The 9 Corporate Personality Types And How to Inspire Them to Innovate

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This is a repost of Steve Faktor’s original viral article on Forbes.

In a way, innovation is like sex: those talking about it most are probably doing it the least. Before founding IdeaFaktory, I’ve had the privilege (and collateral hair loss) of innovating at top Fortune 100 firms, where ‘talk’ was unavoidable. So I decided to codify my lessons as The 4C’s of InnovationTM. These are: context, creativity, capabilities, and most importantly, culture.  Any innovation worth doing demands cultural change. But who will lead that change? And who will reject it? Why does the same ra-ra event move some employees to tears, but lands like the Hindenburg with others? No need to hire an army of psychologists to electroshock your workforce for answers. Unlike fluffier lists of people to hire, I’ve profiled the nine kinds of people in your company now  who will make or break any innovation or change initiative.  (For more on culture change, also check out my new podcast with this week’s guest Stan Slap.)

9 Corporate Personality Types

A few years ago, I had a TV show idea based on the quirky characters I met while leading corporate innovation.  (Think Alice in Wonderland with Armani suits and backstabbing.) As I discussed my characters with others, I discovered that some were universal “types”.  So I developed these nine personas to 1) have a little fun and 2) help me manage the culture component of my innovation projects.



Slide1Almost every new recruit (and many new hires) start out bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They are fresh hard drives ready to be filled with data. You can get them to do almost anything. They walk into meetings armed with fresh slides, broad smiles, and a professionalism they’ve practiced in interviews, in school, and in the mirror. They can gleefully present for hours to anyone in the company. They can deliver news about layoffs, quotas or dire forecasts without a hint of irony or empathy. They are eager to please and crave learning, mentorship and new opportunities.



Slide2Believer is a broad category that continues to branch. Generally, believers carry the torch for the brand and rally others. They’ll proudly wear company- branded polo’s and have cubes/ offices adorned with trophies, knickknacks, and photos of company picnics. They’ll talk your ear off about new specs on the Widgetizer 5000.



Slide3Alphas are the Delta Force of the Believers. They’ll eventually run business units and ultimately, the company. Alphas love crushing competition and playing the corporate game. Their identity, self-worth and status are linked to their corporate conquests. They value tutelage and access to people they respect. Top Alphas can even create reality distortion fields where their truth becomes the truth. That can be intoxicating to employees and others. But they can also be abrupt, egotistical, or have a “you’re either with me or you’re the janitor” attitude. Look elsewhere for second chances or a shoulder to cry on.



Slide4Survivors make it to senior positions, but don’t quite have the horsepower of Alphas or Naturals. They know how to work the system. Survivors don’t like taking risks and don’t want to change the world, unless it’s a sure thing. Some are master manipulators. Others miraculously survive every reorg. A few get inexplicable promotions after their last assignment flops. Their powers come from loyalty to Alphas, shared history, or knowing where the bodies are buried. Some get moved sideways forever – sometimes into good jobs that would be better served by others. If they ever leave, you’d get depressed knowing the size of their severance package.


Slide5Soldiers are solid team players. They’re not as well-rounded as Naturals or Alphas and seek out clarity. They avoid ambiguity (e.g. brainstorming) like it’s a flaming rag at an Exxon station. They can be great at one thing like project management, analysis, process improvement or people development. When in the right roles, they shine, but there’s often a ceiling to their ascent. If they are content, they’re loyal, stay late, and deliver results. They’ll also rally others around the company’s mission. They lack the networking prowess of Survivors and Naturals and rarely inspire the strong loyalty and followership of Alphas.



Slide6Pragmatists are the ying to the Believer’s yang. Many are just as capable or talented, but they’re generally more skeptical, analytical, and idealistic. Think BBC vs. FOX News. Their logic and pragmatic wiring makes them less susceptible to reality distortion fields or unquestioned followership. In fact, they will have questions…and perform best when the answers are authentic, not flag-waving. Because of that need for purpose, they can be tougher to manage – or perceived that way.



Slide7Naturals are ambitious and talented, but demand more balance in their life. They can be as effective as Alphas, but tend to be more humble and jocular. They deliver results and earn genuine loyalty and respect from peers and subordinates. Naturals are born networkers and build reciprocal relationships. They respond best when the mission aligns with their values and feels right. They get demotivated when success measures are unclear or when rules or rewards seem unfair. They are much more intuitive and better at developing talent than Alphas. They excel when working with people they like. They prefer managing other Naturals, but work well with Soldiers and Heretics. They don’t mesh well with Survivors.


Slide8Heretics are a wildcard. Some are visionary idealists and innovators who can change the company or the world. Others just don’t like rules and are difficult to work with. Heretics have four general paths: 1) Get beaten down by the system 2) Succeed at bringing change and fixing a broken system 3) Leave and become Richard Branson 4) Escape it all to work in a call center in Peoria. Visionary Heretics can be more intoxicating and inspirational than any Alpha. Though they aren’t great people leaders, their commitment and vision will get the best from subordinates – as long as they maintain momentum and stay motivated. Heretics’ need help translating their best efforts into the company’s language so others can codify and build on their successes.


Slide9Toilers represent a large portion of any corporate population. They typically view work as necessary to get to what matters most to them outside of work, like family, travel or building BattleBots. Toilers may not be looking to conquer the corporate world, but they are essential to the success of any company. Of course, performance can range from incredibly efficient to frustrating and sluggish.



Listen to Steve Discuss This Article on NPR Radio

Mutts and Pure-breeds

Much like Myers-Briggs, people rarely change their personalities. You won’t find any Toilers running Cisco or even the local KFC. You will however, find many of these types in the wrong roles. That will make people underperform or mentally “check out”. The more driven ones leave, while others might surrender to a life of toil.  On rare occasions Toilers may find a project that aligns with their personal interests that motivates them to act like Naturals, but it rarely lasts.

When in the wrong job or under a bad boss, HR will often mistake one type for another…if they even attempt the diagnosis.  Many companies have rigid, pyramid structures that emphasize identical paths that might force Soldiers to fail outside their comfort zones. Or, it might trap Alphas or Naturals under Soldiers or Survivors, who have no clue (or interest) on how to use their talents.

Secret Sauce: Inspiring the 9 Personas to Change

So how do you get these disparate personalities to innovate or change? The simple answer is psychology – and emotional engagement.

On my latest podcast (subscribe here), guest Stan Slap confirmed my findings. (Slap is a corporate culture guru and fellow speaker at the BusinessNext conference.)  According to Slap, “Most companies misperceive intellectual engagement for emotional engagement. It’s the emotional engagement that’s critical.” And when it comes to achieving change, Slap agrees, “If you want the culture to buy it, you have to know how to sell it to them.”

So let’s talk about the sales process. Before driving change, managers and HR professionals must understand what makes each of the 9 Corporate Personalities tick. I put these into into several categories:

  • Purpose – what you need to do and why you need to do it in the first place
  • Risk-Taking – varying levels of comfort with change and career risk
  • Values – for some, representing personal and/or corporate values is key
  • Rewards and recognition – though there are some overlaps, some personality types have very different values when it comes to rewards
  • Work environment – who you work with and physical space
  • Organizational Support – things the company can do to help each type be more effective
  • Professional development – those looking to advance value and seek out these opportunities

Click here to see a detailed infographic with specific examples of each category and how they map to each of the 9 Types.

In upcoming articles, I’ll get more prescriptive about how to structure responsibilities and create  innovation and change programs to capitalize on each person’s best qualities…and bury the awful ones! It won’t be easy, but we’ll have some fun along the way. You bring the beer, I’ll bring the cheesecake.

Steve Faktor is founder of IdeaFaktory innovation incubator, author of Econovation and former VP & head of the American Express Chairman’s Innovation Fund. Follow him on TwitterFacebookGoogle+ & email.  

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Provocative predictions & prescriptions on where innovation, economics & culture will take us. Fearless. Funny.