The phrase ‘Individual Contributor’ is having a resurgence. It’s another phrase that’s not new. It’s largely being used as the Amazon and Google favoured Single Threaded Owner model gets more widely adopted. So, what is it and why does it matter?
Where did it come from?
Henri Fayol, Frederick Winslow Taylor, Henry Gantt and even James McKinsey amongst many, many others were hugely successful at solidifying what evolved in to today’s management culture. Work is repetitive and predictable, authority goes directly from top to bottom, everyone is pigeon-holed in a box.
Except… time moved on. Works spring up new problems, it’s unpredictable, distributed authority is the only way we can manage both the complex and complexity and we need to be seen as individuals to implement the autonomy, mastery and purpose we need to thrive as eloquently demonstrated by Dan Pink in his fantastic book “Drive”.
So, what if you have loads of skills, domain knowledge and experience that an organisation needs to survive, but don’t fit in to a team, division, arm, sector, group, guild or whatever? You become an Individual Contributor.
Why is an Individual Contributor useful?
It’s useful because you can be seen as really valuable and still recognised. In fact there are lots of very senior, successful Individual Contributors that bring huge value to a business without being constrained by having to fit in to a box in an HR system.
Talking of HR, because Individual Contributors can now be recognised and useful in their own right, they are no longer viewed as office outlaws because they don’t fit in, so they can also get meaningful benefits like training and support, whilst also being able to use their potentially exceptional skills to bring huge non-binary skills to the organisation. You can also build a retention strategy around them instead of letting them slip through the gaps.
“She ploughs her own furrow”. Once again a positive phrase in the business community. Thank goodness for that.
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