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To Match or Not to Match
Diana Robinson, Ph.D. Along the frequently re-visited topic of fine lines and balancing acts that we all must walk from time to time comes the issue of the extent to which we should seek a match between ourselves and our environment.

This applies to us as individuals in all aspects of our lives. It also applies to those responsible for hiring people who may or may not be a good match for the existing corporate culture.

On the one hand, none of us wants to place ourselves into an environment that is so alien to our own preferences, values, and ethics that we either feel like misfits or perceive that we have to choose to 'go along' so as to fit in, and eventually find that we have violated our own principles. On the other hand, in making sure that we choose an environment - work or otherwise - that is a perfect fit we risk not being challenged to grow, to expand our horizons. Where do we draw the line?

Similarly, in hiring policies, an organization wants to find people who will fit the corporate culture. Yet, again, hiring only people who are an automatic and unquestioning fit has its dangers. There is the "this is the way it's always been done" trap. There is the "total compliance" trap. An article (in an English newspaper) recently noted that part of the strategy of Enron's Andrew Fastow was to systematically move out of his department anyone who did not totally comply with his business philosophies. We all know where that led.

Where, as supervisors, do we draw the line between labeling someone as a useful and observant 'devil's advocate' who asks uncomfortable questions that yet need to be asked, or as a malcontent who constantly makes trouble just for the heck of it? No doubt the same person can sometimes be perceived as playing both roles, depending on the questions asked and the clarity of conscience of the individual's supervisors.

What about the organization that wants to acquire expertise in new a field, to open new doors and new markets? Often the solution is to hire someone with that expertise. However, precisely because of the background in a very 'different' field, once hired the individual may not be perceived as being a comfortable fit with the existing culture. If there is not a clear understanding on the part of management that this potential 'down side' may exist, there may be misunderstandings and failure for both sides. Are they willing to accommodate that different perspective, and apparent lack of fit, as the price they will pay for the new doors that may be opened by the company? Or are they going to judge that they hired someone who was not a good enough fit for the corporate culture, without recognizing that the two things, expertise and way of thinking, may be opposite and indivisible sides of the same coin? Are they willing to give up the prospect of new doors being opened just in order to maintain the status quo? That needs to be a carefully and consciously made decision that is part of an ongoing strategy, not a choice that is made out of irritation at an individual's lack of perfect fit in issues that may be basically superficial.

Equally, for the individual who enters a new field, there needs to be an awareness of differences in environment. Are you willing to operate with all antennae fully operational, seeking to become aware of anything that may label you an outsider, so that you may decide whether it is worth your while to adapt, or whether you are going to remain as you are regardless of the consequences?

Often the differences that label us as outsiders and convey the message that we do not fit are NOT those that would require that we abandon our values or our integrity. More often they are subtle differences in language, dress, or behavior that can be adapted to without loss of who we really are. The trick, though, is to notice them at the same time that we are also seeking to learn the nuances involved in adapting our existing job skills to the new environment. If we are not aware, we are unlikely to make any changes that may be needed.

So that is the fine line to consider today.

    --> For the individual, how far out of your comfort zone are you willing to move? How can you decide what changes are needed and where you need to draw the line? Are you willing to accept the consequences of not fitting in?

    --> And for the employer, how important is the status quo for your company? How important is it to have a few squeaky wheels and devil's advocates around? How can you help your management team to understand the advantages and be tolerant of diversity of attitude?

� Diana Robinson, Ph.D. 2001
Diana@ChoiceCoach.com
Choices Success Strategies Coaching
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Work in Progress may be reproduced in its entirety only, including this copyright line. Disclaimer -The contents herein are solely the opinions of Work in Progress owner, and should not be considered as a form of therapy nor advice. There is no guarantee of validity or accuracy. If expert assistance or counseling is needed, services of a competent professional should be sought. TO SUBSCRIBE to Work in Progress send a blank e-mail to workinprogress-On@lists.webvalence.com. To offer feedback e-mail Diana.