Anyone that knows me knows that I love science fiction and fantasy books and movies. In the 70’s I remember being in 2nd grade and watching the cartoon of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I instantly devoured the book and read all of The Lord of the Rings and Silmarillion by the 4th grade. I was hooked. I devoured fantasy books. I remember my grandmother coming to visit and taking me to the local Waldenbooks bookstore wanting to buy me a book. I had read every one of them in the fantasy section. I remain a fan. For those of you on video conference calls with me, you can see a medieval sword hanging up behind me and my bookshelves filled with Tolkien books as well as medieval history books.
Loving fantasy books at a young age, I also started playing Dungeons and Dragons. I loved role-playing. To create a character, assign them a personality and capabilities, equip them, and then go on adventures with them to conquer evil. My young mind was continuously inventing new characters and other worlds. I loved it.
One of the things you have to do when creating a character is to give them an alignment. Your character’s alignment defines their moral, ethical, and personal attitudes framework. It is central to developing your character’s identity and personality type. In general, good characters are the protectors of life and evil characters destroy life. Neutral characters are in the middle. But it is more than just good versus evil, it is how you go about accomplishing good or evil. Lawful characters tell the truth and respect authority and structures, whether good or evil. Chaotic characters are more utilitarian and will break rules and go against structures to accomplish what they desire, whether good or evil. There are nine character types across this spectrum, I will adapt those below . . .
This past year given all the focus on ESG, corporate values, ethics, integrity, human rights, and more, has caused me regularly to ponder the alignment of organizations. Is that organization a Lawful Good organization or a Chaotic Good organization? Are they neutral or evil?
Your alignment is more than something on paper, it is more than your code of conduct. Your organization’s alignment is determined by taking a close critical look at the overall actions and behavior of the organization. In a role-playing game, I can state my character’s alignment is good, but if my actions during the game are not good then my real alignment is something else. The same is true for an organization, your alignment is determined by the overall behavior and culture of your organization. Policies, such as a code of conduct, can be fiction or can be a tool to achieving a stronger culture and reality of the integrity and values of the organization.
A lawful organization will have policies and will work to ensure those policies are followed and adhered to (whether they are good or evil). A chaotic organization may or may not have policies, but if it does it really does not focus on enforcing policies as it does not matter if their overall goals, good or evil, are achieved.
Using the nine alignments adapted from Dungeons and Dragons to a corporate profile and not a personal one, I ask you what is your organization’s alignment?
Is your organization . . .
- Lawful Good. This is the crusader organization. The organization that acts within the boundaries of laws and aims to be a good corporate citizen giving back to the community and making the world a better place. This organization opposes evil and works relentlessly for good. This is an honorable and humane organization. A benevolent organization.
- Lawful Neutral. This is the organization that acts within laws, traditions, and codes and finds order and organization critical, but does so in a way without being a zealot. This is an honorable and realistic organization.
- Lawful Evil. This is the dominator of organizations. This organization loves order, structures of accountability, and laws but aggressively pursues its own cause within order and structure without thinking of the good of others. It is an organization acting with honor in self-interest. This is the honorable and determined organization, honor being operating within law and order.
- Neutral Good. This is a benefactor organization. The organization generally stays within the boundaries of laws and regulations but does not feel strictly beholden to them. It works for good without bias for or against order and structures of authority. This is a practical and humane organization.
- Neutral. This is the middle of everything, the undecided organization that will allow circumstances to bend it towards lawful or chaotic choices at different times, or good and evil choices at different times. It does not feel strongly one way or another. This is a practical and realistic organization.
- Neutral Evil. This is the organization that does whatever it can get away with. If it means breaking a rule, law, value . . . then it will if the reward outways the risk. This organization does not love conflict, so avoids sticky situations. It is evil as it pursues its endeavors without honor and will break rules but do so sneakily and cover things up. This is a practical and determined organization.
- Chaotic Good. This is the rebel with a cause organization. The organization is kind and benevolent but willing to break laws and order to achieve them. Sort of the libertarian organization that prefers to follow its own moral compass, and may not agree with the society around them. This organization has a good heart and a free spirit in its actions. This is an independent and humane organization.
- Chaotic Neutral. This is very much the free-spirited organization. This organization values its own liberty and choices and does not actively strive to work for or against the liberty of others. They do not intentionally disrupt others and are not motivated by good or evil. This is an independent and realistic organization.
- Chaotic Evil. This is the organization that actively seeks to destroy and bring others down. It has no motivation by law or order, none at all. It is motivated purely by greed, avarice, and desire. It does not try to even pretend to work within the boundaries of society and laws. This is an independent and determined organization. This is a hedonistic organization.
Taking this back to individuals, Superman would be Lawful Good while Darth Vader and Hitler would be Lawful Evil. While the Joker or Charles Manson are examples of Chaotic Evil. Han Solo is an example of a Neutral alignment.
Organizations are complex, so it is hard to nail this down to a specific alignment. But if you had to honestly measure the culture and behavior (not just the policies but actual behavior) of your organization, what would it be? What would you like it to be or believe that it should be?
Organizations are also made up of individuals. Those individuals have their moral and ethical predispositions/alignment. What is your alignment based on your behavior? What would you like it to be? How should understanding concepts like alignment impact how we evaluate and hire employees? After all, it is the employees that make up the organization and its behavior. As an employee, what alignment of an organization do you want to be part of?
I know it is not a perfect framework, but it is an interesting exercise and discussion. While individuals can be mapped across these alignments, is there a truly 100% lawful good or 100% chaotic evil organization?