Corporate Strategy and Personal Profiles
post # 171 — August 25, 2006 — a Strategy post
I was recently facilitating a strategy discussion with a company in an industry that has a long tradition of hiring, celebrating and rewarding individualistic solo operators. In spite of that tradition, the company’s leaders wanted to develop a company-wide reputation and strategy.
(This is normal. The industry I was working with is only unusual in that people there actually say things like this out loud. In other industries and professions, they just think it all the time, without actually saying it!)
The first dimension (or choice) is whether people actively want to be part of a team, with joint accountabilities, responsibilities, and rewards (team players), or whether, (as solo operators), they would prefer to be in situations where they can avoid being tied down, tied up or tied into working with other people, preferring to rise or fall or their own personal efforts.
I may have used biased language here, but the point is that people really do differ here as to how they want to live their lives. (Disclosure – I admire the heck out of the true team players, and would bet on them to win, but prefer to be what I am – a solo operator.)
The second dimension we explored was that some people have an appetite for high-investment strategies (invest a lot to get the chance to reap high rewards) while others are reluctant to invest that much, even in their own future. They prefer to focus on “winning today,” letting tomorrow take care of itself. Combining these two dimensions led us to analyze 4 kinds of preferences that individuals (and companies) have. The labels were developed in conjunction with “Linda.” (Thanks.)
Type 2 is the individual who prefers to act in coordination, but doesn’t like to invest too much. Call these people (collectively) the Wolf-Pack. “If we act together we can kill bigger animals, but it had better pay off soon or I’m joining another Pack!”
Type 3 is the individual who wants to act as a solo operators, not really enjoying collective action, but is interested in taking care of their future by investing resources to get somewhere new. We weren’t sure what to call these people, but they remind me of Beavers building dams to provide a home for their family. (The reason I have difficulty coming up with the right species for this one might not only be that I’m a city boy, but also because this category is the one I think I’m in.)
Type 4 are individuals who want to be part of something bigger than they can accomplish alone, and have the patience, the ambition and the will to help the collective organization invest in that future. I want to call this “The Human Race” since one of the rare things about Homo Sapiens that differentiates it (at least in scale) from other species is its ability to act collectively to build and develop. (It’s called civilization.) However, Linda pointed out that Type 4 could also be a description of an Ant Community.
“Ant Community” doesn’t sound very appealing as a self-image, does it? Yet it’s what I and a million other business consultants and CEOs and political leaders are trying to get their people to do whenever there is talk about strategy – join together for a common purpose and stretch for common achievement. Are we trying get people to be more fully human, or be like ants?
To many people, the OTHER types seem so attractive. Who wouldn’t want to be a Mountain Lion and or part of a Wolf-Pack ( so muscular, so strong, so energetic,) rather than an ant (or just a homo sapiens.) Why wouldn’t you vote for that?
We had secret voting machines in the room which allowed people to remain anonymous, so I asked people which of these four preferences best described their own, personal desired way of behaving. ( I took the vote before coming up with the animal labels.) Guess what? All four groups were well represented. Only 10 to 20 percent in this particular company put themselves in the “I want to be part of something bigger than me that is working to build for the future.” (I don’t know if that’s shockingly low to you, or matches your experience.)
What do you think the chances are of melding people that describe themselves that way into an institution that has a differentiated reputation?
I’m really interested in how misaligned the very concept of “strategy” can be for some companies with the type of people they attract, hire and retain. Firms and their leaders PRETEND and HOPE and SAY that they want to invest and build collectively, and everyone else pretends to go along as if that’s what they want too. But, when you look closely, that’s not actually the truth about what the people in the company really want to do.
Can anyone help me make sense of all these thoughts? What do you think?