Monday, July 02, 2007

Creators, Hounders, and Processors

There are three types of people in a corporate environment:

  1. Creators
  2. Hounders
  3. Processors
These are really a continuous spectrum, and people can occupy more than one location on the spectrum, but I think those are the large buckets into which most people fall. I'm very tempted to say that creators are the people who produce most of the value, but that probably would be my creator-self talking. Creators are the people who create something of value from almost nothing. They are the engineers, scientists, researchers, and marketers who create the ideas that advance an organization. They are both the most coveted and most annoying employees, and generally compse a very small percentage of an organization. Within an IT organization, creators tend to be architects, analysts, and software developers; although most people in those roles aren't really creators. I'll talk about hounders later. Processors are the people who take something, apply some known method to it, and spit out something of greater value. In law, a litigator is most likely a creator. The guy who puts together your will is a processor. A processor's job is to keep things neat, complete, well organized, and most of all conformant to any important rules and regulations. Without processors we would live and work in total chaos. Processors are the people who take the mess produced by creators and turn it into something that is geniunely useful and widely appliable. They are the people who continually apply it so that is becomes part of our lives. In IT, QA people, system administrators, database administrators, application administrators, configuration managers, help desk staff, and countless others are generally processors. Management often wishes everyone (except them) could be a processor, because they are predictable and their work usually has immediately apparent value. Processors make up a very large portion of most organizations. So creators like shiny new things. They hate forms and anything else that seems to constrain their ideas. They only really believe in deadlines for other people, because creativity cannot be hurried, and often times even have trouble pushing deadlines on others because the last thing they want are half-baked ideas. They don't want to be bothered with the extraneous details required by processors. Processors often claim to believe in deadlines, and to be very predictable in the time it takes to process work. However, they exclude from this time they spend waiting for responses that the need from others. If you don't believe me, go see how many help desk tickets your IT organization has that are in a state like "waiting for user response," quite likely to a question like "Is your computer plugged in?" The result is processors are only concerned about deadlines when they can't blame someone else, and creators are prima donnas who can be bothered neither by deadlines nor by a processor's need for additional information. Consequently creators are the perfect scapegoat for processors (he hasn't responded to my email asking for more information), and processors for creators (I sent it to him last week, what do you mean he needs more information? I'm busy. It's his fault this is late, not mine.) Now enter hounders to solve this problem. They exist to overcome the impedance mismatch between creators and processors, and they may be as numerous as the other two groups combined. Salespeople are all hounders. Most managers are hounders. Everyone who emphasizes (or randomly inserts) the word "manager" in their role or title is a hounder. Hounders are the people who constantly talk about action items and religiously send out meeting minutes. They are also often the people who lack the technical skills to be creators and detail orientation to be processors. Just like you need some bacteria in your body, you need some hounders in your organization. But too many is a sign that your organization is diseased, as most don't directly produce anything. Also, without day-to-day observation, it can be very difficult to distiguish a hounder from a creator or processor, because they tend to confuse (intentionally or otherwise) making somebody do something with doing it themselves. And they tend to make organizational problems worse. Often times if the creators and the processors are having a really hard time communicating, it's because one or both sides has been allowed to become too extreme. When processors get in trouble, their first instinct is to create more rules for getting tasks out of their queue and off their clock. Creators, when they get in trouble, tend to avoid disclosing details, especially when they aren't yet sure of them. Consequently, all the hounder has to do is encourage these behaviors, and the hounder becomes (in the short term) more critical to the organization, because now the only place the processor can get his details is from the hounder, who either tricks the creator into providing them or takes responsibility for any problems that may arise. In extreme circumstances, processors may even stop communicating with other processors, by simultaneously declaring items in each-others' queues, making hounders necessary to make what should be a smooth interaction work. All three types are needed in any organization. When properly balanced they compliment each other. I've picked on hounders here, because I think they are the most opportunistic, but creators and processors can be quite detrimental as well when they gain too much influence. P.S. Now, you might be wondering what happens to the people who lack the technical skills and creativity to be creators, detail orientation and technical skills to be a processor, and the personality to be a hounder. Some fake it, usually by obscuring their lack of skill or creativity, for example by parroting something they heard/read or calling "buy IBM" an IT strategy. It's amazing how smart a person will think you are if you consisntely agree with them.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: