Vulnerabilities and Culture in Evolutionary vs. Intentional Organizations

Because the opportunistic leader is so wide open, he is much more vulnerable to distraction. The laser-like focus of the intentional leader can mean his vulnerability is to missing good opportunities because he’s got his head down.

As always, moving toward the middle can bring benefit for both kinds of organizations.

For opportunistic/evolutionary businesses, start by asking your team how clear your actions, communications and vision are to them. Do they have a sense of focus? What is their fundamental buy-in to your sort of evolutionary/opportunistic approach?

Another consequence of this kind of business is that there’s a lot happening, and the leader wants to take on more. This can create a very high risk of burnout. They’re not paying attention to their human capital capacity for change.

For intentional businesses, the risk is that the organization can become very rigid, very myopic, and then, before you know it, the process takes over and a kind of automated energy pervades the culture.

Now the people are serving the process. Creativity is stifled.

Awareness of these risks and tendencies means that you can take steps to bring balance to how you carry out your mission, whichever side of the spectrum you happen to be on.

One thing that is really interesting and present in both kinds of companies is a kind of Darwinian correction as to the kind of people you have on every level of the organization.

People who do best in an opportunistic/evolutionary creative culture but find themselves in a highly-focused intentional organization will eventually be rejected. They will leave, and, over time, you are left with a team of people who are outstanding at waiting for the next set of directions but don’t have a proactive or creative bone in their bodies. If (when) momentum drags in the business, there’s nobody there to reawaken it.

Then we have the opportunistic/evolutionary groups. The vague, all-over-the-map style can easily burn people out because they can’t survive the pace. Who is left? The people who are go-go-go, rush-rush-rush, who have the intensity to survive in that kind of environment. Then you’ve got a culture that will literally eat people up.

Sometimes we call it the bunker mentality. I was talking to a client who came from a Web startup in which the founder would routinely scream and yell and fire people right in front of everyone.

The people who survive that will eventually learn how to keep their heads down. They will have their own sort of special code, and they’ll go down into their bunkers. They still talk to each other and manage to get things done, but they’re always waiting for the latest upset to blow over.

You can imagine the impact of that in the business, in the culture.

This happens a fair amount in the telecommunications business. If you look at telecom, you have the explosion and conversions of technology. You have the deregulation. You have the rules of the game changing all the time. People are always trying to figure out another way.

The companies get bought and sold and bought and sold. When that happens, there is usually a group of people — the CEO and the top people — who get their packages. When the new owner comes in, there’s a package to get rid of other people. So they’re gone.

Then there’s a package for the people they want to stay. But below that are the people who have been sitting at desks working on the sales force or working in operations, and they’ve been there for five, seven, eight years. They just get numb.

If they’re in an economic cycle where there are not a lot of jobs, they just suck it up. So numbness can abound, and it isn’t great for productivity. It isn’t great for new ideas, and nobody really likes going to work if they have to get numb in order to collect their checks.

Intensity and dog eat dog vs. numb people in a bunker. You’re probably not shooting for either. The good news is that awareness of where your motivations come from as a leader and for your business can help guide you toward balance.