Warning this is a bit of a rant. Now you are warned.
The term ‘individual contributor’ is making the rounds again as people are getting their performance reviews for 2008. The term is unfortunate as it is often is used by managers as a pejorative term and ‘HR speak’ for someone who is not on a team or part of a team. The web is filled with courses to help transform individual contributors into managers and team members.
I believe that this characterization is wrong and the value judgment attached to it is destructive, particularly for IT professionals who are often asked to bring their specialized and individual skills to the table to solve problems and deliver value. I prefer to borrow the term used in many sales organizations – PRODUCER
Good invidivdual contributors are PRODUCERS – they get things done using their talents and skills in collaboration with others.
There is a difference between being an individual contributor and individuals who are not team players.
Producers are individual contributors who matter. Separate producers from non-team players, people who are not ‘on-side’ or the potentially socio-paths in the workplace. These people are individual, but they are not contributors. Lumping them all in the same category does a disservice for people who bring their individual talent, passion and attention to the table.
The problem with the individual contributor label and its neat little view is that everyone has to be an individual contributor from time to time. You become an individual contributor when you are doing real work – and we need more of this not less. The challenge facing many CIOs is that there is too much management, too much oversight and control with too little time going to delivering results.
Your economics are going to require more individual contributor producers
Savvy CIOs are recognizing that they need to raise the productive capacity of their workforce. They are looking to recast managers back into players or player/managers. The economics of this are unassailable. Consider two teams of 5 people each, including a team lead in each. Moving one of these managers into a player role INCREASES PRODUCTIVE CAPACITY BY 10% WITH NO INCREASE IN BUDGET. Make that second manager a player manager and you get another 5% all for no budget increase. (more on this in another blog post)
CIOs Need to Lead
CIOs have to be leaders in this area recognizing the fact that their organization has a high percentage of people with individual skills and contributions. They need to sit with HR to reframe the terms in their company to make the difference between individuals who contribute and may be subject matter experts from the people who are not team players, not with the program. Otherwise they are putting their people in an HR black hole where mindless execution of policy will erode the IT workforce. For example, do ‘individual contributors’ get stock grants? At some companies they do not as a matter of policy.
Producers need to act
So its time for the individual contributors to unite and fight that the notion that doing real work, being individually productive is a bad thing. If you are a positive, productive employee, who happens not to manage anyone then you are a productive team player not an individual contributor. Its time to get the record set straight!
All we have to lose is the negative connotation that others assign to our work.
What’s your individual contribution to this discussion, what do you think
Do people consider you an individual contributor?
What is your individual contributor story?
How have you reminded people, your boss, their boss that you are making a contribution and not sucking oxygen out of the room?
Its time to share our stories and set the record straight.