Every organization tends to be divided into what we normally call the corporate ladder. People say ladder but the form is actually a pyramid. You use the ladder to climb the pyramid. This pyramid is, like all pyramids, bulky at the bottom and pointy at the top having only one top stone (the CEO). But, are we selecting and treating the people that form this pyramid as we should? The answer is normally no.
At the present moment the hiring process in most of the companies does not rely on how the company is going to perform during difficult times or in the long term, but how to deal with a short term growth. This is due to a sense of infinite growth that doesn't focus on long term or natural growth, but on investor satisfaction and hypes. As a result, the workflow is speeding up without a clear direction and the hiring process is trying to pick the right ones to fill the gaps rather than to really think about the long term.
Why is healthy growth important? Take for example the oak and the pine. Both are trees and both can grow over 45m tall. To grow this big the pine takes 20 years while the oak needs more than 200 years. While nowadays investors would like to plant pine to get results as soon as possible, there are no Whiskeys maturing in “pine casks” nor exclusive Rolls-Royce interior decorated with pine. True companies, with a strong sense of permanence in time, want to grow just like oaks and avoid as much as possible the pine.
One very famous organization that is based on this idea, regardless of the country, is the army. The army does not seek fast growth or short term. Even in the long periods of countries' instabilities and wars the army did not seek an irregular growing capacity, not because they couldn't but because it would be more destructive than constructive. Of course many wars have demanded people rush to the trenches, but this fast growth has shown the bloodiest and most destructive periods. And it is precisely the internal division of the past armies that gives us a really good example of how to organize and structure a company for the present “guerrilla” times. This structure should focus on the following 4 groups: Mercenaries, cadets, high rank, and spies and sappers.
The mercenaries, known for their ferocity but not for their loyalty, will go behind the money regardless of the work they do. These people are the perfect choice when you need help with the extra workload, to meet deadlines and to achieve record levels. They should be hired fast, recruited by their past achievements instead of their studies or titles. They will ask for a big amount of money according to the mission they have to achieve, and they will be loyal only for the mission and as long as the money is there. There is no point in haggling salary, they work for the money so if they get less money, the mission will for sure suffer.
The mercenaries will be the ultimate reason why your goals are achieved but as I already said, they are not loyal, they will go with the best bidder. Therefore your mercenaries should always stay in the dark, neverseen and nevershown. If by any chance a customer, or other company gets to know these mercenaries, they will rely on them before relying on you. This means that if a customer finds out who is actually dealing with the task, the customer will go where the mercenary goes or even hire him/her to avoid intermediaries. As well, if a rival company finds out about the mercenaries, they will try to entice them away so that they could very easily grant a well experienced group of people and very likely improve the project they are working on. Take for example the case some years ago of the Chinese car maker NIO. A group of BMW workers had interest in developing electric cars, but BMW wanted to stick with ICE and Plug-in Hybrids. Some Chinese investors found this out and they hired them to form a new company that would only do electric cars. For these workers the motivation was the goal, and they were mercenaries for the cause.
The second group is the cadets. You want them not because what they do but what they have. Normally they are recent graduates or about to graduate people that are eager to find their first opportunity. You want to have them as part of your portfolio to go around to clients, customers and investors saying sentences like “we hire people from the best universities”. You can haggle with them, because normally they seek long term growing opportunities that justify their time at university. The more you haggle, the more you have to spend on training and teaching, and the better you have to treat them. Normally they believe in the corporate ladder and they want to climb it. You have to train and teach them so well that they could go anywhere, but at the same time you should treat them so well that they wouldn’t want to leave. It is important to keep this in mind, as many managers get upset when a cadet changes sides. You should always keep in mind the three Ts: Train, Teach and Treat, if one of the three fails you won't have a long term high rank.
Why are the mercenaries not cadets? Because mercenaries are trained people, who may or may not have the university title you want, but will do the work. They don't care about corporate ladders or ranks, they work for money or for a specific goal. On the other hand cadets want to grow within the company, their only goal is to climb the ladder and as long as the three Ts are being respected they will continue their progression to become high rank officials. How do they prove that they are ready to become high rank? By being the head of a project. Just like in the army, the only way to achieve a high rank is by showing your command skills.
High rank officials are the people with a combination of experience and knowledge. At some point companies may have to hire some of them as they lack cadets. This may happen because they are growing bigger than expected, because they have encountered some kind of problem that has reduced the amount of high rank officials on board, or because they are opening a new work line with no cadet trained for it. They will be part of your portfolio image since day one and will bring new air into the company. They should be heard, as they bring ideas, systems and ways of working from the outside that will be helpful in the short term. You should not haggle the salary as they have already played the cadet phase.
The high rank officials are the ones ready to take care of the big projects and departments of the company, they will be the next CFO, COO, CDO (not the CEO) and directors of the company. They will command the people to get the best out of them and they have full responsibility of having the clients and investors happy.
The last group are the spies and sappers. They are a different group by themselves. They are not mercenaries as they don’t do anything for money. They are not cadets as they don't find the corporate ladder attractive. They won’t be high ranks as their work is way beyond customers and investors. These are the people who know everything about the other side. They are the ones who always keep themselves updated with every single step the world is taking and what your opponents are doing. They are the ones ready to create a new work line in record time and their value is precisely that: their adaptation speed.
They have a sensibility and at the same time are cold-blooded towards work that will be able to alert of any problem inside or outside the organization that will save future pain . At the same time, they are able to visualize the future and recognize long term business ideas that no other person will see. They may not be project leaders, but they are goal leaders.
An example of the existence, or lack of existence for this instance, is the Music record industry. They did have the best managers and high ranks, but they didn't have spies and sappers to see that the music was going to be a streaming service in less that 25 years after the presentation of the CD. They were too busy focusing on the present growth to see that the industry was about to change in a way that they would no longer be needed.
The spies and sappers are part of a group that will not say what most of the people want to hear, but they have a reason to talk. They will have no problem changing sides as their value is their capability, so it is better to not haggle as they may run if a new opportunity with a better focus goal company appears. The CEO of the company should come from this group, being a successful and respected spy, as they will be the ones who care about the goal the most, the reason to exist and the way of growing into the future market.
These are the four working groups and the way they will handle your growth and surviving chances into the future. The army has been using these groups (among many others) for centuries now, but for most of the companies only these four groups will be really crucial to survive. You should get to know what is the status of every employee you have at the moment and find out what group they occupy (or want to occupy).