Very few people from the regulated utility are successful when they move to the hyper-competitive and very volatile markets in the unregulated sector. They’re unprepared by dint of personality and experience to deal with that amount of pressure and risk.

 There is another, though less common scenario in which Ferraris and Fords need to work together.  Entrepreneurial businesses start small; as start-ups they’re the epitome of pure wartime characteristics.  Because they’re small they can be effective with spontaneous decisions, impromptu processes and informal communications.  But as they succeed they add people and sometimes, geographies.  The ad hoc management style that is effective with fifty people is massively ineffective with a thousand.

Success breeds size and size requires management as well as leadership, it requires process and rules as well as spontaneous decision-making, it breeds structure and hierarchy as well as teamwork.  In other words, pure wartime start-ups begin to evolve aspects of peacetime organizations that they historically sneered at.

The most common and most visible changes result from the impact of wartime conditions on peacetime companies.  But the imposition of peacetime practices on successful, maturing wartime start-ups, are no less difficult because wartime warriors don’t see a lot of value in peacetime people and their priorities and processes.  As the old- and new economies converge, it is really necessary for the two groups to stop perceiving themselves in terms of opposites because the negative judgments that follow make it immensely difficult for Fords and Ferraris to share the same highway.

Best Fit, compatibility between what the organization requires and the employee desires, leads to high motivation, comfort and success; Bad Fit leads to high stress, discomfort and failure.  With Best Fit, the chances for success soar.  Without Best Fit, the chances for success and retention plummet.



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