Pigeonholing – A tragedy



Way back when I wrote Vision vs Pragmatism I mentioned that:

There is nothing that homo sapiens likes more than to pigeonhole his or her fellows. We tend to take a binary approach to people’s skills. Fred is a visionary, but you wouldn’t want him to run a project. Jane is brilliant at the details, but she doesn’t see the big picture. Perhaps we are more comfortable with the idea that the strength of any colleague is automatically balanced by a weakness; it brings them back down to a reasonable level.

This topic came up again in a follow-on discussion I had with a CIO who had attended the Chase Zander IT Director Forum last week. During this chat, we spoke about the benefit of having a broad set of skills, but recognised that it was not always easy to find roles that allowed a significant number of these to be used.

My thoughts went back to a conversation I had had with a prospective employer a few weeks earlier. In pondering this, as sometimes happens with me, it became somewhat expanded, embellished and took on the form of a scene in a play.
Act II. Scene 1. An office in a major capital.

Prospective employer: So you are a business intelligence person?
The hero: That’s right.
Prospective employer: But you are also involved in change management?
The hero: Yes, I have worked a lot on cultural transformation.
Prospective employer: And it says here that you have also developed and implemented financial and other systems.
The hero: Yes I have done all of that as well.
Prospective employer: And that you were one of the people who ran a start-up organisation.
The hero: Yes I did that, it was a really interesting part of my career.
Prospective employer: Also you have both run multiple IT departments, managing a significant number of staff, and have acted as a one-man-band in internal consulting positions?
The hero: Those are both true assertions, yes.
Prospective employer: And here there is some experience working in Operations, oh and Finance as well. You seem to have got around.
The hero: Well, I have done a lot of different things over the years and managed to be successful in many of them.
Prospective employer: Your CV also mentions strategy development, monitoring budgets, being a trainer and mentoring developing managers..
The hero: Those are all things that I have done it’s true.
Prospective employer: Well this is all very interesting, but I’m not really sure whether you are a business person, an IT expert, or just a Jack-of-all-trades and master of none.
The hero: Well I suppose I have worked more in an IT context than most other things, but those the achievements that I have been most proud of have crossed multiple areas.
Prospective employer: IT eh? OK I understand that, if you could rewrite your CV along those lines then I’ll have a think about what opportunities we may have in that department..
The hero: Um… OK… I’ll do that. Thank you for your time.
Exit Prospective employer, stage left.
The hero takes centre stage for his big soliloquy.
The hero: IT, or not IT? That is the question…

I had always thought that being pigeonholed was a negative thing to happen to someone. I now know better, it is apparently the key to getting a new job!

Readers are cordially invited to check the date of this blog posting.