Over the years I've had a chance to see a number of different organizations in operation – churches, non-profits, clubs, public companies, and private companies. I've found that in all these organizations, four types of people are needed in order for them to thrive.
I made this observation of four types of people about 20 years ago. I honestly don't remember reading this from a business book or hearing it at a seminar so I don't have a source to cite. But since there's "nothing new under the sun" according to Ecclesiastes, I apologize in advance if you're reading this and this list originated with you over 20 years ago.
Some may think that comfortable new buildings, plush surroundings, or artistic furnishings can help an organization thrive. I'm reminded of the IBM "Innovation Station" commercial. I couldn't find it on their site and the best I could do elsewhere is this Italian version. The surroundings of the people are merely surface cosmetics. The people are the soul of an organization, and each one has a different mix of gifts and talents. It is this mix of gifts and talents that I sort into four groups and the people of the organization must draw from their fundamental gifts and talents for an organization to thrive, regardless of the environmental cosmetics – especially if this is your environment.
The first group of folks is the smallest in number. They're the innovators. They can approach a blank whiteboard, pick up a marker and brilliance flows through them onto the board. They're so in touch with markets that they don't just sense the needs felt by the market that need to be filled – they know the needs of the market before the market even feels these needs. The innovators cast the vision for what can be. However, if you ask them to make the vision better, deliver the vision, or maintain it after delivery, more often than not the vision will not be realized because making the vision reality is not a part of their gifts and talents. Making the vision a reality depends on folks from the other groups.
These are some of the folks who approach a blank whiteboard and they pick up a marker, but the board remains white. It isn't within them to come up with new and innovative solutions to market needs. But if there's a new and innovative idea on the board, they'll grab a marker and make it better. Maybe the original idea has a logistical problem that keeps it from being viable. They'll solve that logistical problem. Maybe a proposed process is inefficient – they eliminate the bottlenecks. They perhaps can put together a great project plan and GANTT chart. But if you ask them to deliver the project or maintain it in a production environment, you may see failure and frustration. This is where the next groups come to the rescue.
Hail to the Project Managers here. These are the folks that can take a new idea that's been boiled down into a viable plan, marshal the troops, juggle dependencies, assign resources, balance budgets, tackle key tasks personally, hit deadlines, and declare victory when the idea is a reality. Project Managers also need some deliverers to work for them. These are the folks that gobble up a chunk of work on the project plan, put their nose to the grindstone, complete the task, and then return for more. But after the victory party to celebrate successful delivery, asking them to go to the whiteboard and think of something new or asking them to keep what they delivered up and running may be unproductive.
These are the folks that hate to see things break down. Their greatest joy is to do things over and over to keep production up and running and on pace. They love checklists, routine tests, and a predictable work day. I once worked as an automobile insurance underwriter, which is a fancy way to say that I sat at a desk and processed one application after another all day long, day after day, entering data and rating risks. I lasted about a year. This isn't part of my gifts or talents, and I gained a whole new level of respect for this group of people. Without them, the organization breaks down and ceases to function. And as anyone in hosting knows, keeping systems up and running is a key fundamental of the business. The coolest new features don't matter a bit if there's no electricity in the data center.
Dangers of "Pigeonholing"
An organization needs to know which category their folks are fulfilling in their current roles. But in reality, people often have gifts and talents that lend themselves to more than one of these groups. A smart organization will recognize this and allow people to grow and develop rather than sticking them in one spot forever. For example, I'm about equal parts Refiner and Deliverer, and don't ask me to innovate or maintain – you'll be sorry. I'll do best in a role that requires both refining and delivering. When an organization pigeonholes its people, they'll only keep the people so long. They have a way of leaving to find organizations with more fulfilling opportunities.
I can find all four of these groups here at SoftLayer. We also allow some crossover into the functions of other groups. We've found that a good number of our Deliverers are also good Innovators for example. Consequently, as a company, we've lost a grand total of three employees since our beginning.