March 19, 2009

Proverbial Zebra

Posted in Business, Technology tagged , , , , , , , at 7:22 am by lindaslongview


When I speak to executive recruiters, they are often surprised by the breadth of my success, which includes serial cross-pollination across several industries (semiconductors, high performance materials, and biotechnology) bringing emerging technology to commercialization.  However, this breadth makes me the proverbial zebra when technology leadership profiles are tilted toward acute technical demands and expertise, rather than sustainable (long view) technical organization development (technical challenges are heard as hoof beats connected to horses rather than zebras).  Although it is unusual for technologists to seek adventure in uncharted territory, for me, the allure of mastering new technology and contributing to commercialization brings me joy.

How can one tell whether the organizational constraint* occurs in the specific technology or within the technology organization?  An understanding of the needed roles (technical problem solving, organizational leadership, strategic planning) and the degree to which they are pivotal determine the profile of the desired candidate.  In Beyond HR:  The New Science of Human Capital (Bourdeau/Ramstad), the authors use a Disneyland example to describe pivotalness – Mickey Mouse and the street sweepers.  It turns out, that there is not too much differentiation from a “guest” point-of-view between the worst Mickey and the best Mickey – not pivotal.  However, there is significant differentiation between the worst street sweeper and the best – very pivotal. Sweepers who go out of their way to help a lost guest or find assistance make a big difference in the overall Disney experience of guests and, thereby, the success of Disneyland.  Thus, Disney makes a great effort to hire the very best street sweepers – those with initiative and courtesy.  In a sense, pivotalness is determined by the attributes that relieve an organizational constraint.*  In a technical organization, there is differing pivotalness for technical specificity and organizational leadership.

I will be most successful and valued in an organization whose constraint* is sustainable development and can capitalize on my system strengths (generalizing core concepts to new environments) that enable fast forward execution.  I will not be successful and valued in an organization whose constraint* is an immediate technical issue for which I have no deep personal expertise and limited access to leveraging others’ expertise.

As I embark on seeking my next adventure, I am buoyed by the rise in sustainable (long view) advice for organization building.  From Pfeffer, What Were They Thinking:  Unconventional Wisdom About Management (pg.129):  “In companies, particularly entrepreneurial companies, persistence and resilience are crucial for success.  That’s because it is almost invariably the case that products will need to be redesigned and strategies and tactics changed on the path to market.” The zebra is the new high-value breed.

(*Note:  The organizational constraint is the thing that prevents the organization from making more money now and in the future.)