The Idea Guy versus The Doer

I have dealt with what seems to be a growing phenomenon in what I believe to be a major change in the way work is being managed in organizations. Early in my career individuals were charged with garnering some level of expertise through actual work which included full engagement with peers and associates in other departments to help complete tasks. That was a pretty cool way to work since everyone had the opportunity to learn from each other which led to a strengthening of the talent base.

Over the last decade or so I have seen a much more concerted effort aimed at deflection and reassignment of work in favor of owning the idea. There is a fundamental belief, which is handed down in hundreds of management consulting books and seminars, that the idea guy/gal can advance in organizations by standing at the top of the thought leadership mountain while rolling down boulders of wisdom and insights for the doers to execute against. These individuals used to be rare in organizations but have increased in volume to the point where they may even outnumber the doers.

On the other side of the coin you have the poor downtrodden doer who is heads down trying to actually turn a vision or idea into something tangible. The doer sorts out the boulders that are rolling down the mountain into piles based on size, shape and who sent them down the mountain in the first place. The doer does not always get the idea or vision but they know they have to turn it into something meaningful. The doer sees volume and effort as the reward while the idea people are fixated on bragging rights that comes with new capability.

One quickly realizes that there is no real winners in the proverbial battle of the idea guy versus the doer. Neither role is more or less important than the other and both are needed in organizations that are looking to innovate and improve. However, the one thing that bothers me is the missing link that seems to get lost in many organizations. As I watched these roles and behaviors play out in organizations, I quickly realized how regimented the individuals were in staying the course no matter the outcome. If projects were delayed the doer moved more boulders to catch up and if an idea did not pan out, the idea guy/gal searched the internet or thought leadership website for a new idea or solution.

To break the self fulfilling prophecy of think, then do, organizations should look to “executors” to help balance the organization a bit. These are people who get the ideas, they may even be able to generate them but they don’t stay on the mountain top because they also value the implementation aspects that come with change. They are on the mountain moving boulders with the doer. They have the ability AND authority to decide whether a boulder stays or moves completely off the mountain. Organizations that need to succeed, hire these individuals because they know how to get it done. They have the ability to step outside of philosophical debates on approach and focus on the right set of activities that deliver the most value to the business and customers. The next time your project feels “stuck” consider a switchout of roles and if that doesn’t work, at least take a look at the boulders rolling down the mountain and reassess the value.

Categories: Customer Centricity, Mentoring, Project Execution