By Kathleen Hosfeld
An executive I’ll call Adam (not his real name) was frustrated with the company’s inability to get traction on its strategy. A thoughtful leader who’d spent part of his career in a consulting firm, Adam didn’t understand why his direct reports weren’t making more progress. As we interviewed him and his executives, we discovered that their archetypal understanding of the company’s strategy was completely different. The difference had profound implications for almost every aspect of the company’s operations – from planning to marketing to organizational structure and hiring.
Thinking about strategic archetypes was developed into a useful framework by professors Jeffrey Conant, Michael Mokwa, Rajan Varadarjan and Daryl O McKee (Texas A&M, Louisiana and Arizona State Universities). Hosfeld & Associates has used their research with permission in the development of our online strategic assessment instrument, which allows us to type companies and their executives using these four archetypes:
- Prospector – The consummate innovator, able to anticipate and capitalize on trends, design breakthrough new products and services, highly agile and market oriented. Product and service innovators.
- Analyzer – Capable of innovation, but more likely to focus on market penetration for products or services with proven potential. Strategic market developers.
- Defender – A niche or focused company that is highly selective about the products and services it offers. Their strategic advantage in a reputation for quality and effective cost management.
- Reactor – Responds to the competitive movements of other companies. Opportunistic rather than strategic.
Each of these archetypes has its own approach to planning, research, products and service selection or innovation, promotion, pricing and organizational structure.
Like an organizational Meyers-Briggs, an archetype assessment gives executives an accessible vocabulary to identify strategic disconnects between the C Suite and the rest of the organization, and even within the executive team. Our client Adam consistently scored as an Analyzer and all of his direct reports as either Defenders or Reactors. This helped Adam understand why he felt misunderstood, and sometimes lonely. It also gave him a means by which to articulate the specific areas where he needed to bring the organization into alignment around his vision.
The most important learning for Adam’s organization was that the Reactor type isn’t really a strategic alternative at all. It’s the archetype of no clear strategy. When too many people score in this category, it’s a sign that either there is no clear alignment around a strategy or that no one as yet understands the strategy. It’s a wake-up call for making conscious choices about which archetype best suits the assets and resources of the organization.
For many, a strategy is a series of financial goals the company must achieve. Archetypal language gives companies a more streamlined way to talk about how to start rowing together in the same direction towards those goals.