Over the years, I've helped dozens of small to mid-size companies build their management teams for future growth. The first steps are always the same: Figure out the strengths and weaknesses of the existing management team, then determine where the company is positioned in the classic corporate life cycle.
Following this process again and again taught me that there are only four jobs in the world: Thinker, Builder, Improver, Producer. And each one is appropriate for a specific portion of the life cycle curve.
The life cycle curve represents the growth of a successful organization (or project) as it moves from startup through rapid growth and on to maturity. People, I have found, grow in reverse -- moving down the curve by first developing their technical prowess at places that already do it well, and then taking on more complex projects and tasks. This is why smaller companies like to hire big-company expatriates, and people who have helped build bigger companies seek out new challenges at smaller startups.
This difference in direction creates opportunity and friction, and in many ways also defines the company's real culture and real needs. Bottom line: If a person can't adapt to the underlying pace and changing needs of their organization at each phase, everyone will underperform. Classifying people by worktype and matching them to the growth phase of the organization is one way to more accurately predict performance and cultural fit.
These people are the idea generators, strategists, and creative types. They're at the front-end of the growth curve, and their work covers new products, new business ideas, and different ways of doing everyday things. Sometimes they get in the way once the company or projects begin to grow.
These people take ideas from the Thinker and convert them into reality. Entrepreneurs, inventors, and turn-around executives are typically Builders. They thrive in rapidly changing situations, they make decisions with incomplete information, and they can create some level of order out of chaos. They often feel strangled in bigger organizations.
These are the people who take an existing project, process or team, organize it and make it better. In a fast-growing company, they are charged with putting the wings on an airplane in flight. In a mature company, they're the ones who implement change despite heavy resistance. They are typically under-appreciated, yet have an enormous impact on a company's long-term success.
These are the people who execute a repeatable process, ensuring quality and delivery. They touch the customer every day in some way, whether it's designing a great product or manning the help desk. Producers build their careers by consistently taking on bigger and more challenging assignments.
Better hiring and career decisions emerge when you overlay these four work types with the corporate life cycle. Here's what I mean:
Hiring: Hiring managers need to start by preparing a performance-based job description describing the work that needs to be done, and identifying the work type most likely to succeed given the project or corporate life cycle stage. For example, hire a Builder if your launching a new product line; hire an Improver-Producer if upgrading the international accounting system. (Here's the full handbook on how to prepare these performance-based job descriptions for all types of jobs.)
Job Hunting and Career Planning: Ride the curve down to companies or projects at an earlier life cycle stage. Start by becoming a very proficient Producer. Then seek out situations where you can become an Improver -- making things better, managing and developing people, and achieving results. When the opportunity is right, take on a Builder role. Of course, you'll be using your Thinker capability at each step. Sometimes it might dominate everything else you do.
Cultural Fit: Culture is largely a product of a company's position on the life cycle, plus the priorities and perspectives of its chief hiring manager. For each person hired, these two factors determine whether someone will be a cultural fit. For example, a rapid-growth company that hires a bureaucrat to expand its retail distribution will not be able to hire and keep highly motivated Builder-Improvers if every decision requires multiple levels of approval.
While all of the four work types are required in each phase of company growth, the mix needs to shift dramatically to allow successful movement to the next higher level. This is a problem for many people - they either need to adapt or get out of the way. Lack of recognition of this work-type mix shift is one of the reasons why companies struggle to grow, stagnate once reaching maturity, and frustrate people who can't implement change or are being forced to change.
There's more to hiring top people, or jump-starting a career, than mixing and matching the skills and experiences listed on some poorly crafted job description. Follow the life cycle curve instead. It might be a far better way to get you where you want to go.