Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Rethinking Work: How to Choose Your Next Employee

There are only four types of jobs. Too often, people get stuck in the wrong one.

When I was a full-time recruiter, most of my clients were small entrepreneurial companies in the $20-100 million range. Typically we were asked to help them find people who could take them to the next level of growth. We started by figuring out the strengths and weaknesses of their existing management team, and where the company was positioned on the classic corporate life cycle. This led to the development of the four work types described in an earlier post, “There Are Only Four Jobs in the World - Are You in the Right One?” The graphic displays both ideas.

… companies and people grow in opposite directions – companies grow up the curve and people grow down it.

Another outgrowth of this work was the interesting idea that companies and people grow in opposite directions – companies grow up the life cycle curve and people grow down it. This creates opportunity and friction, and defines the company’s actual, vs. desired, culture.
The life cycle curve portrays the growth of a successful organization (or project) as it moves from start-up through rapid growth and on to maturity. People grow in reverse by moving down the curve, 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 people from bigger companies, and people at bigger companies want to work at smaller companies.
While all of the four work types are required in each phase of company growth, the mix needs to shift dramatically to successfully move on 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 companies struggle to grow, why many become stagnant once reaching maturity, and why people get frustrated, because they can’t implement change or are being forced to change. That's one of the reasons why consultants recommend breaking companies into smaller units to reignite growth.
The Four Building Blocks of Work
Thinkers: 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.
Builders: these people take ideas from the Thinker and convert them into reality. Entrepreneurs, inventors, and turn-around executives are typical jobs that emphasize the Builder component. They thrive in rapid change situations, make decisions with incomplete information and can create some level of order out of chaos. They feel strangled in bigger organizations.
Improvers: 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 that need to implement major and minor change despite heavy resistance. They are typically under-appreciated, yet have an enormous impact on a company’s long-term success.
Producers: 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. This work type becomes the foundation people use to build their careers as they take on bigger and more challenging assignments.
With this background, here’s how the interaction of the four work types with the corporate life cycle can be used to make better hiring and career decisions:
Hiring: hiring managers need to figure out the problem they’re trying to solve, including where the job fits on the project or corporate life cycle. Preparing a performance-based job description can help, by first defining the work that needs to be done, rather than the skills used to do the work. For example, someone launching a new product line would probably need to emphasize the Builder work type, while someone upgrading the international accounting system would most likely be the Improver-Producer. (Here’s the full handbook on how to prepare these performance-based job descriptions for all types of jobs.)
Career Planning: Ride the curve down to companies or projects that are 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. If you’re so inclined, you then might want to 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: Regardless of the corporate value statement, culture is defined largely by where the company is positioned on the life cycle filtered by the style of the hiring manager. For each person hired, these two factors determine the real culture, and whether they fit or not. For example, a rapid growth company that hired some 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. Cultural fit is not defined by HR with some lofty statement, but in the field where things happen, and by the people who make them happen.
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.


Lou Adler


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