Do you have the ability and mandate to disrupt in your current role?

Do you have the delegation of authority to make a change in your organization?

Or do you lack the capability to do it?

Do you wonder if you fit in your organization in its current state & size?

Are you trying to hire a candidate and not sure what type of candidate you need for your current growth stage?

The answer

In the 17 organizations, I have worked in over my career across different industries, I have found a trend - there are 3 types of operators, and these questions are answered by understanding where you sit.

Depending on the type of operator you are, this changes the way the game is played, how a role is viewed, and the outcomes you impact.

These should also impact hiring and recruiting decisions.

In the below section, the hiring manager matrix I go into what I use.

Purpose of Article

There are 3 key purposes behind this

  • As a hiring manager, this helps understand what you need in the role and how you should hire
  • As a recruiter, this helps understand your candidate profile better so that you can position your candidate accordingly
  • As a candidate, this helps understand if you fit or not into a current role or perspective role

This article shares a split view between an IC/ Candidate and a Lead/Hiring Manager.

It goes into various sections based on those 2 views.

IC vs Lead View

IC view:
It's important to understand where you fit and ask about the authority and mandate during a job search process or while in your role.

You may be hired in a role that typically helps organizations innovate but does not have the mandate and authority to do so.

In this case, you are destined to fail and not set up for success.

Or in the interview process, you may not get the job because of the optics your profile reads as and the requirements of the role.

So before you charge ahead in your role in an organization, especially a new one, you need to figure out if a role and the organization are right for you.

Lead view:
It's important to understand the 3 types prior to hiring as it impacts tenure, goals of a role, and outcomes expected from a candidate.

You may hire a candidate in a role that doesn't require status quo disruption and get just that & end up frustrated.

Or you may need a disruptor and hire a bum on the seat leading to zero-sum change.

When you are faced with 2 candidates where one is a disruptor and the other is just an ideal bum on the seat types, decide carefully which one would you pick.

From my experience as a product leader, it depends on the organization you are in and what you need in the role, sometimes as a manager, you have to make a stable hire and sometimes you need a disruptor.

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3 Main Types of Operators

1. The disruptor

This individual is hired to shake the tree and impact outcomes. Their background is typically in transformation, change, and business turnaround.

They typically hit the ground running and are quick to deliver outcomes.

The methods they use can be nuclear but challenge the status quo just enough to impact change.

Hiring Manager Tip
This person likes shiny new things and problems.

They will get bored and move on once problems are exhausted.

So be sure to hire them when there is an appetite or a catalyst for Change!! Beware though, they may move on if you are unable to keep them engaged.

2. The bum on the seat

This individual is hired to sit around and just do a specific range of tasks and produce outputs.

They almost never have the capability or motivation to innovate and lack the mandate in roles to make any change.

These folk are generally very stable in the long run but lack the efficiency that comes with smooth operators when an organization needs change.

I find that larger organizations are overburdened with these types of roles with almost 80-90% of the folks being bums on the seat.

This arguably kills innovation and causes mass resistance to change killing transformation efforts.

ICs - If you are just there to pay the bills, then this is your type of role. If not, then beware of folk that are stuck in this state as they might be your most significant challenges.
Hiring Managers - If you are stuck with a team that is unable to innovate and stagnated growth, then this is the type of hire you want to avoid. However, if you want someone just in to process - for instance lots of support tasks, this is your ideal hire.

3. The smooth operator

A smooth operator is a "master politician & tactical operator".

They are able to balance disruption to drive outcomes while delivering on outputs. They are diplomatic about the status quo and challenge it accordingly.

This is a hard-to-come-across candidate often called the Unicorn.

I have found, this is often a disruptor who has decided to "slow down in life" or change the way they operate because of feedback/coaching they have received.

They hold their cards close to their chest, make strategic decisions, build relationships, and utilize political capital sparingly.

Individual Contributor Tip
I recommend anyone that wants to work in technology and product to achieve this type of state. It takes time, patience, and effort.

Start with being mindful of the optics and how you are perceived. Build trust and confidence before shaking the tree.

Team Topology Design - Recommended Constitution

This section goes into ideal states for each of these types of candidates in an organization based on size and stage.

Organization Maturity & Scale

Organizational maturity and size make a big difference in addressing your need.
If you do not have the organization's product maturity you might require a disruptor who can bring that in.

If you are however in a larger-scale organization with a higher level of maturity and need someone to execute processes then a bum on a seat might be the right approach.

Typical Constitution - size: disruption

In larger organizations/ enterprises, I find that having at least 30% of disruptors in the organization gears it to creating innovation and driving growth.

However, often only 1-5% exist, leaving a massive gap!

In startups, the ideal candidate profile is definitely 60% disruptors.

ICs - This is important to understand as you may find yourself amongst people who are disruptive but can be seen as passive-aggressive in nature or come across as "Toxic" A-holes or hyper-energetic.

If you are a disruptor you also may come across as a A-hole.

Startups may not be suitable for certain folk and they may be left with a sour experience. However, if you are a disruptor then this is your space!

Scaleups / Growth organizations should hire 50% smooth operators as a minimum.

This ensures they have the necessary longevity in tenure and lower staff turnover, required to manage the growing need to scale up.

For instance, knowledge retention and process efficiency help onboard new team members and have smoother operations delivering a great customer experience while maintaining a level of innovation and change.

Hiring Manager Decision Matrix

This matrix is something I use to classify candidates and then make decisions based on that and the need required.

It looks at need, impact, readiness, retention, and nature.

IC's - This is how your profile might read to a hiring manager, be mindful of how you are selling yourself because that sets expectations. It's ok to be either of the 3. Just figure out how you are pitching yourself.
hiring manager decision matrix

Stuck in the wrong role, what do I do?

So if you have come this far into the article and think you are a disruptor while being stuck in the role of a bum on the seat or vice versa, then here is my advice.

  • Have a conversation with your line manager about the expectations of your role.
  • Maybe share this article and spark a conversation within your team/organization about the type of roles you have.
  • Share your aspirations with your line manager about where you want to be.
  • Get them to work on a plan to get there.
  • If that doesn't work, look for the next role and organization where this makes sense.
  • Keep this in the back of your mind when you prepare your resume and LinkedIn profile. (Be sure to check out the LinkedIn Profile Guide)

Want to become a smooth operator?

To become a smooth operator, there are a range of skills ranging from soft to technical that you have to build out.

Starting with how to say no. Check out my guide on how to say no here.

Here are additional guides that I have written that may help you in this journey.

Agile Roadmaps, no such thing but presentation Matters.
Half the job of managing expectations within an “Agile delivery cycle” is the presentation of the plans! The other half is actually executing it. Successful product delivery highly depends on building trust and confidence with our stakeholders. In the previous guide, we explored the purpose & typ…
Prioritization, the product managers real job!
Are you a product manager and have a stale backlog with items from 6 months or more, probably even 5 years ? Potentially heaps of untouched tech debt too!?! 🤕 Well, that says you have a few very common problems. Here is the good news, there are easy ways to solve this
Vision & Mission ?! - Bah! They are both just fluff! - A guide on alignment, direction and product evangelism.
Once when I asked a Product Manager about their product vision & mission, they said it was all fluff and didn’t really do anything! I went on to explain that it drives alignment which impacts value creation and is a critical piece of influencing and driving decisions. More importantly, it’s key
Product Discovery – A Product Managers Guide on Discovery Processes in Product Development - Part 2
In the second part of this guide, we will explore addressing the viability of a product idea by looking at costs, revenue models, and feature strategy.
Product Discovery – A Product Managers Guide on Discovery Processes in Product Development - Part 1
The main purpose of this complex process is for teams to continuously find value propositions in the product to build out problem solution fit followed by product market fit followed by business model fit.

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