Pioneers, settlers and town planners

    One of the most difficult parts of the hiring process is the level of seniority. A chief sales officer at a 10-person company does very different things from one at a 10,000-person company.

    So how do you know what seniority you need?

    We use Simon Wardley's 'pioneer, settler, town planner' model to frame a company's needs.



    Companies start with pioneers

    There is a reason why few people succeed as entrepreneurs. It requires a certain level of comfort in chaos, unwavering faith and a very strong sales mentality. Pioneers thrive on a lack of rules and enjoy building stuff out of nothing. They have a high tolerance for risk, constantly experiment and are usually the people that create the initial Big Hairy Audacious goal. They show you wonder but they fail a lot. Half the time the thing doesn't work properly but it doesn't matter because they make future success possible.

    Pioneers create innovation through a mix of commodity products and unique ideas. This could be taking a product and deploying it into a new market, combining two products together, or something totally new

    Pioneers excel at getting to the MVP, starting from the blank page and writing the first draft. This means that the product is usually far away from its potential but has enough performance to prove the concept that it's worth investing more capital. You can incentivise internal pioneers on the creation of new things that are eventually turned into new products & services by use of an internal royalty.


    You need settlers once you've found your initial product market fit

    Robust processes don’t exist yet but the foundations are there. It could be that the founders tried ten sales approaches and finally found one that worked. 

    The next goal is to scale that successful approach, which means taking the data from the chaos-loving pioneers and creating the beginnings of a repeatable process so that someone with more discipline and less risk tolerance can expand on the early wins.

    Once a pattern or activity is identified, the job of the settlers is to turn it into some sort of product or process. Using Wardley’s metaphor, they steal from pioneers and productise it (make it manufacturable, documented, profitable, stable etc).

    This is where the beginning of process comes along.  Some processes are important but too many processes are destructive.

    According to a 2014 study in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience, uncertainty disrupts many of the habitual and automatic mental processes that govern routine action. This disruption creates conflict in the brain, and this conflict can lead to a state of both hyper-vigilance and outsized emotional reactivity to negative experiences or information. In other words, uncertainty acts like rocket fuel for worry; it causes people to see threats everywhere they look, and at the same time it makes them more likely to react emotionally in response to those threats.

    This is a delicate balancing act. If you don’t have enough processes, you won’t be able to scale your business.  On the other hand, if you create too many processes, you'll stunt your company’s growth and create increased churn from the pioneers who are the R&D centre of your business.

    As your business gets even bigger, you will begin to require Town Planners.

    These are the MBA/consulting types, the career C-level executives who can scale processes but not ideas.

    They can take a company with processes and scale those processes. For example, you have a functioning 10-person sales team. They use a sales CRM, implement playbooks and have a strong culture with sales artefacts such as horn-tooting when a big client is signed. The Town Planner will take these 10 people and scale them to 100 people in the quickest time possible.

    There will be more politics in a company of this size and town planners can be thought of as a governmental or political organisation.

    By creating this virtuous cycle which is incentivised so that each group steals the work of the former - town planners stealing from settlers who steal from pioneers who build on the work of town planners - you can accelerate innovation, customer focus and efficiency all at the same time and remove the threat of inertia to change.


    Common mistakes

    • You hire a Town Planner before you need one. This is usually a heavy-hitting Chief Revenue Officer who has been in your industry for 20 years, has a huge network and oozes self-confidence. The issue here is that they are far removed from the coal face and their first course of action will be to hire another 10 people (settlers) to create the processes and carry out the strategy
    • You are too late to hire a town planner - All your salespeople are stuck in the coal face, speaking to clients all the time and no one (apart from you really looks at the big picture)
    • Nothing is as ever clearly defined. People can be good at more than one thing, they can be good at all things, and their skill sets may change as they learn on the job.