Rules Orientation Is Your Best Bet for Cultural Fit

By Kris Dunn

Apr. 22, 2016

"It’s better to be a pirate than join the Navy.”

That’s a loaded quote from a favorite cultural maven, Steve Jobs. Keep it in mind for the next few minutes, because I’m going to tell you the best thing you can do when hiring for cultural fit is figuring out who is a pirate — and who is a great fit for the navy.

Let me guess: You think your culture is unique.

Your employment brand is strong, with Glassdoor singing your praises and local newspapers dropping by to click photos of your workspace and write glossy profiles about how much passion your employees have.

I’m not hating on that. There’s one little problem, through. You’re allowing your managers to decide who fits your culture, right?

Your hiring managers aren’t great at interviewing for knowledge, skills and abilities. They’re even worse when it comes to deciding who fits your culture.

Rules orientation works like this: People who are 'high rules' actively look for the operations manual on the shelf when they’re dealing with issues. 'Low-rules' people, on the other hand, cringe at the thought of having to comply with an operations manual.

How do you get a better handle on helping your managers evaluate cultural fit? First, you need to define your culture, but, more importantly, you need to identify the type of person across all job titles who is successful in your culture.

It’s impossible to write an article that meets everyone’s needs from a cultural-fit perspective. But let’s assume this: Most people who promote their workplace culture as a competitive advantage tout some similar items as key to what makes them different.

Your best chance at successfully hiring for cultural fit is to figure out what type of DNA becomes a star in your company and then find a behavioral assessment tool that can help you measure it.

The problem is there are only a few behavioral characteristics that can provide a true link to the type of company you have. If I were going to choose a single behavioral characteristic to tie cultural fit to — regardless of company — it would be what I call “rules orientation.”

Rules orientation works like this: People who are “high rules” actively look for the operations manual on the shelf when they’re dealing with issues. Doesn’t matter what their annual salary is, high-rules people want to be told what to do.

That doesn’t mean they won’t do the job in question at a high level, but as you might expect, you really can’t expect a high-rules person to have a jones for innovation. They value structure and order.

Translation: They are great fits to join your “navy.”

Low-rules people, on the other hand, cringe at the thought of having to comply with an operations manual. Low-rules people love organizational chaos, and they want to figure out what to do given a specific set of circumstances.

Low-rules people will help you build the operations manual, but you better have another challenge/job for them once it’s built because they’ll refuse to have their daily activities managed to that degree.

These types of people are organizational pirates. Combine this trait with strong cognitive skills and high assertiveness, and the only thing missing is an eye-patch that matches the person’s version of business casual.

Why is rules orientation your best bet?

First, if your business revolves in any way around innovation, you’ll need a higher percentage of low-rules people than most companies. Innovation means you’re creating something out of nothing.

Asking a high-rules person to innovate on a daily basis is problematic. Remember that an individual being high rules isn’t good or bad; it’s just who they are. It’s up to you to make the right match for your company.

But wait! Before you accuse me of writing only for the software industry, let’s ponder an alternative. Many of you are HR/talent professionals in very conservative companies where risk management is a primary concern.

Even so, rules orientation is still important. From time to time, you might think you need someone with the ability to innovate or be a change agent. If that’s your goal, rules orientation is the best directional tool available.

The problem is that your company most likely can’t provide an environment where the low-rules individual can be successful. You can want it and your hiring manager can want it, but you’ll likely still fail when hiring a low-rules person.

A low-rules person joining a high red tape company would probably lead to frustrations from the level of approval that would be necessary to get things done. It will be tough for them to be successful (often in their own eyes) because of the time it takes to push a great idea through the approval change.

Does the candidate in front of you want to be a pirate or join the navy? The answer is your best chance to add a little science to how you view cultural fit when hiring today.

Kris Dunn, the chief human resources officer at Kinetix, is a Workforce contributing editor.

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