The general train of thought is that strong individual performers will make great managers.
The strong individual contributor knows how to make things happen within the company, so it seems natural that they could mentor and lead others to be like them, creating a whole team of strong contributors. What a genius move to promote them to management.
However, what tends to happen is, once this strong contributor moves into a management role, he or she is stifled with employee issues, office politics, report generation, budget management and a whole host of other time consuming responsibilities that preclude any visionary endeavors.
Part of the problem is the tradition of rewarding individual contributors with a management path. The hopes that these individuals could replicate their own value within others rarely materialize. Furthermore, because business traditions dictate that management controls the power, an individual who is to be made powerful and affect larger changes throughout the organization must possess the leadership skills necessary to manage a large internal fiefdom, garner the respect and fear of others who may challenge them. The truth is, some people are simply incredible individual contributors who should be rewarded as such
It’s time for a new way of thinking. Most significant contributors are successful because they are self-motivated. That doesn’t necessarily mean they want to spend their time motivating others. It’s time to promote and empower individual contributors so they can achieve the status and authority of senior management even if no single individual reports to them.
There are plenty of average performers who can aptly manage others, motivate them to produce, crank out management reports, balance budgets and so forth. Is that what top performers should be doing?
Instead of assigning these individuals additional people, assign them responsibilities and offer them the resources they need. Some may not want to use any internal resources, preferring to do the majority of work themselves and utilizing outside resources for the rest. Let them.
When it comes to resources, play to the company’s strengths. If the company is great at manufacturing but not so good at product development, let the stellar contributor come up with other ways to utilize manufacturing processes and market test these ideas utilizing outside resources. If the pilot products go over well, you can then internalize them.
If the company is great at sales but not so great at marketing, allow the contributor to utilize outside marketing firms, research firms, market testing firms, prototype developers, and others who specialize in areas that represent your weaknesses.
CASE IN POINT
A stellar contributor was working at an old school Forms and Labels company that produced products in large quantities for customers. Profit margins were slim as the company didn’t provide a lot of value beyond a “quality” product.
The contributor read where various insurance companies were having to pay out multi-million dollar claims because they weren’t going far enough to prove that the individual who signed up for an insurance policy was the same individual who provided a bodily fluid sample to a laboratory representative.
The contributor also had read online about inkless fingerprinting and how it was being used by different industries to thwart fraud attempts. He put two and two together. Next, he created a business alliance with a company who produced the inkless fingerprinting chemicals. He then got permission to use an outside R&D group to test and age the chemicals on various label substrates. The product idea he was pursuing was to create a form/label combination that would be used by both the insurance company and clinical laboratory. Upon signing up for an insurance product the customer would be required to place a fingerprint on the application. Also, when providing a bodily sample to the clinical lab employee the customer would be asked to provide that same fingerprint on the clinical lab form. This created two corroborating pieces of evidence that could be used in a trial. Realizing this niche-specific application contained a significant amount of perceived value, the contributor worked with an outside patent attorney to patent the product and secure intellectual property rights for the company. Because the contributor understood the production capabilities of the company, when it came time, it was very easy for the manufacturing team to create this product and customize it for laboratory and insurance companies.
The best individual contributors are usually visionaries who actively look for new markets, new markets, new business partnerships, new processes, cost cutting opportunities and patent ideas. These are the employees who really move the company forward. Don’t stifle them with bureaucracy, business traditions and other people’s problems.
Tony Streeter is Chief Marketing Officer, SVP at Y&L Consulting, Inc. in San Antonio. Tony has led new product development, E-commerce marketing and integrated platform marketing initiatives for major corporations such as Harland Clarke, Deluxe Corporation and RR Donnelley. Y&L Consulting is a comprehensive IT services & solutions company specializing in Application Development, Information Management/BI and IT Help Desk Services.
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