Three Types of Professionals
This is my site Written by Alora on July 22, 2008 – 1:10 pm

Long ago I observed something very interesting about the types of organizations that different people are attracted to and why. And then, even more interestingly, about how those people behave — what types of projects they tackle, what types of changes they promote and how much bitching they do — once they get there. This has led me to one of my central business theories: there are three types of people in business:

The Entrepreneurs
The “ideas” people whose passion rallies supporters; they inspire loyalty and motivation. They find people willing to make sacrifices (often in the form of lower wages) in order to help gamble on getting a business up and running. They tend to build organizations whose culture reflects their personalities, in both positive and negative ways. Inexperience can often lead to a blurring of lines between their life and their business. Experience is often needed to separate the two a bit. This separation will have a ripple effect on the type of organizational culture they foster, whether they always realize it or not. Without these people, none of us would ever have a job. However, a successful organization will almost always out-grow its entrepreneurial roots, which most often requires a ‘changing of the guard’ when it comes to bringing in new staff whose skill sets more closely reflect the subsequent stages of an organization’s development.

The Mature Organization Professionals
The “process” people whose passion is around scalability, sustainability and predictability. Ensuring that an organization provides reliable goods and services is central to the success of the business, and that in order to produce predictable results, managing the process of delivery is key. These people can be every bit as much of a workaholic as entrepreneurs, but part of being sustainable is having an organization that functions at a stable level of efficiency, which means that heroic efforts of over-worked employees are suboptimal, because they are too volatile to be reliable. Part of being a stable business is being able to build a framework that can accomplish what it needs to within a standard, predictable, reliable schedule that allows employees to leave at the end of the day and unplug, so that they can return the next morning refreshed and able to provide a consistent level of effort day in and day out.

The Change Agents
These are the people who bridge the gap. Change agents are the ones who help guide an Entrepreneurial Organization down the road to becoming a Mature Organization. A good change agent understands the beauty of both models; he understands the sense of personal investment the entrepreneurial people have in the business, and he understands that the mature business model requires not taking things (too) personally. A truly good change agent realizes that an entrepreneurial culture — no matter how valuable it may have been in the beginning — is not typically scalable enough to remain intact in a mature organization.

A change agent needs to be more sensitive to things like culture, politics and employee engagement than the other two types in many ways, because the change agent is often in a position of trying to convince entrepreneurial people to adapt and stay committed to an organization that is growing into something else — often something that is not the type of organization that those people would have been as interested in working at. But a change agent also understands that, particularly while trying to evolve an organization, you still need the passion and dedication of those who founded the company, because (if properly leveraged) they can be some of your most powerful advocates.

Of course, there are people who can float back and forth between all different types of organizations. But the people who are truly good at that often find they make a better living as a consultant whose area of expertise is exactly that: floating back and forth, cross-pollinating ideas across organizations (if not industries). For those of us who prefer to be an active, permanent part of an organization, odds are that we identify pretty closely with one of those three categories. Entrepreneurial types don’t look for jobs at General Electric or Hewlett-Packard; and Mature Organization Professionals don’t look for jobs at tech startups being housed in a developer’s garage. A Change Agent could go either way, though usually they will opt for the startup; they tend to assume that working at GE would be less interesting (or even out-right boring), which may not be the case, but is a common inclination.

I had an amusing reinforcement of the roots of my theory recently: a director lamented that “this is the most chaotic environment I have ever worked in.” My knee-jerk reaction was actually laughter (which I managed to contain, though just barely), because, by comparison, that same environment was the least chaotic I had ever worked in. It stunned me for a moment that anyone with as much experience as he had could possibly feel that way, until I remembered the types of organizations he’d worked at in the past (most notably major financial institutions) versus the type I had worked in (all technology startups). The “chaos” he was seeing around him was causing huge amounts of stress and anxiety for him; and while I would experience acute moments of frustration at times, they were usually localized and specific, before returning to my normal pace (which, relatively speaking, was far more relaxed than I was used to).

The last lesson I’ve learned about this theory is that size and age are not necessarily defining characteristic in determining an organization’s development stage. They may be clues, but it’s definitely possible to be at a huge (even publicly traded) company that is still, for all intents and purposes, a startup; just like hitting a 10-year anniversary is no guarantee that the organization is a mature one. Just like with people, age and size do not define maturity.

Of course, as someone who identifies as a Change Agent, first and foremost, the great thing about these three (admittedly broad) categories is that there are always new companies being started, and they need to be nurtured and developed and grown. Some fail and some thrive, but there is always a steady stream. And if you are good at what you do, there is always endless opportunity, because the only true constant in life and business really is change.