Thursday, September 24, 2009

What would you rather be? Director of Apple Support or of PC Support? Who would you rather hire?

Another classic story I found much troubling that most of my students never heard yet. I wonder how applicable the lack of knowledge about this story is elsewhere/everywhere.

Well, it isn't really a story, but only a set of questions. Indeed, who would you rather be, Support Director for all the PCs computer labs or for all the Mac computer labs?

[Microsoft and Apple should not sue me. Their company names are used here solely in relationship with an existing stereotype that PCs seem to be less reliable and break more often than Apple computers, thus needing more support. We do not make here thorough cost of ownership assessments, nor do we try to pass judgment on one technology or the other. This is just an anecdote about organizations and their talent promotion practices.]

Rarely do those whom I ask this question have trouble to find answers within minutes.

Those who would prefer less headaches would rather be Director of Apple Support. Those who would prefer "enjoying a challenge" and like to put out fires all too often would take the Director of PC Support option.

Advancing the questioning reveals new things though.

Since there would likely be more work for the team of the manager in charge with keeping the PCs running, he would hire more staff, and would justify higher budgets. The Apple manager would have less incidents, and thus less work, and he would thus have less justification to add more staff than the PC manager. Over time this will translate into the manager of PC support making a valid argument for his promotion, better than the Apple manager, since the PCs Director has managed more and more people and ever growing budgets. Everything else being equal he would stand a chance to make VP for Technology or Chief Information Officer some day, and that much more probable than his Apple colleague.

Yet, how often do we see what truly has just happened here?

What if the Apple manager would make it to be CIO instead?

As it turns out, when prompted to ask some more questions, we all can figure out that the Apple manager would rather be conservative in his approved expenditures, he would be more inclined to economize resources, both financial and personnel, to invest in better, more reliable and lasting, less resources consuming in the ownership cycle, technological solutions. He could even be more inclined to trace down good yet less reputed smaller but innovative vendors with "futuristic" (an all-in-all relative term) yet full-of-promise new solutions, fact which could over time make his company stay ahead of its less so inclined competitors.

We then present the obvious question "who would we rather hire?" Are the processes and criteria we use for talent scouting and promoting consistent with our operational goals? What can we do to make them more adapted to what actually needs to happen?

Or to put it another way, how do we trace down and use to their fullest potential the (early) George Kennan-s of the world? But that is a whole other story, for another time.

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