Dolly Penland is an executive business adviser and Certified Master Trainer with Predictive Results. She works with executive teams and business owners to create human capital plans that directly support their business objectives.
You just met the perfect candidate, the unicorn of talent. Her resume was stunning—neatly written, and with all the right experience. She answered each of your interview questions to perfection and your gut feeling is she’ll fit right in to your organization’s culture.
But sometimes your gut can only take you so far; a perfect resume and killer first impressions are only part of discovering top talent. Employee success often hinges on behavior and whether you understand how that person’s behavior is going to drive them in the workplace.
When organizations implement The Predictive Index (PI) Behavioral Assessment into their hiring and selection process, a candidate’s natural drives and needs are presented through a behavioral pattern. This pattern helps you see what drives people’s behaviors based on four main drivers—Dominance, Extraversion, Patience, and Formality. There is no good or bad pattern, no right or wrong combination of these factors. Everyone falls somewhere on a spectrum on each of the four drivers.
For this post, we are going to focus on the Formality factor. A lot of people freak out when it comes to this factor, particularly when it is the lowest of the four factors. First, let’s define what we mean by low Formality. The Formality drive in PI language is the need for rules and structure. When this factor is low, it just means that these folks can handle a lot of uncertainty and are comfortable with ambiguity. These individuals need freedom from too much structure when possible. Rules and details, meh.
People who have low Formality can also handle a lot more risk. Some people assume that when someone is comfortable without rules, that they’re also comfortable letting deadlines slip and shirking their work. But that’s where we need to put the brakes on our pre-conceived notions and assumptions. Having low Formality doesn't mean that they can't be successful in an organization or that they won’t do the work. In fact, I have seen many situations where they are very successful, excelling as entrepreneurs, managers, sales people, programmers, researchers, and other roles. (It's important to note that high or higher cognitive scores can help compensate for some of those low Formality qualities.)
When hiring or promoting talent, if someone has a low expression of Formality and that’s the only factor not in alignment with the ideal conceptual job model, investigate the gap. Ask questions! Low Formality does not equal failure. In fact, people with low Formality can be spectacularly successful. One of these success stories is a CEO I know whose lowest factor is Formality. He worked his way up through his company—literally starting with a shovel. Naturally curious and eager to learn new things, he recognized that he needed to learn everything about the company. Respect in this organization is earned from being able to not just do but understand the importance of different jobs and their contribution to the success of the company, from the folks shoveling to those in sales to those in management. And nobody understood all the different jobs better than him. The company has grown under his leadership far beyond what any of the original owners or his mentors thought it would be.
Another case is an HR leader whose highest driver is Patience (and in this case, a ton of it!) and the lowest driver Formality. This individual is well-liked in the organization. He has had time— as in years of time—to learn all of the regulations and requirements endemic in HR. He was also not hampered by how he tackles his work and is an outside-the-box thinker, unafraid of innovation or change. This person learns best by repetition and also happens to have a typical, very normal cognitive score. In fact, he just researched and implemented a new payroll system. Is his specific behavioral pattern what the company is necessarily going to hire for HR in the future? No, probably not. But he’s not going anywhere for a very long time, and his low Formality has had a positive impact.
A third company I have worked with the last few years employs a general manager with a particularly low expression of Formality (No rules!). He is great at rallying his team, giving guidance and direction, and setting and achieving goals. His success came from a self-awareness early in his career recognizing that details aren’t his favorite part of the job. But his HR/admin is all about the details. They have a very complementary, divide-and-conquer game plan to ensure goals are met.
Don’t be afraid of those with low Formality, especially if the person has the credentials you need or the skillset required. And this is not just about who you are going to hire. It’s also about who do you already have. As leaders in our organizations, we must know how people we currently have are best motivated, how to most effectively train them, understand how they will tackle their work and how quickly they will learn. All of this helps us help them.