The 9 Corporate Personality Types And How to Inspire Them to Innovate
In a way, innovation is like sex: those talking about it most are probably doing it the least. Before founding IdeaFaktory, I’ve had the privilege (and collateral hair loss) of innovating at top Fortune 100 firms, where ‘talk’ was unavoidable. So I decided to codify my lessons as The 4C’s of Innovation(TM). These are: context, creativity, capabilities, and most importantly, culture. Any innovation worth doing demands cultural change. But who will lead that change? And who will reject it? Why does the same ra-ra event move some employees to tears, but lands like the Hindenburg with others? No need to hire an army of psychologists to electroshock your workforce for answers. Unlike fluffier lists of people to hire, I’ve profiled the nine kinds of people in your company now who will make or break any innovation or change initiative. (For more on culture change, also check out my new podcast with this week’s guest Stan Slap.)
9 Corporate Personality Types
A few years ago, I started taking notes on all the quirky characters I met while leading corporate innovation. What As I discussed these characters with others, certain universal “types” kept surfacing again and again. So what could have been a TV show (think Alice in Wonderland meets Rolex and backstabbing) became a very useful psychological tool to inspire the potpourri of personalities lurking behind every PowerPoint.
Almost every new recruit (and many new hires) start out bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They are fresh hard drives ready to be filled with data. You can get them to do almost anything. They walk into meetings armed with fresh slides, broad smiles, and a professionalism they’ve practiced in interviews, in school, and in the mirror. They can gleefully present for hours to anyone in the company. They can deliver news about layoffs, quotas or dire forecasts without a hint of irony or empathy. They are eager to please and crave learning, mentorship and new opportunities.
Believer is a broad category that continues to branch. Generally, believers carry the torch for the brand and rally others. They’ll proudly wear company- branded polo’s and have cubes/ offices adorned with trophies, knickknacks, and photos of company picnics. They’ll talk your ear off about new specs on the Widgetizer 5000.
Alphas are the Delta Force of the Believers. They’ll eventually run business units and ultimately, the company. Alphas love crushing competition and playing the corporate game. Their identity, self-worth and status are linked to their corporate conquests. They value tutelage and access to people they respect. Top Alphas can even create reality distortion fields where their truth becomes the truth. That can be intoxicating to employees and others. But they can also be abrupt, egotistical, or have a “you’re either with me or you’re the janitor” attitude. Look elsewhere for second chances or a shoulder to cry on.
Survivors make it to senior positions, but don’t quite have the horsepower of Alphas or Naturals. They know how to work the system. Survivors don’t like taking risks and don’t want to change the world, unless it’s a sure thing. Some are master manipulators. Others miraculously survive every reorg. A few get inexplicable promotions after their last assignment flops. Their powers come from loyalty to Alphas, shared history, or knowing where the bodies are buried. Some get moved sideways forever – sometimes into good jobs that would be better served by others. If they ever leave, you’d get depressed knowing the size of their severance package.
Soldiers are solid team players. They’re not as well-rounded as Naturals or Alphas and seek out clarity. They avoid ambiguity (e.g. brainstorming) like it’s a flaming rag at an Exxon station. They can be great at one thing like project management, analysis, process improvement or people development. When in the right roles, they shine, but there’s often a ceiling to their ascent. If they are content, they’re loyal, stay late, and deliver results. They’ll also rally others around the company’s mission. They lack the networking prowess of Survivors and Naturals and rarely inspire the strong loyalty and followership of Alphas.
Pragmatists are the ying to the Believer’s yang. Many are just as capable or talented, but they’re generally more skeptical, analytical, and idealistic. Think BBC vs. FOX News. Their logic and pragmatic wiring makes them less susceptible to reality distortion fields or unquestioned followership. In fact, they will have questions…and perform best when the answers are authentic, not flag-waving. Because of that need for purpose, they can be tougher to manage – or perceived that way.
Naturals are ambitious and talented, but demand more balance in their life. They can be as effective as Alphas, but tend to be more humble and jocular. They deliver results and earn genuine loyalty and respect from peers and subordinates. Naturals are born networkers and build reciprocal relationships. They respond best when the mission aligns with their values and feels right. They get demotivated when success measures are unclear or when rules or rewards seem unfair. They are much more intuitive and better at developing talent than Alphas. They excel when working with people they like. They prefer managing other Naturals, but work well with Soldiers and Heretics. They don’t mesh well with Survivors.
Heretics are a wildcard. Some are visionary idealists and innovators who can change the company or the world. Others just don’t like rules and are difficult to work with. Heretics have four general paths: 1) Get beaten down by the system 2) Succeed at bringing change and fixing a broken system 3) Leave and become Richard Branson 4) Escape it all to work in a call center in Peoria. Visionary Heretics can be more intoxicating and inspirational than any Alpha. Though they aren’t great people leaders, their commitment and vision will get the best from subordinates – as long as they maintain momentum and stay motivated. Heretics’ need help translating their best efforts into the company’s language so others can codify and build on their successes.
Toilers represent a large portion of any corporate population. They typically view work as necessary to get to what matters most to them outside of work, like family, travel or building BattleBots. Toilers may not be looking to conquer the corporate world, but they are essential to the success of any company. Of course, performance can range from incredibly efficient to frustrating and sluggish.
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