Having worked in communications and now the organizational development field for awhile, I’ve seen all types of companies and people. And one clear pattern has emerged. We are all a Xena, a Toby or a Diablo.
Who, what? The best way to spot one is by the energy they give off and how they operate in the world.
Xena the Original. Xenas are all about growth. These originals are authentic, with unique identities and vision. People respond to them emotionally—sometimes with a cult-like passion. They have a little fear but turn that into energy that fuels them. If there is one negative about a Xena, they tend to have more new ideas than staff or time.
Toby the Ho-Hum. Tobys come in a few different varieties but what they have in common is little to no energy. They play it safe and are change adverse. As a result they are late adapters. These ho-hums are great emulators of others, after those companies have proven the path. When I think of a Toby, I think of the human resources director on the television show, The Office.
Diablo the Hot Mess. Diablos only exist in crisis. These hot messes have a fear-based energy—like deer in the headlights, they are paralyzed.
Are they thriving, surviving or dying? Yes. But, unlike the aging process we all know (and love?), the triplets are about reaching maximum potential. Evolution.
You’d think evolution, like age, only goes in one direction, but we’ve found it can reverse like Benjamin Button, age like drama queen Norma Desmond or never get old like Dorian Gray.
What is the Cycle of (De)Evolution? All companies begin as Xenas. These adventurous places are bursting with new ideas, their leaders articulating a compelling vision. But as businesses, organizations (and people) age, they are susceptible to “de-evolution.” Some turn into Tobys — change adverse, fractured or a little too content. One could tread water here forever, except that crisis happens, eventually. Depending on how broken an organization’s internal network has become, a crisis can turn a Toby into a Diablo. One hot mess.
While Tobys rarely evolve into Xenas for a number of reasons, Diablos can and do rise from the ashes and evolve into Xenas. They need time, proper support and the right to re-invent. Crisis gives organizations the latitude to consider their purpose in ways they were never allowed to before.
It came to me in a vision. I first started tracking organizational evolution working in public relations. For every new client, I would ask internal stakeholders a series of questions including, “what is your organization’s vision?” On average, we heard three different types of answers came up. Those from organizations that we would now call Xenas answered the vision question similarly, with identical language and passion. They were emotionally engaged in the company and felt in control of their work. On the other hand, the Tobys were typically scattered about their company’s vision and sometimes seemed to guess. Even answering the question, they lacked energy.
The most telling were the Diablos. Anger or stone silence was the initial response. Then an embarrassed or resentful “I don’t know.” We found staff quickly became disengaged when they did not feel included in a culture. Sometimes actively and destructively so. And coincidentally, their organizations tended to be on the verge of crisis.
The research findings became part of DefCult’s process today—a holistic approach to organizational challenge from three different angles: the team, the company, and the greater culture in which that institution operates. We have found it is impossible to be a Xena, or evolve into one, without creating strategies that consider all three.
What is your current vision and who knows it? It is fair to assume that all companies, organizations and people start out as Xenas. But as time goes on and your goals become milestones, you have to update your vision—for your company and life.
Xenas— companies and people interested in continued growth—evolve their visions more regularly than the others. The Xena vision is not a three-sentence, stuffy paragraph that goes for years, untouched. It is a passionate and regularly updated claim about where your ship is going, related to your company’s purpose for existing.
But that’s just half of it. For one to steer clear of Diablo Land, this living vision, must be actively communicated to your posse—the team and loved ones that support you. Vision is part of a larger communications framework we talk about at DefCult—Definitive Purpose. And through multiple channels, not just in a newsletter. They want and need to know where the ship is headed next so they too can feel in control of their future.
When storms hit, it’s easier to right a ship with all hands on deck, working together.