I visit many organisations and talk to people at all levels. As we all know there has been a clear delayering in recent years and it still continues. When done for cost saving reasons often it is the case that the work that was once done does not completely go away, nor is it well automated. Instead it gets aggregated into various other people’s roles as I have written about before.
With delayering there is an unintended consequence. At least I hope it is unintended, because if it is intentional then we really do have a problem. You see, those layers which we have removed contained most of the people management skills in the organisation.
One CIO I know saved a great deal of cost by taking out most of his senior executive layer and having their direct reports report to him. He now has 14 people reporting in. How much time do they get from him on a 1:1 basis? Not a lot. Senior management meetings are like a serial one to one session around the table. And he doesn’t get to think about strategic matters or engage with his Board colleagues as much as necessary either.
Nowadays, at least in the West, we have an increasing focus on the individual contributor. We talk about team but look around you – do we mean a real team, or a group of people? There is a big difference – a team is made up of people with skills that complement each other and add to a whole which is, or should be, greater than the sum of its parts. (I’m working hard to avoid a footballing analogy here.) The best individual contributors are rewarded for their contribution by being asked to lead the team (or rather collection) of other individual contributors. They are still required to make an individual contribution and, almost in passing asked to just look after the other people in the team when they have a moment. I exaggerate for effect, but not much.
This is wrong. The best individual contributor is not always the best leader for a team. You need a set of skills to lead people. These are valuable skills gained through hard won experience and become a core competency of good people managers. And a business can’t afford to distract the best individual contributor from making their contribution. So manage the people but not too much. It seems that people managers are so little valued in many major organisations. Why is that?
Again I qualify, in the West, the cult of the individual is now invading work. People hired for their capabilities are set a vague goal, given a role profile and hired to do a particular job are left to get on with it, with a minimum of support, some barely thought through feedback perhaps on a quarterly basis, and are expected to excel. Some chance.
Or is this just in IT?