The 3 Types of Individuals Every Organization Needs

September 12, 2016

The 3 Types of Individuals Every Organization Needs

Regular readers of our columns will be familiar by now with the concept of Vitality, or the balance of maintaining your day-to-day Current Performance with Future Potential exploration. Maintaining this balance is tricky, and requires different types of talent for these separate pursuits.

In our book, Creating the Vital Organization, Balancing Short-Term Profits with Long-Term Success, we put the individuals necessary to make an organization thrive into three distinct categories: Executors, Explorers, and Boundary Spanners.

Executors are responsible for streamlining the ­day-to-day operations, making sure that everything runs as efficiently and effectively as possible. Executors are critical to an organization’s success because they ensure that the products or services are delivered at top quality at the best price point. Some shirk from the Executor label, erroneously thinking that it’s not creative or challenging, yet Executors can be surgeons, operations executives, top sales people, and others who can exhibit great skill, training, and intelligence in getting things done. Executing takes skill, focus, and precision. This can be front line, but a good portion of even top level jobs are executing on what needs to get done. 

Explorers focus on the future, looking to create or discover the next big product, idea, or service that will help keep the organization relevant and able to adapt to changing marketplace realities. Explorers do not always have viable ideas or approaches, and may not always have something tangible to show for their work. Much of their work and expertise is in the concept—it hasn’t been executed yet.  The nature of this work will often require that Explorers “fail fast” and switch direction when something isn’t working out, yet their work building for the future is critical. The challenge for Explorers is to make sure that any new products or services are both new and useful. Explorers risk getting hung up on sunk costs, and may be reluctant to switch courses when something isn’t working, especially after investing a lot of personal or organizational resources.

Boundary Spanners keep one foot in both these worlds, helping bridge the gap between Explorers and Executors, who often compete for the same, usually limited, resources. Boundary Spanners are able to connect seemingly disparate pieces of information, experience, or data to create novel solutions that work within the paradox between Current Performance and Future Potential. They help take conceptual explorations and make them into tangible work to execute.

The relationship between Executors and Explorers demonstrate the delicate balance of Vitality. They are seemingly in competition, yet both are necessary for the long-term success of the organization. Without Executors, Explorers won’t have the support to fund their Future Potential efforts. Without Explorers, Executors will eventually become stagnant or irrelevant in the marketplace.

Boundary Spanners help achieve the Vitality balance by understanding the importance of both execution and exploration and integrating them. Boundary Spanners tend to be those who can understand what Explorers are doing and where they are pointing, as well as the demands and the realities of Executors, and can find the kernels of creative exploration and help convert those into streamlined execution. Some of the most important Boundary Spanning efforts will take place at various differing levels in the organization, helping to convert Future Potential into Current Performance. Boundary Spanners will often pull in people or ideas from other departments or even external

Note that while we have described Executors, Explorers, and Boundary Spanners as if individuals must fall into only one category; the truth is that most people have tendencies that extend into more than just one type, and that these roles are of a result of the specific demands of an individual’s work responsibilities. Rarely is anyone 100 percent of one type or another. Inevitably, we are asked whether people can learn these traits, or if they are innate. Both is true; you are likely born with certain characteristics and abilities, but you can shape or develop them through education, environmental exposure, and the behaviors that you practice. Recent research suggests that some of the most valuable characteristics of successful people are patience and perseverance.

Ultimately, the key for most organizations is to ensure that there is a healthy mix of Executors, Explorers, and Boundary Spanners. There is often a tendency toward execution, because the organization is already doing it, and likely doing it well. By ensuring that your organization includes individuals tasked with future-oriented exploration and others focused on integrating that exploration with the execution of Current Performance, you are positioning your organization to thrive well into the future.

+ + + + + +

Want to learn more? Join us for a webinar on September 13th as OrgVitality CEO Jeffrey Saltzman and Vice President Dr. Scott Brooks, co-authors of Creating the Vital Organization, discuss The Three Types of People Every Organization Needs.

Want to assess your own organization? Visit for free assessments and personalized report cards.

The Authors: 

Jeffrey Saltzman, CEO, and Scott Brooks, Ph.D., partner and vice president, OrgVitality, are the coauthors of the new book Creating the Vital Organization: Balancing Short-Term Profits with Long-Term Success. To gauge how well your organization manages the Vitality balance, visit the authors’ online assessment center.